Pandemonium in Portland: Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships

By Stevil Kinevil 

The year was 2007. One person or another asked me if I’d planned on attending the first-ever Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships, which were to be held a few weeks later in Portland, Oregon. Having been in the trenches both organizing and racing in some of the first Singlespeed World Championships of the mountain bike sort, I opted to forgo the event for no reason other than laziness. However, upon seeing photographic proof of the race shortly after it had come to its conclusion, I found myself smothered in regret. I would not make the same mistake in 2008 and 2009.

In 2010, the race happened to fall on the same weekend that I was getting married; as it turned out, going to Seattle to get soggy, muddy and loaded (not necessarily in that order) wasn’t exactly what my wife had in mind for a honeymoon. The following year, the race moved back down the coast to San Francisco, and since that was more or less where I was living at the time, I couldn’t in good conscience miss that one. From that point forward, my interest and energies in making the trek to the various debacles waned. That was until I caught wind that the circus was returning to its birthplace, and I figured if I should ever attend one of these train wrecks again, it should probably be this one.

Photo by Damian Riehl

That said, I’ve never been one who’s had an interest in attempting to capture lightning in a bottle. To me, this event — much like its fat-tired cousin — is akin to seeing a no-name band in a hole-in-the-wall dive bar long before they were filling auditoriums. Experiencing the raw and blissfully ignorant impact of something before it expands and distorts to fill the mass consciousness has been and always will be a concept that I wholeheartedly embrace. So, after repeated inquiries from friends near and far as to whether or not I’d be in attendance, I finally buckled and bought myself a plane ticket. My plan at that stage was to pin a number on at the airport and go straight to one of Portland’s many famed peeler bars. Actually making it to the race would be a secondary directive. A short time later, I got an offer from a friend to transport my bike to town. At least in that case I’d be mobile and could avoid the race and all related functions aboard a properly suited steed. Then, just days before I left, I was offered one of the few remaining entries to the race. “Crap,” I thought. “After all of this non-effort to elude most things SSCXWC related, it looks like it caught up with me after all.” The big, dirty and sore-covered but loveable dog that is the Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships chased me down, tackled me and proceeded to slather its fat pink smelly tongue all across my face. Try as I might not to be, I was back in the eye of the storm, and what you are about to read is, to the best of my recollection, what transpired.

Photo by Damian Riehl

Where else in the world can you not only see Adam Craig and Sven Nys go toe to toe with each other in an event, but actually be racing against them at the same time? (Granted, there were only about three people actually racing with them, but you get my point.) Where can you get your beer consistently knocked out of your hand with giant balls of lobbed mud, or get lost amidst a field of corn with a woman dressed as a hotdog? I’ve been at this game for a long time, and so far I can just reckon that the place of which I speak can only be the SSCXWC. To accurately describe it is not unlike attempting to describe a car crash down to its final detail — every shard of broken glass, sheared bolt and piece of twisted metal as the hulking mass meets its end in a violent and deafening impact.

Truly, the only way to wrap one’s mind around the fury that is this race and its associated activities is simply to attend it. Though obviously I am unable to say that future events will achieve the same level of complete pandemonium that Portland’s 2016 swan song did, I can say that the PDX crew has consistently set the bar to an admirable level for other cities to attempt to reach. Over the course of three days, we drank somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 cans of beer, saw six bands play at two consecutive parties, rode bikes all over Port- land and, as the lot of us bathed up to our eyeballs in mud, ultimately watched Adam Craig and Jessica Cutler take top honors in heated battles with their respective fields. My personal race was a far less impressive feat, finding me at the starting time still miles away and with nary a fire in my belly to actually pin that number on. I’m not entirely sure, but I think that particular whimper officially marked my retirement.

Photo by Damian Riehl

Will I attend another SSCXWC? It’s entirely possible, but as I try to organize the myriad of fuzzy memories of what I just experienced, I’ll be content for now to just lay low and lick my wounds, of which there are many. As I near the conclusion of this story, I realize that I was maybe initially looking at my return to this race through a skewed and maybe even jaded lens. As long as there are like-minded and good-hearted derelicts of a one-speed sort coming together in any capacity, it’s in that direction that I will from this point forward and forever tip my hat.

Now standing at my desk, ham-fistedly sorting and then banging out a reasonably accurate description of events, I again reflect upon the analogy I opened with. Maybe the SSCXWC is no longer akin to a hardly known band that will one day pack stadiums, but it’s not there yet, and as long as we, the outsiders and the underdogs, keep our pickled hearts in the right place and continue to make it uniquely ours, ours is how it will always remain.

This piece originally appeared in Dirt Rag 196. Subscribe today to never miss an issue and sign up for our weekly email newsletter to get fresh content delivered to your inbox every Tuesday.