You Can’t Buy Money With Happiness: 2023 Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships

As an anchor for the NorCal cyclocross scene, the Rock Lobster team and their eclectic band of racers, builders, horn players, writers, photographers, and dreamers are here to take you on a journey into the heart of Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships 2023. From riding the tiger to fording the pool of plunder, this story captures cyclocross glory and heartbreak at its finest. From the desk of the award winning SSCXWCTV investigative news team, please enjoy “You Can’t Buy Money With Happiness,” a mixed-media Reportage with weekend narration from Matt Miller, along with photos and video from Josh Becker and Mike Thomas

On a damp autumn afternoon in late 2011, I watched a hedonistic, joyous, and wholeheartedly raucous bicycle race in Golden Gate Park. It was the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships, and though my memory is blurred, I remember wild costumes, bikes flying down a muddy hillside with and without their captains, and a questionable water feature that became murkier and more of a public health hazard with each passing tutu-clad racer. I’m not sure how many people got diarrhea after that day but there is a non-zero chance there was more than one. For some of us, that race changed the trajectory of our lives.

Fast forward to 2022. I have a decade of intermittent and unremarkable bike racing behind me. A delegation of the most capable and dedicated Rock Lobster teammates heads to Durango for the most important mission of our bike racing careers. The objective? Ride hard, party harder, and carry home the raging dumpster fire of a torch that is SSCXWC. A day of challenges ended in a sudden-death bike polo showdown, and Santa Cruz clinched the hosting rights. Even though we were originally supposed to host in 2012, the fact that it was going to finally happen in 2023 affirmed the adage: not everything doesn’t happen for a reason.

Then, something the pundits said couldn’t happen, happened. I entered and won three men’s B single-speed cross races, including back-to-back wins at Surf City 2023. They said it couldn’t be done, they said this can’t be understated enough, this accomplishment changes absolutely nothing, they said “who even is Matt Miller?” But that’s exactly how I knew I stood the best chance at a World Championship upset—they would never see it coming.



A team of local A-list reporters caught wind of the breaking news and set their sights on taking a deep dive into the race to understand what this SSCXWC world is really all about. What follows is a rigorously reported and mostly-accurate account of what happened in Santa Cruz, CA from Friday to Sunday of SSCXWC 2023.


11 AM – The first wave of racers arrived at The Spokesman Outpost for a welcome-to-town group ride. This normally sanguine alcove became a bustling, beer-cracking, traffic jam of exuberant single speeders. We rolled into Wilder Ranch State Park, riding the iconic Santa Cruz bluffs before climbing up the mountain for an elevated ocean view on this sparkly clear autumn day. The memories are already fuzzy, but some folks (I’m looking at you Brooklyn) really hit the weekend at full speed. The first qualifying tokens were given out like candy for all kinds of shenanigans during this ride, but the real challenge was yet to begin…

5 PM – By Friday evening, the crowd had doubled in size and descended upon Woodhouse Brewing to grab qualifier manifests, and to begin their journey to collect qualifying tokens. The organizers set up a bribe table: jars of weed, bike parts, Cuban cigars, cash money, family member’s ashes, home-baked banana bread, and photos of Tobin Ortenblad’s early days of cross racing were all offered (among other indescribably random items that people brought from across the country) in exchange for tokens.


8 AM – The air was crisp and the calm before the storm was palpable. Hoards of single speeders poured into Ibis Cycles World Headquarters, quaffing the mimosas and scarfing the pastries set before them. The energy was electric as the racers anxiously speculated how the day would unfold. These people were ready for just about anything and some of them couldn’t wait. Somebody felt inspired to jump their bike off the loading dock and taco their front wheel, securing their position early as the lanterne rouge. A megaphone siren went off and the race mis-director Brendan Lehman, aka Onko Rinkus, got up to finally address the crowd. It was time to roll.

9:30 AM – The largest group ride to ever hit West Cliff Drive rolled down the coast, with over 500 riders strung out for a mile. Brendan guided the mass of cyclists onto the beach and as hundreds of us poured onto the sand, the instructions were to drop our bikes and line up at the wharf to do a Le Mans start, where tokens would be awarded to the racers who ran the whole length and back the fastest. Just as everyone was ready to stampede, Brendan announced a second option for tokens. He explained that anyone who wished for a shorter route could skinny dip in the ocean and get a token without running across the beach, a “Lehmans” start. One, two, then what seemed like a quarter of the racers stripped their clothes and jumped in the waves, only to find there weren’t enough tokens for everyone…so for many it was an opportunity to wash their sins away in preparation to amass more in the day ahead.

10 AM – Choose your own adventure scavenger hunt. Hot laps at Harvey West Pump Track made hotter with the ride the tiger challenge (i.e. ultra-strength tiger balm on the taint). Ripping single track from Top of the World trail. Dizzy bat, jigsaw puzzles, and time trials at the UCSC tanks. Arm wrestling at the Eucalyptus grove. Community sand castle building at Four Mile. The Rock Lobster Team refueled racers with a BBQ lunch at the bottom of a gut-wrenching climb to the Fox Factory moto track (they also offered bonus tokens for eating a Carolina Reaper chili pepper). I’m certain that at least one person both ate the pepper and rode the tiger…talk about burning the candle at both ends! Six hours and 50 miles later, the tokens were dispensed, wads were blown, and we had a few hours to lick our wounds before the big party.

8 PM – As the tiger balm finally started to cool down and the second hangover of the weekend began to settle in, the day transformed into a night of superlatives. We arrived at the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom for a marathon evening replete with clowns, pole dancers, burlesque, not one but three epic bands, glitter fairies, fortune tellers, mechanical sharks, and pixie bike racing. Supposedly, the bar staff reported their highest night of sales since before the pandemic. The organizers kept everyone at the party by waiting until midnight to hand out race numbers for the championship race. This was to make sure nobody was well-rested for the next day.



As the smoke billowed through the course from the prescribed fire across the street, the marching band played their dramatic overture, and nerves mounted in anticipation of the Le Mans start into the sea of bicycles.

Then the gong went off! RACE TIME! The first lap was a blur of dust, costumes, screams, smoke, beer foam, and pure chaos. When I passed short track World Champion and Olympian, Chris Blevins, hunched over his makeshift single speed with jammed gears (probably a mini rubber ducky stuck in his cog), I  knew I had half the race left to bring it home. Then Howard Grotts, the defending SSCXWC champion, dressed as a nun, started soft-pedaling on the smoky side of the course. He had a dazed look on his face and I wondered if he—to borrow a concept from Curve Sharpens—had entered the tunnel at the end of the light. Perhaps too many trips through the tequila shortcut? I passed him and caught Kell McKenzie, who kept asking me if I wanted a bite of pickle. I knew at this point Tobin and Lance couldn’t be far off.

Just as I started to smell victory, my fate was decided in the cesspool of filth, the pond of missed potential, the pool of plunder, the quintessence of quagmire, the toilet of tears, the bowl of lost souls, the lake of the luchador, the bay of blasphemy. Call it what you will, but it was soggy waffle bike glory. In what seemed like a machiavellian act of sabotage, Maxx Chance body slammed me, erasing any hopes of finishing the race, leaving me with a dead leg and a damaged bike. If it wasn’t for this Modelo engorged, snarling, mankini wearing beast, I might have stood a chance to catch hometown hero, and consequently my future brother-in-law, Tobin Ortenblad, at taking the world title.


It’s Monday morning. As the charred branches of poison oak smolder alongside the race course at Crest Ranch, mulch piles soaked in beer, tubeless sealant, and tears steam in the morning sun, the catharsis (read: devastation) is settling in. Meanwhile, countless racers are waking up today bleary-eyed, and surveying the carnage of helmets covered in enriched wheat flour, broken bikes tangled in course tape, soaked and muddy clothes (for those who were even wearing clothes to begin with), lost Garmins, glasses, and dignity, and sore ribs from laughing to no end but more likely from being tackled by the crazed luchador.

It’s hard to describe the effort and production that went into creating this circus, but in the niche sport of single-speed cyclocross, there is no greater show on earth. So many racers and spectators came to the small coastal town of Santa Cruz, population 65,000, that our town population grew by 1% over the weekend. Reports from locals included, “I’ve never seen so many people on bikes before,” “I just kept seeing packs of riders all over town,” “I wasn’t going to say kooks but yeah who are all these kooks?”

The gear will dry, the social media stories will cycle through, the broken bikes will stay broken, but the glitter and memories will live on forever. We prepared everyone for a dumpster fire, and a spectacular one we delivered. See you in Madison next year!