Ben Bostrom came within a beer of getting a tattoo. But not in a bar, in a mountain bike race. And not just any mountain bike race, but one of the premier off-road races in the world. Which Bostrom would’ve won had his chain not come off six times and he’d drank that beer.The occasion was Saturday’s Singlespeed World Championships, in Rotorua, New Zealand, a tourist destination known for its natural beauty, mountains, lakes, forests and reeking of sulfur from the area’s many hot springs. Bostrom flew the 6500 miles from Los Angeles to Auckland and another 150 or so from Auckland to Rotorua on the spur of the moment. He’d entered the race two months earlier, along with his brother, Eric, teammate Chris Clark, and friend Dustin Bouch. Then he broke his ribs in the second race at New Jersey Motorsports Park and Eric nearly died after suffering a deep laceration to his thigh in a final turn crash at Barber Motorsports Park and no one gave much thought to the race.”On Monday we booked our tickets on the spot,” Bostrom later said of the flight, which takes off from Los Angeles in the evening and arrives in New Zealand two days later in the morning, once the 20-hour time difference is factored in. “Chris (Clark) is in Vegas, I’m here. I’m testing my medium frame. I called Nikki (Hale, Ben’s girlfriend) and told her we were going.” Clark wanted to maximize his Delta miles, so he chose the Las Vegas to Los Angeles to Sydney to Auckland to Rotorua routing. Ben went straight from LA to Auckland, then a 30-minute flight to Rotorua. Long story short, Clark missed three connections and arrived Friday afternoon, without his bicycle. Ben arrived Wednesday morning.The week before the race Ben built his singlespeed bike with a 19 inch Specialized frame and took it for a test ride, wary of falling on his ribs. The ride made him realize the 19 was too big, so he went to a 17 ½. What he didn’t realize was that 17 ½ swingarm was slightly shorter than the 19 and he should’ve taken a link or two out of the chain. “So I rode it with a loose chain. That’s because I’m a bad mechanic. Completely amateur,” he said. “I’m becoming a good mechanic through disaster.” And, what he also failed to mention is that it was difficult to grip the bars because of his still non-functioning right thumb, the result of a crash at Mid-Ohio in mid-July.”Those four days were so beautiful,” Ben said of the last four days of his trip to New Zealand. The race was held in the Whakarewarewa Forest, famous for its towering California Coastal Redwoods, just outside of Rotorua.”I didn’t get a bad start. I was 400 deep,” Bostrom said, quickly explaining, “That’s not a bad start because there were 1000 riders. I caught up to them and I led and the first part of the course was all climbing and I started taking off a bit. Then we got on single track and I was getting yelled at by guys. Their downhill speed is gnarly.”By now the chain was falling off and every time he had to dismount to replace it it cost him about 30 seconds. “No one told me how to adjust the tensioner,” Bostrom said. It would happen six times.”It kind of upset the flow over everything,” Bostrom said. “I had to catch back up and ask them to move so I could get by. A complete disaster.”It was a weird course. We pre-rode the course and all was set and the day of the race they announced they’d added a shortcut. Who the hell knows the short cut?” The short cut would be pivotal to the outcome of the race. “I was leading the race and had JHK (Olympian and ten-time U.S. National Champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski) with us. We stayed on course. Then (Ross) Schnell and Garth (Weinberg), they drank one beer and shaved off four minutes. JHK and I went from leading to sixth. We were ahead of those guys. What happened?”What happened was one of two beer shortcuts. Take the shortcut, drink a beer, take about four minutes off your time. “Next lap we had to take the shortcut, we pulled back the shortcut, lost another chain.”Horgan-Kobelski later Tweeted, “THAT was SO fun. Had a blast riding with @BenBostrom after we accidentally missed the first beer-chug shortcut and lost the leaders.””That guy Mark (Leishman) that got fourth, that guy was so cool afterwards,” Bostrom said. Single speeds don’t make noise, but Bostrom’s chain was so loose it kept slapping the swingarm. “He comes over and says, ‘You were so fast on the single track it was gnarly. We were kind of going back and forth for a while there. Your chain tensioner’s on the wrong side, and it’s too loose.'” Bostrom took five-hour rides on the Sunday and Monday after the race and it was dead quiet. “No problems. This is what it’s about. I just didn’t know. Never rode a single speed.”Leishman turns out to be a motorcycle guy and Bostrom fan. When told about Bostrom’s bum thumb, he said, “Kind of makes it easier to understand my extra speed over him in single track. Gripping the bike is somewhat important! Was hugely impressed by his strength and fitness. I am a moto fan (and occasional rider) from way back. Am always trying to make cyclists understand how fit the top moto guys are, both road and dirt riders, so to get smashed by BB head-to-head was actually a pleasure.”Leishman caught up to Bostrom heading up Pig (Pig Track Link), after taking the first beer shortcut) “and when I saw ‘Bostrom 680′ on his vest I was highly impressed…that someone had dressed up as Ben Bostrom. I was probably one of the few in the event that would have got it.
“We proceeded to go back and forth till I cracked. And when I introduced myself afterwards I realized it really was him.”Bostrom’s goal was a top five finish, but he knew there would be formidable obstacles. He’d never raced a singlespeed, he had a bad thumb, and he hadn’t ridden for two months because of his broken ribs. The singlespeed requires a lot of upper body strength, pulling on the bars on the uphills when the legs begin to fatigue, and Bostrom, despite being unable to train, used his motorcycle training to carry the day. “I had the upper body strength from riding motorcycles. I pulled on the bars and made up all my time up the hills. I’m kind of built for the single speed.”Bostrom was worried about the single track, “because Garth (Weinberg, who lives in Rotorua), knows the trails.” His concerns were well-founded. Weinberg would win the race in a mad dash over American Ross Schnell. Bostrom was third.”I was just stoked to get to ride with a bunch of my bicycle heroes,” he said of his third place finish. “To finish the race, everyone’s pretty gutted and everyone keeps handing you beers. I drank eight beers after the race. It was a funny pedal back to the hotel. It was really enjoyable to get to ride with your friends and ride with new friends.”One of the customs of the singlespeed crowd is that the winner gets a tattoo. Bostrom is tattoo-free, but said he’d gladly have gotten inked if he’d have won.”They were saying, a few years ago it was in Napa and the girl (race leader) stopped at the finish line because she didn’t want the tattoo. They heckled her to death until she crossed the finish line. They consider it an honor. If you want to fit in you’ve got to take the tattoo.”Winner Garth Weinberg had it put over his heart. “This is probably going to be the last time I had a chance to win something like this so it’s going to have my heart in it,” the Kiwi said.”That crowd of singlespeed people, the single gear mentality, they’re such a good group of people,” Bostrom enthused. “And it’s wonderful that they dress up in costume. They’re such strong humans. And they’ll just crush it on a bicycle. It doesn’t happen in most sports. I can’t wait for Ireland next year.” And this time, he’ll make sure to have that first beer.