FeaturesWe write it, you read it.
Check out the chunky features in this issue. More thoughts on the single speed craze. An interview with frame builder Matt Chester. The regular rider interview is back and a rare breed is the subject: a female single speeder. Coverage of the Unofficial United States Single Speed Championships from the winner himself. Read about inner turmoil in the single speeder. Or, how biking puts a big, fat smile on your face. Single speed road bikes? Yeah, we've got that one covered too. Plus, another pack of SS 24 hour racers shows how it's done.
Start reading, but don't let the boss catch you.
Prophecy, Illusion, and Mind-Altering Chemicals by el JefeTedd "el Jefe" Downs is the mastermind behind the Angry Bitter Single Speed Society, a bunch of beer swilling, single speeding hooligans. We count ourselves among the proud members.
Discussions relating to SingleSpeeds pop up frequently. In the forums of websites like
Single speed evangelism is a tough one to define. Surely, there are nearly as many reasons for it as there are one-ers to do it. From the outsider's perspective, it seems like just some way to be different and let the world know that you're hardcore. This just doesn't quite jive when you actually get to know a lot of unicoggers. Yeah, it's true that we take pride in our collective uniqueness, but that is the most superficial layer of what is just one of many cycling subcultures. Some ride one gear for simplicity. Some do so to improve their fitness. Some like showing-up geared riders at the races and some are just bike junkies who want a bike for every occasion. But all would agree that there is just something about single speed bikes that is just so right and worth piping up about.
If there is one, common theme here, itís passion. For some, religion is a passion. Others paint their faces in their favorite sport-team's colors. And a few particularly misaligned wackos feel the need to tell every cyclist they meet that "I ride a single speed!" It's no more or less strange than drinking poisoned Kool-Aid and covering yourself in a purple shroud along with 40 friends so that your soul can be retrieved by aliens traveling in a spaceship hidden in the tail of a passing comet. Sometimes, it does seem less socially accepted.
Now, single speeding as a trend? I'm afraid I just don't see it. Single speeders seem to enjoy congregating with other single speeders and, as we just explored, are a visible and vocal lot. Maybe this is getting a little soft, but there is something poetic about a single speed bike and they seem to appeal to extroverts, punk rockers, cycle messengers, bike mechanics, artists and writers alike. There are single speed clubs and 'zines all over the web. Several times a year, single speeders from around the world gather in different places for a weekend's worth of drunken debauchery in the guise of a bike race. Magazine writers love one-ers because where there are single speed bikes, there is usually lots of alcohol and a good story to be had. So single speeds get a lot of press and it is this concentration, not sheer numbers, of single speeders that makes people believe it's something huge.
In the end, Single speeding will probably prove to be a cyclical trend like BMX and trials, two other fringe bike subcultures. Picking up a head of steam and reaching critical mass before the not-so-dedicated get bored and move on to something else. Then the cycle begins again, a new group gets hooked, and single speeding starts moving toward another peak and fall.
And who doesn't like beer?
Centurion RMX by Robert Quiggle
Last spring, I found an old Centurion road bike in a second hand store for forty bucks. I was just driving by on my way home from work. This place, Mel's Used Furniture, on Magnolia Ave in Knoxville, is like a privately owned thrift store, and always has a lot of bikes out front. More often than not, ancient, forty-pound dinosaurs that nobody would ride unless they were otherwise vehicle-less, or just like me - a nut for old bikes. But most of what is there is usually junk even to me, all in the twenty to twenty-five dollar range. But as I was driving by, the paint job on this bike jumped out at me, even from the road, driving by. It looked like some old Kmart bike trying to fake a late 80s or early 90s good bike's paint job. So I went around the block, just to satisfy my curiosity.
And there it was.
A real bike.
A petunia in this onion patch.
Now, why am I being so melodramatic? Well, up in my attic is a Trek I never ride. Nice road bike. STI, seven speed cassette/freehub, every bit a nice bike. But I never bonded with it, like I did with the Peugeot I had before it, or the no-name Japanese frame ten-speed I had before that. It was everything my roadie pals sought in a bike, but somehow, having was not as fun as wanting. All the gizmos, all the bells and whistles, and......it took me a long time to admit I just didn't like it. In fact, I picked up for cheap, a poorly-equipped Huffy mountain bike from Kmart (blush) I honestly liked better.
And then - there it was.
Indexed shifting, but on the down tube. I always wanted a bike like that--that era in the 80s, after friction, but before STI--was a brief but exciting time, that sadly went wrong. Anyway. Downtube. Nice. Concealed-cable aero levers. Also nice. Retro enough to resemble its ten-speed forebears, yet new enough to have a decent cro-moly frame, modern chainrings and BB, recessed Dia Compe (!) side pull brakes, 700C wheels. A bike shop bike. I learned a few weeks ago, that "Centurion" was the name Diamondback put on their road bikes until they just called all of them Diamondback. Guessing '91 or '92, maybe '93. Here at Mel's.
Mel (or whoever) knew something was up with this bike, but didn't know what. So it was marked for forty bucks, instead of twenty like everything else. Someone pointed out the quick release hubs to me, but I was busy trying not to look too excited about everything else I saw. I took it for a ride - I almost said "float" - around the block, and knew I had to have it. I even talked him down a couple bucks, just so that I wouldn't give away what he was, literally, giving away. I mean, I would have paid a couple hundred in a LBS used for it.
And I took it home.
About this time my wife and I bought a tandem. Trying to be together more, trying to involve the kids. We spent all our time on the tandem, and the Centurion sat. Just like the Trek. Except I liked the Centurion. But something was brewing.
I don't know how I first discovered single speeding. The idea, I mean. I was probably searching for bike sites, and happened onto sheldonbrown.com, and saw the single speed/fixed section. This led me to a couple more sites, including this 'zine, and ABSSS.org. The idea got into my head....
And there was the Centurion.
Could I do it to this bike? Frankenstein it like that? A single speed road bike??? After all this time of wanting an SIS road bike, could I just strip it to the bones like that? Yes, after a lot of consideration. And I never looked back.
It had the right kind of dropouts, for one. And a good cro-moly frame. Basically, it was a modern bike. The only out-of-date components were the ones I would be removing.
Step one was removing the freewheel. The hub is a conventional hub (i.e., not a freehub), so I could just put a BMX freewheel in its place. I found a 16T at a LBS, and was in business. It was a 1/8", so I got a BMX chain to match. With the 42T chainring, this gives me about a seventy inch gear, for those who still think gear inches.
Then the derailleurs and shifters. Without all that stuff on it, piece by piece, I was beginning to see what a truly simple and beautiful thing a bike is, how clean the seat tube without anything attached, how neat the rear triangle with nothing dangling from it. In fact, looking at the pre-conversion pics I have of it, it looks cluttered with all that.
I learned a skill I heretofore lacked. Having a lot of kids, I don't have the bucks to have a wheel built or rebuilt, and I wanted to have a straight chainline, so by trial and error, I moved the hub, redished the wheel, and trued it myself. Not perfect, but getting there. Way, way better than I thought I could do.
And there it was. Centurion SS. Or Centurion RMX, since I like to think of it as "the BMX ReMiX".
Out on the road it was a dream. The first weekend I took it about thirty miles. The next, fifty. I couldn't get over it. Hills I thought would have me regretting doing any of this, were actually fun again. I was always in the right gear. There weren't any others! And I got up them hills so quickly! I was on an adult size kid-bike, and loving it! And that BMX freewheel is so quiet. I can actually hear the things I am whizzing by.
Loving it...and still something nagged at me.
Nagged at me.
Make it a fixed gear.
Every SS bike for the road I had heard of on the net was a fixie. "Why?" kept nagging at me.
The BMX freewheel just wouldn't come off. This was a good thing, actually, since it forced me to try this on another wheel, and I would have the BMX-rigged wheel to go back to if need be. I had a nice set of 27" wheels I bought for another bike a few years ago but only put about a thousand miles on. A little, discreet filing on the brake bridge bought me the room needed to put the 27" wheel on this 700C bike. Re-centered, re-dished--I don't mind telling you, I am proud of how straight it is, and how quickly I did this.
With a track sprocket and a BB lockring from an earlier experiment, I replaced the freewheel. Yes, a Sheldon Brown home fixie. I don't have a chainwhip, but actually got it on there plenty tight with a huge set of channel locks. Hasn't budged.
The only sprocket I could find in town was a 14T. I might order something lower one day, but I actually like the ungodly 81" gear this rig gives me.
No, I love it. And god, it looks sharp with those wheel on it, and goes along like a dream. Riding fixed has opened a whole new experience of cycling to me. The "Why?" that kept nagging at me cannot be answered easily in words. I could say, the control over the bike, the oneness with it, the unique feel of non-coasting, the almost sexy response of the pedals pushing back - nothing does it justice.
Just doing it. Evolving it - no, devolving it. Step by step. That was how I learned, first why to ride single speed, then why to ride it fixed. And I'm learning. About wheels, about riding. Like right now I am trying to figure out why I have had to re-tighten my bottom bracket twice - are fixies just like that, I wonder? Or did it just need an adjustment it would have needed anyway? The irony of thinking about a machine that has so little on it to think about...
Am I getting all philosophical about a machine? That might not be so bad, every now and zen.
24 hours of 9 Mile Race by RedRiderMyster author RedRider reports on his team's experience at the 24 hours of 9 Mile Race
Well, we rolled into central Wisconsin for the 24 hours of 9 mile race with high hopes but feeling left out. Again SSers were not acknowledged. No division for the bad boys of mountain biking. Once again SSers are not taken seriously. OK, so we entered in the 35-45 four man division. Those of you who have raced 24 hour races know we had our work cut out for us if we were going to show the "gearheads" that SSers can compete at this level. We wandered around before the race and met one other SS team. They had a five man team and were in another division. Then soon after the race started we discovered another SS team in the pro/expert division. So, we at least had two other teams to unofficially compete with. The weather was perfect all weekend. The course was a 15 mile loop with half singletrack, half ski-trail/fireroad. The singletrack was very challenging. There were no steep climbs here, so that was good for us SSers. But the flats in a race are (as we know) tough on us. We hate to be passed. When the fat lady sang our team (1 for all and all for 1) came in first place in our division. The race staff even interviewed us because we won on singlespeeds. SSers are contenders! I got a E-mail later from the promoters of the race and next year they said that there will be an SS division. I am not so sure now that I want to race against my SS brothers (or if there are any sisters out there). It felt so good to show the "gearheads" that they should come over to the SS world. They would never be the same again. Keep rocking on 1!
Single Speed Vs. Gears; Man Vs. Self; Remembering the Soul by Joe Whitehair
It's 10 a.m. and I'm in the Elk Meadow parking lot quizzing a local about the trail and what his recommended route is. As it turns out, he recommends the same route I've mapped out. He's going to do a couple of laps on the 12 mile route I've picked. I listen to this with a healthy skeptism as he tells me he hasn't been on the trail in 3 weeks and he's just been riding the road. I've checked the topo, I know what the terrain looks like. I think about asking him if he wants to tag along, then decide against it. The loop isn't long by my usual standards, in fact it sounds downright short when you say it out loud, but it's a straight climb to bag the peak and then bomb it back down and I would rather just hammer it alone. Depending on my time, maybe I'll squeeze in some other stuff. Besides, I just enjoyed the solitude of a 31 mile ride on the Colorado trail two days earlier and I had forgotten how much fun solo rides can be. They've been few and far between lately as I've accumulated several riding partners who hit my local trail with me and it's pretty much a given someone is always ready to ride. Which is good, I always like riding with people. But there was a time not long ago that most of the rides were solo, and that's fun in it's own way.
Elk Meadow Park is about 20 minutes outside of Denver. I guess this is considered the foothills, but who knows. Everybody talks about the foothills, but I'm not sure where they end and the "real" mountains begin. The trail starts out around 7600 ft. and Bergen Peak is at 9700. Sounds like a mountain to me, but who am I to question the local vocabulary?
The ride starts out in the open meadows. Dusty trail a couple of feet wide, fast and smooth with lots of rollers to launch off of. It's hot, but the first mile is easy spinning, speed creating breezes and the jumps starting the fun factor off just right. The rail narrows as a gradual climb begins and you start to enter trees at the foot of the mountain. Roots, rocks, and loose dirt start to appear, gradually at first, then increasing as the trees get denser and the elevation starts to rise. The easy spinning becomes a nice, steady, moderate spin. The sun is rising, beating down thought the openings in the trees. Then the real climbing begins. A mile or so of steep pitches and switchbacks. It's getting rockier and there's a lot of loose scree. Sitting and mashing is the only way to keep your traction in some spots. Getting above 8,000 ft. I start to notice the air getting thinner. It hasn't really bothered me like I thought it would, but you definitely start noticing it at this elevation. I live at an elevation of around 400 ft., which is to basically say I'm at sea level. The trees are getting thinner, it's a hot day and the sun is pounding down more, the sweat is running. Keep turning the cranks. Hydration is the key. Up, up, up. One of the good things about riding alone is you can just keep slogging away at the ride, no worries about anyone else. Stand and muscle up and over the rocks. Rear tire slips, lean back, regain traction, keep at it.
The climb begins to taper off, the grade isn't as steep for the next mile and a half or so. The views are unbelievable. I've been heading straight into the mountains, the only road the one I came in on and directly to my back. Not that I could see it from here anyway. There is nothing like breathing in clean mountain air while eyeing these giant green mounds and pedaling a bike up the side of a mountain. It's nearly impossible to put into words and you can forget about trying to get a non-biker to understand the feeling.
Take a hard left and head up the last mile to the peak. The first third is a series of tight, 180 degree switch backs, rocky and filled with big, powdery, baseball diamond dirt. Navigate carefully so your front tire doesn't wash out, that's all. The woods are dense again. Pine. That's been the dominating scent for most of the ride. Big and robust. The real thing is just something they can't capture in those little hanging trees for your car. Finish the switch backs and finish the climb long and steady in a counter-clockwise ride up to the peak. Pop out on some big rocks. Bergen Peak. Sit, smile, snap a few pictures and eat a carrot cake Clif Bar. Endorphins filling the body. How do you describe this to someone who isn't here right now? You can't. Every bike buzz is as different as the individual experiencing it. If you could bottle it and sell it, you could retire and ride singletrack all day, every day.
Weeks before I begin this journey, I'm home, in a dilemma. Which bike to take? The Ibis Mojo or the Surly 1x1? The Ibis, beautiful bike that she is, sits neglected and dusty. Can't even remember the last time I've ridden her. And I've been riding more than ever. I feel guilty, it's a great bike, fits perfect, climbs like a goat, carves singletrack. But, it's got gears. Single speeding has seeped deep into my bones. I was riding about 50% gears and 50% single speed up until the 2000 24 Hours of Moab, and mostly I was riding the gears only because that was the bike I was taking to the race. As soon as the race was done, the Ibis could practically be considered retired. I had fallen hard for single speeding, riding the converted frame I was using. Then, I bought the Surly and never looked back. So now, first chance to bike in Colorado and I have a decision to make: Gears or Single? I think about it, then say to myself, why is this even a question? Of course it has to be the single.
I start researching trails. I'm only going to be there 4 days and will probably only be able to bike 2 days. Got to make this good. The internet is usually great for this sort of thing, but for some reason I have a hard time lining up a bunch of good choices. I settle on a couple of trails as my options. Then, a week or so before the trip, I again go through the thought process of what bike to take. I thought this was settled! But no, once it's entered my mind again I have to turn it over and analyze it. List the pros and cons. Stare at it from different angles. I keep doing this, going back and forth between the two bikes. Finally, days before I'm to leave, I decide. I'll take the Ibis. Gears.
What?! I'm the self proclaimed single speed evangelist! This is blasphemy! Screw it. I haven't ridden this sweet piece of machinery in months. I don't want to make any decisions on what trail to ride based on the fact that I'm riding the single speed and me, being the hard-headed pseudo-tuff guy, feel that I need to be able to ride every freaking hill without dismounting. Yeah, sometimes those things go on in my head, not always, but it does go on. It's just the way I'm hardwired and I know it. I don't want to change gear ratios on my single speed. It's set up as 2:1 and that's the way it stays. Swapping out an easier freewheel is not an option for me. It's almost like having shifters. Run what you brung. Like I said, it's just the way I'm wired. I want to go and just pick whatever trail seems to strike my fancy. I want to ride more than I want to walk, and looking at some of the trails I've been researching, I might be doing that if I run 2:1. Then, I start making other excuses to justify my choice. The Ibis has a shock, the Surly is rigid. The Ibis' stem has a removable face plate, the Surly doesn't - easier to pack in the bike box. I break the Ibis down, pack it up and it's a done deal. Have I shamed my SS brothers and sisters?
I strap the Camelbak on, stuff the Clif Bar wrapper in my pocket, put on the sweat drenched helmet and head down from Bergen Peak. Blaze on down clockwise, then wrap around the switchbacks, hauling ass until I hit the corners, check my speed, accelerate out of the turn. Over and over. Left back onto the main trail. Start digging into the 2.5 mile downhill. Tearjerker, pine trees flying by. Everything is feeling fine, I'm in the groove. I feel like this is my local trail. Eyeing up turns, every line I pick feels right. Shooting through rocks, launching over roots, braking where I need to make the turns filled with baby powder dirt. I'm pushing the limits of traction on my tires, feeling near the edge of breaking loose in some of the turns, but I don't care, I need more speed. You only truly find the edge when you go over it. Blaze down the straight away, enter back into the trees. It's getting rooty. No time to slow down, this is to fun. Big patch of off-camber roots. Launch off the first one, clear the section, check the speed for a split second, roll over the rocks at high speed. Keep going. I feel like I've done this trail a hundred times. Everything is flowing. The trail dips and bobs. Fly off the rollers. Stack the front wheel on a rock, take a shot to the crotch from the seat. Man that fucking hurts! The Zoke sucks up the hit and I keep on rolling. What use is stopping? The rush from this downhill is just to good to stop. Out of the trees, back in the sun. Dusty, the rocks and roots are thinning. Finish the 2.5 mile switch back downhill and roll right into a mile of rolling ridge trail. Fast. Fun. Jumps. Out in the open again. Punch it up to the highest gear I've got (gears?!) and lay the hammer down. The ridge trail dumps back into the meadows, swooping through big, fat rolling dirt waterbars. Crank, air, float, repeat.
I roll through the dry, thigh-high grass and into the gravel parking lot. A huge smile is on my face. I'm drenched head to toe in sweat and the sun is beating down, but I don't really notice. The car of the local that said he was going to do a couple of laps is gone. Guess he shortcut it and never did one full lap, because he never passed me. I keep smiling. I have no doubts I brought the right bike. Why? Because this ride was so close to perfect I can't second guess it. Mountain biking has always been about having fun and that's what I just did. It's why I started riding single speed, because it was fun. So, in the end, I had no regrets, I remembered what the soul of mountain biking was. Fun. Period. Now go ride.
Twenty Questions with Matt Chesterby Joe Whitehair
Maybe you've heard of this guy Matt Chester. Lives in a little mountain town in Colorado, fabricating hand built Titanium bike frames. Specializes in single speeds. He's a one man operation and wants to keep it that way. Poke around and see if you can find an owner of one of his frames. If you do, you are probably going to hear nothing but praise. Matt was nice enough to answer some questions for us. Check out what he has to say about frame building, the bike business, and bikes in general.
Single Speed Outlaw: Let's start at the beginning. How long have you been building frames?
Matt Chester: Well, I guess I started when I built my first one...which was November of '98...so almost three years now. Man, that sounds so short...it definitely seems like I've been at this longer. I'm humble enough to know that I still have plenty to learn...
SSO: Your website says you have an engineering degree. Did you always intend on getting into the bike business with your degree, or did you have other jobs in mind when you started school?
MC: Bwaahaha! No way. I rediscovered bikes early on in college and the passion just sort of grew from there...my grades certainly reflected that! Plenty of hooky days in the North Georgia mountains for me! I suppose I had a few pipe dreams about what the hell I was going to do for food and rent...but I just basically morphed into a bike bum from the hellish drudgery of Georgia Tech. I was not a prodigy as far as being an engineering student. No.
SSO: What's your frame building experience? Did you build frames for any other companies before going out on your own?
MC: Nope - always a lone wolf. I took the Ti frame class at UBI and got plenty of personal help from Gary Helfrich. The rest is self-taught....as evidenced by the "prototypes" under my drawing table. There's a bit of a learning curve to welding this stuff right...right meaning good penetration without contaminating the weld with oxygen or hydrocarbons. It's pretty easy to make mistakes if you hurry a bit. The aesthetics come with practice. I think many Ti customers put too big a premium on the latter sometimes.
SSO: What do the folks think about your career choice?
MC: They're good with it...my family never issued edicts about what my older brother or I should do. I grew up in a mellow and pretty politically liberal household. I get along with Ma and Pa just fine. My bro is living in Uzbekistan teaching English so with all that's going on now, living in a shed in Leadville hardly furrows my Mom's brow! She can be a hand-wringer like most Moms but it's all good.
SSO: How did you wind up choosing Leadville as your base of operations?
MC: I got into the enduro mountain biking thing in the heyday of Stamstad...so not long after I started riding again in the early 90's. I did the Leadville Trail 100 and made quite a few friends. I was offered some shop space and a place to live at a price I couldn't turn down. After a few months...the house I was living in was sold, so I moved into the back of the shop on the floor...where I still reside! I knew I was going to move to some sort of hoopty real mountain town setting (meaning...no lame chi-chi ski resort towns) while I was getting stuff in order. Other places I thought about were western North Carolina, the Black Hills in South Dakota, central Oregon, and I guess the close second to Leadville was Trinity County in California - Hyampom, CA specifically. I own land now about two miles outside Alma, CO (North America's highest town at 10,500+') so that's about as far as I'll move from here. Some Salida locals are trying bribe me to set up shop there...but man, it gets pretty hot there and there's no Nordic ski area nearby. Shame. I'd like to build a nice A-frame and shop out in Mosquito Gulch on my land.
SSO: It's probably pretty hard to get started in the frame building business for the little guy, what is your primary means of advertising?
MC: Pretty much DirtRag is the only major publication I submit to. I had a small ad in Bike Trader for a little while too...but that didn't do a lot since it was just a text ad. Those, along with Singletrack in the UK are the only larger publications I'd think about. The major glossy mags are a waste of time...both as far as ad pricing and, quite frankly, editorial content. I really think they're about as bad as ski magazines now...that's a pretty bold statement. Utterly confusing and overwhelming for a newcomer to the sport. I feel sorry for the more mainstream publications actually...they've got to come up with new stuff to talk about twelve times a year, all concerning a very simple two-wheeled chain-driven human powered machine. I don't think they're as malevolent as people make them out to be though - I mean, a hidden agenda to support Shimano, Cannondale, or some other "evil" company? Come on. The smaller guys seem better about publishing stuff that shows that, yes, there's more to life than just bicycles and their related technology. Harping about "stuff" and "training" constantly just sucks and is really, really boring. I get a good dose of that from competitors who flock here for the Leadville 100. Zzzzzz. Want to know semi-slick tire weights? The best heart-rate monitor deals from mail-order companies? Come on up in the second week of August! One of these days...I'll get an ad in 'zines like Cars-R-Coffins and the Outcast among any others out there. I'd be all for giving some ad funds to any of that ilk. That goes for you too, Joe.
SSO: Do you have a test bike that you send around to demo (hint, hint)? Seriously though, you are a small operation and you can't be sending Ti bikes all over the place. Do you have a demo you lend out or send around to get exposure?
MC: Man, I wish. I've got a lot of the bits here to do one...but I'm always building for customers plus I've started doing Ti repair. The work I'm doing now is so much better than when I built the test bike for DirtRag...so I'd like to start fresh for sure. Actually, that's the only test I've sought out. All the other info that's bouncing around the web are unsolicited reviews from folks who all paid full price for their rigs...so that bodes pretty well! I've not gotten a stinker review yet...everyone seems to like what I do. Sure, there's been a problem or two...but all rectified by me ASAP. I think...two or three seat tubes that were a little off on inside diameter and one cracked downtube that was 100% my fault - fixed free of charge including the shipping cost to me. Word-of-mouth has been key for me. For a guy who spends a lot of time by himself in a tiny shop and making next to no money, I think my social skills are a little above par. I can usually eke out a good conversation when I meet someone at an event...that helps loads. That and I can't grow a beard and know nothing about explosives.
SSO: I seem to recall reading you made a handful of geared bikes early on. You're strictly single speed now, right? How come you're just sticking with singles?
MC:Well no...I am offering a couple of geared bikes now - a custom gearie 29er and a custom gearie cyclocrosser - either for $1700. This is mainly because I'm such a proponent of 29"/700c wheels for off-roading and I'd like as many folks as possible to experience how cool it can be. The vast, vast majority of my business is singles though and that is all I ride. I might be able to get by building only singles...but man, it's hard to turn business away over a set of dropouts and a few braze-ons when there are stacks of bills to pay and I'd like to have a place of my own sometime. I need to get a well put in on my land in Alma over the next year to make my life a little easier paperwork-wise with the Colorado gub'ment.
SSO: What's up with the 29 inchers? Is this something you are riding yourself or did you just have enough customers request this that you decided to start building some?
MC:29" wheels totally rock. It's really a big deal south of me in Salida, Gunnison, and of course Crested Butte. The setup suits the riding here sooooo well! It's good for anywhere it's fast, open, and even rough. The only place the larger wheels seem to not shine is in slower-speed very twisty riding. If you live in a place where speed is carried quite a bit and you're not accelerating every fifty feet...29s might be the ticket for you! If it is really tight where you live...hell, you might dig it anyway! I discovered the benefits well before the media got a hold of it in the last two years...so it's something I've always planned to do. I logged many miles in North Georgia on my old steel Trek lugged frame with big 'ol Avocets back in the day and loved that kind of riding more than anything. That's why I ride a 'cross rig all the time now on Tufo 28c file treads. I've built two 29" singles (the Mutinyman) which both owners rate as about the best bikes they've ever owned and I've got two 29" gearies (the Dogbox...I'll explain the name on the site) and one Mutinyman in line right now. The 26" wheel Utilitiman is still the most popular frame though, for sure. Bikes are just sweet in general...regardless of the wheel size in my book, both setups have their pluses and minuses. A rider who's dialed on his or her rig, whatever it may be, is going to have a ripping good time regardless. You will always be the most important component. Neither setup is "inferior" - polarization over wheel size is really lame in the big picture. With the events of the second week of September here in the States, I'd hope that people would just shut up about bike bickering in general and enjoy a peaceful ride to clear the bad stuff away for a bit. I will say that it's a pity that so many folks harbor angst about the whole 29" wheel thing without even giving it a shot. I guess a lot of it is rooted in a dislike for Wes Williams' (the builder of Willits frames and the guy who got the whole thing kick started) rather opinionated attitude. Calling 26" riders the "youth wheel set" doesn't make folks bust out Cokes and smiles for sure. No sir.
SSO: How long did it take you to come up with your current production geometry? Was it a good bit of trial and error or did you have an idea what you wanted and just tweak it out?
MC:Not too long actually. I'd put a lot of thought into before the first drawing. About two or three prototypes did the trick and some careful visualization with some full-scale pencil drawings. I actually thought of the Utilitiman geometry as being pretty singletrack specific and a little twitchy at speed when I rolled out the first proto. I then took it down East 5th Street here in Leadville, which is a fire road out of the old mining district. A very, very fast road with bits of kitty litter style gravel in random places and I was freaking amazed at how fast I could go comfortably. This was with an SE Racing Landing Gear fork on the front...so rigid with a capital "R"! Eye chatter? Yes. I'd already ridden a bit of singletrack with it and knew it could turn like a Triumph Herald at a moments notice...the wheels were weighted so evenly, it was like carving on a tele-ski...or a BMX cruiser...in a big turn! I sat for a minute at the junction of 5th and Harrison (the main drag in Leadville) for a minute just grinning - I knew I had come up with something good that didn't really resemble anything else available. A pretty happy day, that first real Ute ride.
SSO: What percent of the frames you build are custom vs. production?
MC:Well...I wouldn't say that anything I do is really "production" per say. I build everything one at a time...so I can always do a little tweaking for the customer's specific needs or wants. This goes along with getting the proper stem on the bike for a proper fit or tweaking the front end for a longer travel sussy fork...or whatever. I think that flexibility has helped my reputation a bit. It also ensures a near dead-on bike out of the box, most companies don't seem to do that and I don't understand why. A 'Zoke on a rigid geometry Ute would be a crappy slack beast...that's the last thing I'd want to happen. That, and someone sitting way too short cockpit-wise...like the friendly wino downtown on the Free Spirit (ladies' model...easier dismounts!) with the upside down drops. Most of my work is Utilitimen...in the queue of ten frames to build right now, half of them are Utes.
SSO: So, why don't you give us a run down of the models you offer and what's unique about each one.
First off...everything I build is with 100% US-made 3Al/2.5V titanium alloy tubing - from either Ancotech or Sandvik depending on availability of what I need. No foreign stuff. I do everything by hand too...I'm it. No employees...ever. I'm a crank.
UTILITIMAN - A 26" wheel singlespeed MTB frame in three standard sizes. Custom top tube and seat tube lengths cost an extra $100 each. I guess I'd think of it as a super-fun cruiser/MTB that you can actually pedal while seated without grenading your kneecaps off. It works like crazy both at speed and in tight situations like I mentioned before...I think it's a great design and would put it up in any "Best Handling Hardtail Shootout!" someone might come up with. A killer rig for snow riding - believe me in my locale, I know. Basic cost is $1000 plus extra for options. I'm afraid that price will increase a little in 2002 but not by a ton. It'll still be a plenty good deal for hand built Ti.
MUTINYMAN - The 29" wheel singlespeed moto machine. Fully custom for $1500! The design constraints on this thing are pretty tight...but I really do my best to put together a frame with zero toe-overlap, quick steering, and good tire clearance without the wheelbase being barge-like. It's tough sometimes! I also offer a few other options (like Axis ovalized/tapered chainstays) for a bit extra.
DOGBOX - Basically the same as the Mutinyman, but with vertical dropouts and a derailleur hanger for full on gearing. Full custom again for $1700. I can't put the fancy Axis chainstays on the Dogbox due to chainring/chainline issues, so just classic round ones!
INDIE ROCK- My personal favorite and personal ride as well...full custom cyclocross singlespeed for $1500! I guess I can do tire clearance up to around 47c (like the Conti Top Touring 2000)...it's really meant for skinnies though. Axis chainstays available...that's what I have...good for goop room! Other options too (like headset size, brake adjusters, etc.)...
MATH ROCK- Just like the above...but for fancy-lad gear changing mechanisms and a whole lotta cogs. Cost starts at $1700.
OTHER CUSTOM WORK - Basically on a case-by-case basis, I can build other stuff depending on the design. I'm not doing trials or BMX at the moment, but maybe someday. Custom starts at $1500. I also do repair and retrofit work when I have the means to take care of the problem properly with my limited equipment and means.
SSO: Now that you've been doing this a few years, how much has gone according to plan? Business wise, have there been any unexpected things that have thrown you for a loop?
MC:Plan? Uhhhh.... As far as getting thrown for loops - honestly, not really. I wish I were a little better about managing my time, as I'm sure everyone does. I probably racked up more debt than I should have starting this venture...I'm working to whittle that down as fast as I can. Bob Visa and Joe MasterCard have had plenty of yacht fishing jaunts to Jamaica on my dime. Other than that, it's a matter of keeping enough funds on hand to pay the bills. I'm pretty amazed sometimes at people's etiquette as far as e-mail...that was something I wasn't expecting. I've got no problems helping out someone who has no intention of buying a bike...you know: How do you set up a singlespeed? Can you give me some tips on setting up an SS 'cross bike? What gear should I run? What [component] is the best? What [component that hasn't been made in a decade] do you use? Who's the best builder that's not you? I love that one... Usually, I try to write out a good lucid answer (read: long) and hopefully help someone out. So, an extra couple of hours of e-mail that takes time out of frame fab or most importantly...riding. The response I usually get to all that time is: "[insert silence here]" - Nothing. Not even an acknowledgement that I took the time to respond. Quickly too! THAT is really, really irritating and inconsiderate.
SSO: Any plans to branch out into components a'la Tom Ritchey and Keith Bontrager? Will we be seeing Matt Chester Ti forks and Handlebars?
MC:No. Never. Just frames and frame repair. I'm not interested in opening more cans of worms. The frame repair thing is pretty cool to me actually...it's more challenging than building a frame from scratch sometimes. It's a service (titanium frame repair) that's not readily available too. I wish I could do more complicated repairs and retrofits (like working on soft tails and such) but I just don't have all the equipment for it.
SSO: Obviously these guys don't focus on single speeds, but how would you compare your frames to some of the bigger Ti builders like Dean or Litespeed?
MC:Well...we all build bikes! Man, I don't know...I don't really compare. I got into building because I like riding...not because I want to be king fabricator. I'd like to think I build stuff as well as the bigger guys. Everybody building titanium (that I know of anyway) does fine work.. Unlike some of the folks in the early days of Ti rigs...I do have a fundamental understanding of why stuff needs to be done, regarding cleanliness and purging with inert gas when welding Ti. Everyone does now, I guess....and that's what been the impetus to make titanium a viable material for bike frames. I guess when it comes down to it....the business I get is from people that value a now disappearing style of transaction that involves a relationship/genuine interaction with the seller - not just an antiseptic fast-as-possible point-and-click on the 'net spending spree or swipe of the plastic. I think where I stand out pretty well is the time I spend with folks on e-mail and the phone, regardless of cost, to answer questions and showcase my design philosophy. It's not sales...it's presenting info (and I try not to step on the slippery slope of negativity about other bikes...although it happens sometimes, it is a lame thing to do) and letting the customer decide. If someone e-mails me: "Sell me on your bike. I want to know why I should buy yours over XYZ (a very reputable brand!)." I don't play that. I present the info on a website that took a lot of time to put together for that purpose. If there are questions after that...cool, no sweat. I'm not selling encyclopedias or siding though. If someone contacts me with a very type-A standoffish disrespectful attitude...like making rather threatening demands about delivery time or "this better be this way or else"...then I tell them to go elsewhere. I've only had to do that once though, thankfully. I don't want to give the personal attention to someone who isn't going to appreciate it. Life is too short to let difficult people drive you nuts. If I were charging $3500 for a frame...I'd be more than happy to put up with that crap.
SSO: If you jump on MTBR's SS board, it seems you've built a bit of a cult following. Everyone on the board who owns one of your bikes raves about them. How do you respond to that? Does that kind of stuff give you inspiration or do you kind of just let it play in the background and focus on your work?
MC:Yeah, I check it out every so often...it's pretty awesome to get such positive feedback. I wouldn't say it inspires me as much as just makes me happy. I read it and it just gets me stoked to cut and weld...and there are certainly some days when I'm not. I try not to get a big head, because I know better - I'm a puppy. I still have plenty of tricks to learn. I'm a little obsessed about keeping the good momentum though. If there's a problem with a frame...it really, really bugs me to the point of being unhealthy. A lot of times, that ends up being positive and the work ethic and humility creep back in. Shut up and work. The best attitude is one like the baseball juggernaut Tony Gwynn ..."I suck.." He was the greatest contact hitter in modern baseball yet he always worked harder than anyone to improve. Larry Bird, Tiger Woods, Richard Groenendaal, Lance Armstrong....same thing in their respective realms. That sounds scary-infomercial-like but it's true. I do feel really bad if I'm having a bad day and I'm curt on the phone or via e-mail with a person. If I don't hear back...it bugs me that I might have alienated someone.
SSO: What are the bikes you have in your personal stable?
MC:Just one at the moment, believe it or not. My Indie Rock SS cyclocross sled is it. Lots of neat stuff on that rig...my dream bike that I've always wanted for sure. It's also the first bike that I've had were I've said: "Yep, this is finally long enough!" Fits like a glove! I'm built like a pterodactyl! I ride a single layer of cotton tape on my bars and never wear gloves unless it's damn cold out. I'm hoping to build myself a custom drop barred Ute with a long top tube for snow specific usage sometime...God knows when I'd have the time. Ute #1 has been retired to the "museum" at Absolute Bikes in Salida. A 29" wheel SS would be nice sometime...but I have too much fun being an Anquetil wannabe on my 'crosser to really bother. Skinny tires are just so much fun and so challenging off-road. It's amazing how smooth you can be when you've got NO buffer. I suppose that's why I don't build myself a "proper" fat-tired dirt bike...I see the skinnies as a challenge to really improve my skills and that all goes back to the "I suck" mentality. Compared to Don Myrah and Jed Fox....I do suck. And they pale in comparison to the guys in the 1940's who did the same thing with a Corsa gear change! That was skill.
SSO: Where does racing fit into your life and riding in general?
MC:It used to be a big deal to me...but no more. I did a few 12 and 24 hour races solo years ago and vowed I'd never do that again, even on a team. The closest thing I do to riding in circles is the Cascade Cream Puff 100 miler in Oregon...which is three 33+ mile loops. What a great event. I like the 100 milers I guess...I do the Leadville 100 (badly) every year. I'd like to do well in it a least once and then bag it. The Brian Head 100 is a great singlespeed epic for sure and there are lots of other low-key longer events that appeal to me...especially the Dakota Five-O and a neat 100km jaunt in Montana that I can't remember the name of right now. These events really aren't "races" per say though. There's usually a clan of good eggs at these gatherings...good camp food, plenty of stargazing, and some non-bike conversation. I've sold quite a few bikes just from the hang out time at such gigs. If you mean by "racing"...spendy NORBA style races that are rarely over 25 miles, screw that stuff. The cost-enjoyment ratio at those things is pretty unfavorable in my humble opinion. Of course...it could be sour grapes since I suck so badly at them. That's usually the case, huh? I'm not even warmed up in 20 miles! I guess I like being in a mellower atmosphere...scads of people weird me out, hence where I live and why I live the way I do. Bike riding is therapeutic to me...like a good swim or a bit of yoga with a better view...it shouldn't cause more stress, eh? Our societal "improvements" have taken care of that for us.
SSO: Where do you see your company 10 years down the road?
MC:Hopefully...in the same general place. I don't really want to grow at all, just work by myself and live a good mellow existence. Phase out the competition stuff and be one of those freaky old mountain guys in a flannel that just rails! Ha ha! I'd hope in a decade's time that I would make a good name for myself and have steady business. It'll have to get pretty bad for me to bail as I can live third world cheap if I have to...well, I pretty much do now! I'd like to be a bit more efficient building and stick to delivery times a little better. I'm not as tardy as some folks, but I'd rather improve than get pompous enough to think it doesn't matter. It does....in any business.
SSO: Any last words for our readers?
MC:Yup...skill and setup before stuff. Word. Thanks for taking the time to read this! Hopefully we'll all cross paths sometime!
UUSSSC Report by Kevin AxtNot only is Kevin the chief dragon at Dragon Tongue Single Speeds, now he's the 2001 Unofficial United States Single Speed Champion. So, if you see him on the trail, show some respect and buy the man a beer.
UUSSSC stands for Unofficial United States Single Speed Championship and was held in conjunction with Barbie Camp. Barbie Camp is a bi-yearly celebration of the time change held by the Disciples of Dirt bike club out of Eugene, OR. Barbie Camp gets it name from the camp mascot ... a 3 ft tall Barbie. The fall BC was held October 26-28 with the UUSSSC happening on the 28th.
UUSSSC, Sunday morning, 10am, Barbie Camp time (none of this silly Daylight Savings time). Nine single speeders gathered around the BC sign for a picture or two and then we had the rules of the day explained to us by the non-event dis-organizer, Don (a.k.a. Shiggy). Everybody had paid their entry fees for the event and the beer was piled high near the cooking tent. We'd ride the Metolius Windigo Trail out and back for a total of about 17 miles. The route wasn't marked except for the trail signs that were already up. We'd roll out in a neutral start until we got to the beginning of the trail and then the event would begin. At the half-way point would be a "hidden" beer stash, and two brews had to be either consumed or carried. There would be a judge and that person would decide who the Champion would be (not necessarily the fastest rider). Bribing of the judge was allowed.
The Metolius Windigo Trail turned out to be a blast to "race" on. Winding through the Douglas Firs of central Oregon, I was grinning from ear to ear. We came to the first of several stream crossings and I elected to walk the logs over the first two. The weather was very cool and I wasn't too keen to get my feet wet. The next wet crossing came upon me all of a sudden ... deceptively looking like a little mud puddle. WRONG. About half way through, the bottom dropped off and you were in up to your hubs. Two more small stream crossings after that but by this time I figure I'm wet anyways so why bother. There's just something satisfying about blasting through with water flying everywhere. More fast and winding trail, then a short downhill and I'm at the 1/2 way point. Much insanity ensues. When I finally returned to camp, the fire was going and everybody was having fun. I stopped off at my tent first to get my bribe for the judge, a Dragon Tongue Single speeds t-shirt and some stickers. Shiggy bribed the judge with a talking beer opener. More beer from the entry fees was consumed. We hung around the fire trying to warm our toes back up and then the judge started to hand out swag donated by the non-sponsor, Webcyclery. We egged on the judge to announce the champion. And the Official Unofficial United States Single Speed Champion is ... me! I have no clue why ... probably because I was the most unlikely to be the champion. My prize for winning was a 12 pack of McMenamins beer and a custom designed t-shirt.
Regular Rider Interview: Julia Violich by Joe WhitehairIt's back, the regular rider interview. Profiling the riders you may not have heard of but you probably should know about.
Female mountain bikers are a somewhat rare breed, and female single speeders are seen with the frequency of the Loch Ness Monster. Well, here's one you should know about. Working in the bike industry and very committed to single speeding. Presenting Julie Violich. See what she has to say.
Single Speed Outlaw: Give us a little background. How long have you been mountain biking? How long have you been riding single speeds?
Julia Violich: I have been riding for almost 4 years (and have been racing for 3 of the 4). Always been an athlete...playing soccer in college and running/trekking post college. Knees started to give right after a bad break up so I decided to try biking to help me get over the emotional anguish. If nothing else it allowed me the opportunity to sweat! I had no idea that I would fall in love with the sport, and passionately. Once I started, there was no going back. I have made two wheels my life. I ride almost every day (75% of the time I am on my SS). I bagged my professional job to start my own company in the industry (gravywheels.net). Instead, I use my MBA (from Berkeley) to consult non-profit bicycle advocacy organizations and make our company strong.
SSO: How did you first get involved with single speeds? What kind of SS do you have and how is it set up?
JV: My first bike was a Schwinn Factory Homegrown, made by Yeti. Couple years ago, I ended up getting a titanium race bike, but didn't want to part with my Schweti. Gravy, my business partner and friend, suggested that I go the single speed route with the Schweti. A couple King hubs and a singulator later, I am a single speed convert.
SSO: What do you find to be the biggest appeal of single speed riding?
JV: The biggest appeal of single speed riding is a hard question to answer. I love everything about it. The simplicity, the purity, the silence on the trails, the way I have to use my body, the way my bike just rips into corners...the biggest appeal would have to be hanging tight with my race buddies (all boys) on my single speed while they are using gears. I can climb better (except on super steep stuff) and descend just as well as they can with only one gear.
SSO: If you had to make a choice and you could only have one bike, would it be a single speed or gears and why?
JV: Hands down, if I had the choice of one gear or many, I would choose one gear. There is nothing finer that hopping on that bike after a long day at work. Our symmetry just works. Some of my friends tell me I am crazy, but I swear, that bike is the sexiest thing between my legs. There is not a ride that I don't feel the love.
SSO: Do you see the single speed movement getting much more "mainstream" than it is now, or is it near the peak of it's popularity?
JV: Is SS mainstream? No, I don't think so. I love encouraging people to try single speeds, to convert their own hardtails and get back to the roots of the sport, but I still don't see many people out on the trails and I certainly don't meet many people that "understand". There is some unspoken bond between single speeders that no one main stream could ever comprehend.
SSO: I've heard you have a pretty impressive racing record. How long have you been racing and how did you do this year?
SSO: Are you racing your SS as all?
JV: I had two great years in 2000 and 2001. Unfortunately, none of my races have been on my sweet SS. The only organized race that I have done on my single speed is the Dela, a 100 mile off-roader in Marin. I rode about 80 miles of it before suffering heavily from heat exhaustion. But I felt awesome, climbing about 14000 feet with the old 17 tooth cog! On gears, I placed 2nd overall in the state of California and was able to secure a 3rd place in the Leadville 100 and a 2nd place in the Vail Ultra 100. I am hoping next year to take the single speed racing to another level. I'd like to follow in Marla's footsteps and vie for the famed tattoo.
SSO: Tell us about Gravywheels.net and how you got involved with that.
JV: Gravywheels.net is a custom wheel building company. Steve "Gravy" Gravenites is one of the best wheel builders in the world. He and I have joined forces to create a company that will truly build the wheel set of your dreams (or rebuild your old wheels). We build a lot of single speed wheels as a matter of fact. The King/Mavic combination is one of the most popular. Many people opt for King's crazy color hubs and get matching nipples to finish the wheel off. Phil Wood and Paul Components also get a lot of business from us. Gravy and I interview each rider so that we is able to build a wheel specific to the rider, their riding style, their weight, and the terrain they might encounter. We are in the process of establishing relationships with a few custom single speed frame builders to provide a total custom option for our customers. Companies we are working with and hoping to work with include Jerricho, Kelly, Otis Guy, and Strong Frames.
SSO: Any tips you want to offer beginning single speeders?
JV: My advice for novice single speeders: Pain is your friend. Truly it is not as bad as think it is. There is an unbelievable payoff when the ride is over or when you've reached the top of a steep climb...a glorious sense of accomplishment and inner peace. One heart, one soul, one life, one gear.
Another Perfect Day by Joe SommersJoe reported on the 125 mile fixed gear ride he did in Virginia in Issue #2. He prefers a Surly Steamroller for his fixed gear pain.
You're out riding and decide to take roads less traveled. The morning and most of the afternoon have passed and you realize you are now hopelessly lost. Having ridden into the middle of nowhere the question... When will I get home?... begins to haunt you. Poor planning it might be said. Not really. Knock on the door of that distant house as your water bottles run dry and youcide to take roads less traveled. The morning and most of the afternoon have passed and you realize you are now hopelessly lost. Having ridden into the middle of nowhere the question... When will I get home?... begins to haunt you. Poor planning it might be said. Not really. Knock on the door of that distant house as your water bottles run dry and you begin to sense the impending bonk. Ask the wary inhabitants to refill your bottles and perhaps a bagel to stave off total disaster. Ask them for directions but avoid the dreaded phone call home that would announce your capitulation. Get back on the road and stagger home as darkness is grasping the landscape. Fall into the arms of your loved ones, perhaps shedding a few tears after seeing your son and daughter for the first time since the early morning when you crept into their room and kissed them on the forehead, reassuring yourself that everything would be all right. "Hi Dad, where are you going?" the sleepy little guy asked you in the wee hours of the 'morn. Devour the leftovers of another great meal your wife cooked but you missed. Soak in a steaming shower as the road grit is dissolved and your abused and aching frame is slowly restored. Collapse into bed and smell her scent on the pillow beside you...