Last year I rode 560 miles from San Diego to the Sea Donkey Classic on an old Bianchi touring frame acquired for the price of $0 at a garage sale. That five-day voyage by bike was one of the greatest experiences in my life and changed my perspective on so many aspects of living. There were only three items that constituted my existence during those five days: eating, sleeping and riding. Oh, and a lot of thinking, so make that four items.
The old Bianchi frame was put together for less than $400 in parts and worked flawlessly on the initial voyage. The components were at least a decade old and they included shifty bits, so I don’t want to hear any grief. There’s a time and a place for a singlespeed, and humping yourself more than 100 miles per day on a bike that weighs close to 40 pounds is not one of them.
Because last year’s experience was so incredible, this year I decided to ride 400 miles in four days from Reno to Sea Donkey, and the weather couldn’t have been more stellar. The route was simply breathtaking at times—especially over the 8,600-foot Carson Pass in the Sierra Nevadas—and the roads selected were quiet, peaceful and low in traffic. Only once was I almost put out of commission by a fossilized old woman in Danville who turned right 10 feet in front of me with no warning.
Four hundred miles after leaving Reno, I crested the top of Boundary Road to see the spectacle that is Sea Donkey laid out in all its grandeur. Roadies sprinting around the racetrack, downhiller bros riding no-handed with a Monster Energy drink in one hand and their helmet in the other, a flotilla of fat bikers looking totally out of place, toddlers on push bikes and some dude in street clothes jamming up a 20 percent grade at 20 mph hardly pedaling—the advent of electric-assist bikes. I opened up the whiskey flask, took a pull in celebration of the journey and rolled downhill to see what’s new in the world of bikecyclery.
Every year Sea Donkey has an over-arching theme, and it was clearly evident this year had three themes for me: fatbikes, e-bikes and the fact that I need to make more money. The entire venue was littered with fatbikery. Fatbike wind sprint races, dudes racing Enduro on fatbikes, pink and orange fatbike tires, a new full-suspension fatbike from Salsa, a new fatbike suspension fork from RockShox and fatbike-friendly bike racks. Fifteen minutes in the venue and I was already sick of seeing fatbikes.
Long gone are the days of getting on a trail and dropping your less physically fit buddies on sustained climbs. Thanks to the advent of e-bikes, your beer-gutted bros can sit on your wheel and pedal effortlessly while heckling in a conversational manner as you gut yourself on a death march incline. Terrific.
The high-pitched whine of electric motors was everywhere at Sea Donkey, equipped on every kind of bike imaginable. Downhill bikes, hybrid bikes, road bikes, kids bikes, bikes made of carbon, bikes made of wood and as a hybrid in both bike themes, there’s even a fatbike e-bike from Felt. The only saving grace of this abomination is the name—LebowskE. Clever, very clever. The Dude would approve.
The third and final theme for me at Sea Donkey 2014 was the realization that if I want to afford this mountain bike lifestyle, I’m gonna need to start making more money. Clearly, my income is not keeping pace with products destined to “revolutionize” the bike industry, whatever the hell that means.
It’s my entire fault, really. I need to stop whining. I just need to work more so I can afford cooler stuff that I would have less time to ride. I’m just jealous and angry that I can’t afford the new $1,800 Rock Shox RS-1. I don’t know if it works any better than an $800 SID, but it sure looks amazing. I can definitely afford the proprietary hub for the RS-1 that you have to buy separately, which might make one hell of a cool saltshaker and terrific conversation piece at the dinner table.
I’m also bent that I can’t afford the new ENVE M series carbon wheels. They look sweet, especially with that fatter rim profile and custom neon yellow stickers. But alas, those wheels that push $3,000 laugh at my paltry income. Maybe I’ll just buy one rim for $1,000 and use it as a hula-hoop. Conversation piece, you know?
I guess I could resort to just rocking some nice lycra, but even that is proving to be a difficult mission for my checkbook. I was about to pull the trigger on some Kitsbow shorts for $285 when I realized that there’s no liner. The liner is an extra $215. Hmm. Dilemma. I can afford one or the other, but not both. So what’s worse, looking cool but having a shredded taint or looking like a tool but being comfortable? Maybe I’ll go for option three and just buy a $35 Kitsbow cotton t-shirt so I can show my appreciation for the finely crafted garments I can’t afford.
All annoying fatbikes, e-bikes, “game changing” products and rants about my financial inadequacies aside, at the end of the weekend, Sea Donkey really came down to one thing: the people. The most captivating part of our sport isn’t what’s for sale; it’s the people behind all the products we use. The encouragement I received before leaving on my journey was inspiring, and the congratulations I got upon arriving at Sea Donkey was humbling. It made me feel good to be a part of our energetic, eclectic and somewhat incestuous bike culture.
The most memorable encounter of the weekend was when I walked out of a bathroom stall after taking a #2 and not being able to fully flush due to shoddy piping. I tried, flushing for at least 30 seconds to no avail. I finally gave up, and after exiting a tall guy dressed in downhill gear walked into the stall.
“Really, Kurt? Really?” I turned around and realized it was fellow mountain bike scribe, Charlie Sponsel of Team Robot. I shrugged and walked out. I couldn’t think of a better way to leave a first impression with him. It’s a moment I will cherish for many years.
Yes, I may sometimes bag on fatbikes, e-bikes and products outside my fiscal wheelhouse, but they’re all good and created with the same intended purpose: getting us off our asses and out on our bikes. Virtually everyone who makes bike products does it with a passion for riding in mind. They want people to ride longer, further and with less fatigue. They want us to smile, laugh, hoot and holler because the ride is so good. And that, regardless of MSRP or tire width, is a concept I adamantly support.
However, oftentimes the greatest satisfaction comes from an old bike you got for free at a garage sale that carries you thousands of miles and helps shape your life.
To me, that old Bianchi will never be a game changer. But you don’t need to change the game when you already transcend it.
Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.