The 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo captures everything that is amazing about mountain bike culture.
Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
For the past 15 years in the high desert outside Tucson, Arizona, President’s Day weekend has played host to the largest 24 hour mountain bike race in America; 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. Dubbed as the “Burning Man of Bike Races”, the event draws nearly 4,000 fat tire fiends, and like a desert rose, a small city pops up out of the ground for only a couple of days and brightens lives before disappearing again for another 364 days.
In my mind, the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo truly captures everything that is so incredible about mountain biking and our beloved mountain bike culture. Amazing trails, breathtaking scenery, a laid-back, fun-loving atmosphere and a small city of likeminded people from all walks of life who just want to get dirty, have fun and ride bikes.
Epic Rides – the same organization known for the popular Whiskey Off-Road – understands all the essential ingredients that make an unforgettable mountain bike event. The golden rule in the desert is “Be Nice” and don’t harsh the mellow; beyond that, the entire community of 4,000 mountain bike nomads are self-policing, and everyone co-exists happily from families with little kids to flask-toting crazies who party it up all hours of day and night. Everyone has a good time, respects one another’s space and peacefully coexists. Events like the 24HOP make me proud to be a mountain biker and remind me why I love this sport so much – it’s as much about riding as it is about the people who ride.
At the 24HOP, there’s no shortage of things to see and do even if you’re not out riding the glorious 16-mile singletrack loop that winds through the Sonoran Desert. Blowing bagpipes during postcard sunsets, costumed crazies roaming aimlessly, fireside banter with new friends and interesting folks from around the world, tales of broken bikes and bones on the trail, impromptu underground dirt crits with beer handups, a drunken gorilla on a fat bike, a displaced yeti running through camp, an angel roaming 24 Hour Town passing out swag and a naked dude riding down the infamous rock slab – no matter what time of day or night, there’s always something going on.
Whether you’re in the desert to ride solo on a singlespeed for 24 hours, ride a fat bike for fun with six other friends, mentor a high school kid new to the sport, support a friend or loved one by cooking meals and cleaning bikes or are simply in attendance to party with purpose and heckle with huevos, so long as you respect your fellow fat tire friend, everyone is welcome in 24 Hour Town.
24HOP is more than just a celebration of the mountain bike; it’s also an event that raises thousands of dollars for charity, non-profits and needy families struggling through tough times. Every Epic Rides event has a number of beneficiaries, and a portion of every registration fee goes to fundraising. This year’s 24HOP raised more than $20,000 for charity, more than $10,000 of it going BAG IT – a non-profit that helps newly diagnosed cancer patients. Every person who enters 24 Hour Town is also asked to donate two canned goods for needy families in hard-hit mining regions of Arizona. This year’s event collected more than four tons of canned goods. Four tons. That’s more than 8,000 pounds of food, equivalent to the weight of two Chevy pickup trucks. The generosity of mountain bikers is simply staggering.
Epic Rides also fully stands behind the development of high school mountain biking and the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). This year, Epic Rides invited nine high school student athletes to compete in the 24HOP alongside mountain bike legends Rebecca Rusch, Todd Wells and Chloe Woodruff. An opportunity like this is what helps turn a high school kid new to the sport of mountain biking into a life-long enthusiast – and perhaps even a national or world champion athlete.
And to really hook kids on mountain bikes from a young age, this year marked the first Old Pueblo Gymnastics Academy Kids Fun Ride, encouraging children of all ages to ride on their own or with their parents through the desert.
Over the past year there’s been a lot of banter around USA Cycling, sanctioning bodies, non-sanctioned mountain bike events and what the protocol should be. Epic Rides has always been an independent organization not affiliated with any larger sanctioning body, and really, there’s no need for them to partner up with an organization like USA Cycling. Their repeated sell-out event status is proof that people identify with and support what Epic Rides is trying to achieve in the mountain bike community.
Epic Rides gets it; their events are so much more than just a mountain bike race. They are a celebration of mountain bike culture that brings together thousands of like-minded people who value outdoor recreation, healthy living, volunteerism, developing the future of the sport, helping others in need and having a damn good time while doing all of it. There’s something special about people who thrive on riding knobby tires, and it makes me proud to call myself a mountain biker.
I’m not sure where you’ll be on April 25-27, but I know where I’ll be – in Prescott, Arizona at the Whiskey Off-Road riding bikes, drinking beers and meeting new friends. Hope to see you there.
Photos courtesy of Epic Rides, Devon Balet and Vernie Aikins.