Cam-Rock, singlespeeding, and the hurt

I did something yesterday that I have done much of in recent years: went mountain-biking (or dirt-cycling, as I like to call it) on local singletrack.

Now, in my youth, I did quite a bit of mountain-biking. There were four or five years when most of my riding consisted either of mountain-biking somewhere in Wisconsin or riding around town. For part of this time, I did it all on the same bike: a 1991 Specialized Stumpjumper Comp, just stripping off the fenders and changing the tires to convert it from city bike to trail bike.

It looked a lot like this:

1991 Stumpjumper Comp (not mine)

To this day, it remains one of my favorite bikes, and one that I kept riding in one guise or another until it was mangled when I was hit by a car during my homebound commute eight or nine years ago.

Not surprisingly, it was also my first singlespeed mountainbike. It went from geared to single the old-fashioned way.  That is, I mangled the derailleur and didn’t have enough cash to replace it. Since it had semi-horizontal dropouts, I pulled the derailleurs, removed two of the chainrings, and used a single cog and spacers to get things lined up. The old, heavy steel QR generally kept things in place. I’ve been doing most of my off-road riding singlespeed ever since.

But I digress.

The Church does most of its riding on the road or on rail trails. It’s not that we don’t like riding in the dirt — it’s just the way the group seems to have evolved. But many of us also have bikes with knobby tires, and we’ve finally gotten around to trying to ride the trails together.

And after riding the trails in NE Wisconsin on my own a couple of weeks ago, I was stoked to find that both Nate and Michael were up for more of that sort of thing around Madison. Michael couldn’t make it this weekend, so Nate and I headed to Cam-Rock on our own.

I’m still riding a singlespeed. Instead of Ox the Pugsley, I pulled the Redline Monocog off the hook. I bought it from a Craigslister over the summer (as a birthday present to myself, as a matter of fact), but it hasn’t seen much use. Time to change that.

Me astride the Redline Monocog (Photo by Nate Vergin)

But it turns out that after many years of riding on the road, rail trails, and gravel roads, I’m just not very good at riding technical singletrack any more. My skills are beyond rusty — I’m pretty sure they’ve rusted away entirely.

So rusty, in fact, that when at the start of our second lap I was trying to descend a section of trail that I probably should have avoided altogether, I lost the front wheel and came into intimate contact with the ground, as well as parts of my bike that do not interface well with human anatomy.

Damage report: tweaked left shoulder, bruised ribs, and a nice raspberry on my left elbow, bruise on my left thigh. The bike was fine.

When I first hit the deck, I felt like I was cooked and that was going to be the end of our day. But, once I dusted myself off and put things in some semblance of order, I found that I was able to ride, though some things didn’t feel that great — steepish downhill corners, for example, put pressure just in the wrong place.

Nothing to do but ride it off. So we took another lap. Quite a bit of it looked like this:

CamRock singletrack (Photo by Nate Vergin)

Except for the bits that were a lot steeper, twistier, and rockier — much of which worked me over pretty good, especially once I started to get tired and more sore.

Tired on a singlespeed, I must say, is worse than tired on a geared bike: it makes it much harder to keep one’s momentum, which in turn makes it harder, which just makes you more tired. It’ll make you stronger too, but only later on.

After the second lap, we called it a day and headed to CamRock Cafe for a much-needed latte and to rehash the morning’s ride.

After that, it was home for a hot shower and out to Alchemy with K for a couple of pints and a burger, and then to the Chocolaterian for dessert and espresso (and coffeeneuring).

A fine day all around.

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