Back in November of last year I was gifted the best gift a cyclist can get, a new bike. Not just any bike though, this one was the Salsa Stormchaser a singlespeed gravel beast from Mark and Renee of Backroads Bicycle. Not to have to go through FOMO Jackie picked up one for herself also and so began her love and my getting reacquainted with riding a bike with just one gear.
We lucked out and had a fairly mild November and December last year so we were able to get out and put some miles on the Stormchasers almost immediately.
Then the snows came and it wasn't until March of this year that the Stormchasers saw any time on the gravel again but during that time an idea was hatched. We had decided that we would register in the single speed category for all of the events in 2023. First up was the Washington Jefferson ride and after not spending much time on the Stormchasers over the colder months of winter, we struggled a bit on that one and I wondered if we might have bitten off more than we could chew. Only time would tell on that one.
April came around and we had many more miles on the Stormchasesrs by the time Stay Fired Up in Kansas came around. We started that race in a very inauspicious manner as I had a flat right out of the starting gate... literally. Despite that we both took first place for single speed, albeit we were the only entrants but it was a tough course and we did well time wise and rode strong so there was a lot to be positive about.
I'm not sure that the idea was to ride the Stormchasers exclusively during the spring and into summer but it seemed like everytime we went to ride we pulled them out of the quiver rather than one of our other bikes.
Our next event was the Solstice Gravel Grinder out of Beatrice, Nebraska. For this one we entered into the relay race category with the Stormchasers despite there not being a single speed specific relay category. Everyone on the team killed it but we came up just short of the top spot and ended up in second place, losing to a much younger, geared team by only 20 seconds.
By the end of June when we lined up for the Coast to Coast in Michigan we had several hundred miles on the Stormchasers but this was going to be our longest race on them and also the first time where there was real competition in the category of single speed for both males and females. 100 miles of Michigan gravel, sand and single track later and Jackie ended up taking 2nd in the women's and I took third in the men's single speed category. This was a really fun event and the scenery of the course was pretty amazing, if you're looking for a late June race to fill a spot on your calendar give the Coast to Coast a real look.
Most of the summer had been hot and dry so we had anticipated a dusty, fast course for Gravel Worlds but 3" of rain overnight thwarted that plan. That was a difficult course for sure and it changed plans but we still did pretty well, Jackie finished fast enough for a third place podium spot and got to get up on stage. I missed third by a few minutes and took fourth in the men's single speed category... there was about an hour where I thought I had pulled off third but there was a 150 mile single speed guy that dropped down at the last minute to the 75 and once the standings were adjusted, that was that.
In-between Gravel Worlds and the Pony Express Gravel Dash the Stormchasers got a major upgrade by way of some deliciously sweet, Cantu carbon wheels. We may have broken the "don't change anything right before a race" rule and Pony was going to be our second ever ride on the wheels.
The Pony Express Gravel Dash ended up being a real battle in the 120 mile single speed relay category. This one was fast and dry, both the second and first place teams were pretty much neck and neck the entire race. We were flying, ended up finishing the 120 mile race in under 8 hours as a team with a combined mph average of almost 16 mph and walking away with the under 8 hours hardware and second place. I'd done the relay one other time on geared bikes a few years prior and even then with that team we only managed under 9 hours for the course... single speed doesn't necessarily mean slower it appears.
The Pony Express was pretty much the end of our competitive gravel calendar but we just kept on rolling on the one gear for some fantastic fall miles.
Backroads Bicycle in Maryville, Kansas put on a fun single speed only ride that saw around 15 riders, of those 15 I believe 8 of us were on the Salsa Stormchaser. That's how good of a bike it is, comfortable, fast, lots of room for bigger tires with still room for mud clearance and the smiles per mile are almost unbeatable.
This wasn't my first single speed, I entered into single speeds back in 2010 with the legendary Redline Monocog and rode that bike almost exclusively until 2014 when it was replaced by a Santa Cruz Highball frame I picked up from Ben in Seward. Still have that bike and it is starting to see new life on single track again. Also had a Redline 925 for a couple of years that was my "road bike" but I let that one go for a better road bike, it's still around the Lincoln area last I heard; sold it to Tracy H and I think she's still rocking it. When fat bikes came and gravel blew up I abandoned the one gear bike in favor of fat bikes there for several years, had it not been for the gifting of the Stormchaser I'm not sure if I would have rediscovered single speed again. Hell had it not been a Stormchaser I still might not have embraced it like we have. Like I said lots of companies make single speed gravel bikes but not everyone has gotten all the checkboxes checked like Salsa did. Single speed made me a better rider back when I was riding the Monocog exclusively and now again the Stormchaser has made me a better/stronger gravel rider... not to everyone's delight as I forget that not every ride has to be a fast ride but we are working on that one. It's just so easy to fly on that bike and it's made me re-evaluate some of my cycling goals and learn that with the right pairing of bike and rider I don't necessarily have to be a mid pack rider. After one year and over 2200 miles later, I can't wait to see what next season brings on one gear.