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JB's Go Big or Go Bigger: Where will mountain bike racing go from here?

It’s been an awesome season and I had a moment to reflect after just clinching the National Ultra Endurance 100 series for Cannondale Factory Racing last week!

The finals win at Fools Gold 100 in Georgia was a fierce battle. It was an awesome course and a nail biter right to the finish — a memorable campaign of pain.

The NUE 100 is not new any more but the buzz is not wearing off. Indications seem to be that the ultra mountain bike scene is here for the long haul. I had this discussion with some friends and promoters about where the direction of mountain bike racing is going. We were wondering what it will be like in 10 or 20 years from now?

Guess when the ingredients are there they are just there. The NUE series has great courses, big adventure and lots of fun and camaraderie. Much of this is the essence of normal recreational mountain biking that dudes and lady dudes (as my son Conrad says) have been doing and will do for ages. Saddling up for some over-the-top, big time exploration rides and getting lost as hell and coming back in the dark, glad to see beer and Band Aids.

I remember clearly hearing in the mid 90’s “road racing is dead.” I didn’t know what to think of that as a late teen, but clearly at the time XC mountain biking was a growing extreme sport with big money out of industry sponsors like Cadillac, Chevy, Sunn, T-Mobile, Mountain Dew and Volvo, all of whom sponsored big-budget programs. NBC Sports TV coverage made it seem unstoppable, but of course now we know that road has thrived for the last 10 years and become a major professional sport on par with hockey or tennis, while short-course XC mountain biking contracted at least here in the States. The World Cup is back in full force and now has amazing live coverage but seems to capture primarily the attention of the Euro fan base.

If you look around, off-road racing is alive — and in fact growing fast.

The rapid evolution of formats and distance is fascinating. There seem to be fits and starts of vogue: XC racing is steady. Cyclocross is going strong. Dual eliminator has displaced short track for now. Enduro is firing up and I even enjoyed racing one in Chile last fall!

If the long history of bicycle racing is any indication, 24-hour racing, shorter lap cross-country and perhaps some of the other less popular formats may come back, but it sure seems like the hot time for long-format mountain bike races and stage racing is now.

How big will big go? Hard to say. We could see events like the Birkebeinerrittet in Norway that attracts 15,000 riders!

For sure the Birke has lore and legend behind it. The ride and ski race are in honor of the rescue of the infant heir to the thrown of Norway, Haakon Haakonsson, who was being hunted by the opposing party, makes this more than any mountain bike race I guess.

But we do have Iceman Cometh, with 5000 plus racers and growing. Held the first Saturday in November in Michigan, it’s an annual race with nature (the North Wind has no opponent — who can beat it) so you may as well get your ass out one more time for the challenge.

But what format will take hold next?


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