Horse for the Course: Singlespeed Rock Lobster for a weekend of bad decisions

A custom creation for the Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships

“You’re a big boy now,” she yelled as she slapped my soiled jean shorts and sent me on my way. Dazed and confused, I made my way past the mud-splattered male and female strippers and hopped back on my bike. And that was just the first five minutes of racing.

  • The horse: A custom Rock Lobster singlespeed cyclocross bike
  • The course: The Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships
  • The equipment goal: A performance-minded singlespeed for the weirdest cyclocross race in the world

Steel may be real, but alloy can be awesome

A friendly little lobster adorns the tapered head tube
A friendly little lobster adorns the tapered head tube

Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster Cycles has been building custom steel and aluminum frames for 38 years. The Santa Cruz-based builder has gained a loyal following with cyclocross racers. He was a proponent of low and slack cyclocross geometry long before it was mainstream.

Sadoff’s approach to ’cross geometry is in line with my own predilections. As is his no-frills approach to frame building. You won’t find hand-cut lugs or excessive livery on his bikes, just a quality steel or aluminum frame designed to be ridden, not worshipped.

Paul Sadoff was an advocate for low and slack cyclocross bike geometry long before it went mainstream
Paul Sadoff was an advocate for low and slack cyclocross bike geometry long before it went mainstream

So why aluminum and not steel? Well, I was after a purebred singlespeed race bike. I wanted a frame that was light and stiff — any compliance I need can come from low tire pressure.

The geometry for my custom Rock Lobster was roughly based on the Specialized CruX, with small adjustments made to improve fit and handling
The geometry for my custom Rock Lobster was roughly based on the Specialized CruX, with small adjustments made to improve fit and handling

When it came to sorting out the finer points of frame geometry, I asked Sadoff to base the angles off one of my favorite production cyclocross bikes — a 52cm Specialized CruX. From there, the top tube was made a touch longer and head angle was slackened slightly. It’s a mountain biker’s cyclocross bike, which is exactly what I was after.

It proved up to the challenge of a Singlespeed Cyclocross World’s course that would have given the UCI a panic attack.

Enve's cyclocross is light and precise. The integrated brake guide adds a bit of style, too
Enve's cyclocross is light and precise. The integrated brake guide adds a bit of style, too

Time to get weird

You can't take yourself too seriously at SSCXWC
You can't take yourself too seriously at SSCXWC

In its 10th running, this event was the best type or organized chaos I’ve ever participated in. The course combined serious racing with an inspiring amount of absurdity.

We began by laying our bikes down in the center a cornfield and taking our place at the actual start line. After a wooden replica of Seattle’s Space Needle was set ablaze, a shotgun blast signaled that it was time to sprint through the mud in search of our bikes. 

To my surprise, I was ahead of Sven Nys at the start. My Midwestern youth prepared me for the perils of sprinting through cornfields, but a childhood in Kansas will only take one so far in a world championship race. In my case that distance was approximately 300 yards. From there I drifted back until I reached my rightful place in the middle of the massive 200-person field.

The first obstacle we encountered was a party bus filled with adult entertainers. Volunteers shuttled our bikes from one side of the bus to the other while we sprinted past male and female dancers. A few riders decided this was a pretty good place to take a pit stop.

Next up on the non-sanctioned list of course features was a dual slalom track built in the middle of a pumpkin patch. Mud and the detritus of pumpkin fights made it all the more treacherous.

From there we came to the shark jump. A small wooden ramp gave racers the option to huck their meat into a shallow cattle pond. I’d already watched two riders break forks from poorly executed landings earlier in the day, so I opted to take the less heroic line. Needless to say, I was not a crowd pleaser. Sorry.

The final major obstacle was a pit filled with exercise balls. Actually, its official name was the “Amazeballs of Fury”. This was the rowdiest section of the course, and it quickly turned into a drunken game of dodgeball, as spectators hurled the mud-covered balls at racers. 

The Amazeballs of Fury
The Amazeballs of Fury

But that’s not all we had to contend with. Regardless of what your local race officials want you to believe, hand-ups are never a crime.

You name it, it was available to you while racing: beer, liquor, cotton candy, even fondue. The most professional people at the race were the spectators; they had all the bases covered.

Hand-ups are never a crime. Don't let any tell you otherwise
Hand-ups are never a crime. Don't let any tell you otherwise

After the mud dried

The Easton EC 90 SL crankset before and after the main event
The Easton EC 90 SL crankset before and after the main event

Looking back on that hour of debauchery, there is very little I would have changed.

The Rock Lobster performed admirably and the parts kit held up to the harsh conditions.

An easy gearing of 40x20 and tires that managed to find grip allowed me to ride a few sections that forced other racers to dismount and run.  

A 20t Niner Cogalicious cog with a 40t Easton direct mount chainring was a good gearing for the muddy course
A 20t Niner Cogalicious cog with a 40t Easton direct mount chainring was a good gearing for the muddy course

Clément’s BOS is certainly a one-trick pony type of tire. The tractor tread pattern is designed for deep, atrocious mud. It has earned a place as my go-to tire for the worst course conditions. I ran approximately 24psi in the front and 26 in the rear and had no issues with burping or excessive squirm.

Due to a lack of axle adapters, I ran a mixed set of hoops. I ran an Easton EA90 SL Disc front wheel with an Enve M50 rear rim laced to a DT Swiss 240 rear hub. I added DT Swiss’ 54-tooth Star Ratchet kit to speed up freehub engagement.

Clement's BOS claws through deep mud
Clement's BOS claws through deep mud

Enve also rounded out the cockpit with a 44cm compact handlebar, seatpost and stem.

My saddle of choice was WTB’s Volt Carbon.

TRP has the singlespeed disc CX market cornered with its Hylex and Hylex RS brakes. It was the most common disc brake system at the event.

TRP's Hylex RS disc brakes have lengthy hoods. I reduced the stem length by 10mm to compensate
TRP's Hylex RS disc brakes have lengthy hoods. I reduced the stem length by 10mm to compensate

I found that using the Hylex RS brakes required me to make two adjustments. First, TRP’s hoods are longer than SRAM or Shimano, so I swapped a 100mm stem for a 90mm to keep my reach to the hoods consistent. Second, the drillium brake levers look cool, but they don’t improve grip. I knew going into the event that it was going to be a quagmire, so I added a bit of grip tape to the otherwise slippery brake levers.

The Hylex RS levers are stylish, but lack grip. A few strips of grip tape made them easier to grasp in the wet
The Hylex RS levers are stylish, but lack grip. A few strips of grip tape made them easier to grasp in the wet

To make the most of my meager power output, I ran Easton’s EC90 SL crankset. It’s light, stiff, and spins smoothly on Easton's bottom bracket. 

I generally prefer Shimano pedals and the latest XT M8000 Race pedals did an impressive job of shedding mud.

This Rock Lobster was a great way to take on this year's Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships
This Rock Lobster was a great way to take on this year's Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships

The total (mud-free) build weight with pedals came to 16.5lb / 7.48kg. I didn’t weigh the bike after the race, but I’m sure it more than doubled thanks to copious amounts of grass, mud and manure.

Thanks for the fuzzy memories
Thanks for the fuzzy memories

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