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Single-speed bike championships more about having fun than being fast

Beth Bragg

The Single-Speed World Championship bike races are coming to Kincaid Park this weekend.

Hide the women and children. 

A couple of hundred bicyclists are in Anchorage this week for an event that by all accounts, some of them trustworthy, lives its motto: “Putting the SIN back in single speed.” 

Race headquarters is the Carousel Lounge – “Seriously, that’s the race headquarters,” said Jamie Stull, co-owner of Chain Reaction Cycles. Race packets include “punch drunk punch cards” that direct cyclists to seven bars, where they earn a punch at each place they have a drink. A map posted Thursday on the race’s Facebook page shows a preview of the race course – a drawing that loosely looks like a moose, titled “Single Speed Worlds is not a race,” followed by a smiley face. 

A call to Speedway Cycles, a bike store located conveniently close to the Carousel, proved more entertaining than it did informative.

“It’s mostly lots of fun -- depending on what your definition of fun is,” shop owner Greg Matyas said. “It is just a good reason for like-minded people to get together and have a good time. … They’re more concerned with having fun than going fast.”

If you show up in a cycling skinsuit, “you’re in the wrong place,” he said. 

But if you show up in your birthday suit, you instantly could become a frontrunner. This is an event where racy costumes trump racing prowess. “You gotta wear a costume or you’re not gonna win,” Stull said.

Matyas said he has a costume that could make him a contender, but like many things about the Single-Speed World Championships, details are sparse.

“I can’t even talk about it, it’s so bad,” he said. 

Will it offend anyone? “I hope so.” 

In a plug for the championships on its website, Backcountry Ski and Bike of Palmer included this caveat: “This is not a kid friendly event as there will be boozing, inappropriate costumes, and general shenanigans.” 

The man in charge is Dejay Birtch, a Colorado man who works in the bike industry, Matyas said. Birtch got permits to use Kincaid trails on Saturday and Sunday, “but the organizer has asked us not to say which trails they are using” so it will be a surprise to racers, said Brad Cooke of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Organizers also obtained alcohol permits for both days at Kincaid. 

“The obstacle is the drinking,” Stull said. “Some of the really fast racers don’t drink, so it’ll be funny to see how that plays out.”

Stull said he and his wife Amber – two of the city’s top racers – are signed up, but he doesn’t know if they will race or not. They are scheduled to leave town Sunday, which may or may not be a race day.

“They haven’t actually released a schedule of when the race is,” Stull said. “That’s the funny part. Nobody knows when it’s going to be.”

Oh, but that’s not the only funny part. Check out the race's Facebook page for a sense of what this event is all about (sample post: “at carousel lounge drinking with an embittered war vet.. come join us”). 
 
Or read the Wikipedia listing, which notes that “instead of a special jersey winners are forced to accept either a tattoo or branding ... As yet no winner has attempted to fight off the tattoo or branding artist.”

The host city for the championships, which began in 1995 and have been held annually since 1999, “is usually decided with some sort of drinking contest,” Wikipedia reports.

Anchorage is the first U.S. city to host since Durango, Colorado, in 2009. Since then, the championships have been held in New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and Italy. 

Matyas said Birtch, the winner of several U.S. single-speed mountain bike championships, selected Anchorage for this year’s event. Birtch visited last year, rode some trails, and apparently was impressed enough to bring the party here.

About 100 of the 400 or so cyclists registered are from Alaska, Matyas said, meaning there’s about 300 who are seeing Alaska’s trails for the first time. Despite all of the fun planned, most are serious cyclists who plan long trail rides while they are here. On Wednesday, Matyas led a group to Devil’s Pass in Hope.

“The real benefit that I see is exposing people who have never been here to the riding that we have,” Matyas said. “We’ve got some momentum these days, things have been improving with the single-track trails, and it’s a great thing to have folks come up that have never been here.

“For a lot of folks, they basically think we’re snow-riding or something like that. That’s what we’re known for, but we’ve got some great trail riding.”

But don’t forget: the championships are mostly about having fun. Reportedly, racers will be expected to drink a shot or a beer for each lap of what is expected to be a multi-lap race on Kincaid’s growing network single-track trails.

“I can’t imagine someone would want to do that,” Matyas said. 

“And please don’t limit us to one per lap, by the way.”

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or call her at 257-4335.