The event known as the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships (SSCXWC) continues its life in infamy this weekend in Santa Cruz, California. Cyclocross Magazine was at the very first one in 2007 outside Portland, and we’re amazed the event has continued and even grown, despite traumatic brain injuries, tattoo scandals, GOATs racing under fake names, several iterations uncomfortably close to both the UCI headquarters and the cyclocross motherland, and a tragic pandemic.
One-gear cyclocrossers from around the world will converge in Santa Cruz to contest feats of strength on Saturday, in hopes of qualifying for the championship race on Sunday. Three titles will be awarded, with a title for men, women and non-binary participants. Of course, there will be parties throughout the weekend.
We chatted with lead SSCXWC 2023 promoter Brendan Lehman to learn what to expect and dread with this weekend’s festivities, which begin Friday with a party and packet pick-up and end on Sunday with races for the tattoos.
We got in ten questions. Here are his ten non-answers. Enjoy.
CXM: We’re under a week until the big event. How has planning and preparing gone?
Brendan Lehman: Prepare to be unprepared. While all kinds of things are happening behind the scenes, the only kind of preparation you need to know about is Preparation H. Seriously, grab a tube and apply early and often. You’re gonna need it by the end of this.
CXM: It’s been 11 years since SSCXWC was supposed to come to Santa Cruz, and 16 years since this crazy event started in Portland. What does hundreds of racers coming to Santa Cruz to continue this tradition mean to you and your team?
BL: I can speak for a lot of people when I say we’ve been quivering in anticipation for over a decade. Back in 2011, Murphy Mack and the Sheila Moon crew blew a lot of people’s minds with his outrageous SSCXWC in San Francisco. I’d already been doing cyclocross, but to be honest, that race really got me hooked. You could probably say that it changed my life, and led to becoming part of the Rock Lobster “situation,” building bike frames, promoting races…things have really gone downhill for me ever since.
Anyway, we all figured a race to follow in 2012 in Santa Cruz would be even better. But, it didn’t work out and went to Los Angeles instead. Ever since, there’s been this underlying sentiment of feeling cheated out of something that had been dangled in front of our faces. It’s been stewing all this time, and we’ve been waiting for the right moment to launch our campaign. Last September my teammate Josh Becker called me up in the middle of a work day and said “we should host SSCXWC next year.” Just hearing those words lit the fire. We dropped everything and rallied a crew to compete for hosting rights in Durango. Tons of folks from NorCal turned out. Major shoutout to Justin Robinson and Kell McKenzie for the heavy lifting!
Of course, that was the easy part. Now that it’s happening, we’re wondering what the heck we were thinking. In just a few days a ravenous fustercluck of singlespeeders will be descending on our little beach town. The local authorities and emergency response units are getting prepared to contain the dumpster fire of a party that’s going down this weekend.
CXM: For those who missed registration, or just want to join the fun without a singlespeed, what are your recommendations for joining the festivities?
BL: For those who missed registration, consider yourselves lucky. We truly sympathize with the hundreds of people who paid perfectly good money to come to this boondoggle. Seriously though, this is a once-in-a-lifetime cyclocross spectatorship opportunity that you don’t want to miss. The best time to spectate will be at the Sunday Championship Races at Crest Ranch in Bonny Doon. It’s an epic spot. Bring your heckling A-game. Seriously.
We’re also having a pre-party at the Boardwalk’s Cocoanut Grove Ballroom on Saturday night in order to make sure nobody is well-rested before the race. It will be free and open to the cycling community, even if you aren’t racing. There will be bands, circus acts, burlesque, a handbuilt bike show, and more! The doors open to the public at 8pm and we’ll be letting folks in until bouncers tell us the room is full, so come early if you wanna join the fun.
CXM: The gearheads are obsessing about tires and gears. Tobin raced the venue on 2.2″ mtb tires. For those who haven’t raced Surf City at the Crest Tree Ranch (video) or aren’t familiar with the Santa Cruz area, what advice do you have for tire volume, tire tread and gearing? For someone with options, how should they change gearing or tires between Saturday and Sunday, if at all?
BL: The gearheads might be overthinking it. The most important thing is that you’re riding a singlespeed! While most competitive racers usually run a 53×11, you might want to consider something a little easier. Saturday is going to be a long day and Santa Cruz has a lot of steep hills. Who said anything about changing gears between Saturday and Sunday. Isn’t that cheating?
The next most important thing is your clothing. You signed up for a lifestyle fashion parade and this is your opportunity to show the world how stylish you can be both on, and off the bike. Plus you’ll get extra points in the qualifier if you show up to the Saturday party in your best ballroom attire.
CXM: Heard there are binary results for the race: tattoo or no tattoo. Is this accurate?
Yes, the results will be clear. You either won or you didn’t win. The winners will be immediately chaperoned down to the tattoo parlor that is next door to the Sunday night afterparty and awards ceremony. Oh…and the winners will also be receiving a gold trophy Rock Lobster singlespeed frame made custom-sized for them by Rock Lobster.
CXM: Some of us raced at the same venue two weekends ago, and singlespeeders enjoyed up to five run-ups per lap. How much of the Sunday course will share the same features at Surf City? Will pre-riding be allowed or is the goal to keep it all a surprise like the Golden Gate edition?
BL: Five run-ups? Then you gotta work on your technical uphill pedaling! At least two of those were totally rideable. Seriously though, we can guarantee that this course will be controversial at best. Our crew has been working non-stop to bring you a cyclocross experience that you’ll wish you could forget.
The venue is behind locked gates and you’re gonna be too busy to go check it out before race day anyway, so there will be no pre-riding of the course. [Ed. note: the offical site says: “Arrive at least an hour before your race to check out the course.”]
The venue is behind locked gates and you’re gonna be too busy to go check it out before race day anyway, so there will be no pre-riding of the course.
CXM: Race promotion can be a thankless task, but you put together an impressive team. What are some of the behind-the-scenes tasks that participants might not see or appreciate?
BL: There is a stereotype that behind the closed door and smoke-filled backrooms of cyclocross race promotion are just a bunch of fat cats smoking cigars and drinking cognac thinking up demented ways to make you suffer on a bike in exchange for money. As a card-carrying member of the secretive elite society of Bar-Area race promoters, I can verify that this is totally true.
In all honesty, our Surf City Cyclocross Series is run by a legendary cast of characters who have been making these races happen for over four decades. While I may be carrying the proverbial torch, the reality is that there are countless people who contribute to these events in so many ways. What brings us all together is a shared vision for positive gatherings and human connection. There is a strong community that extends far beyond the race course. I’ve met my best friends through cycling and racing, and know that many others on our crew feel the same way. We all just want to prop each other up and contribute back to the sport that has taken so much away from us.
Let me interject a little side note here. We are lucky to be in the epicenter of the cycling industry with countless bike companies big and small right here in Santa Cruz. I cannot understate the significance of the industry support. Fortunately, many of our local companies understand how important the community is to their success. Like our local bike industry veterans cut their teeth doing races like Surf City CX, and became indoctrinated into bike culture after having access to cool community events. Bike companies owe it to the community to put resources back into races and inspire the next generation, or else they will die a slow and aggravating death of corporate creep.
CXM: Alcohol and SSCXWC seem to go hand-in-hand, starting with the 2007 tequila shortcut, and you’ve warned racers to get their livers ready. For those of us with health issues that constrain alcohol consumption, what can we expect during the feats of strength?
BL: Shoot did we say that? While getting face-down blotto and forgetting how to even ride your bike is a time-honored tradition in SSCXWC culture, I don’t think we can officially condone alcohol consumption. Our legal team certainly wouldn’t approve of that. You can look me straight in the eyes when I say that we officially discourage participants from getting drunk during their race. If you encounter an unsanctioned tequila shortcut or handup while on the course, use your best discretion and feel free to choose the non-alcohol route if that’s your preference.
The Saturday qualifier scavenger hunt checkpoint staff have been instructed to offer non-alcoholic options for minors and those who abstain.
CXM: Some SSCXWC races have devolved into course cutting and cheating. Will that be tolerated this year?
BL: If you took the tequila shortcut too many times and have a mid-race existential crisis and start questioning the meaning of cyclocross, good for you. That’s great. We hope that you question every decision you made in your life that brought you to this damned boondoggle. But no matter how not-seriously you are taking this thing, changing course tape and messing with the riders is not cool. Find another way to heckle. Don’t make us throw you out of the venue. If you screw up the results by cutting the course, and we have to declare Adam Craig to be the winner even though he isn’t even there, which is gonna suck for everybody.
CXM: Anything else you’d like to let people know?
BL: We recommend making an appointment to see your therapist to help process any emotional trauma related to the weekend.
See what’s in store for this weekend with the full schedule at sscxwc23sc.com
Got time on your hands? Study up on the event’s history here.