Reasons to Race

Inland Northwest bike races and rides offer plenty of chances to get out and ride with your pedaling peeps.

If you recall from our last issue, the daunting task of identifying Spokane as a proper bike town was meticulously defined and decided. Sure, there are things that our community and region could work on, but, overall, the Inland Northwest and Spokane/Coeur d’Alene region offer all of the terrain, community, and “fueling” required to support a proper two-wheeled existence. But some of you out there are still hesitant to pin on a number and join the ranks of bike racing. Let’s talk about that.

Our amazing region offers a sheer cornucopia of organized events to test your skills on all levels. From a nice and relaxed spin around the neighborhood with Spokane Summer Parkways to the intensity and shaved legs of the River City Cycling Classic, these next few paragraphs offer information, recommendations, and methods of approaching bike events. 

Road and Gravel Biking

In our region, road bike racing has a long and storied history. From the original Spokane and Arrivee Cycling Clubs, the seeds of road racing were born.

At the fast end, the aforementioned River City Cycling Classic (RC3) offers the full road experience for cyclists with the desire to compete against the region’s best. The three-stage event consists of a time trial (solo against the clock), road race (mass start over an undulating course of longer distances), and criterium (a mass start timed circuit course featuring multiple high-speed corners). This event offers opportunities for newer riders, but all must possess a license with USA Cycling. Be sure to check the website for more information, as well as USA Cycling. If all else fails, it is highly recommended to come out and watch the criterium, as it is a great way to understand the art of road bike racing. 

Should that be too much, the newest trend in road cycling is the Gran Fondo (Italian for “Big Ride”). This format is just that, but with cookies! While still a mass start, the competitive element in a Gran Fondo is optional. All riders are timed, but how fast you wish to ride is all up to you. Varying distance options, scenery, food stops, and finisher medals are the norm. From the family wanting to get the kids off of the couch to the weekend warrior with too much residual income and pent-up work-related frustrations, the Gran Fondo offers it all. Be sure and check out the Chafe 150 in Sandpoint in June and the Coeur d’ Fondo in the fall, and the great gravel-centric series promoted by Vicious Cycle in central Washington and the Panhandle Gravel Series in Idaho that feature epic courses, distances, and some of the region’s most majestic scenery. 

Advice for beginning road riders: As they say in American Flyers, “hold your line” and keep things steady, pace yourself, apply the brakes gently, and don’t let fellow roadies mansplain you into quitting. For gravel events, just have fun. The sport is still in its infancy, so people aren’t too uptight. Remember that these roads, while gravel, are still open to the public, so stay on the correct side. Oh, and remember that houses in the “outskirts” tend to have dogs that don’t like leashes and aren’t exactly on a vegetarian diet.

Mountain Biking

Okay, time to get dirty. Mountain bikes have come a long way since Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey, and Charlie Kelly first reworked classic cruisers and bombed down the hills of Marin County. So have mountain bike races. A great opportunity for getting out and enjoying your competitive desires is the Wednesday Night Mountain Bike Series in Riverside State Park on, well, Wednesdays in May and June. These “races” are the embodiment of the mountain bike community. Multiple categories, distances, and even a solo or mass start option are all set up to make things easy and approachable. Kids are regularly able to race for free, and a random prize drawing after each race (sponsored by a local bike shop) and beer garden leave everyone smiling. 

One can’t bring up mountain bikes without thinking about the tradition of Memorial Day Weekend at Riverside. The 24 Hours of Riverside continues the endurance tradition of an event format that allows individuals and teams (up to 10 riders) to camp, play, race, and eat like kings all in a fully festive atmosphere. There is no minimum or maximum distance required here—just start at noon on Saturday and go until noon on Sunday. 

To sum things up, Eric Ewing, the race director for these events, says it perfectly.

“What makes the 24 Hours of Riverside special is that it’s a small community of riders and spectators coming together for the weekend to celebrate the sport of mountain biking. And for Wednesday nights, it’s an escape from the rat race in the middle of the week. It’s a chance to get together, race bikes, and hang out and enjoy the evening … and try not to think about having to work the next morning!”

Advice for mountain bike events: “On your left” means someone wants to pass, on your left. Just let them by when you can. Dress comfortably, as there isn’t a dress code. Yield to horses. Always care for the trails and the parks, and buy a Discover Pass.

Bike Clubs and Shop Rides

Still not sure about pinning on a race number but want to experience the camaraderie of riding with others? Get in touch with an area club or team. From Evergreen East, Badlands Cycling Club, and Team ODZ to great shop rides offered by most local shops, there are great relaxed opportunities to test and learn skills needed for these events. For all events, make sure you have proper gear and a well-functioning bike. Don’t break the bank, but make sure all is in working order. 

To recap, Spokane is a Bike Town, if not THE Bike Town and the Inland Northwest is an amazing place to live and ride bikes. Getting involved in the racing scene is a great way to experience it all. Now, if someone would just build a velodrome. //

Pat Bulger is a long-time Spokane race promoter and producer of the widely-popular Packfiller cycling podcast. He made the case for Spokane being a real-deal bike town in the last issue of Out There.

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