The “what, why and how” of SSCX

Guest writer Craig Etheridge has compiled his thoughts on SSCX here for us. Craig has been racing SSCX for 14 years and formerly raced for 5 years with the Raleigh/Clement team. In the 2017 Super Series he can be found at the front of the race, riding away from the pack in white pajamas.

Photo by Darrell Parks www.darrellparks.com

We’re well into fall season of bikes around here and it’s about time we had a talk about something.  Something near and dear to my heart.  A sub-genre of a very specific sport that most people never hear about in which case many more than most people don’t even care about, but they should.  And I’m here to talk a little bit more about it.

What:

Let’s start with the basics of what I’m talking about in the first place.

The formal: Single Speed Cyclocross.  Move to the abbreviated: SSCX.  Transition (depending on who’s announcing) to the “heckle”: Silly Speed.    Whatever you want to call it, it’s fun.  Now, I don’t need to tell you how fun cyclocross in general is because there are plenty of places to read about that.  I’m talking about something a little different.  Not a lot different.  But enough different, believe me.

Why:

That’s a loaded question and I’ll try to keep this short-ish.  There’s really not a reason why at all.  There are way more options for easily accessible and reasonably priced geared CX bikes.  They are more versatile through different seasons (think gravel stuff all summer/winter long).  

That’s basically where I need to stop myself.  It’s not practical.  It’s not supposed to be.  Unless you really are on that tighter than most CX racing budget, because comparably they are less $$,  then there isn’t a good reason to race SSCX.  But for some reason people (myself included obvs) keep doing it.  It’s that “different” I mentioned before.  Forcing yourself to look at a course or yourself on that course in a new light by taking away some of the decisions.  For me, it took removing those gear decisions and choices before I really was able to start focusing on other aspects of the race.  Ask any SSCXer, you’re not bored without gears, I promise!  

Questions you may have about this:

  • Is it more fun?  I think so! I feel more efficient even though that doesn’t make any sense.  You might give up less speed before a corner because you know how hard it is to exit and get back up to speed on the next one.  It’s like trying to explain “flow”.  Tricky.
  • Is it faster?  Maybe?  This can all tie into your efficiency.  I honestly don’t believe I’m explicitly faster on a SSCX bike vs geared.  But I do know one thing: I ride better.  That’s also a pretty subjective thing to say, but in the time I’ve raced CX I’ve taken the time to notice how it feels when I’m on the course.  I really think you can learn a lot more about your handling skills and race tactics when you have less external (gears) factors to concentrate on.  That, and after the race starts you don’t have a choice! 🙂
  • Isn’t it harder?  Not really. It’s just a different type.  

The “Key” to racing SSCX:   

Trick question!  There is NO KEY.  Just like “regular” cyclocross.  They don’t call it the “death by a thousand cuts” kind of racing and then just throw a single limiting factor out there for you to work on all-the-sudden and you’re good to go. The things you might notice (and really begin to appreciate) are the ways you approach a course differently.  It could be the way you climb hills or take sweeping corners.  Carrying your speed differently because you know that when you used to rest in one part of the course, you’re now forced to “stay on top of that gear.”

How:

Specifics and why they matter:  

There are all of the existential “feelings” decisions that go into deciding to race SSCX but that’s all on top of the physical mechanics of it.  Note:  I am now talking explicitly about single-cogged bicycles.  

Conversions can be made in a plethora of manners to transform (with less or more permanency) your existing CX bike to a one-working-gear CX bike.  I’d love to tell you that the least permanent transformations help you attain the exact same benefits of racing SSCX as would a more dedicated SSCX bike; but they just don’t.  And it’s hard to explain.  

Let’s check off the top bullet points for a committed SSCX shred sled (I’ve been waiting to throw that term in here and it made it!)

  • Less to go wrong!  
  • Lighter!
  • “Cleaner”!  
  • “Cooler”?!  Totally biased

Beyond these, the reasons people commit to a full-on SSCX bike get really personal.  And it’s not an option for a lot of people, I get it.  But when you ask other SSCXers who’ve made the leap, you’ll get their answer.   I know they have one.  

Before you go out and buy a whole new bike or go through the process of stripping derailleurs you should definitely just give it a shot sometime.  Maybe race your usual category in newly limited method?  I know; get crazy!  You might just find yourself liking it so much you take a hacksaw to that hanger and find that magic gear!     

What’s your gear?   

Personal preference obviously.  You have to figure out what kind of SSCXer you are and if you’d like to spin a little more than others or grind it out.  It doesn’t hurt to ask around at what your friends (or enemies) are riding.  It’s not like a big mystery or anything (at least I don’t think it is).  Something to keep in mind, though, is that even when a course if fast and flat there are likely way more sharp turns and corners than long straight flats.  Gear a little low and first and bump it up over time.  Sorry folks; no specifics – just ask! 🙂

I hope this gives a little more insight into my world of SSCX racing and why I do it.  This might have asked more questions than it answered.  At least it’s a place to start.

Free your gears and the mind will follow,

Craig

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