Do unicorns bleed jelly beans? The answer could come at today's Single Speed Cyclocross World Championship in Kent If the audience at a midnight showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" mounted their bikes and raced through an R-rated version of "Super Mario Kart," the spectacle would still probably pale in comparison to what will happen this afternoon in Kent.
At 3:30 p.m. cyclists in costumes such as Borat swimsuits and KISS makeup will race on a muddy course at PGP Motorsports Park with outrageous obstacles, such as windmills and bubble machines.
The Single Speed Cyclocross World Championship is a race of supremely talented athletes, but it’s also a celebration of the sport and its culture.
“Some people take it seriously, and some people are just there to have fun and enjoy the spectacle,” said Brian Fornes, a racer and marketing director for Raleigh Bicycles. “We want to show people that the sport is fun and easy to get involved in and very approachable.”
Cyclocross is a bicycle race over terrain that varies from pavement to grass to dirt to mud. Competitors must sometimes dismount and carry their bikes over obstacles such as logs and steep hills. As this cycling subculture has grown in popularity over the last decade around the Northwest, it’s spawned its own subculture: cyclocross racing with just one speed.
“Single speed culture is more about fun,” said Terry Buchanan of Seattle’s MFG Cyclocross. “... It’s a devotion to simplicity. There are no worries about gears and getting jammed. The only way to go faster is to pedal faster.”
Most cyclists will tell you that racing with just one gear doesn’t make sense.
“I think people who do it are mentally impaired,” said Zac Daab, an MFG director who includes himself in that statement. “But it adds another element of fun.”
Daab says racing single speed cyclocross is like taking a pledge.
“You’re saying ‘I’m going to drink beer during the race and I’m not going to take racing and myself too seriously,’ ” Daab said. “Although some people are absolutely fast and serious about what they do.”
Daab calls this the subversive side of the sport.
“You see how silly you can look and still crush people,” Daab said. “Most people out there are definitely strong riders and bike handlers.”
Fornes and his team of racers have competed in events dressed as Hooters waitresses, KISS and the cast of the “Wizard of Oz” among other costumes.
“You don’t need to be fully kitted out to race hard,” Fornes said, referring to typical bike racing attire.
The course also dresses up for the world championships. For the last three years in Portland, course obstacles have included a bus full of performing strippers, a windmill that would knock riders with poor timing off their bikes and a man roaming the course in a sombrero who’d direct you to a shortcut if you took a shot of tequila.
Last year’s championship required riders to pass under a dome where people hung from the roof heckling cyclists and pelting them with marshmallows.
While the obstacles change at each race and are a closely guarded secret until race time, a staple of every event is the beer handout – a place where riders can stop each lap for a beer break.
“I’m not bragging, but in one race I stopped for three beer handouts and made out with my girlfriend for a little bit and still finished 11th,” Fornes said.
Of course, all the beer, tequila and strippers beg the question, is this event suitable for the whole family?
The organizers say the adult-themed attractions are entirely contained so children won’t stumble into them accidentally. As for items such as the windmill and the giant bubble machine, when the adults are finished playing in the mud they often give their kids a turn.
There will not be a stripper bus at this year’s event, Fornes said.
SASQUATCH VS. UNICORNS
The biggest rivalry in cyclocross pits unicorns (Portland’s mascot) versus sasquatches (Seattle).
The trash talk is good- natured but fierce.
“Basically, everybody in Portland smells,” Buchanan said.
One of the posters promoting today’s event showed a sasquatch killing a unicorn with a bike crank. The unicorn is bleeding jelly beans while the sasquatch gives it the middle claw.
“It’s true,” Daab said. “Unicorns bleed jelly beans. Sasquatches never bleed.”
Seattle- and Portland-area cyclists compete for a trophy called the Grail. The trophy is capped with a rotating piece that shows a knight when it’s in Portland and the Space Needle when it’s in Seattle’s possession.
Portland currently holds the Grail.
The Grail isn’t won during the race. It is stolen.
Event rules require the team in procession of the trophy to display it without security. The other team then may attempt to steal the Grail.
“If you come (to today’s race) bring your best unicorn insults,” Daab said. “Heckling is encouraged.”
LANDING THE EVENT
Like any world championship, the Seattle organizing committee had to go through a rigorous bidding process to land the world championships.
The three previous championships were held in Portland, but organizers there decided it was time to move in order to grow. Seattle and San Francisco both jumped at the opportunity.
The three-part process to secure the bid included the highest finisher at last year’s championship (Kari Studley of Seattle), a heated debate (the pivotal question: IUD or DUI?) and a sumo wrestling match in the mud.
Fornes says Seattle gets to choose where next year’s event will be and the qualification process will be just as challenging.
San Francisco, Bend, Ore., and Boulder, Colo., all want the event, and the winner will be determined after today’s race. While the specifics of the bidding process are still secret, sources tell The News Tribune the prospective hosts better be able to hold their beer and play a mean air guitar.
LET'S GET SERIOUS
As crazy as the course and the costumes will be, at the heart of today’s race will be some athletes taking the event seriously.
Craig Etheridge, who won the Cycle Messenger World Championship earlier this year in Guatemala, will try to win today.
“The people at the front of the race will really be racing,” Etheridge said. “We won’t be shooting tequila to take a shortcut. We will be taking it seriously.”
So what if you take this race seriously, punish your body for an hour and still lose to a guy wearing Hooters hot pants?
“That’s fine,” Etheridge said. “If I lose, I just want to lose to a real single-speeder who is there every race. I want to be able to stand behind somebody who stands behind our sport no matter what they are wearing.
“Plus, who says I won’t be wearing Hooters hot pants.”
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497