Mud. Cold. Rain. Snow. Countless hills and one of the most competitive fields in the country. You wouldn't think any racer would possibly want to make the Bell's Iceman Cometh Challenge harder. Then, deep into the race, you realize the guy or gal sprinting up every hill is doing it with just one gear. Singlespeeders are some of the toughest riders in the woods, and they'd tell you going without a derailleur isn't much harder, just a different kind of hard. We check-in with Singlespeed wizard/legend/good dude Kyle Macdermaid on why not shifting holds so much attraction and the best ratio for the drag race between Kalkaska and Traverse City.
It's been a few years since I have raced Iceman Singlespeed, (but man do I miss it sometimes.) Many people believe SS is a lot harder than running gears, but to me, it's never seemed that much harder. It's harder at times and easier at others. SS forces you to use momentum, use your fellow riders (find a wheel when you're at 120rpm and tuck in) and works as a natural rev limiter. On fast sections, you are forced to draft, or just rest a bit as you only have so much gear. Yes, the hills are going to be a battle, but you attack them and run if you have to.
The big question with SS is always, gearing, gearing, gearing. What gearing are you running? How many gear inches are you pushing today? What's your gain ratio brah? For Iceman, my plan has always been to run a couple of hills. Event 1 is almost always a run unless you hit it really clear in your wave, as people slow down too much for an SS rider to make it up in the sand. I would plan on potentially having to run the top of Make It Stick if need be, and I always plan on running Anita's. I made Anita's once on 36x16 and it was some of the worst race strategies I've ever had. That level of effort, especially late in the race was akin to a race-finishing all-out-sprint effort, and I completely exploded at the top. I pulled 10 seconds back on the person I was chasing (Collin Snyder) but lost more than a minute from the top of Anita's to the finish as I was so blown up.
Okay, as to my actual gearing advice for Iceman:
If you are a general racer, just looking to finish with a good time, I would suggest dropping one tooth in the rear over typical go to singletrack gearing. If you ride 2:1 or 34x17 normally, go to 34x16 for iceman.
If you are looking to podium Iceman in SS, (and it's not a mud year) you are going to need a taller gear. I would say a minimum of 62 gear inches (or 36x16 on a 29er.) If you are really shooting for the win, you might be able to squeak it on 62 gear inches if you can really spin, but something like 64 or 65 would be better. If I were racing SS this year, I'd be on 37x16, running a 29x2.2 tire.
Some single gear race advice:
-You really need to work with your geared brethren. Even if you are running a big gear (64+ gear inches) you are going to be spinning out on fast sections like Sands Lakes Road, parts of the VASA, etc. If possible, try to latch on to a good group of geared riders during the flat/fast sections, (even if you have to sit up for a couple of seconds so they bridge to you.) Stay in the draft and then jump to the front of them when you hit the hills as they'll probably dump gears and slow you down.
-Run Anita's. Yes, it's possible to make it up it, but run it.
And remember, even if some geared people beat you, (which they will) you're still cooler as you did it on one gear.
Need help with your gearing? Check out this handy gear calculator to determine your set-up, or see your range with your current gears, too.