By Chris Reichel
There has been quite a bit of grumbling lately about singlespeeding being dead. They will say single speeds are played out, jumped the shark, sold out, mainstream, and so on. But there is still a large group of miscreants and derelicts from all over the world, who meet up once a year in a random corner of the globe for Single Speed World Championships. This year was no different and the location was Hakuba, Nagano, Japan.
The Japanese race organizers have been trying to bring the event to their country for a few years and we all knew that it would be a trip of a lifetime. I boarded plane without hesitation and had no idea what to expect. My preconceived notions of crowded streets and smoggy suburbs were quickly shattered when I finally arrived in the mountain town of Hakuba. It is a sleepy little ski station in the summertime but the remnants of the 1998 Winter Olympics are all around, reminding you that this is probably a very busy place once the snow falls.
Saturday was for socializing, registration and pre-riding the course: time to see what the Japanese Alps had to offer. In typical ski resort fashion, we were treated to huge climbs, screaming fast descents and slippery singletrack through cedar forest. More than a few people commented that it felt like a NORBA National cross country course from 1998.
After dark, we all gathered in the nearby ski lodge for an opening ceremony of sorts. We were treated to barrels of sake and a Taiko drum performance, the likes of which I have never seen. The drum crew performed while local artists created a huge painting on the floor while we all watched in awe. Once the crowd was sufficiently energized with sake and drum beats the focus turned to the qualifying competition for 2016 hosting rights. It was absolute pandemonium, but it was eventually sorted out that Australia would face off against Belgium in a final competition after the race.
Race day greeted us with pouring rain and the promise of a slippery fun time in the woods. I have been to quite a few Single Speed Worlds and have never seen a display of costumes like I did in Japan on race day. The locals upped the costume game significantly. The race began with a LeMans start up the side of the mountain and all the bikes were sufficiently re-arranged before the riders got to them. The rain let up just in time for the start and the racers set out for three laps of mountain bike fun.
Hundreds of smiling faces made their way around the course for a few hours. The eventual winners were Angus Edmond from New Zealand and Amy McDougall from South Africa. This was the second worlds win for both of them. They were promptly sat down and given their winner’s tattoos.
The party was then moved to town where we descended onto a fine local pub called Lucky Pete’s. Pete, the owner, is a heck of a guy. When things started to get a little out of hand, instead of calling the police, he just took pictures and poured us some more beer. We need more Petes in this world. The celebration went early into the next morning and we all raised a glass to heartfelt toast for our fallen single speed brother Burry Standar. By the time it was all over we were all winners.
In some corners of the mountain bike world, singlespeeds just might be dead. But somebody forgot to tell Japan. The level of passion and excitement for singlespeeds (and mountain bikes in general) in Japan is of the likes I haven’t seen in many years. The race organizers did an amazing job of showing us what their country has to offer in a very short amount of time. Hats off to them and all of their hard work! I can’t wait to get back and explore those mountains more.
See you in Australia for 2016!
Click on the magnifying glass to see full-size photos.