On the last weekend of October, over 150 lairy singlespeeders descended upon the small country town of Beechworth for the annual running of the Aussie Singlespeed National Champs. Situated about half way between Wangaratta and Albury off the Great Alpine Road, Beechworth is a charming wee town surrounded by wineries, micro-breweries and a history-soaked landscape. Whilst the last two years had seen the Champs very successfully held at Majura Pines in Canberra and then Eagle Park in rAdelaide, it was Victorias chance to showcase some of the quality riding on offer. I had visited many of the country towns around North Eastern Victoria before such as Bright, Rutherglen and Myrtleford, but I’d never had the pleasure of riding in Beechworth before. The word on the street was that the Beechworth Chain Gang had been busy working on the MTB park for the past couple of seasons and they were drawing a lot of praise for their new trails. Upon hearing that the Bridge Rd Brewers and the Beechworth Bakery had also come on board as sponsors for the event, things were shaping up for a typically fun weekend with the old crew all back together.
As a cyclist, there’s a lot on offer around Beechworth aside from the MTB park; there’s the ‘Murray to Mountains’ rail trail and you’ve got the playgrounds of Mt. Buller, Yackandandah and Mt. Beauty all on your doorstep. However, this weekend for us was all about the Singlespeed Champs and we were there to soak up everything Beechworth had to offer. Arriving on Friday afternoon after escaping the Melbourne peak-hour traffic, we gladly rolled into the quiet caravan park and basked in the calming setting of eucalypts and wattle trees.
Unfortunately, I have to say I was pretty disappointed with the bakery’s trademark ‘Ned Kelly’ pie, though it may have been because I had very high expectations for their produce. However, most of those positive comments I had been subjected to from dedicated fans did pre-date the Beechworth Bakery’s descent into franchisism, and I can only imagine what it must have been like before they went all Starbucks on us. Fortunately, there is lots on offer in town for food and coffee (despite feeling like that coffee wanker from Melbourne) and we’ve gotta give a shout-out to Blynzz roasters for putting on an excellent brew despite being maxed out with having to serve more than 3 people. Oh, and we totally took home way too much Beechworth handmade fudge – it is amazing!
Friday night was to be the prologue for the weekends festivities, though by ‘prologue’ I pretty much mean drinking beer and eating pizza at the Bridge Rd Brewery. On the original itinerary sheet there was some mention of an Alley Cat race, but passing showers and the lateness of many riders arrivals put that idea to bed, and so a simple skidding competition on the gravel courtyard in the beer garden proved to be a popular alternative. I don’t know who won. “Gold Diggers & Bushrangers” was the theme of the weekend, and we were all encouraged to dress up accordingly in appropriate attire from this era. Being in Beechworth, this was a particularly suitable theme given the Goldrush history throughout town. Each rider was handed 6 small golden nuggets at the time of registration and was instructed to guard them throughout the weekend, with the chance to accrue more via participating in various ‘activities’.
It’s weird that only the day before we arrived I had been thinking that not enough bike shops sold chainsaws
The passing showers cleared throughout the night, and we were treated to a beautifully clear and starry night sky for our 3km singletrack ride back to the caravan park. In fact it was so bright due to the lack of smog that we almost didn’t need night lights. Almost. For the rest of the weekend the sun and blue skies beamed down upon us, with Saturday being the perfect temperature for riding.
That would be the perfect temperature for those wearing normal bike clothes. For everyone else who donned a wig, a mask, a beard, a smoking jacket, a dress (isn’t it weird how riders will take any opportunity to dress up and wear womens clothes?) or some kind of one-sie, it was looking like a very warm day out.
Event Organiser and Head Prospector, Nick Roseby calling out the (very few) race rules
With all 150+ riders gathered at the start line, it was quite the spectacle to witness. Aside from all the costumes, there was a sea of bike porn to ogle including some beautiful old bikes that had been lovingly restored just for the race. And pretty much every White Industry freewheel in Australia was on show, ready to deafen the serene landscape with the buzzing of ratchet teeth. The race itself consisted of 3 laps of a mapped-out course that took in the majority of the parks trails over a 10km loop, with the exception of the DH and slalom tracks. It didn’t sound like much, but it seems the course designers managed to squeeze every possible climb out of that area and as I crossed the line after my first lap I didn’t actually like my chances of finishing two more. For those that have ridden Beechworth, the word ‘rocky’ would come to mind in a word-association test. While I spent a lot of time bouncing around on my short-travel 26″ hardtail, it certainly made me appreciate the smooth flowy sections when they arrived. There was plenty of ‘whooping’ and ‘yee-ha-ing’ echoing through the bushes all throughout the race, though it has to be said that was partially because people were enjoying the crap out of the trails but also because they were trying to stay in character for the weekends bushrangers theme.
After the start gun had fired, it quickly became apparent that some serious bottle-necking was going to happen, and up until the beer-cut, it was unfortunately stop-start traffic all the way. Tactics kicked in, and I decided that my tendency to become quite light-headed after consuming alcohol while riding, along with my inability to drink said alcohol quickly meant that I was better off leaving the beer cut till later. If you’re not familiar, the beer cut is a crafty way of skipping out some of the race course in exchange for downing a glass of cool amber liquid. At around the mid-point of the course, you would come into a clearing that had been set up with a couple of tables, some kegs and a whole bunch of cups ready to be filled as the riders came through. I decided to skip the beer cut first up, and was immediately rewarded with open singletrack ahead of me and not a soul in sight – a far cry from the bumper traffic I had ridden in up till that point.
Come lap 3 however, and my lips were pretty darn parched. That beer was possibly one of the best beers I have ever drunk, and I was so glad I had waited out for that moment. And it was hard too – on my second lap, I pointed my front wheel towards the singletrack option as I rode up towards the beer cut, only to be hurled abuse from about 40 riders who all had a beer in their hands (some with more than one). It took all my courage to continue riding on despite being demanded to come back and “drink the beer you bloody p***y!!”
Post-race, there were a bunch more events to be held including the very tense 16″ wheeled race (way too many bare feet for my liking), a track stand competition and the obligatory Huffy toss. Watching oversized men & women attempt to pedal a single-gear kids bike around a makeshift course that’s covered in loose sand was an absolute hoot and there were some spectacular crashes to witness.
It actually takes quite a bit of skill to swing that piece of crap into the air. ’twas looking quite worse for wear by the end of proceedings however – a missing saddle, broken pedal axles and a very organic looking handlebar spelled the death of that particular bike.
Hipsters representin’! The track stand comp seemed to be biased towards those with tighter fitting legwear.
All said and done, the Beechworth Singlespeed Champs was a great weekend away and another chance to catch up with all those other weirdos from around Australia. So who won? I’m not entirely sure, but I think a chick called Frankie won the overall title for getting involved with all of the events over the weekend and wearing a sweet costume for the race. But in hindsight – didn’t we all win? In our hearts? In our minds? No, not really. I just had a wicked weekend of riding and enjoying the simple things in life. I’m no scientist, but I have determined that there’s almost a direct relationship – the less gears and the simpler your bike, the less complicated everything else around you becomes. I think more mountain bike races and events need to take a leaf out of the Singlespeed Champs book, and prove that just because some choose to ride with gears, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to enjoy themselves too.
Oh and if you’ve never got involved in anything singlespeed, do yourself a favour and check out ARSE (the Australian Recreational Singlespeed Enthusiasts) page HERE. There was a rumour flying around at the post-race festivities that next years event may or may not be held up in Cairns – that, I’m looking forward to!