SSCXWC 2022 Durango: Where Winners are Losers and Losers are Winners

Here I am again, writing about a World Championships experience. This one is just a touch more debaucherous than the last one I attended in early October. I swapped the UCI regulations for one rule to rule them all: if you win you must get a tattoo. Single Speed Cyclocross World Champs is the not-so-underground, fringe, party event that calls itself a World Champs and, in many ways, it is. But instead of (doing drugs) (marginal gains) that make you faster, you do things that make you slower like keg stands, whiskey shots, and hot dog hand-ups.

Almost three years ago, a small group from Durango drove west towards Utah in hopes of a weekend full of bike racing and making fuzzy memories, both of which were achieved. Dylan Stucki, my partner, was perhaps the biggest winner (and loser) of the weekend when he competed in the solo hosting competition and “won” the rights to put on this debaucherous race the following year. That year stretched into a few more with the hold-ups from the pandemic. As time ticked on and the event date finally neared, we were feeling the pressure to put on an event that is so much more than just one race. When you host this traveling circus that is SSCX you’re expected to not only put on an epic race, but 3-4 days of events, parties, and competitions all of which must strike the balance of fun, creativity, and competitiveness.



What is this Chaos?

SSCX has what most would call a cult following. Each year the race rolls around the country (sometimes the world), like a little snowball gaining more and more followers, participants, and weirdos who figure out that they love riding in circles, in costume, over, in, and through crazy obstacles. Consequently, whenever the hosting rights are determined there is an automatic start list baked into the experience of putting it on. That, we learned, was the only easy part about hosting this thing. The rest of it was Dylan’s brainchild of a race, and he somehow managed to serve the hyper-competitive race community that Durango is known for and the people who wanted to come for a good time.

The race mentality is nuanced in a totally different way than what most would consider fitting of a ‘world champs’ event. (That’s the funny part, get it?) The emphasis of a Single Speed Worlds event is put on the experience versus the first finishers, in an inclusive way sure, but mostly just giving people a stage to do weird shit. It’s the race where the participants are rowdier and perhaps have more fun than those on the sidelines. A juxtaposition that is too funny, coming from traditional cyclocross where fans cheer with cowbells, cups full of some sort of hot, boozy liquid and hands full of fried food while the silly bike racers zip through a snowy, muddy course wearing only spandex in near freezing temps, running up hills next to their bikes. SSCX is both an inclusive experience of crazy while still being competitive and it helps us remember the importance of creativity and playfulness in what can often be a very serious sport.

The Line Up

When you sign up for SSCXWC you sign up for a minimum of three days of activities all leading up to the Championship event. Surviving the week means thinking of it as a marathon, not a sprint. This year we started off with a scavenger hunt for the different teams aiming to compete in the hosting competition – a bike polo match. This sent teams of costumed riders all around trying to accumulate the most points. The bike polo game was for the two winning scavenger teams and was the perfect way to ring in the incoming weekend. There was a rowdy crowd of about 100 people watching team Santa Cruz vs. team Des Moines battle it out for the glory of hosting SSCX 2023. It was a rambunctious way of beginning the string of events. Later that night was packet pick up, a pre-race party cranked up to 12.

As you lined up in a local bar to get your race number and race goodies (including the cup you’d need all weekend for any sorts of liquids), there were a slew of activities taking place. Cruiser bike roller races that included sprinting a mile, chugging a beer and eating a hotdog faster than your partner definitely took the cake as the most entertaining for the crowd and the grossest/worst for the participants. Dylan easily took the crown as he seems to be undefeated in competitions that mix hard, all-out efforts with eating and drinking gross things quickly. He will forever remember that night as the night he was faster and better than both Keegan (Swenson) and Howard (Grotts).

The following day featured the qualifiers that barred entry into the championship races. This included heats of ten riders, racing ¾ laps avoiding the bigger, weirder features, and served as a way to whittle down the massive men’s start list into a “losers race” and the “champs race.” The top five qualified for the finals and the others had a choice: either accept their placement in the “losers’ race” or participate in any of the Feats of Strength competitions and hope to win a spot in the winner’s comp. While most people were stoked about what they qualified for in the heat races, many still participated in the Feats of Strength because, I don’t know, bike racers are just masochists at heart?

I could write an entire story about the Feats of Strength and what they taught us about humanity that day, but I’ll keep it short. No one seemed to mind eating three Big Macs in a row except for one stomach, which revolted. We learned that a surprising number of people enjoy any form of light competition, like chugging a beer, doing 50 pushups, and chugging another beer in under 1 min (I believe the winner broke Geoff Kabush’s long-standing record of 59 seconds by 19 seconds). People really loved getting tied together by a child’s bike tow rope and then running in opposite directions only to get dragged across the dirt by their opponent. This one really made me laugh, it wasn’t even in the plan and no one actually won anything and yet we watched pair after pair take to the circle and send it. For hours. I think there were more rope burn casualties than bike crashes.

If you thought we were almost to race day, you’d be wrong. Remember, it’s a marathon, which requires an endurance mindset (which we’re also applying to reading this article). We had one more barrier before game day: the pre/post party at Durango Cyclery, the famed and funky spot where cyclists come to drink beers, reminisce about gravel (read: mountain biking in the 90s) and pay homage to HB’s porcelain shrine.

Game Day

Race day started with plenty of festivities before the single speed insanity even began. Durango still has a diehard community of what I’ll call “serious bike race enthusiasts” who would’ve been heartbroken to miss a weekend of our small-but-passionate local race series. We also had an opportunity to run a new course up on the mesa where the weekend’s events were held, so it felt fresh and new for a lot of us locals. Once the geared racers finished, most grabbed a beer and turned to spectating to watch the (shit) show begin.

Race day preparations look a little different than your standard event – you can forget the rollers, the pit bike, and mechanic. There is no routine, no chill breakfast and stretching, there is last-minute hot gluing costume pieces and hoping that there is enough air in your tires. Chain lube – what is that? Calories consist of doughnuts and a greasy egg and bagel sandwich that you have a few bites of all the while knowing you’ll regret that choice later. Minutes seem to evaporate faster than the coffee you’re chugging and there is just enough time to smush layers and backup costume options, extra gloves, and a few adult beverages into the backpack before pedaling up to the course.

Luckily the race venue was at the top of a massive hill which was steep enough to be a warm-up for those who had a small enough gear to get to the top without walking. Even if you were forced off your bike, walking is still a warm up.

Upon arrival you start to see that this is no ordinary local cross race. Participants and spectators are strolling around in outfits that range from sparkling spandex to coveralls and pasties. There were racers adorned in more traditional attire but always with some added flare, like a thong leotard or fishnets. Some took a daring approach and sacrificed speed for laughs with plush toy camels with dangly legs distressingly close to front wheels. Others embraced their freaky-deaky side and went with dresses, wigs, gold bodysuits, ice skating outfits, head-to-toes zebra stripes, glitter beards; we had team banana buds, full gorilla suits, punk rock priests, lots of Morman elders, and even an elder from the Church of Naturday Saints. Of course, the classic Elvis and Evil Knievel made a few appearances. Now, picture all of those weirdos running—no, full sprinting—through a high desert scape, no bikes in sight. That was only the start.

For all three races, (non-binary, women’s, and men’s) racers were led almost a mile away from the course, down a long road. They were told to put their bikes to the side and follow Dylan into a field where he lined everyone up shoulder to shoulder and made them face the wrong way. The race began and racers spun around to sprint unknowingly through the dusty field to search for their bikes which had of course been moved from where they were left. Some were hanging in trees, others were leaning against a group of mystery bikes, it was pure chaos in the best way. I just remember screamlaughing the entire time. Then, before your heart rate has any time to come down, you’re single speed-sprinting back up the road to make your way onto the course.

Course Features

The entire race had elements familiar to those who’ve raced cyclocross before. There were a few power sections, some tight turns, a brutal run-up, and even some grass (we made a section that featured some fresh sod, which we called the grass pit because the rest of the course was dirt; normally it’s mostly grass with a sand pit or two). In true SSCX fashion Dylan and some choice volunteers (like the men’s defending champ, Maxx Chance) created a few memorable features. Towards the center of the venue were a cluster of entertaining obstacles, the ring of fire was the most aesthetically pleasing and brought that 90s punk rock vibe to the quaint little venue. A string of bikes welded together forming a ring around a swoopy wooden ramp was the landscape for the rider, and every passing racer got two puffs of fireballs on each side, just to warm them up a bit.

There were mazes of kegs where some “forced” keg stands and beer sprays to the eyeballs occurred, teeter totter and railroad tie barriers, DJ party tent in case you didn’t get enough beer sprayed onto your head or eyes, flowy singletrack turns and of course a group of knights in armor (truly heavy-duty stuff). The knights added comedic relief in case anyone was still keeping a straight face during a lap; they stood there for hours while racers rode past, doling out light smacks with rubber chickens and pool noodles. The most entertaining of them all was probably the jump/stair set onto the airbag where participants willingly launched their meat into oblivion. Some of us less daring and more flight averse opted for the shameful stairs where the shorter folks would toss their bikes solo down the airbag to allow for a hands-free fling onto the beer and dirt-ridden ramp down.

What I have found by attending three of these wild events over the past six years is that there is a community for everyone. Ironically, it was the event that guided me back into the competitive race scene. Some will look at the costumes, ridiculous course features, party aesthetics and decide it’s not for them, and that is absolutely okay. There are hundreds, thousands of events around the globe that cater to a range of “normal” race experiences. SSCXWC, at least from my perspective, is for those teetering on the fringe of any cycling niche. It’s an event that can serve past Olympians, World Champions, and also the person who can slam three Big Macs really fast. You can take an energy gel before the race or shotgun a beer, both have a place here.

SSCXWC takes any Type-A bike racer (perhaps like the one writing this article) and forces them to let go of all of the things they’ve learned to depend on. The main thing being, how to control the situation at hand. But here, there is no control and that’s a beautiful thing. You must surrender to chaos, embrace the unknown and give people what they want – a damn good show. Because when you sign up to race this thing you’re the entertainment and sometimes that’s the best “result” of all.