If you have been riding mountain bikes for the last 20 years you probably would have come across Brett Bellchambers. He is a true character of the sport and incredibly handy on a bike, especially seeing that the bike only has one gear.
Just as a subtle coincidence, he is another 2602 dweller, so obviously, he is fast on a bike, even if it only has one gear.
I sat down with him recently to discuss the burning issues that face the modern mountain bike racer.
OK Brett, please state your name, age, race category, website, and current sponsors:
Single Speed or Masters.
DirtWorks – WTB (tyres, rims, saddles) Wayward Bicycle Co (Frames)
Kona Groupe Sportif – RaceFace (Bars,Stems,Grips,Chainrings,BB,Crankset,Seatpost)
DIYMTB – Xfusion (Suspension Forks)
Shimano – Brake Pads, Clif Bars and Gels
So, how long have you been racing bikes?
I bought my first MTB in 1991 for my 18th b’day, in Hobart in my first year at Uni.
I did my first race in the Adelaide Hills with the legendary Adelaide Mountain Bike Club in 1996. Raced XC in Sports C, most likely on an Avanti Competitor from 1994 recently fitted with brand new RockShox Quad 5R’s that I paid $600 for with my first paycheck. How the world has changed!!
Yeah, those RockShox forks with the elastomers were the bomb! Did you ever have a hair net helmet or wear woollen knicks?
When I first started riding MTB is Tassie there was no helmet law. I used to ride around Mount Wellington in a green Turtle Fur neck warmer that my brother brought back from a school trip to Mt Buller. I just pulled it up over my head and wore it there, it was cold in Tassie. I wasn’t until I headed butted a tree one day that I thought there might be something to this helmet thing. So I bought a hairnet helmet. The first ride a low branch stole the hair net, after that I was just like riding with a cheap foam esky on my head – how helmets have progressed. Never wore wool knicks – just Blunnie boots with Explorer socks, khaki shorts and a flannie top.
What made you get into the single speed action?
I was living in Adelaide and started to commute to work on a bodged up SS road bike back in ’97. Then in ’99 whilst living near ‘the shire’ I was riding a bodged up 16” GT mtb frame as a SS. Then when I got back to Oz after spending a year in Norway in ’03. I hooked up with some old mates in Tassie and the One Gear More Beer (OGMB) rides on a Thursday night took off and it’s been SS ever since
Jedi Question…..What is the optimal gearing for single speed?
I know this one, I think I explained it to a dumb person at XC Nats in ’07. It’s one chain ring at the front and 1 cog at the rear.
Wow, that is very zen….
This is optimal for Single Speeding. What you choose to make the ring on the front and the cog on the back is entirely up to you. Most people start with 52” or 2:1 on a 26er and go higher and lower from there. i.e 26” 32:16 – 29” 32:18 – 27.5” 32:19.
What is the highest gear you have ever run?
Biggest Gear Ever – Back Yamma BigFoot 100km – 36:16 on a 29er.
Smallest Gear Ever – Kona Paterson 24hr Solo – 32:21 on a 29er.
Are you comfortable with a two wheel drift at Stromlo?
At Strommers I am VERY uncomfortable, once that stuff lets go it’s all over red rover for me. I think I’ve managed a few two wheel drifts at Back Yamma most years, but each time it’s involved the tightening of a certain muscle.
Where do you feel your strengths lie on the bike? Any place for improvement?
Strengths : Big Legs, big heart, a love of hurting for a long time, dumb
Weaknesses : Descend slower than the Elite Females, tiny forearms
Describe the most epic day on the bike you have done in the last month?
I know you boys love a good training story, but an epic day for me these days is 4 hours on a Sunday morning with the INDR crew. Last month we tried to hook up all the Inner North and West singletrack and fireroads through the parklands, we found loads of hidden gems, but we missed some parklands due to the roo cull – such a Canberra thing.
Looking extremely #pro for a singlespeeder! Oxymoron?What is your take on the colour ‘white’ in cycling?
I saw a triathlete wearing a white one piece swimming costume and cutting laps at the Mount Beauty pool one xmas holidays. Since then all white in sport has been a disappointment.
Apart from myself, who are riders that you rate highly (for whatever reason), and why?
Not many people know this but James holds the current Australian 10km road time trial record for riding a bike ‘side saddle’ style – weird but true.
Hey, you've got to take the wins when you can! Are you into quality or quantity when it comes to time on the bike?
I’m a quantity kind of guy I guess. A week for me is 10 hours commuting, 6 hours MTB. Some of that is flat out, most is just cruising. I tend to use races as a way of introducing intensity. I mean you paid money, so you may as well go as fast as you can.
So, hang on, you live in 2602, work in Woden, that’s only a 30 minute ride each way…..so you’re obviously doing secret intervals somewhere then? How do you train? Powermeter, Heart Rate Monitor, Feel, Jedi Force?
There’s not a lot a light rail in Canberra, actually there’s none. I have taken the slow train to Sydney a few times. But I really would love to see that VFT idea get up in the future. Apart from that I ride my bike, I ride it fast when I feel good and I ride it slow when I feel average.
What is the toughest race that you have ever done?
Any of the three 24hr solos of recent history in Victoria, wet and muddy 24hr solos is a major mental issue. The toughest one to recover from mentally was the Mawson Marathon Pairs with J-Mac in 2010, 360 km, point to point in 14.5 hours and we spent the last 6 hours chasing and riding flat out to finish 4th. That was a tough week after that. I remember just crying riding on the way home one afternoon after work and having no idea why, it was just a massive emotional release.
If you race in Victoria, you can expect there to be mud. Wear black kit, and pack a smile!What is your take on ‘creative course navigation’?
I tend to be a reasonably straight down the line sort of guy. I take anti-inflammatories after I’ve finished a 24hr solo so that I can pack the Kombi and still drive home, but not during the race. So you can probably already see my point of view on this question. Once you get tainted with ‘creative course navigation’ every result you achieve from then on is suspect, IMHO.
Did you care to name any names?....oh hang on, my lawyers are telling me to retract that last question...Moving on, how many races in total would you do in a 12 month period?
I try to one big race a month (i.e. 100km plus) and I try to keep December and January free for doing skids on my hack bike.
Basically in a normal year – 3-4 * 24hr Solos, 1* 12hr Solo, 2-3 *100kms and 3-4 * 7hr Solos
What exactly is the ‘reach-around’? Can you reach both right and left, or is the wrong arm known as ‘the stranger’
To be honest the ‘reach around’ is a just common courtesy that is all to forgotten in the fast paced world that we live in these days. It used to be taught in most good private school educations. It still surprises me that these days the younger kids have no idea about it. To be honest it’s generally the dominant hand, but either hand truly is ‘the stranger’ either way.
The 'reacharound' - an advanced move no longer taught in private schools
Could you beat Andrew Hall in a two-up sprint?
Tough question, tough question. I don’t think I’d ever back myself in a two up sprint against anyone and many years on the road have proven this too me. I once lost the SA Criterium title to Brett Aitken. I was on a solo break and about 200 metres from the line I was still 50 metres in front of the bunch. I pretty sure that day that Brett Aitken beat me by 20 metres at the finish, he is an animal. But a two up sprint against Andy??? In my road days I was known as ‘last man in the breakaway’. If I placed 3rd in a big road race everyone knew it was a breakaway of three people. I think Andy has the same feel to him, maybe one day I’ll be close enough to him at the finish of a race and we can sort it out at full bore, one diesel to another.
This one time I saw you trying to ride a geared bike up the Stromlo World Cup course. It seriously looked like you were humping the bike! Have you totally lost the feeling to ride with gears?
Yeah up Cardiac Arrest this year at XC Nats I probably looked like a monkey trying to hump an orange, and to be honest with my lack of handing skills the bike humped me on the way back down. Last lap I got the entry and exit wrong to one of the droppy bits and I cracked a rib as my chest made ‘heavy contact’ with my saddle.
Damn, that sounds painful. But you still manage to get some good podium time. What exactly is appropriate podium attire? Is it acceptable to wear your wife’s jeans?
Sometimes going into a big race you just need some extra motivation to not only finish the race but to make it onto the top 5 overall podium. I spent the last 6 hours of this year 24hr Solo Nats riding my butt off, not only so I could make the top 5 podium, but to also loose that last little bit of weight so I could fit into my ‘podium pants’ that everyone seems to have appreciated!
Yeah, I’m almost buying that one. Good explanation. Which do you prefer: Guns n Roses, Aerosmith, Def Leppard or Motley Crue?
I’m not a great fan of the ‘hair bands’ of the 80’s, growing up in Tassie it was a tough time on the school buses listening to that every day. But cycle touring and 24hr solos allow for long periods of bad songs to creep into your head sideways. I have spent three days touring in Scotland with ‘You could be mine’ by the Gunner’s stuck in my head. I love the ‘Dr Feelgood’ album and I have the 12’ single remix of ‘Pour some sugar on me’ so clearly I have a ‘in the closet’ problem I need to address.
What course suits you on the single speed the best?
Stromlo is the best 24hr solo course I’ve ever done on a SS. It’s not too steep and not too flat. Perfect Cinderella SS course!
Speaking of courses, what is your favourite riding area in Canberra?
I never realised just how much I loved Majura until it disappeared. A four hour ride from my front door can take in either Bruce Ridge, Stromlo, Jerra, Majura, Sparrow or Kowen – so many legal singletrack choices, we are blessed in the 2602.
True-dat! Your main focus appears to be the 24 hour races. What other events do you do?
I still love a bit of cheap CORC action, be it a local XC or 3 hr race, I like to try and mix it up in the 100kers now and then, but either you guys are getting faster or I’m getting slower this year, who knows. Throw in some 7hrs and a 12hr and I’m done for the year.
What attributes do you need in order to be a half-decent 24 hr rider?
Ok Attributes – to do a 24hr you need to have a reason to do it, you will hurt, you will cry, you will want to go home, you need a good reason to stay out there. A sense of humour definitely helps, especially if you can laugh at yourself. The ability to hold a tune is a not a pre-requisite, but it is a nice quality. Big legs, a strong heart and a willingness to talk to strangers as if they are your friend, it’s gets lonely out there at night.
What’s your philosophy about on-bike nutrition?
Basically when the minute hand is at the top of the watch then it’s time to have a gel, so I at least get 1 gel per hour. In shorter races I may need to top up on a gel between hours if I start to go a bit woozey.
Why don’t I ever see you in the Saturday morning Bakery Bunch?
When I was a proper roadie in the early naughties I would have been there every Saturday morning and handed you your ass on a plate with a side serve of lamingtons.
Yeah, I do like lamingtons. That would have been really nice. Do you use Strava?
NO! I’ve almost punched a few people using Strava on the bike paths (and it takes a fair bit to get me going). Be warned if you ride at me on a bike path with your face in an electronic device attached to your handle bars and I have to swerve off the bike path to miss you, you will hear about it.
Awesome! That would have been great to see. What motivates you and keeps you going, both competitively and from an enjoyment factor?
I love riding a bike; I think that most of us do, so nothing amazing there. If I wasn’t competing I’d still be riding 16 hours a week, otherwise I’d be fat. I don’t get to do really long rides anymore, racing is my selfish reason to make that happen.
What is the best sledge you've ever heard / given?
“Take a turn you Maggot”, generally directed at Andy Hall, that bloke who never pulls his weight in the bunch and waits for the sprint finish.
I’ll have to remember that one for Saturday mornings, but then again, that is a valid ‘tactic’.
What’s up with the @fake_Jeebus twitter account? You don’t seem to get out on the tweets much?
I don’t know who that bloke is, but he’s hilarious ;)
Who are the O’Connor Swingers? I’ve heard you meet at Tilleys
The legendary Inner North Dads Ride (INDR). A bunch of dads the love singlespeeds (generally), each other’s company and spending time away from the wife and kids. We even let Ed McD join given his aged appearance. It came as a shock to most of us to find out he was in his early 20’s.
Ed does look 'experienced' and he uses big words a fair bit, it's easy to think that he has maturity beyond his years. Where did you come up with the name ‘Shunter P Jones’?
Back in the early days of Facebook (yes I’ve had an account for a LONG time I’m just not active, my life is not that interesting) someone went to Europe and the only way I could see their pictures was on Facebook. Seems legit.... Anyway.....I’d been listening to a Spencer P Jones album at the time and I used to be called ‘Shunter’ in my road days in Adelaide, amongst other things, so ‘Shunter P Jones’ was formed. So far Dr Eggs has been the only person to make the connection.
OK, the biggie. What is the deal with the beard?
There are a few SS 24hr solo legends like Steve Fitchett, Brendan Den, Scott Verscoe, Eddie McD and then there’s B-Rad, just like Madonna and Cher he is known by one name only. I remember the first time I met him was at the 2008 Scott 24hr, he even had B-Rad sprayed painted on the grass for his Marquee, the man’s a god. Anyway he’s known for his beard and he has a proper beard not like mine. As a joke we decided to have a “Beard Off “ for the 2010 24hr Solo Nats. It was about 2 months out, he amazing was clean shaven, which I never got to see but I heard it was scary, and I’d been growing for a few months so I thought my chances were good. Long story short I won the “on the start line beard off”. Then my kids got attached to it and now they both get upset to the point of tears every time we talk about cutting it off, weird I know.
Without action, there's no juice. Without beards, well.....you just look funny!Doing it for the kids. That’s #PRO! What are your best tips for racing?
I always used to give this tip for 100km races: “Go as hard as you can until you taste vomit and then back it off a bit”. However since one of my mates took that advice a little bit too literally and ended up in hospital on a drip for the night I’ve stopped handing it out.
Word Association: – respond with one word (or a sentence if required) to the following....
• Solo 24 hour racing – Pain followed by Paw Paw Cream
• Andrew Hall - Hammer
• Ed ‘wiener’ McDonald - Almost
• Jason English – Fastest ‘chugger’ in Australia and on his day the World.
• Steep climbs – It’s not ‘real mountain biking’ if it doesn’t include a walk.
• White kit – Hairy Butts
• Interval training – Make up your mind – either go fast or go slow
• Brindabella Mountains – What a view!
• Favourite MTB tyre – 1992 Smoke/Dart, 1996 Missile, 2006 CrossMarks, 2009 Raven, 2013 NineLine
• Espresso or Latte – Latte, full cream, 2 sugars
• Sock Height – Just high enough to cover my fat ankles, but not high enough to cut off blood supply to my shins.
• Social Media – Interesting/Confusing
Cheers Brett, it’s been awesome as always. I’ll see you during the week along Adelaide Avenue for commuter Olympics!