Mr. Stompy

Last night at UNH marked the debut of Mr. Stompy. Mr. Stompy is a steel frame Bianchi singlespeed cyclocross bike that I bought a few months ago. He’s blue, has a fairly laid back geometry, and weighs a ton. I really wanted to give cross a try this year, and after my experience at the Central NH Road Race, I figured gears, no gears, who cares and does it really matter.

To break the ice, I started riding in the cyclocross training series at UNH. Of the 13 riders who entered the B race last night, I ended up 9th. Should have been 8th. There were two barricades to hop over right near the finish line, and thanks to my giraffe legs I blew right by a guy here. I hopped back on the bike but got nipped at the line as I frantically tried to clip back in; something this other guy had less of a problem with.
Before I jumped into this, I looked all over for singlespeed cyclocross information. There ain’t a whole lot. So here’s what I’ve found so far,along with some general observations from a first-time cyclocross racer.

Cross races are 30-40 minutes long. This kicks ass. It’s short. Even though you are balls-to-the-wall the entire time on the verge of puking, you know exactly when it will be over, because the race organizers tell you how many laps you have left to ride.

The race organizers tell you how many laps you have left to ride. Depending on how you’re feeling, this is probably going to be the worst news you get all day.

When it’s over, you are unbelievably happy that it’s over. You vow right then and there that you won’t do anything again for days in order to recover. Then the next day you can’t wait to do it again.

Single speed cross is a balancing act. You need a gear that won’t completely destroy you on a climb, yet will give you some chance of making speed on hardpack and downhills. No matter what you pick, you’re going to get crushed when the speed picks up. Even a bonked-out rider on gears can keep up with you and/or pass you easily with a minimum cadence when the grade turn s negative. To combat this, you need to either get out in front from the get-go, or make it up on the climbs. It was my first time last night, so I started in the very back, just to stay out of everyone’s way. By virtue of having only one gear, and thus only one speed up a hill, I am inevitably going to climb faster than some, and it’s then a matter of getting in a position where those riders aren’t right in front of you, holding you up. In general, everywhere you see riders dipping into their easier gearing, that’s where you need to dig in and grind. LOL. Right.

I suck at clipping back in. Getting on and off the bike is no problem, but hooking back up with my SPDs is going to take some work to consistently get right in a race situation. I give away heaps of time as I soft-pedal my way back into a productive cadence.

Having one gear takes a lot of mechanical bullsh*t out of the equation. No missed shifts, no chain falling off, no being in the wrong gear. You have only two things to think about: pedaling and racing. Pedaling takes care of itself.

You then need to be crafty. You need to pick good lines, have good mounts and dismounts, sit on other riders’ wheels, play mind games, take chances, and always look for little ways to make up time. That is racing, and it’s FUN.

But there’s something to be said for mechanical bullsh*t. Maybe it doesn’t drag you from 9th place to the podium, but it’s hard to know unless you give it a chance. I can’t help but wonder. Great! Time for another bike.

I race for real on Sunday in Amesbury, and then possibly twice more this month in Londonderry and Auburn. This is all about having a good time. I know I’m not going to win. I’m out there just to do it, get a reaction, and of course…to try to beat up on people. All I need to do is beat one person on gears and it’s worth it.

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