When a small group of fringe-dwelling, freethinking, freak flag-flying bicycle enthusiasts decided to ride their balloon-tired bikes off-road for some extra thrills, they started a revolution. Combining the freedom and independence of riding a horse with the human-powered elegance of a well-oiled machine, mountain bikes offer an unparalleled, non-motorized way to explore and experience the West’s vast wilderness. It’s no wonder the sport and culture of mountain biking quickly took hold in the western United States and continues to grow in popularity around the world.
Every spring when the snow melts, ski towns transform almost immediately into bike towns. The strong legs and daily adrenaline pump of a winter spent riding the mountains transitions easily to powerful pedal strokes and that familiar rush of gravity. Our trusty mountain bikes emerge from their garage hibernations to mercifully satiate the craving for wind in our faces, gliding down a mountainside faster than we could ever run thanks to mechanical advantage and human ingenuity. Unlike snowboarding and skiing, however, the summertime trails aren’t beholden to all the vagaries of Mother Nature and her stepdaughter Weather. The singletrack is always there, waiting patiently to entertain, exhaust, excite, frustrate, terrify, test, and train us. The first few rides always hurt, but we eventually get better. The burning lungs and saddle sores eventually fade away, replaced by endorphin-fueled euphoria and the child-like thrill of simply riding a bike.
Just like when the snow flies, having a local show you around the trails and tell you about the best rides is always worthwhile. Combine that local knowledge with a gathering of two-wheel culture and a celebration full of sprocket-powered shenanigans and you get what is affectionately referred to as a Bike Festival. From the goofy to the grueling, Bike Festivals are popping up all over the West and these three are BigLife’s favorites. Whether you’re a pro or a rookie, a local or a visitor, Bike Festivals are a great way to connect with the free-wheeling fat tire culture, see old friends, and meet new ones while testing your riding skills and having a whole lot of old-fashioned mountain town fun. And for you competitive sorts out there, don’t worry, we didn’t forget about you or your need to prove yourself. We’ve also included a list of some of the roughest, toughest two-wheel crucibles out there.
Ride Sun Valley – Festival
Ride Sun Valley has it all. Starting with the raucous Sheeptown Drag Race and ending with the Idaho State Pumptrack Championships, the four-day festival is packed full of “local stoker” guided rides, world-class races, goofy events, costumes, live music, and non-stop entertainment. “It’s a bike festival that reflects the character of the local community,” says Ride Sun Valley’s founder Greg Randolph, aka Chopper, an ex-Olympian biker and top-tier mountain bike racer. “The people who live in Sun Valley and the people who are drawn to Sun Valley take their recreation seriously and love a good party,” Chopper says. “The racing is definitely for real, but the Ride Sun Valley festival is really all about getting people to participate. Even the spectators are encouraged to get involved and it’s also really affordable. Most of the events are free.”
The unofficial kickoff to the festival and official grand opening of the new location of the Power House, Hailey’s legendary bike shop/pub and restaurant, is the Sheeptown Drag Race on Thursday evening. In the event, which is open to the public, participants chain flaming logs to the backs of their bikes and race each other down the middle of Hailey’s Main Street. The drag race is a comedic, Dionysian bracket battle that’s almost as fun to watch as it is to compete in.
Wake up to a strong cup of coffee at Velocio, a bike-friendly café right across the street from the Tamarack Lodge in the heart of Ketchum, before taking a mellow warm-up ride on any of the over 400 miles of local trails. After the ride a midday nap might be in order because you’ll want to be well rested for the official Ride Sun Valley kick-off party and criterium in downtown Ketchum on Friday night. Besides the live music and an enduro-style obstacle course time trial, there’s also a team relay. The relay is a hilarious costume-mandatory competition where teams of four rally around Ketchum’s downtown square, criterium style. The catch is that everyone on a team has to ride the same bike so the handoffs are always entertaining (not to mention the costumes).
The enduro time trial is the first stage of the Sun Valley Super Enduro, the second stop in the Scott Enduro Cup presented by Vittoria. The Sun Valley Super Enduro boasts one of the longest enduros in the U.S., where racers will use a combination of lifts and pedal power to reach the start of each timed section. There’s also a grueling cross-country race on offer this year at Ride Sun Valley, and while the exact course is being kept tightly under wraps, it’s guaranteed to be a “rowdy ass-kicker,” according to Chopper.
Other events not to be missed include a kids mountain bike race and the pump track state championships. “Everyone is welcome,” Chopper says, “so whether you come to race or just want to celebrate the two-wheel culture, Sun Valley is the place to be for the last weekend in June!”
High Cascades 100 – Race
Just how do you know the difference between a bike festival race and a “race” race? When the home page for the event kicks off with a message like this:
“Please take warning that you must be in great physical and mental shape to finish this event. Serious risk to those who enter can occur including death. Please enter knowing your limits and the risk.”
The High Cascades 100 in Bend, Oregon, is a real test. The organizers, however, won’t hold it against you if you come up DNF. While most riders come in between 10 and 16 hours, event organizers say, “With over 25 breweries in town, if you DNF, you have a good back-up plan.”
The Leadville 100 – Race
This is it, the race of all races. One hundred miles across the high-altitude, extreme terrain of the Colorado Rockies, this event was created for only the most determined athletes. Starting at 10,152 feet and climbing to 12,424 feet, you’ll be challenged to catch your breath—while the views try to take it away. Low point is 9,200 feet; high point is Columbine Mine, 12,424 feet. Majority is on forest trails with some mountain roads.
Wydaho Rendezvous: Teton Valley Bike Festival
With over 200 miles of trails in the Teton Valley, dedicated downhill singletrack off of Teton Pass, and 2,200 vertical feet and 46 miles of lift-accessed trails at the Grand Targhee Resort, the Wydaho Rendezvous Bike Festival has plenty to celebrate. Based at the Grand Targhee Resort, the four-day festival charges a small fee ($65), which includes free lift tickets, all the parties, live music, and access to free demos from 10 different bike companies showing off their 2016 stallions for the first time. “We’re expecting around 550 people this year,” says Tim Adams, the Executive Director of Teton Valley Trails and Pathways, the organization that hosts the festival. “With that number of people and all the bikes on offer to demo you could spend all four days trying multiple bikes and never demo the same bike twice.” Plus, you get to take the bikes up the lifts and on the trails, a far cry from a few laps around a paved parking lot like some demo days. Camping at the festival is abundant and cheap ($7/day) and thanks to Grand Targhee Resort’s existing infrastructure, showers, toilets, and running water are all available to campers.
Now in its 6th year, “the Wydaho Rendezvous Festival celebrates mountain biking in the Teton Valley and our amazing local trails,” Adams says, “and there are lots of different events that appeal to a wide variety of riders.” From guided rides with local hosts to hot dogging hill climbs, a downhill race on Strider bikes, live music, parties, and nightly gear talks covering everything from shock maintenance to the best way to pack your bike for air travel, there’s never a dull moment.
“While it’s not a race-specific festival, the race that started it all, The Super D, is still the marquis event on Sunday.” At 9.9 miles long with a vertical drop of 3,952 vertical feet, The Super D is a monster. Starting at the top of Grand Targhee Resort and ending overlooking Teton Canyon, the course links more than a half-dozen trails together with some technical climbing and lots of descending for one epic ride that rewards nerves, bike handling, and fitness. “There will also be a cross-country race this year,” Adams explains, “which will be accessible for all levels of riders.” The Grand Loop XC Race is a 25-mile point-to-point race held on Saturday. Racers can compete in both races for $60 and go for the overall titles of Dirt King and Queen along with cash prizes for the top five overall finishers for men and women.
Park City Point 2 Point – Race
“The Park City Point 2 Point is a race,” says Jay Burke, the race director, “but really it’s more of a challenge. The question is, can you do it?” There’s a reason that question has become the PCP2P slogan; it’s one of the toughest rides you’ll ever do—a 75-mile beast of a course with around 12,000 vertical feet of climbing and a descent that never crosses the same trail twice and is 90% singletrack. Out of the 350 riders who start the race, only 275 or so will finish it. “The Park City Point 2 Point is that crazy ride you always talk about with your buddies but only do once a year because it’s so huge,” says Alex Grant, a professional MTB racer from Utah who has won the PCP2P for the last six years in a row. “The event is limited to 350 participants and sells out in the first five minutes,” explains Burke. By mid-summer, though, it’s wise to check the website and look for entries to become available. The small number of participants makes the PCP2P feel special, and along with the difficulty of the course, it also promotes a camaraderie and tribe-like vibe among the racers, many of whom come to Park City with the single goal of finishing the race before the mandatory cut-off so they can say “I did it!” While Grant completes the course in around seven hours, it takes most people around nine hours with final finishing times around 12-13 hours.
“The PCP2P definitely attracts elite level athletes,” Burke says, “but the majority of people come just to participate in it and hopefully finish, which is never guaranteed.” There are a couple of massive cruxes on the ride; the first is the Steps trail. “It comes a little after the halfway point,” explains Burke, “and definitely tests your mental fortitude.” Riders face an unforgivingly steep and technical set of south-facing switchbacks during the hottest part of the day with no shade that climb 400 feet in ¾ of a mile. “The singletrack is super old and narrow,” says Burke, “and the switchbacks are just downright nasty. It’s one of those spots where it’d be real easy to say ‘Screw this, it’s time for a beer!’” The final crux is just masochistic, located at mile 72-73 after an incredibly long and tough day in the saddle with the finish line in sight after a nice downhill. “One would think as they are ripping beautiful singletrack down a trail called Rosebud’s Heaven, and their cycling computer says mile 72, that a hard left turn onto Holly’s trail would be the appropriate direction and a killer DH to the finish area,” explains Burke. “Wrong,” he says with a sadistic chuckle. “At this junction racers actually point it back uphill, downshift, and gut out another mile plus of climbing before the final descent to the finish.” Begging the question, can I really do this?
If you’re up for the challenge, sign up early and plan on spending a week or two in Park City around the event. “It’s a great time of year to be here,” says Burke, “and riding the course in sections is a great way to familiarize yourself with the terrain so you don’t get caught unaware.” Endurance Cycle Service is a one-man service shop run by Chris Peters, who races the PCP2P every year and can dial in your bike and give you some hard-earned pointers. Burke recommends staying at The Peaks Hotel. “They have a really good buffet-style breakfast every morning,” he says, “and they offer a discounted rate for PCP2P racers so it’s affordable as well.” Located directly in between the PCP2P start and finish (about three miles from each), The Peaks is also a good base camp to check out the different trails that make up the PCP2P.
Every year the finishers receive a unique “I Did It!” gift and funky awards like the “I’m somebody award,” a brand new Scott bike that is given to a randomly drawn, middle-of-the-pack finisher, keeping the atmosphere at the finish line festive. A live concert at the finish starts around 6pm (11 hours after the start time of 7am) and the party goes until your legs give out, which is usually around 9pm after a race like the PCP2P.