7 Guys, 7 Single Speeds, 1 Perfect Day at Gooseberry

09.27.2006 | 6:55 pm

You know, I’m a very fortunate person. I have a great family, a bunch of very good friends with similar interests as mine, an excellent job, good health, and — believe me, I appreciate this — a blog that a lot of people read and tell me they enjoy.

Also, I have all these things within easy driving distance of a ridiculous number of mountain bike Meccas:

  • The Ridge Trail Network: Out my back door.
  • Moab: 3-hour drive
  • Fruita, CO: 4-hour drive
  • Gooseberry Mesa: 4-hour drive

Yesterday, Kenny, Brad, Botched, Rick M, Dug, Gary and I got out our singlespeeds, and left Utah County at 6:00am for a one-day roadtrip to Gooseberry Mesa.

It was a perfect day. Really. And the fact that there were several flat tires, a (hilarious) mechanical, and a gasp-inducing fall only made it more perfect.

Here are some pictures and moments from the day.

Big Moves
I’ve only ridden my singlespeed a handful of times, so really didn’t expect that it is even possible to do big ledge climbs, drops, or otherwise handle seriously technical trail. So I was astounded at what my friends are capable of doing.

Please note: all of us were on singlespeeds, so the photos you see here are — without exception — of guys doing stuff with just one gear.

Let’s get started with what I consider my best photo of the day. Here’s Dug, evidently defying gravity. His front tire is not touching rock, and he’s behind his rear wheel. Certainly, he’s about to tip over backward, right? Nope. He’s actually mid-wheelie, has serious forward momentum, and will clean this move.

And here’s Rick, just finishing a tough, long vertical move. This photo isn’t fair to him; you’d have to see the eight feet below he just cleaned to get to where he is to really appreciate the insanity of what he’s just done.

You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but this is BotchedExperiment’s first extended ride on a singlespeed, ever. That didn’t stop him from consistently cleaning moves on the first try, usually before I had a chance to get my camera out. And in fact, this is the second time Botched did this drop (please note this is a fully rigid hardtail, folks). I made him do it again, so I could get a picture.

Botched routinely did drops off walls and ledges that nobody else would even consider. Once, very early in the day, he did a drop that I wouldn’t have even thought possible. "That was kind of stupid," said Botched, and then he went and did it again. Meanwhile, I had poop in my pants.

OK, here’s Kenny and Brad, each dropping down off a freaky scary wall. In each case, I was tracking them with my camera, trying to get a shot as they went down. Both times, sadly, I did not get a shot of how far down they had to go. (I have a lot to learn about action shots.) You can get an idea of how far they have to drop, though, by looking in the bottom-right corner of the photos. See the plant, there? That’s the top of a tree.

Rick’s Crash
One place we always spend a lot of time at in Gooseberry is a move we have dubbed, "The Toiletbowl." You drop about 15 feet on a steep slickrock incline into a sandy flat, where you then have to execute a sharp 160-degree turn and try to climb back up another way. So far, nobody has been able to complete this move on a singlespeed, though many of us have made it numerous times on geared bikes.

After you climb out of the toiletbowl, you’ve got to muster enough energy for a sprint up an 8-foot-tall ridge, with total vertical exposure on the right.

Rick made us all think he was a dead man when he fell off that part, bouncing his head on the rock below. Amazingly, though, he didn’t break anything, with the only obvious results of the crash being a busted helmet and a scraped-up leg:


Dug Does an Imitation of the Exxon Valdez
A couple days before the trip, Dug turned his bike over to Brad to try to tweak his bike into being a little lighter (Dug’s Surly is probably the heaviest singlespeed on the planet, close to 30 pounds). One of the things Brad — a self-taught mechanic — did was remove the V-brake bosses from dug’s suspension fork. What good were they, after all? Dug has disc brakes.

Oh, well it turns out those bosses also hold the stanchions together. Here’s Dug, unhappily realizing his fork is coming apart, midride.

We turned the bike upside down, hammered the stanchions back into place with a rock ("I wonder if this voids the warranty," quipped Dug), and then — lamely — tried to thread some extra brake cable through where the bolt would normally go, hoping that this would hold the fork together.

It didn’t. At all.

Soon, the oil started bleeding out of Dug’s fork, leaving a puddle everywhere he momentarily stopped (you can see the oil on his rim and tire in this photo). This oil did a fantastic job of keeping his front disc lubricated, rendering the front brake completely useless.

Within an hour or so, all the oil had bled out and the fork would move up and down freely, making the "clang" of a hammer on anvil whenever Dug wheelied up onto a ledge, which is pretty much constantly on this ride.

Also, a completely-compressed fork changes the geometry of a bike pretty significantly, giving Dug a leaning-forward, eager-to-endo look.

To his credit, Dug did not complain about this at all.

This Place is Beautiful
Looking at my pictures, you’d get the impression that Gooseberry is just another Slickrock trail. But it’s not. Connecting up the slickrock playgrounds is a beautiful — meaning not just that it rides well, but is genuinely eye-poppingly gorgeous — desert singletrack network. The thing is, when you’re on your bike and zooming along, you don’t feel like stopping and snapping a photo. So I didn’t. I wish I would have, though.

There are gorgeous vistas from the top of the mesa, where you can look out and see Zions National Park, the Vermillion Castles above the Virgin River, and an enormous valley that stretches on forever. If I were a good photographer, I’d be able to show you what I mean. But I’m not. I’m a guy with a point-and-shoot digital camera. Still, you get some sense of what we saw with this shot, which also features Gary eating lunch (salmon, for crying out loud) and trying to cool down a little in the shade — it got into what felt like the low-to-mid-90’s.

But What About Me?
I was pretty timid yesterday, not trying a lot of the moves that my friends were doing. I did, however, try and succeed at a couple, and I did ride the whole trail, which is pretty darned technical in its own right.

I had a great first long ride on my singlespeed, and think I’m beginning to see what my friends love about it so much.

And today, my arms are so tired.


  1. Comment by Unknown | 09.27.2006 | 7:45 pm

    Sounds like a nice day. Yesterday evening, I slid down a greasy, steep,rocky, muddy hill in 50 degree damp weather. My knee and shoulder hurt, slight bike damage, but it was stll worth taking off early from work to ride. Sure looks like you guys tore it up. I am jealous. Nice pics, BTW.

  2. Comment by Katie | 09.27.2006 | 11:20 pm

    You’re all mental. :)

  3. Comment by mtnbound | 09.27.2006 | 11:46 pm

    Wow – what a fantastic place!  Those are some sick ledges and climbs.  The pic of Dug’s wheelie doesn’t seem real (photoshop sure is amazing)- are you sure he cleaned it?  I’ll have to add Gooseberry to the ever growing trails I want to ride.  Just out of curiosity, how far was the drop Brad and Kenny did in the pics?
    What a way to enjoy Fall!
    Mtnbike W
    BTW, You’ll have add professional photographer to your list of skills (although you’ll have to work on those dark areas in the pics – or is that just my screen?).

  4. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 09.28.2006 | 12:43 am

    Just tell dug to tough it out.  I ride a singlespeed every week without any brakes at 30+mph shoulder to shoulder with other fools with no brakes, carving around the curves and up and down the hard-as-concrete banking.  The only downside is that the view doesn’t compare with what you’ve got there.

  5. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 09.28.2006 | 1:10 am

    I can’t tell you how funny dug’s fork looked as he was riding around and it was COMPLETELY depressed, like a deflated baloon, going clunk, clunk, clunk.
    Gooseberry is unlike any trail I’ve ever ridden. It’s part slickrock bike trail, part open desert singletrack, part tight and twisty singletrack. Virtually every foot of the trail is technical in one sense or another. Just awesome. That combined with some of the most outrageous conversation I’ve heard in some time made for quite a day.

  6. Comment by Nick | 09.28.2006 | 3:03 am

    Mate, very jealous. Off to do Tiger Mountain this weekend. Nothing as challenging as it looks like you did, but i wont be taking my single speed.
    Where is the photo of your Rig?

  7. Comment by Born4Lycra | 09.28.2006 | 3:18 am

    Great Weather, Good mates, Good Pics, lovely place to be on this planet but I agree with Katie_A978. Commiserations to Dug – will it cost much?

  8. Comment by Ashbygirls | 09.28.2006 | 4:51 am

    Can someone explain the value of the single speed to those of us who are less bike savvy? Is it mostly just a bragging rights, gimicky sort of thing, or do they have some kind of inherent value over, say, gears?

    Southern Utah is my favorite place in the world.

  9. Comment by Andrew | 09.28.2006 | 10:58 am

    1. Is Botched Experiment on steroids? Does he live better with chemicals? What a beast.
    2. dug looks nice. Is his misanthropic demeanor just a guise?
    3. FC, you’re the only sane one for not trying some of that stuff. It’s sick.
    4. Sure wish I could do that. Should I change my tires?
    the weak link

  10. Comment by Unknown | 09.28.2006 | 1:41 pm

    Oh…I’m so sorry I missed it.  What a gorgeous day, and the SS action looks like, erm, fun.  It is a six hour drive from here…lessee…six hours one way, ride for five, and drive six hours back.  Maybe next year.
    Does Ricky always get hurt?  Fall Moab ‘05, Gooseberry ‘06.  Hmmm.  Bummer about dug’s fork.  Really, bummer.

  11. Comment by Unknown | 09.28.2006 | 2:28 pm

    Wow – that looks great. I haven’t been to Utah (Moab primarily), at least to ride, since I moved out to Virginia. We don’t have terrain like that and I miss it. We have roots, rocks, mud, (did I mention roots?) and trail builders who apparently don’t know the word "switchback." I’ve never been anywhere where trails go straight up the hill (with the previously listed terrain) so often. I suppose this means my technical skills should be improving. :-)

  12. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 09.28.2006 | 3:38 pm

    boz – steep, rocky, muddy is fun too — just a different kind of fun.
    katie – yes, but some of us are way more mental than others.
    mtnbike w – yeah, to look at that photo you wouldn’t think he was going to clean that move, but he did. if he hadn’t, i guarantee there would have been a follow-up picture. you’re right about it being a fantastic place. it should be on every mountain biker’s life list.
    big mike – i agree with you that track is very cool, but it’s so different from what we were doing as to make comparison pointless. track is as different from mountain biking as rally car racing is from formula 1. you’ve really got to try it sometime (mountain biking i mean, not rally cars or formula 1).
    botched – you’re spot-on about gooseberry being unique. there are lots of trails that have aspects of gooseberry, but gooseberry is unusual in that it somehow manages to have it all.
    nick – wish you could’ve been there, man. move to utah.
    born4lycra – actually, you don’t need to feel too bad for dug. he had a new (rigid) fork on order even before we came out to gooseberry; it just didn’t arrive in time. so having the suspension fork bite the dust just means it got to end its life in context. not a bad way to go.
    ashbygirls – that’s an excellent question, and i’d guess that you’ll get a bunch of different answers. i think there’s an aspect of vanity, but i think it’s more that a singlespeed more thoroughly forces the mountain bike rider to do what you’re doing anyway: using your body to get you where you’re going. with gears, you’re relying on mechanical contrivances to get the job done. without them, you’re getting closer to the simplest possible expression of a bike, and what you accomplish has more to do with your own skill and power than the bike you’re riding. also, a singlespeed is quieter and feels different. and without a fork, it really feels "direct." i doubt that i’ll ever become a full-time singlespeed rider, but i love having the option for when the mood strikes.
    weak link – 1. botched is a total stealth caveman. by day, a mild-mannered doctoral candidate in search of a cure for cancer. by nights and weekends, he’s a technical wizard.
    2. i once gave dug a nickname: "the shepherd." in spite of his snarkiness, he’s brought more people into mountain biking than anyone i know, in such a way that everyone he introduces to the sport loves it. whenever i introduce someone to mountain biking or road biking, the question i ask myself when choosing a good first place to go is, "where would dug take them?"
    3. sanity tastes like chicken.
    4. yep, change your tires and check your ability to consider consequences at the door.
    rocky – wish you could’ve been there, man. next time. and of course, you’re fully locked-in for fall moab, right?
    brett taylor – being away from this kind of riding for a while makes it all the sweeter when you come back for a visit. meanwhile, what you’re riding doesn’t sound at all sucky.

  13. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 09.28.2006 | 4:09 pm

    Weak Link, unfortunately, I think you’re confusing me for Kenny. Kenny is the muscular one in the picture below the blurb about me; I’m the pudgy one letting gravity do the work in the picture above the blurb.

  14. Comment by Tim | 09.28.2006 | 7:50 pm

    Gooseberry Mesa was definately my favourite trail of my two week trip to Utah. It really does have a bit of everything and the flowing single track towards the end of the loop after hucking about on slickrock is rather special. I’d certainly need more practice before being able to pull stuff like Dug’s little stunt in the pic. Nice work!

  15. Comment by Woody13Fox | 09.29.2006 | 12:07 am

    Man, I’m so insanely jealous right now.  Not just for the terrain, but for the skills too!  How is it you guys can suck and rock at the same time?!


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