Back when I was a neophyte mountain biker, 24-hour mountain bike races were all the rage. There was one series called Granny Gear that put on races all over the country — Vermont, Missouri, Arkansas. I know Richmonders who would drive out to Utah for the 24 Hours of Moab event.
I wasn’t a great mountain biker at the time, and I rode a truly horrendous, $300 piece of dung. But two years in a row, a few friends and I went out to race in Granny Gear’s 24 Hours of Big Bear in the panhandle of West Virginia. It was a five-hour drive from Richmond and we mostly sucked, but it was a blast. There were four of us racing, and while one guy was riding the 14-mile loop, the other three and a large group of friends sat around the camp shooting the bull, drinking cold Yuenglings (it was 2006) and taking in the spectacle of 1,000 mountain bikers and their friends decamped in an old grass airfield in the middle of nowhere.
I’m not exactly sure why, but since then the 24-hour mountain bike race format has taken a nosedive. There are very few events nationwide. But as with many things mountain biking, Central Virginians are lucky when it comes to MTB endurance racing.
Next month (September 20-21) riders will descend on the boy scout camp in Maidens (Goochland County) for the 18-Hours Scouts Honor, a festival of endurance mountain biking put on by the Richmond-based Adventure Sports and Racing. Sure, it’s not technically a 24-hour race, but doing 8.5-mile loops for 18 hours is no picnic.
In fact, believe it or not, it can be a lot of fun. There are numerous divisions: You can do it as a group of four or two or by yourself. You can do it on a singlespeed or geared bike Heck, there’s even a unicycle division (seriously). There are men’s and women’s categories and mixed ones, too. And events like these are about more than just the races. There are campsites and showers with warm water at the scout camp, and every participant gets a free all you can eat breakfast. There are kids movies shown outdoors during the night to help entice families to come out and cheer their mom/dad/spouse on. There’s a band, too.
“It’s one of those races where you really cross your fingers and hope the weather holds out because when it does, the trails are dry and awesome, camping, warm showers, big breakfast,” said Ethan Seltzer, a long time racer and, as the owner of GroundForce IT, an event sponsor. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Bill Swann, the course director for the race, said they generally have about 140 riders every year, a number that has resisted his group’s stubborn attempts to enlarge its footprint.
“We’ve tried any number of ways to grow the race and let people know that we’re out out there,” he said. “It’s a fun way to get people together, go camping, ride your bike all weekend and eat a big breakfast.”
Swann said that this year they’ve added a 6-hour race that will go off at 4 p.m.just like the 18-hour race. “It’s a gateway drug,” he said. “We’re introducing (endurance racing) to a crowd that might be intimidated by riding at night or riding for a really long time.”
So if you like to ride your bike, this is your chance to take it to the next level on some cool singletrack that’s closed to the public most of the year.