I was out in West Virginia this past weekend announcing the 24 Hours of Big Bear(yes, there are at least two Big Bears, one on each coast). 24 Hour mountain bike races are a lot of fun, especially if you do it as a team of four or five. If you don't want to have any fun, do it as a solo rider and ride all 24 hours all by yourself. Obviously, I am joking because if you are a rider like David "Tinker" Juarez, you enjoy spending 24 hours on your bike and you have proven you enjoy it by winning numerous 24 hour solo races and a handful of National Championships.
It's worth noting that Tinker was the first ever American Olympian in the mountain biking discipline. He represented the USA at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, coincidentally, on the Conyers, Georgia course where Granny Gear Productions, the fine people hosting the event this past weekend in Big Bear, hosted their last 24 hour event three weeks ago. If you haven't already figured it out, Tinker is pretty darn fast on a mountain bike whether it be a 2.5 hour UCI World Cup or one of them 24 hour jobs.
But, this is about the return of Tinker which probably means that he hasn't been riding 24 hour races for a while. A couple of years ago, he started focusing on road biking and set his sights on some endurance events in that neck of the woods, so to speak. He won the Furnace Creek 508 which, not surprisingly, is a non-stop 508-mile race in the deserts of southern California which qualified him to ride the Race Across America (RAAM). Riding across the country, non-stop, definitely qualifies as an endurance event and Tinker acquitted himself well, finishing top-5, a remarkable accomplishment for a rookie.
Again, this is about the return of Tinker so when he lined up at the start for the Suzuki 24 Hours of Big Bear last Saturday there was a huge buzz of excitement in the air. The man from Downey, California was using this race as a tune-up for the upcoming National 24-Hour Championships so no one, including Tinker himself, knew what to expect. But, when the gun went off it was like winding a Swiss watch as Juarez situated himself right at the front after the first lap and didn't look back.
Tinker had some very good competition in Ernesto Merenchin and Steve Schwarz, both whom have won national-caliber 24 hour races and as the hours wore on, Merenchin was never more than about 2-4 minutes behind Juarez. The night laps, hey this is a 24 hour race!, came and went, and Ernesto was still there, but sometime in the 21st hour, the elastic finally snapped and Tinker started to pull away to record yet another victory.
At the finish, the 1996 Olympian called it one of his hardest wins made so not only by the high quality field, but also as result of the technical course made a bit slippery by pouring rains several days before the event. In his usual gracious style, Tinker praised his competitors and thanked the organizers for putting on such a top quality event. The guy is a huge plus for endurance sports. Glad to have you back on a knobby-tired ride!
Want to race a mountain bike for 24 hours? Not into such a huge solo effort? How about roping three or four of your favorite riding mates into entering as a team? Do the math. Five riders over 24 hours means about five hours of total riding. Factor in the potential four hour break between efforts and maybe now it seems somewhere in the realm of possibility. Of course it does.
A lot of people are figuring out that 24 hour racing is not only possible, but a lot of fun. You don't have to have a pedigree in World Cup competition or be an Olympic hopeful. All you have to do is be prepared to ride and enjoy it. Then there are the always exciting night laps when mountain biking takes on an entirely new dimension under the stars and in the thin beam of a halogen light.
Preparation for a 24 hour race depends on your goals. If you are out to win your class, and there are a lot of classes, then being in top notch physical condition is obviously essential. If you are in a less-than-competitive mood and are just trying to have some good old physical bonding with your friends than the most important pre-race preparation is to make sure your bike is in good working order. Most of us can deal with our body starting to tire, but a broken bike may mean the end of your race.
There are 24 hour races throughout the United States. Granny Gear Productions organizes six races throughout the US while Twenty4 Sports holds four yearly events. Numerous smaller promoters also organize races. Check the local bike shops in your area for upcoming events.