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How to succeed in the Whiskey Off-Road: What you need to know

Pick the right equipment for the trail and get to know the course before you ride

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There are few events like the Whiskey 50 Off-Road that are able to combine so many different aspects of mountain biking together into one seamless weekend of festivities and fun.

Part party, part amateur bike race, part professional bike race with one of the biggest prize purses available, the Whiskey Off-Road takes over the small town of Prescott, AZ., for an extended weekend from April 27 to 29, starting with a vendor expo and a spectator friendly Fat Tire Criterium for the professional racers in downtown Prescott Friday night. The event continues with the amateur races starting Saturday morning and the professional races commencing on Sunday.

Epic Rides, the promoter of the Whiskey 50, and its shorter version, the 25 Proof, seem to have found an ideal balance between putting on an event for the masses, as is seen by the event selling out all 1,750 spots, and a top notch event for professional riders that, with a $30,000 prize purse and equal payout for both men and women, is drawing some of the top talent in the sport.

If that isn’t enough, Epic Rides has also put two tickets to Single Speed World Championships (SSWC) in South Africa up for grabs. Unlike last year where the winners of the single speed categories automatically won the tickets to SSWC in Ireland, this year the top ten single speed riders of each gender will be entered into a raffle to determine who will represent the USA at the event.

The Course

The Whiskey 50 course contains a little bit of everything except for one thing: flat ground.

With over 7,000 feet of climbing over 50 miles, the trail is constantly turned either up or down and generally fairly steeply. The race begins in downtown Prescott and after a 30-second reprieve of downhill, pitches straight up towards the Prescott National Forest.

After a handful of miles spent climbing on pavement in order to spread the field out, the road turns to dirt and then quickly to singletrack and the fun begins. The trail continues to climb before leveling out at the top of Trail 260 for a handful of feet and beginning a long descent down a rocky singletrack.

It is classic desert riding with loose rocks and high speeds where flat tires are a distinct possibility for those riding lightweight tires.

After a brief dirt road climb to recover from the adrenaline rush of the descent, riders face the Skull Valley Out-and-Back, a 12-mile descent on a dirt road where riders are able to preview every mile they are about to have to climb back up. Luckily, there is a well staffed Aid Station at the bottom to refuel before riders retrace their steps and continue up the road.

They climb to the top of what is described by race organizers as a “monster 45 minute descent” which is a mountain biker’s dream combination of rocks, roots, turns, and smooth singletrack with a handful of technical creek crossings that are manned by flocks of photographers ready to capture every bobble on digital media.

The trail eventually spits out on pavement and riders are treated to a 10 minute, mostly downhill, cruise back to the finish line in downtown Prescott.

Course map and profile: 50 Proof >>

Course map and profile: 25 Proof >>

Equipment

Because the Whiskey 50 course has such a wide variety of conditions, bike choice is all about weighting the pros and cons of different bike setups.

Because of the significant amount of climbing and the relative steepness of it, bike weight plays a more important role than it would on a flatter course. Thus, the long pavement climb off the start and the 15-mile climb out of Skull Valley would favor a lightweight hardtail.

On the other hand, the descents are rocky, rooty, and loose, catering to those running full suspension. Full suspension also helps reduce overall wear and tear on the body, a factor that becomes important after several hours of racing.

While it’s often accepted that races are won on the uphill sections of a course rather than the downhill, the descents in the Whiskey are technical enough that a good rider piloting a bike with slightly more suspension could make up a significant amount of time on the downhill sections on a rider on a bike with less suspension.

Wheel size also presents a similar dilemma on the Whiskey course. The road sections, and especially the descent to Skull Valley and the flatter parts of the climb back up favor 29 inch wheels, but much of the singletrack is either turning right or left and is peppered with tight switchbacks which would swing the advantage back to 26 inch wheels.

Tire choice is also a balancing act. The dirt roads and paved sections, in addition to the never ending uphill, cry for a fast rolling, light weight desert tire that corners well in loose conditions. But too light of a tire is asking for a sidewall slash, especially on the descent of trail 260. A tire with strong sidewalls and fast rolling tread seems to be the ideal compromise.

In the end, bike set up will be rider specific. A lighter rider would probably benefit the most from the weight savings of a hardtail for the climbing and could get away with lighter tires while a more aggressive, heavier rider would appreciate the added security of a full suspension rig and sturdier tires.

Local Riding

The Whiskey 50 course highlights just a small percentage of the riding in the Prescott area. With a community dedicated to growing the sport of mountain biking, there are abundant trails to be ridden just a short distance from town.

The trails range from forested riding in Prescott National Forest to slickrock at the Dells just north of town. To find out more about the local trails and the Prescott area, read Destination: Prescott, Arizona

Also read and watch:

Whiskey showdown will include JHK, Kabush, Gould, Irmiger

Video: Whiskey Off-Road teaser

2012 Whiskey Off-Road Offers $30,000 Purse


Eszter Horanyi lives and mountain bikes in Crested Butte, CO.  She has dabbled in road racing, cyclocross racing, and cross country mountain bike racing, but has gravitated towards ultra endurance and multi day self supported racing in the more recent past.  She firmly believes that nothing tops a good ride with good friends on good trails, thus she spends her life in search of all of the above. You can follow her adventures on her blog. All articles by Eszter.