This report really begins a few years back, when Steve Weller was converting Amy Wallace’s old Specialized Allez to a campus single-speed (an idea popularized among the Hanoverans by yours truly). I was aghast to see that Steve had shelled out 30 bucks for a singulator (the existing – that is, free – rear derailleur would have worked fine with some limit screw adjustment), yet hadn’t sprung for a 5-dollar BMX cog, instead opting to use the 15t sprocket from Amy’s existing cassette:
Cosmo: “Steve, why did you spend so much on a singulator, but not buy a cog? That’s ass backwards. The chain will pop off that ramped sprocket and single, cageless pulley wheel all the time”
Steve: “No, Cosmo, you hack. God, if you knew anything about being a real bike mechanic, you would know that won’t matter, so long as you set up the chainline right.”
Fast-forward to the present. I (Cosmo, that is), having still refused to buy an actual ‘cross bike, equip my Kona Lava Dome (already w/drop bars, 26in x 1.7 – 40mm with a caliper – semi-slick tires, and a rigid Tange fork) with Amy’s old single speed wheelset and singulator, after realizing my rear shifter is broken. I give it a few test rides through the Fells, nothing horrific happens (other than me getting my foot caught in the rear wheel and breaking a spoke while practicing my running mounts), so I declare it good to go.
I had initially planned to race the Beginner race at The Milford Cyclocross Classic (yes, I’m a Cat 3, but reference the foot catching incident and DIY ‘cross rig in the previous paragraph), but I stayed out late on Friday and slept in. I finally got to Milford 3 or 4 minutes after registration ended, but the event was low-key enough that I don’t really think they noticed. Got in about half a lap of warm-up before I saw the Open Men’s field lining up, so I cut back across the course and was pretty much last at the line.
Beginning a ‘cross race from the back line is kinda fun, actually. Normally, it’s all mad sprinty business (though not so much on this course, because it shoots immediately into the “technical” section), but from the back, you just kind of hang out until things string open. I was pretty close to last, but just to remove all doubt, my chain decided to pop off after the second big hairpin in the technical section. It was an easy fix, but I was last by a long, long way once I got it back on, and I was thinking that this might be a miserable hour long time-trial.
This turned out pretty rapidly not to be the case. Knowing the race was longer than normal (a full 60 minutes, vs. my usual 30-40), I kinda took it easy, spinning back on for about a lap. Then I just started chewing through people. I don’t consider myself a real nasty bike handler, but I was definitely finding seconds through corners. They were all pretty easy, minus two really loose, sandy ones. I guess the fatter tires help a bit there. I also made up some places through the running sand pit (though using barriers to force a dismount on the sand really defeats the point of having it in the first place, if you ask me).
The lack of any sort of uphill or run-up made calculating effort and tactics very easy. It was mostly catch people in the twisty part, then draft around the fields, then pass them in the twisty part on the next time through. Josh Lipka had decided to start really slowly for some reason (I asked afterwards, and apparently he always does this in ‘cross…) so when he came back through the field and passed me, I tried to follow him. That didn’t work at all (he’s, y’know, good and stuff) but I did have a sweet move to catch his wheel by calling “inside” on a hard, slow hairpin turn(!) and having the rider who was between us acknowledge it (!!).
I should add that none of this racing was for any sort of meaningful place. Toby Marzot and Kevin Wolfson were way ahead of everyone, and I was (at peak position) probably 10 spots out of DFL. We in the cheap seats finally got lap cards at 7 to go, when I was resting comfortably behind some guy on an orange bike, recovering from my failed Lipka chase and planning to take off again next lap. I was just entering the field sections, and thinking I might make my move across the sand pit instead, when my chain flew off again (on a flat, smooth, straight-ahead grass section). I f-bombed once (at an appropriate volume), strung it back on again, and proceeded to chase.
For the first time in the whole race, I really dug into the field section, riding hard to catch the wheels that had recaptured me, and throwing it over so far that I managed to clip a pedal in one (not off-camber) corner. I quickly regained some spots, and even got some congrats and what-not for being so nasty a chaser. At 5 laps to go, I was probably about 30 seconds down on the guy I had been drafting before, and thinking about making another jump to claw back onto him, when, just at the tail end of the technical section, my chain came off again.
One of the major motivating factors in my use of single speeds (trumped only by low cost) is the relative lack of mechanicals. Three mechanicals in one race is unacceptable by any standard. Let this be a lesson to “real” bike mechanics with a hard-on for chainline and expensive parts – know which parts actually matter. Anyway, by this time, my rhythm was quite shot (and I’d been lapped without knowing it, since I was busy working on my chain), and there were fewer and fewer riders to catch. I think I may have reeled one guy back, maybe two by the time the race finished. No idea where I placed overall because results aren’t up yet. Afterwards, skater punk Matt Rossman took his deck out in the nearby skate park, which was awesome.