You know those weekends whose arrival you count down for months, to clock out of work, load up your bike, road trip 1,200 miles, and then readily acquiesce to stunts that question your health insurance coverage? Welcome to Single Speed USA.
Two common ingredients create this one-of-a-kind recipe; bicycles with only one gear, and a guaranteed let-loose atmosphere. This year, Kansas City hosted the annual gathering and it was a surprise to no one that that the weekend proved to be for the books (if you could even remember it, that is).
Registration: optional. Length of course: unknown. Number plates or organized timing: none. Prizes: gold placard bricks. Trophies this year included: “DFL thanks for making us wait,” “Well that was both brave and stupid,” “Never Stood a Chance,” “First to finish? Well f*ck you!,” “Captain No Fun” and “The highlight of SSKC was the sewer I fell in.” This is where the fun begins.
I moved away from Kansas City a few years ago. It’s really the place where I started riding singlespeed mountain bikes, only a few short years after getting back into bikes since I was a young lad ripping around as a BMXer. A hearty family of singlespeed household names were sure to be in the thick of it with us. Burnsy at Oddity, Cjell Monē, DOOM bars, prizes donated by PAUL Components, Surly Bikes, and hometown of modern coaster brake wizard Proper Engineering.
If there was ever a time that I could go back and relive, it has to be those years of after school madness fueled by rockstar energy drinks, cargo shorts, Sum 41 and creating early YouTube videos on my mom’s Sony 3 megapixel point-and-shoot camera doing wheelies.
4:30am: Wake-up call at home in Golden, Colorado, a quick cup of coffee, then load the bikes onto the preloaded car. The calm before the storm. It was relaxing to know that others were sharing the same experience at that moment, traveling in from around the country even if it meant I wouldn’t have time to attend the Friday night. Still, not even a dead car battery, broken alternator, and 1% cell phone battery four miles from Kansas City would stop me. That really happened.
Over 100 people gathered at The Lunch Box that evening for “THE NIGHT BEFORE”: a Sh*t Show urban ride. Burnsey and Thad were the hosts. It was here that I learned “6pm dull” means empty the corner liquor store of alcohol and give hugs for an hour while reminiscing. Box Wine Dan was making the rounds to be sure all were hydrated. “Get drunk, wet and at least two diseases to take back home to your families. Meet in the west bottoms of downtown KC. Great food and cheap beer**. Bring lights for tunnel rides and enough cash for bail money.” Quite an event poster, eh?
Unknown to most, Kansas City hosts a few bridges. We rode across, under and around a fair number of them that night. They sort of became our primary surface choice, until we were led to an entrance of the wastewater tunnels of Kansas City. Smoke bombs fell from the sky and a few firecrackers exploded while our group ride descended into the mouth of the tunnel. The previous memo “bring lights for tunnel rides” suddenly dawned into reality paired with a vision of how Teenage Mutant Turtles live, but “hey, my wife is a nurse if I become ill, let’s ride!”
Upon exit, we sprawled out in the drainage ditch to share a sunset together. Neosporin and beers were passed around, maybe a few skids were had. The coaster brake attendance was quite impressive I will admit. Dark fell and we ended up taking over a parking lot at the corner One Stop ‘N Shop convenience store. A drag race broke out in the street: Zac Loehr on a bike four sizes too small vs Melissa Estelle on a custom 36er.
Saturday morning came quickly. The forecast warned 100 degrees paired with 80% humidity. Five of us that traveled in shared lodging at the Apel house just on the edge of downtown Kansas City. Stories were shared from the group ride over coffee and a few wake up laps were ridden on the homemade singletrack in Aaron’s backyard before heading to RC’s for the start of the main event.
Helmet flair had a tent setup to provide personalized accessories to your head armor, heavy duty cowbells given to all who registered, and Bicycle Pubes t-shirts were seen on many. Cjell even showed up early to sell brass, bars and merch from the back of his van. A bandana was also included in the swag bags that included a map of the trail network and route of planned stops for the day.
The plan was to ride the whole day with old friends. I made note of who was carrying their bandana so that I didn’t have to bring mine. Less than four miles into the classic Kansas City rocky, rooty, humid singletrack all went awry. Marty from Minnesota suffered a puncture and I had already gone over the bars twice, so I stopped to help him since he was one of our group all housed together for the weekend. After an attempted plug, a shot of air and a 26” tube inflated to 70 psi to fill a 29” 2.6 tire, the two of us pedaled on alone.
A few minutes went by before the sound of a cannon went off, BOOM! We tried our hand at one of those fancy ultralight plastic tubes next, same story after a few more miles. We ended up lost in the woods for awhile before finding the road and making our way into the taco party under yet another bridge. By the end of the day, Marty went through a small bike shop’s worth of flat repair items.
After an unknown amount of time passed consuming tacos and hydration (thank you Boulevard Brewing,) an optional extended route was presented for those who were looking for more fun. This leg was full of log rides, techy climbs and cheering one another on to see who could clean each section. We found ourselves back under the bridge for shade and possibly a nap before a group of about eight rode back to the start at full speed.
This section was all time. Wheel to wheel, dirt in your face, blind new lines inches next to the river called Little Moab—all as fast as you could spin. Jorts, hollering, bloody bodies, rubbing tires, bar tapping trees… a perfect way to finish the ride in peak singlespeeder fashion.
As the sun set, the party grew. The classic footdown competitions went on in the parking lot, a meal and raffle giveaways from the sponsors eased our ache-filled bodies, and live music roared on.
In the end, the weekend went by too fast. “See ya next time,” hugs and handshakes were shared on Sunday as we all went different directions to return home. There’s a strong feeling that sticks with me when I reflect on this gathering. It’s one of new and old friendship, a refreshed perspective of riding not racing, and lingering worry if I will ever fall ill from riding in the wastewater tunnels beneath Kansas City.
Though it was total chaos and yet peaceful at the same time, I’m already dreaming of Single Speed USA: Colorado in my backyard next year.