Tuesday Night Bikes: The Grassroots Evolution of Ontario Downhill Mountain Bike Racing

A single athlete versus the clock and the course ahead—fastest to the finish line wins. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Like downhill ski racing, singletrack downhill mountain bike racing exists in a world where milliseconds count and a single mistake can send you plummeting down the final standings. The many governing bodies, sanctioning organizations and technical delegates that come hand-in-hand with this style of racing serve only to amplify the pressure and stress.

 

Jacob Drmay, Raisin Run, 2017.    

Words and photos: Jason Petznick

Into this world, Blue Mountain Bike Park’s Tuesday Night Race Series brings a breath of fresh air like a cool summer breeze off Georgian Bay. Blue Mountain Events Manager Erika Langman recounts how Bob Miller originally founded the Tuesday Night Cross-Country Series through the Ontario Cycling Association.

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“We would get 20 or so guys and gals out each Tuesday night, start at the top of the hill and time loops that ran over into the North, down Embryo and back up the Grind,” says Langman.

 

Ruairi Duggan, The Ridge, 2017.

When Miller decided to pursue other endeavours in 2012, he handed the reigns to Langman and the rest of the team at Blue. Over the next few years, the Tuesday Night Cross-Country series transitioned to a downhill-only ride.

At the time, Blue Mountain had organized a few Ontario Cup downhill events, but it was apparent to Erika and colleagues that the grassroots component was missing. “For the most part the events were really only pretty serious riders on provincial-level courses, so we thought, ‘Why not try something our local passholders can get into in a fun, mellow environment?’” she says.

“Everyone loved the ‘jam format’ concept where all riders were given a window to get in as many timed runs as they could.”

“We tossed around format ideas with the trail crew and everyone loved the ‘jam format’ concept where all riders were given a window to get in as many timed runs as they could. We had 40 to 50 racers show up that first season which was at least double the cross-country following.”

Erik Downing has witnessed first-hand the transformation of the Tuesday Night Series. He started racing the cross-country in 2012, before moving to racing downhill full time in 2015. “What piqued my interest in the Tuesday Night Series was the growth in my riding that I knew would come with grassroots racing. What has kept me interested is the organizers and the riding community surrounding it,” he says.

 

Jane Thomson, Fresh Air, 2017.

Keith Grant came from a downhill background at the Cup level, and found the Tuesday Night Series at Blue as the shine of racing started to wear off for him. “The amount of time and energy invested versus the amount of riding you actually got to do over a race weekend [at the Ontario Cups] wasn’t adding up for me anymore,” says Grant. “I found myself far more interested in just going out and riding with friends.”

“The jam format allows racers to convene a bit more during the race, and if you mess up on one corner the evening isn’t a total wash.”

He adds that the Tuesday Night Series allowed him to race in a more relaxed setting. “In one evening you can get in the same amount of riding as an entire day at a bigger race weekend. And there’s always time for two or three timed runs instead of only one,” he says.

The multi-run format has been a definite selling feature for Downing as well. “If it was just ‘one and done’ racing, the value would go way down for me,” he adds. “The jam format allows racers to convene a bit more during the race, and if you mess up on one corner the evening isn’t a total wash.”

 

Carson Webb, Fresh Air, 2016.

Jane Thomson rode a bunch of races in the original cross-country series, and got back into the downhill series a few years ago. “I was nervous about starting, but having an ‘entry level’ women’s category helped a lot,” she says.

This summer will mark the third year that Ontario has gone without a provincially-sanctioned downhill bike series, but the spirit of competition and camaraderie is alive and well on Tuesday nights at the Blue Mountain Bike Park. For riders thinking about coming out to race for the first time, Thomson suggests grabbing a friend who’s already involved with racing, or even someone who’s not. “It’s more fun, and less intimidating, to do it together.”

“There’s obviously a bit of a competitive aspect for some of us but no one takes it too seriously,” adds Keith Grant. “And at the end of the night, we’re all just a bunch of friends riding bikes.”

 

The 2018 Tuesday Night Downhill Series is scheduled to run weekly from July 10 to August 7. Visit bluemountain.ca/bikepark for details.

 

Keith Grant, The Ridge, 2017.

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