Main Photo: Life of the party and bike trickster of note, Carel Van Heerden kept everyone entertained with his antics while they caught their breath and downed some beer. 

The annual South African Single Speed Championships, held at Bronkhorstspruit Dam last weekend, has to be the most festive event on our local cycling calendar. Serious competition was non-existent. Rules didn’t apply, and arbitrary penalties were dished out aplenty. The aim of the game was simple – ride the hilly, rock-strewn 30 km course on your single speed bike… and have a blast drinking plenty of beer with your mates while doing it.

If ever there was an event created for cyclists to get together and let their hair down, then the South African Single Speed Championships (SASSC) 2016 had to be it. Staged around the Single Speed World Championships, an annual international event hosted by a different country each year – it celebrates the pure simplicity of single speed riding. That doesn’t mean it’s an exclusive event only for hardcore purists though. Riders with geared bikes can play along too, their gearshifts just get taped-up by organisers before the start. Bottom line, whatever you ride, the event provides a great excuse for one hell of a jol.

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

Finishing the South African Single Speed Championships 2016 first didn’t guarantee a win, and everyone knew it – even if some entrants rode hard, just because they could.

As Australia hosted this year’s world champs, the theme they set for clubs around the world to emulate was “Boganphilia” – “bogan” meaning an uncouth or unsophisticated person, and “philia” donating an abnormal love for a specific thing. But what they really meant was Aussie trailer trash. At least, that’s the way SASSC interpreted it! Nearly everyone dressed up, some impressively so. Most bikes displayed custom-made number boards (some extremely humorous) and the general attitude right from the get go was “Let’s party!”

Many events have fancy dress elements to them, so seeing riders wearing funny outfits milling around before the start didn’t surprise me one bit. What did, was seeing beers being handed out to each entrant as they registered for the race. That’s when I realised what SASSC was all about and put my notebook away, resigning myself to a fun day full of sunshine, plenty of beer and hearty comradery.

The 10 AM start was rather unconventional too. By then many entrants were maybe two beers down and rearing to go, but the organisers kept putting the brakes on – mainly because they were too busy arbitrarily confiscating bikes, swapping them around and generally giving competitors a hard time. Needless to say, the accompanying banter was hilarious. The whole situation made me think of herding cats. Eventually, the organisers cracked the whip – really, they did. Sounding like a gun shot up close, it immediately focused everyone’s attention. After the third ear-splitting crack, there was a moment of stunned indecision, then race got underway.

Calling the SASSC 2016 a race is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, it covered a course about 30 km through the hilly, rocky terrain on the north side of Bronkhorstspruit Dam – so it wasn’t an easy ride, especially when having to rely on only one gear. But finishing the event first didn’t guarantee a win. Instead, the organisers huddled up and decided amongst themselves who did. They also dished out outrageous penalties to riders on a whim. I watched one bemused dude (wearing little more than underpants) have his saddle and seat post confiscated for no reason at all, then got sent on his merry way to complete the rest of the route balancing on his pedals. The whole point of the event is to not take the riding seriously, have a good laugh and enjoy yourself.

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

The second watering hole was where the all action was. Most riders got stuck here for at least an hour, some for much longer.

With temperatures hovering at around 35 degrees thanks to the current heatwave, it wasn’t a day for sissies. Fortunately, the two drink spots along the route were amply stocked with beer (and non-alcoholic equivalents) to keep everyone hydrated. Or should that be lubricated? By the time competitors arrived at the second, erm, watering point they were in desperate need of a pint. And, as the crowd grew, the party just got bigger and that more festive – with many staying for way over an hour, some much longer, knocking back the refreshing golden nectar and shooting the breeze with tipsy comrades.

Eventually, as the hot sun slowly edged ever closer to the western horizon, even the most dedicated party animals conceded it was time to get back on their bikes and move on to the finish line 5 km away – they didn’t want to miss the prize-giving party!

For the record, Aussie hillbilly wannabe Dewald Venter, who rode the route on his BMX, won the evening’s beer drinking competition. And this year’s SASSC 2016 ladies’ and men’s winners are Teresa Ralph and Martin van der Klooster.  – (c) 2016 NavWorld

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

Taking a breather… and a pint. Heatwave conditions made hydration the most important aspect of the SASSC 2016 event.

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

Sober start. Most riders were only one or two beers down by the time they headed off on their 30 km ride.

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

Although a fun event, the SASSC 2016 was still a race – covering about 30 km over rocky, hilly terrain in heatwave conditions.

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

Clearly, beer can be used to cool down core temperatures in more ways than one.

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

Hot and thirsty competitors enjoy a festive break from their saddles.

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

This old classic received a lot of attention. More impressively, it finished the race too.

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

More than one competitor required some assistance up the first hill after leaving the second watering hole. Many of those who didn’t want help got it anyway.

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

Fun was the order of the day and many bikes had personalised numbers.

No gears allowed: SA's Single Speed Championships 2016

Winners of this year’s South African Single Speed Championships, Teresa Ralph and Martin van der Klooster.

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About The Author

Sean Woods

Originally a photographer for the Star newspaper in the bad old days, Sean Woods turned to writing after the first democratic elections in '94. The career shift paid serious dividends, culminating in him becoming associate editor for Popular Mechanics magazine with a number of technology writing awards under his belt. His interests include anything to do with boats, motorcycles and all those fancy tech gadgets that help the modern world go around.

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