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Headed to battle in CrossVegas, by way of singletrack-heaven in Flagstaff

By Greg Keller

Mud and Cowbells: Singletrack, Flagstaff style. It’s everywhere…

Photo: Greg Keller

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of the Mud and Cowbells Road Diary. Part one found the author in Durango for the Singlespeed World Championships, where he witnessed the winners drinking the night before, then getting tattooed after the race.

I don’t know how truckers do it. In the grand spectrum of things, the leg from Durango to Flagstaff — a stopover before continuing on to Las Vegas for CrossVegas and Interbike — was not super long at 310 miles. I am seeing unbelievable parts of our country that I’ve never been able to see before in my 38 years. High desert vistas and geology that only the region surrounding the Grand Canyon could produce. I am in awe of how huge and beautiful this country of ours is and almost veered off the road scoping out the landscapes. Truckers must either get bored of these legs and tune out or wear blinders.

Either way, you’ve got to see this part of the country to believe it. I decided on heading to Vegas through Flagstaff as the Force was too strong for this Jedi and it pulled me in with its Tractor-Beam of well known fat tire culture, high altitude and the fact the town brags of some 600 miles of singletrack and only 35 miles of decent paved road. A mountain biker’s paradise.

I pulled into town and cranked out some work before suiting up and exploring the area on my ’cross bike. I desperately needed to get my legs to come around today after the ridonculous kilojoules put out on Saturday at the Single Speed Worlds. Within ten minutes I found a patch of singletrack poking its little head out of nowhere on the outskirts of town luring me in with its delicious soil and its initial set of twists. Irresistible. It ended up being perfect for my Dugast tubulars and even more perfect for my head and aching legs.

Mud and Cowbells: The keg-tank. A marvel of engineering.

Mud and Cowbells: The keg-tank. A marvel of engineering.

Photo: Greg Keller

A quick shower and change into my civies and I went back into town, this time camera in hand. As I was shooting this remarkable bike outside on a sidewalk — a bike affixed with beer kegs instead of wheels mind you — this guy comes out of a shop and says: “You know, you should hear the history of that bike.” And so, as serendipity would have it, I ran in to the ‘cycling mayor’ of Flagstaff, Bryce Wright, owner of AZ Bikes. An encyclopedia of the region’s fat tire history, Bryce proceeded to wax poetic on the town’s scene, the trails and the decades of fat tire frolics.

Bryce’s bike shop alone is a piece of history. It was an old jail (complete with iron bars and prisoner graffiti from ~1904-1906) and has more secret nooks and trap doors than your average haunted house. As we talked of our common friends Like Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster Cycles and many other legends of bike building, Bryce’s eyes got wider and his excitement wilder. “You’ve GOT to come downstairs and see this bike!” he says. He proceeds to ask a customer to move just a wee bit to the side and low and behold… a trap door in the floor. Down we go into the bowels of AZ Bikes.

Mud and Cowbells: Braaap! The StingRay with its monster rear disc.

Mud and Cowbells: Braaap! The StingRay with its monster rear disc.

Photo: Greg Keller

A flip of a lightswitch and I stood there drop-jawed. Historical eye-candy was everywhere. As we crawl into the ancient cellar’s depths, he pulls down a mint Cooks Brothers Racing Mountain Cruiser from the 80’s, complete with Mafac Brakes and Dura Ace ‘gold’ 7-speed cassette and drivetrain. Next to that is a first generation Bontrager Race Lite Ti and just beyond that a 1966 Schwinn StingRay… complete with rear disc brake. I thought disc brakes for bikes were a new-generation invention. My own personal ‘handmade bicycle show’ complete, Bryce showed me what being a ‘biking brother’ really means in Flagstaff by showing me the sites of the town and taking me to a local mountain biker’s bar. Custom made Soulcraft and one-off Spectrum Powder Works LiveWrong singlespeeds waited outside for their owners having a glass of the local brew inside. We laughed, told stories and I got the beta on the local racing and riding scene. Fantastic people, and Bryce, I’m indebted to your hospitality.

So now what lies ahead? Well, 250 miles to Vegas and a 60-minute sufferfest on the Velcro-like grass at the Desert Breeze soccer complex for CrossVegas. Three-time world champion Erwin Vervecken (drop the ‘n’ in Vervecken if you want to sound like a true Limburger) is on tap along with other Belgian and Dutch hard men all angling to cause us great discomfort in the chest and leg regions…. yet will bring me great personal satisfaction at the same time.

Being among some of the best, like Erwin, is a great motivator for me. But the real motivation to race CrossVegas lies a bit more deeply. As a kid, and before his death, my father would constantly tell me to ‘Give ’em hell.’ It was classic, the kind of gesture you’d expect from a stoic and prototypical 1950’s guy. Visions of John Wayne storming the beaches of Iwo Jima still come to mind. He’d tell me that on the sidelines of my soccer games as a kid. So you can see a deeper motivation is simply being there in the heat, at night in Las Vegas amongst the best. Actually participating and pulling up the big girl undies to face the lions and at least try. ‘If you love it that much, do it,’ he’d insist. And so, I will be there under the lights invariably suffering a thousand deaths to create some memories and stories for my two boys and how their pop gave it hell against a world champion.

Stay tuned for the CrossVegas race report. Hup, hup!

Greg Keller is the author of mudandcowbells.com, a blog dedicated to the antics on knobby tires both big and small, the balance of family, racing and work and is resident product geek at Lijit Networks in Boulder, Colorado.

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