by Andy Gates
The ride: three loops around the rolling east Devon countryside starting and finishing at Bicton College. About 150 riders of varying levels of ability. I did the short course, which is a mere 30km. The hardcases were doing 70km, in scorchio summer heat. The route was great, very varied, well waymarked (with one exception, see later) and very challenging. Refreshment stops had all the necessaries: water, bananas, cake and a mechanic. All in all, a class act.
The bike: a delicate steel track fixie on a 63" gear running a pair of cyclocross tyres, one roadie front brake, and moustache handlebars. Apart from a girl on a Kinesis Crosslight, I was the only non-MTB heretic there. Not that there was a vibe of heresy: there was a fun happy atmosphere. Cyclists are just cheerful people.
How was it? Damned hard work! Scary as all hell! Great fun! I only came off three times (!) 'cos I descend like a girl: those skinny 'cross tyres just ploughed right into some of the gravel-trap downhills and controlling my speed with back-pressure was just a non-starter on what felt like vertical walls of pebbly death. The climbs, well, the fixie tradition applies: motor up the first part puffing like a steam loco, then hop off and shoulder the bike just before you stall.
Or just after you stall, when you pick gorse thorns out of your arse. It's a learning curve.
The woodland sections were fun: challenging and fast with dappled shadows making the rooty, pebbly stuff underwheel trickier than it really was. And up on the moorland bits, with heather and buzzards -- I ain't dead yet, damn you! -- was marvellous. Okay, so across one golf course, the waymarkings had been "cleaned up" and we went through some totally daft undergrowth -- but it was supposed to be a bit of a navigation challenge as well as a ride. Fixie transmissions don't foul when full of bracken.
The two river crossings were fun!
Overall, I'd say this was just a bit mental for a fixie. As one other rider said, "Is that a fixed gear? You're either very good or an absolute fool!" Take a fatter-tyred singlespeed, and it would be an absolute hoot, but the deep pebbly descents were too scary to be fun. There's only so many times I can say "fuck fuck fuckitty fuck" before it gets stale (I switched to singing, very loudly, "Swingin' on a Star" with improv verses... be afraid). It was difficult, and of course it's always good to do difficult things, especially when people are giving you fixie kudos - but I didn't half have that "oh no! it's the wrong bicycle, Gromit!" feeling a lot of the time.
But hey, I'm alive, and my lovely gracile steel track iron with its delicate Record hubs and whispery Open Pro rims -- it all survived. Which is as much of a surprise as my lack of injuries!
This was the first year of the Bash, which is a memorial charity fundraiser for a Bike Shed mechanic and all-round Good Egg who died last year. I think it's a keeper. If you fancy some scary daftness next year, watch out for it.