Diggin’ grassroots bike festivals in BC

Aug 5, 2011 at 11:10
by Ryan Kuhn  

By Ryan Kuhn
Photos by Vince Boothe

Long hours, empty beers, blood, sweat and tears – the development of a successful mountain bike event is a strange labour of love. I’ve been involved in grassroots mountain bike events for the past decade, some of which have grown into big events while others whittled away due to volunteer burn out, insurance challenges and trail closures. It’s a fickle process stemmed by an unbridled enthusiasm for bikes, racing and a desire to give something back to the community.

Huckenberries comp.
Johnny Korthius lays out a flip at the 2010 Huck 'en Berries slopestyle in Rossland. The Huck 'en Berries is completely built and organized by passionate volunteers.

As I write this, I’m in the midst of pulling together the details for the third annual Dreadhead Super D race in Rossland, B.C. The Dreadhead is part of the Rossland Rubberhead Festival, which includes the Huck ‘en Berries slope style and the Seven Summits Poker Ride. A celebration of all things mountain biking, it’s one of the bigger series of events to hit our small mountain town all year.

Mid-race briefing of the Dreadhead all-mountain comp.
Yours truly gives racers the lowdown prior to the DH portion of the Dreadhead race.

What’s involved in putting on a grassroots race? Typically it starts with a handful of people meeting on snowy winter nights to determine the goals for the next year’s event, assigning duties, action items and trying to figure out how to possibly get it all done. This includes venues, insurance, sponsors, awards, media relations, food, liquor licenses, volunteer recruitment, transportation…and the list goes on.

Mofab volunteering his metalworking talents with these fantastic trophies.
Hand crafted awards by Matt Titheridge add a touch of local flavour and style.

Currently, I’m in the stages of finalizing a land use permit to move the Dreadhead Super D to a newly created and buffed trail network. This involves discussion with other land use tenure holders in the area, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Arts (who approve trail development and use in BC), ensuring comprehensive safety plans and all the other small but indispensible details such as garbage, toilets and refreshments.

Finding an appropriate location for a race is a challenge unto itself. It’s easy to find the perfect track, but due to land use conflicts the first choice is rarely possible. Then comes the course preparation – trail work, taping, marshalling locations and access/egress – the latter being a logistical quagmire with parking and shuttling details, often on rough roads moving athletes and $5,000 bikes.

Adrenaline Adventures helps shuttle racers in style and comfort. From local shops to other bike service providers, everyone pulls together to ensure a successful event.

I’m always impressed how community members come together to pull off an event of this magnitude. It starts with a handful of dedicated organizers and as the ball starts rolling people step up to help in many, many ways – albeit often at the n’th hour. I’ve learned not to panic as the event nears as somehow things find a way of getting done, as long as you have your bikes in a row.

So, what are the ingredients for a successful mountain biking event? My first bit of advice would be to start small. Sure, it’s nice to have bands, tons of food, beer and all the other makings of a festival. However, the logistics of a race are a huge challenge unto itself and should be the focus for the first year. I’d also focus on encouraging regional participation rather than trying to lure people from all over the world. This keeps the family feel and allows time to work out kinks. It also allows you to get participant feedback on the track, format and race organization.

Volunteers making sure everything runs smoothly.
Registration - one of the many essential elements of a successful event. It's important to choose an organized volunteer to keep things operating smoothly.

Once you have a proven venue and the format dialed, in the following year(s) more energy can be put in to marketing, entertainment and food. This too can be incremental. While likely not this year, it is our hope to expand the Rubberhead to coincide with an indie music and micro beer festival in the future. With the wheels in motion, these possibilities tend to present themselves.

1st ever Huckenberries. Course was built all by volunteers. Torn down soon afterwards for ski season.
Rossland's Huck en Berries slopestyle is 100 percent volunteer built and organized.

The other key is to never forget your volunteer appreciation. In addition to T shirts, beer and other bonuses, hold post-event appreciation parties and foster the camaraderie that comes from putting on a successful event. Friendships are formed, new ideas are hatched and a pride in the community is instilled.

Events such as the kids race at the Kootenay Fat Tire festival in Nelson are a great opportunity to get everyone in on the fun.
Events such as the kids race at the Kootenay Fat Tire festival in Nelson are a great opportunity to get everyone in on the fun.

While grassroots mountain bike events may not hit the mainstream media and lure big industry names, they are at the heart of the mountain biking culture and have an important role in pulling our shared passion together. While at times it may feel like trying to nail jello to a tree, it’s (almost) always a hell of a good time and the friendly competition, high-fives and good vibes at the end of the day are immensely satisfying.

For more information on the Rossland Rubberhead Festival, held Oct. 8 and 9, click here.

Ryan Kuhn lives in Rossland, BC. He can be reached at ryan@performxracing.com.

 Costumes encouraged - the Seven Summits Poker Ride sees upwards of 170 participants every year. It's all about fun times and fine singletrack. This year the Poker Ride goes Sept. 4, 2011.
Costumes encouraged - the Seven Summits Poker Ride sees upwards of 170 participants every year. It's all about fun times and fine singletrack. This year the Poker Ride goes Sept. 4, 2011.
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  • + 9
 Great to hear your success's and challenges. Life as a race organiser is never easy. My best advice for anyone is to stay off those dreaded forums, always full of negative comments from keyboard heroes! Listen to the riders, parents and spectatorstrackside for the real feedback. Keep up the good work and if your ever this side of the pond, come and enjoy a Halo BDS race weekend. The bacon sarnies and cups of tea will be on me..
  • + 3
 Well said.
  • + 2
 si-paton - words of wisdom. Most people are appreciative. Forums seems to give those with an inflated sense of entitlement ways to voice opinion without anything constructive. But in the end the smiles are always worth it
  • + 1
 Hey Si: thanks or the props and you couldn't be more true about the forums...I'm impressed by the Halo BDS success and would dig getting over the pond someday. Cheers, Ryan
  • + 3
 as a grassroots event organizer, i greatly appreciated this article. my current events are pump track races and we're preparing for our 2nd annual, 4 week town series coming up in september. the only thing i would add to your article is the key to my happiness as a promoter is not trying to make any money off of my events. i cover my costs first and then hand out cash prizes with a pool generated by entry donations and a raffle.
  • + 1
 Talk about diggin grassroots bike festivals, come to the shindagin shindig anyone who is in upstate NY. Check it out: cycle-cnyforums.com/phpBB3//viewtopic.php?p=60351#p60351
It is just outside of Ithaca NY. 24th and 25th of September

Follow the forum from the link for more info.
  • + 1
 my question where do you go for insurance, how do you start exploring that? would love to put on an Enduro event in my town, but I have no idea where to start really.
  • + 1
 Awesome time last year. Cant wait to come back. See you in October!!
  • + 1
 Where is the hucken' berries slope style track?
  • + 1
 This year it'll be located at Centennial Park in Rossland, BC.
  • + 1
 Ryan...I'll be in touch if I can make it out...you inspire a lot of of us over here on the AB side of the sharp & pointy mtns. Much of your examples of events are the inspirations to host events locally and namely why I've gotten so passionate about attending the little events...the people make it just so damn great...oh and of course that little thing called a bicycle. Cheers!
  • + 1
 Awesome Nick, would be great to have you here! Thanks for the props...

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