SSWC Q&A: Heather Irmiger and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski

SLIDESHOW: Heather Irmiger earned a sweet tattoo last year by winning the Singlespeed World Championships in Durango, Colorado. Along with her hubby, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Irmiger is headed to Rotorua, New Zealand to defend her title next weekend.

For winning the women’s category at the Singlespeed World Championships last year in Durango, Colorado, Heather Irmiger earned herself a one-of-a-kind (well, two-of-a-kind counting men’s winner Ross Schnell) tattoo.

Heather Irmiger rocked a vintage Paola Pezzo skinsuit at SSWC in 2009. Look for a new look in New Zealand this year. (and those are temporary tats on Heather's guns.)  Photo by Frank Mapel
Heather Irmiger rocked a vintage Paola Pezzo skinsuit at SSWC in 2009. Look for a new look in New Zealand this year. (and those are temporary tats on Heather's guns.) Photo by Frank Mapel

Irmiger is set to defend her SSWC title Oct. 23 in Rotorua, New Zealand, along with her husband and Subaru-Trek trade team teammate Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski. Before they headed off half way around the world in pursuit of some fresh ink, the reigning U.S. mountain bike marathon champs answered a few questions for Heather, you mentioned in a similar Q&A last year that you were a little hesitant about the whole SSWC tattoo thing before SSWC in Durango — as in “If you don’t want the tattoo, don’t win.” Any hesitancy now about getting a second tat?
Heather Irmiger: The truth is that I don’t have a strong desire for another SSWC tattoo — I’m not that big of a person and I’m not sure where I’d put it! But, the other side of this truth is that I am pretty dang competitive and don’t know how to NOT win (which is how I found myself in this tattoo-receiving situation in the first place)!  If there isn’t a person who can beat me and I do win again, I’m getting the tattoo. Do you look at your SSWC tattoo on a daily basis for inspiration or is it only visible to you in a mirror (or by getting into some convoluted yoga position?)
HI: I actually can’t see my tattoo unless I see it in the mirror coming out of the shower or twist around to look — and just that twist is pretty much the extent of how convoluted my body can get.  I DO think about it every once in a while, despite not seeing it very often. My body now has the word “CHAMPION” inscribed on it and sometimes I find myself thinking about what that really means to me. In Durango last year, Kelli Emmett was, um, arresting in an awesome cop outfit. Are you breaking out the now-lucky Paola Pezzo skinsuit that you wore in 2009 or something new?
HI: The Paola Pezzo skinsuit has been returned to its rightful owner and I have a new costume ready to go…I hope it’s not too cold. Does the fact that you only have one gear leave more time to think about, say, how many beers you’ll drink post-race? That said, what are the other subtle beauties of singlespeeds as you see them?
HI: To me, the most beautiful thing about singlesspeeds is that they induce a state of NOT thinking. While it may seem like one gear gives you more time to think, I think it actually has the opposite effect. There is no chain slap, your hands and arms don’t have to think about moving for a shift, your mind doesn’t need to ask why things hurt because there’s nothing you can do about it anyway. Riding a singlespeed is the closest to Jedi anyone can get on a bike. Your husband, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, is riding a rigid steel singlespeed this year. You’re going top-notch carbon fiber with a suspension fork. Are there personality statements being made here?
HI: Maybe it’s more of a statement of his manliness. I am the dainty, feminine one while he is the burly, manly, tough guy? That and the Sawyer has the potential to be turned into a belt-drive, which is just plain ‘ol super cool and Jedi.

JHK at the 2009 SSWC in Durango, Cololorado. This year's race is in New Zealand. Photo by Frank Mapel
JHK at the 2009 SSWC in Durango, Cololorado. This year's race is in New Zealand. Photo by Frank Mapel JHK, why the retro approach with the Trek Sawyer when you could go with space-age material? (We’d say the Trek Sawyer from the Gary Fisher Collection, but it takes too long.)
JHK: I chose this bike since in my mind, SSWC is more about the experience and just having fun than necessarily having the fastest, lightest bike. It’s a race, but it’s one race that really is more about the journey than the outcome — this bike is a reflection of that. How much does your Sawyer weigh? What are its ride qualities compared to the Superfly singlespeed?
JHK: I’m not going to lie — it’s not light. I think it weighs about 24 lbs. That said, it rides incredibly well though, and that weight is well hidden. I’ve done a few big rides on it up in Nederland (Colorado), and it handles really well. It’s a retro-styled machine but it has modern geometry and good proportions. I know this sounds cliched, but it really does have more “soul” than riding a carbon race bike set up as a singlespeed. After finishing second at the Leadville Trail 100 this year in record time, are you ready to announce on that you will ride your steel rigid  singlespeed Sawyer in next year’s LT 100?
JHK: I’ll do that and then do the LT 100 trail run carrying the Sawyer on my back the whole time. JHK, you were in Rotorua in 2006 for the mountain bike world championships. What did you learn about New Zealand beer on that trip?
JHK: I learned a lot about beer drinking that trip as I had my most frustrating mechanical ever at that race. I was ranked ninth in the world at the time after my best World Cup season and I think I had the best form of my career at that race. I then broke my chain about 200 meters into the start of the Elite Men’s race. I was on my second beer by the time my competitors were coming around at the end of the first lap. Speaking of Rotorua and 2006, besides everything, what is the biggest difference between an UCI world championship and a Singlespeed World Championship?
Heather Irmiger: Certainly the prize is the biggest difference! I actually think it would be very cool and special if the UCI World Champs issued a tattoo to the winner… Also, the attitude and atmosphere. Once the gun goes off at SSWC, there are quite a few people truly racing for the win and hoping to push themselves beyond their personal limits just as the racers are at the UCI World Champs. But a SSWC, there is camaraderie and a special bond that only the participants can possibly understand.

JHK: While “everything” is the easy response, I’ll attempt a serious answer here: My career is a reflection of the passion that I have for riding my mountain bike. The fact that I’ve been to so many UCI World Championship races is a product of that. However, competing at the highest international level is also disconnecting on some level to that passion — and SSWC is a way for me to re-connect to it.

The two events are interesting and complimentary in that one is the logical endpoint of pouring my passion into the sport year after year, and the other is almost like a way to go back to the beginning, which is really important.