Dark Horse Shakedown: Iron Cross

It was almost a year ago that Twin Six made the Dark Horse SS frame available.  I ordered one right away, include the Gates CenterTrack belt drive.  However, it languished in my basement for several months as I waited for the funds to start building it up.  You don’t need a ton of parts for a singlespeed, but enough that I had to space it out.  Here’s what I ended up getting:

And then a bunch of stuff I got used or already had on hand:

  • Roval Pavé SL Wheels
  • Continental Cyclocross Speed clinchers
  • Scott stem
  • $2 Bontrager bars
  • Easton EA50 seatpost bought 5 years ago
  • WTB Valcon saddle off my Kona

And I’m proud to say that excluding the headset, I did all the work.  There were a couple bolts that needed some additional tightening and the CenterTrack sprocket needed to be flipped around on the crank for frame clearance (I had installed more spacers, but that left the crankset too loose), but otherwise did a pretty decent job for my first bike build.  And of course, now that the bike was ready, I needed to ride it.  Fortunately, there as a UPCROSS event in Marquette, the weather was going to be beautiful and the fall colors were at their peak.  I threw both ‘cross bikes on the roof, loaded up the wife and kids and headed down.

Beautiful day for a ride on a sweet new bike.

This was the first of two days called Iron Cross.  (The story here is that there are a lot of iron ore deposits around Ishpeming, the city that hosts the event along with all the other “iron crosses” you can think of.)  The plan was simple: Ride the Dark Horse in the B race and then really race my Tricross in the A race.  The rationale was that I had never even ridden a singlespeed before, let alone raced one.  Who knew how fast I could go?  So I would mess around on it for a half-hour and then really race on the geared bike.  The best laid plans of mice and men…

I’m not exactly hustling up this run-up.

So I lined up in the B race.  The organizer said we were going to do 40 minutes plus a lap, which is a lot longer than B’s normally race.  Okay, whatever.  Off we went and I was keeping it pretty light.  I basically walked up the steep and loose run-up.  I was in no hurry.  I was out for a ride on a beautiful day.

This is me not going easy anymore.

Right.  I should know myself better than that.  After riding easy for about a lap, the part of me that chases down random people when I’m commuting by bike woke up and I started racing.  Riders started falling back.  I started breathing hard.  I wasn’t just making it up the hills, I was hammering up them.  Since I didn’t put a mount for my Garmin on the Dark Horse, I had no idea how long we had been riding or how hard I was going.  I was just riding as hard as I could and realizing that I would not, in fact, have the legs left to ride the A race.

Nope. Definitely not riding easy.

When I crossed the finish line, I was 3rd of 16.  My easy ride had turned into a podium chase.  I felt somewhat embarrassed, since I am not so desperate for wins that I will sandbag and race a class down to do it.  And I’m not out there to prove I’m better than other riders by beating them on a singlespeed when they’re riding geared bikes.  I just had a new toy, really wanted to ride it and had no idea how competitive I would be on it.

It is nice to know that when I go ride the singlespeed class at some other races (like Swamp Thing II, part of the Stomach of Anger CX series), I will be competitive.  But I think I’ll just keep racing the Tricross for the most part.

The last thing I want to point out is just how good I think the Conti Cyclocross Speed tires are.  From the pictures, you would think they’re just another file-tread tire, but they’re definitely not.  Each of those little bumps is really a tiny knob and they can squirm around and bite into the dirt.  When you’re on the pavement, they roll really fast.  The cornering knobs on the shoulder are really confidence-inspiring as well.  If your ‘cross course is usually dry, you really owe it to yourself to try these out.


5 thoughts on “Dark Horse Shakedown: Iron Cross”

    1. I like it quite a bit. It’s really quiet, almost eerily so. Getting the belt tension correct is a little hard, but is made easier with the Gates Carbon Drive iPhone App. Frame clearance on the front sprocket was a little weird with the GXP bottom bracket, but everything seems to be okay once we flipped the sprocket around (now all the text faces inwards). The Spot Brand spacer kit is purpose built for the belt drive and I didn’t have to muck around guessing about the “chainline” — the default setup was perfect. (That’s what you get from a company so heavily partnered with Gates.) What I’m really looking forward to is when things get muddy and wet and seeing how it responds compared to a traditional chain. It looks pretty cool and gets a lot of comments from people.

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