Three Speed April 2021

Three Speed April 2021 is happening Thursday April 1st through Friday April 30th. All times local.

Registration is now open! Registration is $25 plus s/h, go here to register. Or, add on a new SoTS membership kit for $45 plus s/h. Register here for that.

Hello friends. You know I love bike challenges. First, it was my THREE SPEED OCTOBER challenge. Then I came out with the THREE SPEED APRIL!

What exactly is this challenge, and how is it different than the October challenge? Well, this challenge is about doing things with/on a three speed bicycle that some people would unfairly consider “beyond its abilities”. These bikes are more able than even some seasoned three-speeders think!

The overall challenge consists of five different sub-challenges:

  1. Ride your three speed at least fifteen miles (25 km) in one ride.
  2. A climb of 5% or more grade, with a cumulative elevation gain of at least 100 feet (30 m).
  3. A bit of unpaved/dirt action, of at least a cumulative one half mile (1 km).
  4. Coffee outside via three speed.
  5. A bike overnight or bike camping trip by three speed.

Okay, there’s a lot to unpack here, so here’s the basic rules:

  • When will it happen? The Three Speed April challenge will occur during the full calendar month of April, which in 2021 is Thursday April 1st through Friday April 30th. So your ride(s) can happen anytime in April.
    • If you are doing a bike overnight, I will be so gracious to allow you to start one on Sunday March 31st, or end one on Saturday May 1st. So, if you do a bike overnight that overflows into either March 31 or May 1st, AND want to add other stuff like Coffee Outside or the Climbing Challenge, it is OK!
  • Why April? For many in the northern hemisphere, it’s spring! Yeah, I know some places will still see some snow for a bit, but I’m pretty sure you’ll have a couple days of no snow on the ground and mild weather. Or, if you live in a place like Phoenix, it’s the last tolerable riding weather until October!  And if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the start of fall, so a good time to get some rides in. In any case, it’s generally an OK time to be riding a bike wherever you are on this planet.
  • Why three speeds? If you are already here do I need to answer that? 😉 Okay, it’s because three speeds are totally reasonable and practical bikes for many an application. This challenge is to encourage you to think about them in this way, rather than a “show” bike for your Tweed Ride.
  • Is this just limited to three speeds? Well, yeah. A three speed internally geared hub is what should be ridden for this challenge. We’ll also accept four and five speed internally geared hubs, hubs that were available from Sturmey-Archer by the mid-70’s. But no more or less speeds than that! To be clear, it doesn’t have to be a Sturmey-Archer hub, it can also be a Sachs, Sram, Shimano, SunTour, Hercules, or (insert brand here.) But it can only have three, four, or five speeds!
    • We’ll allow Bromptons or other bikes that have that infernal Sturmey-Archer with derailleur combo, but that’s it. And try not to shift the derailleur, please.
    • Apologies, but two-speed hubs (kickback or trigger shifter) nor Schlump drives do not qualify.
  • Do I need to do each as individual rides? No! This isn’t the October challenge, which is more concerned about frequency, this is about getting it all done. You can do a ride that hits up all five sub-challenges at once! You can of course do other combinations, like a dirt ride with coffee outside (two sub-challenges). Or you can do each challenge one-at-a-time. It’s up to you.
  • What if I can’t do all five sub-challenges? No worries. I understand that all five of them are not going to appeal to or be possible for everyone, so do what you can.
  • Prizes!
    • Do at least one challenge, get two stickers.
    • Do three of the challenges, get the two stickers and a patch!
    • Do the Overnight as a camping adventure, you’ll get the “Three Speed Camping” sticker in addition to other prizes!
    • Do all five of the challenges, get an extra sticker!
  • Like the Three Speed October 2020 Challenge, this challenge will be done via mail-in reporting journal. You’ll register via my Etsy store (payment in advance required), then you’ll get the Official Reporting Journal mailed to you. When you complete the challenge, you’ll send me the Journal. I’ll then send you your prizes along with returning your Journal.

And now, more details on the sub-challenges:

1. Ride your three speed at least fifteen miles (25 km) in one ride. This one is self-explanatory, but I’ll just add that it has to be one single ride (and yes, you can take a break or two) not a few rides stitched together. And yes, this ride has to happen in one calendar day. You can figure out distance via three five ways:

  1. A basic bicycle computer
  2. An app via smartphone like Strava or Ride With GPS, or on-board GPS device
  3. Map the ride later with a website or app. We recommend using Ride With GPS for this. Ride With GPS has both a website and an app.
  4. A paper map and estimating distance through old-school map-reading tools.
  5. An old school clicky-click bicycle odometer
Getting to the top of Rocky Butte definitely fulfills sub-challenge 2.

2. A climb of 5% or more grade, with a cumulative elevation gain of at least 100 feet (30 m). It’s no secret that three-speeders shy away from hills, so this challenge is to prove your old humble Huffy Sportsman is more nimble than you think. A five percent grade is generally what people feel is a “real” hill, so you’ll need to find a hill of at least that grade, and the hill should have a total elevation gain of 100 feet (30 m). And note, I don’t mean distance. Riding for 100 feet would be too easy (that’s half of one of our already too short city blocks in Portland!) It’s about elevation gain. If you can’t find a hill with that much gain, you can stitch together two or more hills in a single ride with at least 5% or more grade, or just go up and down the same hill until you hit 100 cumulative feet. Still can’t figure out how to do this? Go to this blog post for a very detailed look.

Yes, Minneapolis, you have steep enough hills for this challenge. This is found on Kenwood Pkwy south of downtown.

Here’s the important part: while you can take breaks on your hill climb, you cannot get off the bike and walk. So be more concerned with a climb that you can manage vs. one that will make you look more bad-ass. (Please note: I’m not offering any particular special prize for the person to complete the steepest climb, but if you want to try for the bad-ass no-prize, go for it!)

And please remember: The “stock” gearing on three speeds is on the high side. If you haven’t already, lower the gearing on your bike. It’s cheap and pretty easy. If you can’t do it yourself, a qualified bike shop will. The key is to get a bigger cog for the rear. You can go up to about a 23 tooth cog (which is what I have) on a standard 26″ x 1 3/8″ wheeled machine without worrying about destroying the hub, as the stock chainring was 46 or 48 teeth. I get a low gear of 40 gear-inches on my Superbe. It’s no MTB or touring rig, where the lowest gear is below 20 gear-inches, but it gets the job done! (To figure out gearing, go to Sheldon Brown for his gear calculator. He’s got various hub gears already in there!)

Bicycle inclinometer by Ski Mounti

Now how can you figure out grade? Well, you can get yourself a bike-specific inclinometer, like the one pictured above made by Sky Mounti (about $25). Or, you can use Ride With GPS and map out the route, as it shows both elevation gain and grade.

3. A bit of unpaved/dirt action, of at least a cumulative one half mile (1 km). We often forget how long the British three speed has been around. It was around in an era where not every road was paved. Not only that, but Great Britain has many a country path to be explored, and people were exploring them on three speeds! So a little “rough stuff” was typically part of a three speed adventure. And there’s no reason why you can’t do some dirt on your three speed! While the tires are not wide-wide, the average 35 mm width on old 26″ x 1 3/8″ is good for mixed terrain.

Now, this does not mean you have to do true technical single-track mountain biking on your three speed, but hell, if you want, you can! No, I’m pretty liberal in the definition of “unpaved/dirt”. It just does not have to have a permanent surface like asphalt or concrete. So gravel, dirt, wood chip, even grass! I’m sure that even the most urban environment has a little bit of that. You just need to do at least one half mile cumulative of it.

4. Coffee Outside. Drinking hot beverages outdoors on a bicycle ride is always nice! You can complete this challenge in one of three ways:

  1. Bring a stove and make coffee at your destination.
  2. Make coffee at home and bring it to your destination.
  3. Pick up coffee along the way and drink it at your destination.

Please note: “Coffee” can be the hot beverage of your choice, be it coffee, tea, cocoa, a packet of spiced cider, etc. Heck, even Starbucks VIA can do. “Destination” is somewhere outdoors that isn’t your yard, somewhere that you ride to. The key stipulation is the “destination” cannot be a place of business. This means you cannot ride to a coffee shop and sit outside of it to drink your coffee. If you go to a coffee shop, you must carry your “coffee” at least 1/2 mile (1 km) to somewhere else to drink it. How can you do that? Simple: Get an insulated coffee mug from the likes of Hydro Flask or Kleen Kanteen (they fit in bottle cages just fine!) or an old-school thermos.

How to classily carry coffee on your Raleigh Superbe: A Hydro Flask coffee mug in a Velo Orange Classique bottle cage, held on handlebars by VO bracket.

5. Bike Overnight. Yes, people automatically reach for a purpose built touring rig for an overnight these days, but “back in the day”, that rig would be a three speed. And there’s nothing wrong with doing a little touring action on your humble internally-geared bike. I’ve done overnights and tours on my three speed!

The Bike Overnight can either be a camping trip or to indoor lodging. The ride doesn’t need to be epic, but you’ll need to be able to hit these points to qualify:

  • The ride must be at least five miles/eight kilometres (one way).
  • You must spend one full night at the destination. (Yes you can arrive after sunset and leave before sunrise.)
  • You must (theoretically) pay for your night’s stay. The place has to be a legitimate lodging facility if it is indoors, or a campground you pay for if it’s outside. (I consider AirBnB to be a “legitimate lodging facility” as well.) Saying that, you don’t have to exactly “pay”. You can stealth camp or use a free camping spot if you are staying outside (though you have to be a bit more creative than “in the woods down the street”), or use a free hospitality service like Warmshowers or Couchsurfing if you are staying indoors. (If you do use Warmshowers, Couchsurfing, and the like, the host cannot be a friend.)
    • You can stay at your friend’s or family’s house and crash for the night or camp in their backyard only if the one way distance is at least 15 mi/25 km.
  • This ride must be self-contained, meaning you will need to carry everything you need on your bike. No vehicle support allowed or “dropping off” of stuff in advance, but yes you can buy things along the way.
  • You can use public transportation! You can take a bus or train to a certain spot, then ride the rest of the way in. Please note that you would have to ride at least three miles after getting dropped off and then carry all the stuff on your bike from the bus/train.
  • As for motor vehicles: Please try to ride either from your house or use public transport to assist you. If that isn’t possible, you can use a car to get you to a launching point. I would still encourage you to find a spot that you could ride to from home first, but if all else fails, I will make this exception. But as indicated above: this car cannot become your “support vehicle”. You’ll need to be on your own once you get out of the car.

A very important note about the Bike Overnight: We are still living through a pandemic. Please follow all best practices and common sense if you do an overnight. Follow all current restrictions. Do not travel if your area has a travel restriction. And even if there is no ban or restriction in your area, now is not the time for an “epic trip” Stay close to home. Do not create a burden on others. Most importantly, do not put yourself or others at risk! And if you do not feel comfortable doing a Bike Overnight right now, don’t do it.

Three Speeds loaded for camping

Whew! Glad you made it through all that. Hope it all makes sense, and isn’t too complicated. Feel free to comment or email if you have questions, or need clarifications.

For 2021: If you ARE posting pics of your adventures to flickr/tumblr/instagram, PLEASE INCLUDE THE TAG #3spdapr2021

Registration now open! Register via one of the links below.

Timeframe and Deadlines

  • Monday 8 March 2021: Registration opens.
  • Thursday 1 April 2021: Challenge opens, though you can start on Wednesday 31 March only if you do an Overnight (sub-challenge 4)
  • Friday 30 April 2021: Last day of the Challenge. Registration closes.
  • Friday 21 May 2021: Deadline for reporting the Challenge. Physical journals from US participants must be postmarked by this date. (I’ll keep on processing journals as I receive them.) Scanned journals from those outside the US must be received by this date as well.

Updated 7 March 2021