One of the reoccurring waves of enthusiasm for two-wheeled fun that I’ve enjoyed over the years has been driven by singlespeed bicycles. It probably was heavily influenced by growing up near Chicago and the Schwinn Bicycle Company. I grew up riding steel singlespeeds. Somewhere in my twenties, I started mountain biking on a steel Rockhopper (with gears). During the era when discussion boards were really big, I started to read about mountain bikers converting their bikes with chain tensioners, etc. I remember reading a story about the first Singlespeed World Championships on the old CarsRCoffins site and that article lit the fuse in my brain to the best kind of bicycle fireworks. I cobbled together a singlespeed conversion and that bike and those riding experiences exposed me to incredible events like Dirt Rag’s Punk Bike Enduro and Homie Fall Fest in MPLS. My friends started Gnome-Fest as a singlespeed bike party in 2004 and even as cycling trends have come and gone, my friends and I have always kept a singlespeed mountain bike (or two) in the bike shed. And that brings us to today’s dirty limerick – SSUSA
Singlespeed USA is run by different folks from year to year and the location for the race changes based on a crazy competition held after the ‘race’ part. This year the event was run by mi two amigos, Spinner and Chewy. The location for the event was Decorah, Iowa. Decorah is the perfect sleeper location for anyone that has never been there. If you live and ride in Decorah Iowa, you are a certified Bad Ass Motherfucker! I don’t care if you have gears or you ride a singlespeed. Your trails are hardAF and also quite fun! Decorah is the perfect little town for such an event so when they opened up registration and I saw that the event was to take place on my birthday…it seemed like it was my destiny to attend!
I have to admit that I didn’t go to SSUSA to cover the event. I went there to ride and hunt gnomes. So this article isn’t meant to be a comprehensive report about the race. It’s just some of what I experienced as one of the congregation. SSUSA has a pretty unique format. There are two categories. Racers and Social Riders. I registered in the latter. There were probably only about twenty racers in a field of over two hundred overall riders.
The party started with early packet pickup on Friday evening at a dive bar right in town. The back alley reminded me a little of hanging out behind the old OneonOne Bike Studio in MPLS. The fun started to flow like Busch Lite.
It was a great night to catch up with old friends! Events like this are like a family reunion where you get to see folks from other rebel bike events like SSUSA. Singlespeed events bring out the best people. People that just want to ride and get crazy! #gnomes
I had a hell of a time trying to figure out my lights for the ride back to the hotel. I rode home between the raindrops and reminded myself to do this sort of mini-adventure more often. Almost all of my riding takes place in the daylight. With the way my Krampus was geared, the cruising speed was about nine or ten mph. The perfect place for a cool summer night ride. Decorah’s bike infrastructure is ultra-smurfy, or maybe Dutch. Spinner promoted the fact that once you got to the town of Decorah, you could park the car and ride everywhere and he was right.
The main event and race part of SSUSA started at the Elks Club in Decorah. The crowd was impressive. My best wild-ass guess is that there were maybe two hundred fifty riders in the opening parade through town. JP showed up with a fireball bandoleer!
Spinner ran the rider meeting atop a pickup truck across the street from the crowd. The course was set up with a party pit in the middle and two 5-mile lobes off of that centrally located hub. I thought that I knew where that party pit was located, but I was completely wrong. We followed Spinner on his big fat dummy, down Water Street and we hit every red light through town in a stop-and-go bike parade that had all of the locals grabbing for their cellphones. The parade eventually entered a gravel road that took us to the actual start in a grassy meadow at the bottom of a big ass rocky climb.
The line of riders rolling into the start area was pretty impressive. By the time that I got my camera out, I just caught the back end of the group (vid above). Everybody stopped, cracked a beer or a kidney and the pre-race safety meeting commenced with gusto #buschlight.
Decorah lived up to its reputation for having steep terrain. The rain that fell overnight ensured every root was slick as snot. I had ridden here before a few times so I knew that I’d be hiking up some of the climbs, even with my 28:19 gearing. My choice was to go with the most aggressive tire that I had on hand (Bontrager XR5 29×2.6) and that was working out pretty well for me in the traction department. I managed to stay atop the bike throughout the day. I also made sure that I wore good lugged Oboz trail shoes for the greasy steep hike-a-bike sections.
It seemed to me that they designed the course to take us up and down the hardest parts of their extensive trail network, but with the way it was laid out with that party in the middle, it was a complete blast. In my state of reality, the course felt like less of a two-part lung shape of a course and more like an amoebic cloverleaf…and after a couple hours of riding and several visits with that party pit, it started to feel like an arboreal corn-maze. I don’t know if I completed the course. I’m pretty sure that I repeated certain sections of the course and I know that I enjoyed a hell of a good ride or rides that fine afternoon.
After I drank all of my water and ended back at the party pit for the fifth or sixth time, I finally asked the Captain for directions to get the hell out of there. The Captain gave me several different choices. I was pretty vaped at that point and most of what he was saying sounded like some sort of riddle, but somehow the babble fish in my ear translated what he was saying to my co-pilot and I headed off (once again) into the tree maze with a silly grin.
The Captain told me that I’d get out to a gravel road and that I should take the singetrack to the right down to that same gravel road. I followed the Captain’s directions and I found the Party Pit that I had been to before. It’s always nice when you’ve been wandering around in the woods and you come across a landmark that you recognize.
My legs felt alright, however, my upper body and shoulders were completely shelled and I was hungry. I went to the Kwik Star and demolished half a fried chicken and a salad. After a shower, I took a nap and it was lights out. So Spinner and Chewy did a great job at creating a playground that kicked my ass. Well played gentlemen. I missed the bands and the big crazy party back at the Elks Club, but that’s not really my thing these days. One of the great things about events like SSUSA is that everybody can do whatever they want and nobody gets their noses out of joint or their feelings hurt. I don’t know who won the race part of SSUSA. I know that it’s moving to Missouri next year. If you wanna know who won or if you want to see pictures from the after party visit the SSUSA 2022 Facebook page. #ssusa2022