The Coaster Brake Challenge — Fun If You Can Survive!
If you were so inclined as to enter an off-road race series, you may wish to ensure that you have the right bike for it. Perhaps you would want to ensure that your suspension and pivots have been recently serviced, and that your brake pads are in decent shape. Maybe you’d like to remember all the advice your racing buddies gave you, maybe listen to your inner voice or maybe momma’s voice telling you to be careful. Maybe. On the other hand, you may just want to throw caution to the wind and have fun by entering the Coaster Brake Challenge!
The Coaster Brake Challenge is not some UCI sanctioned race or anything like it. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart either. So what is it? First, a little on the race’s organizer, why I like the CBC, and a quick introduction to klunker bikes.
I first met Paul de Valera (not photographed) of Atomic Cycles on a trail in Corte de Madera in Northern California. It’s a small world we live in that I happened to run into him there after having looked at a bike he listed on Craigslist. Of course it was a Klunker he listed and yes, he was riding a Klunker when we met. I told him that I had heard stories of coaster brake races in the Valley, and he verified that they did exist, and that he organized them! I became very intrigued and finally found a decent enough bike thanks to the Asylum Hank.
I had just returned to mountain biking a couple years before and had been turned off by the MTB industry’s push to more high tech and incompatible equipment so I bought myself a singlespeed steel hard-tail MTB. I was now looking for something even simpler. Something that harkened to the earliest days of MTB: One gear, coaster brake, full rigid, and prewar cruiser aesthetics. I had just met Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher, and Joe Breeze at a showing of Klunkerz – A Film about Mountain Bikes and bought a copy of Fat-Tire Flyer. I was really into the simplicity and aesthetics of tearing down the “needs” of a mountain bike to its bare essentials.
So why ride such a bike? More importantly, why ride such a bike as a Mountain Bike? Because it’s damn fun, that’s why. Riding a coaster brake bike forces you to brake only when necessary, and pick your lines better. It forces you to think about the terrain and how to slow down and speed up by using your body more. These are things that every mountain biker should consider, but sometimes we forget because our bikes allow us to “cheat”.
I have had some “oh sh!t” moments on my coaster brake bike for sure, but I tend to crash more on my bikes with brakes and suspension for some reason. I also love the comments I sometimes get like, “that’s not the right kind of bike for this dude”. Usually this commenter is getting passed at some point on the ride since I tend to get very respectable Strava times on that bike!
Lets get back to the question, what is the Coaster brake challenge? The series consists of 4 weekly races on Sundays. The event is held twice yearly in January and July. Locations are disclosed at meetup location (these are unsanctioned races, after all). Each stage is different and difficulty varies. The winner of each stage receives a cool trophy made from bike parts, and there is a raffle for goodies at the end of the last race.
The race is open to single speed coaster brake bikes ONLY. You cannot have a front brake or rear brake in addition to the coaster brake. You can take a look at the website linked in the first paragraph for a full description of coaster brake hubs and bike advice. Check out our videos from the races here!