It's a good time of year to be a cyclist in Central Oregon. The trails at higher elevation are opening up, with snow giving way to wildflowers, offering riders room to spread out on singletrack less seen. After a long winter, and an even longer spring, the roads now beckon with the promise of endless, sun-drenched miles and beautiful summertime vistas. We can vicariously enjoy the Tour de France, which is televised multiple times daily for almost an entire month, and root for hometown boy Chris Horner. Sweet.
And last weekend's ride on McKenzie Pass was pure bike bliss, not so much due to my own experience, but because of the display of hundreds of cyclists paying homage to one of our most notable routes. The informal pilgrimage of riders churning up the car-free road took on a celebratory air, and almost qualified as a flash mob on wheels, as cyclists relished the complete ownership of a beautiful piece of road. Not to be elitist, but what if McKenzie Pass were closed to motorized vehicles?
In early 2010, Luke Mason found himself facing the dilemma of many amateur competitive cyclists: how to balance racing and training with the responsibilities of family and work. The former cross country mountain bike racer was also frustrated by the amount of travel required to compete consistently on an elite level. Then he discovered Super D.
"I wanted to get back into mountain bike racing," says Mason, who competed as a Category 1 mountain biker in Breckenridge, Colo., before moving to Bend. "And Super D attracted me because I didn't have to be fit for two hours or more to contend. I'm pretty fit for an hour, and the skills I had from racing before helped me with Super D."
Mason says he was also drawn to the quality of the courses that are often sited in locations where he would choose to go and ride for fun, sans race. The majority of a Super D takes place going downhill, with little climbing, and favors riders who have stellar technique and fearlessly embrace speed. Most of the races are completed in well under an hour.
"Fitness is something you can lose, whereas you keep your bike-handling skills," explains Mason. "You can touch up your fitness with some intervals and a few rides, and be ready to race Super D."
Mason, who recently won races in Ashland and Jacksonville, returned to Bend last Sunday as the defending Category 1 champion. Although Mason went down in a dusty corner, he finished fourth after fixing a mechanical issue.
"I still had a good time," he says emphatically, and then drops this koan. "It's a friendly scene. People take it seriously with a sense of humor."
at the Races
For the Bend bike racer, consistent participation in races requires expensive trips out of town and gets old quickly. That makes local events like the Central Oregon Racing Series invaluable. With races almost every Wednesday evening during the summer, locals get to blow off steam midweek with an efficient and inexpensive race-pace workout. The series features both criteriums and time trials in locations easily accessed after work.
"My background is fitness," explains promoter Matt Plummer, who also teaches individual endurance classes at COCC. "It's what I love. I know what's needed to be a successful athlete, and providing a casual midweek race that gives racers that race-based training is what motivates me."
Although a race promoter's efforts often go unappreciated, Plummer knows local racers are grateful, and sees the fruits of his labor. In particular, he finds personal reward in watching local juniors develop skills and fitness in his weekly races. Plummer offers races for beginners and says the time trials are especially accessible.
Last week Plummer celebrated his 100th race by offering a no-fee entry to his crit around Summit High School. More than 75 racers took advantage of the opportunity to polish their cornering skills at high speed on a closed course for free. And even the local pros see the benefit and are known to jump in.
"The exciting thing is never knowing who's going to show up," says Plummer of his races. "A few weeks ago, Shep, Adam and Carl all showed up. That's pretty cool," said Plummer, referring to local pro riders, Chris Sheppard, Adam Crain and Carl Decker.
After that race, mountain bike pro Adam Craig blogged: "It's not all gravity-fed these days. Racing the Summit High crit Wednesday night was good old-fashioned work."
Don't Call It a Stage Race
If riding a stage race seems too daunting a commitment, the High Desert Omnium is a great way to try one without the astronomical entry fee, or even without all of the stages. Because it's an omnium, participants in the HDO are free to cherry pick the stages that suit them best without having to commit to less appealing ones.
Racers can choose to do the criterium, a time trial, or the road race without having to do all three. However, points are given to the top ten finishers in each stage. Racers who earn points in all three events have an advantage for overall placing, but only if they finish in the top ten. This effectively creates a poker-like game where you ante your entry fees and then gamble on your results for each stage based on your strengths and stamina.
The annual High Desert Omnium will draw statewide competitors to Central Oregon this weekend, with the criterium and time trial stages taking place at Summit High School on Saturday, and the road race winding around Crane Prairie Reservoir on Sunday. Beginner categories are offered for both men and women. For more information go to www.highdesertomnium.com.
Got feedback, biking stories, tips and story ideas? Contact Michelle Bazemore at firstname.lastname@example.org