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I’ve got no real experience putting on bike races. I mean, I’ve been the promoter for a couple cyclocross races on the SoCal Cross calendar and a couple rinky-dink collegiate races back in my days at Indiana University, but that’s it. However, I’ve participated in a lot of races over the past 20 years and have a pretty good understanding of what makes a good event.
So my buddy Victor “Slasher” Sheldon and I recently tried our hand as fly-by-night race promoters by putting on a three-race winter mountain bike series in North County San Diego called the Quick ‘n Dirty. The premise is…well…quick ‘n dirty; offer a fun course for all skill levels that’s inexpensive, well organized and gets people racing and back home within three hours total.
The results were beyond our expectations. At our first race on February 9, simply through word of mouth, Facebook and posting flyers at a few bike shops, we had 140 people show up. Racing began at 10:30am, and by 12:30pm, awards were done and the parking lot was a ghost town. We somehow pulled off a mountain bike race that took no more than two hours total for 140 people, and not a single complaint. In fact, all we heard were positive things. People loved the course and were amazed at how efficient everything was. The second race saw about 150 people (75 of them new), and the third and final race of the series came in just under 200 racers.
So in a sport where so many races seem to go wrong, what did we do right?
1. A safe course that’s fun and engaging for all skill levels – We partnered up with our good friend and fellow mountain biker David Hekel, the senior ranger at the San Dieguito River Park (SDRP) to scout a course on his land. We were able to make a 3.5 mile loop that included a little bit for everyone; fun, twisty single track, flat fast fire roads, punchy climbs and even a few rocky technical sections. The course was right off the interstate for easy access, and offered gorgeous views of nearby Lake Hodges.
2. Inexpensive registration fees – By finding our own insurance and not affiliating with USA Cycling or any online pre-registration services (day-of registration only), we were able to keep costs down. Unlike dealing with the City of San Diego, securing a permit from Dave and the SDRP was simple and inexpensive; enabling us to make registration fees only $20 for beginners and $30 for all other classes.
3. Good swag from generous sponsors – By leveraging our relationships and connections in the bike industry, we were able to secure some incredible support from notable brands like Shimano, SPY Optic, Hammer Nutrition, Bike Bling, Squadra, Troy Lee Designs, Sock Guy, Sol Republic, Thule, Stone Brewing Co and many others. Every podium finisher got some really nice gear, making the inexpensive registration fees seem like an even bigger bargain, especially when you consider most races these days charge you $75 and all you get for winning is a handshake and some cheap plaque.
4. Smooth registration and fast, accurate results – One of my biggest annoyances at any race is when the registration line moves slower than the DMV. The only thing more annoying than that is when you’ve waited around for two hours to see the results, and they’re still incorrect. Our focus was to have a smooth, efficient registration process and electronic timing and scoring via transponder chips. It cost us extra money for electronic timing, but the value Chris Bassett brought to our event was worth every single dollar. Results were accurate and posted within 10 minutes of the last finishers, with awards being completed a mere 20 minutes later.
5. Sharp and committed volunteers – Victor and I couldn’t have pulled off the Quick ‘n Dirty without the help of our friends and Victor’s family. They were invaluable, and having a friendly and energetic crew at registration definitely doesn’t hurt either! Our volunteers were also representing the mountain bike community by politely interacting with hikers and other park users, letting them know a bike race was in progress. Aside from a couple old crotchety women, everyone was excited and happy to see the race happening. It’s a positive event for the park, and a portion of our profits will be donated back to the SDRP trail building fund.
The Quick ‘n Dirty was so much fun to put together because we kept things simple, inexpensive and informal. When you can bring the five elements above together, there’s no reason why you can’t put on a terrific grassroots event of your own. Even if you can’t secure a lot of great swag, having a fun, safe course, inexpensive fees, an efficient registration process and accurate, fast results with committed volunteers will get you a lot of great press, and the sponsors will soon come knocking.
Photo credits Jim Coffee – https://jamescoffeestudios.smugmug.com/San-Dieguito-River-Park/Events
Connie Hatfield – https://pinkshortsphotography.smugmug.com/BikeRaces