Let’s Talk Dirt: Cycling in Nevada County
I knew I had found my “tribe” in terms of a great cycling community back in May 2000 when I had just moved to Grass Valley from Santa Cruz. Married and relocating with two small kids, Alec (4) and Jessica (1), it felt like an adventure. Trading the ocean for the foothills was a risk in so many ways. One of which would be if I could find a cohesive cycling community. On my first organized road ride, a Saturday ride that started at the CVS parking lot in the Brunswick Basin, I rolled up to about 20 riders in an age range from 20 to 60-year old's. We proceed to roll out of town, and once out on Ridge Road and Rough and Ready Highway, I heard that dreaded pisssssst of my front tire. I had a flat. In any other community ride, that would have been the end of the group ride for the person that flatted. But on this occasion, everyone pulled over, the late Jimmy Rogers grabbed my bike, turned it upside down and started barking out orders to me to get out my spare tube, tire irons while he took the wheel off and changed the flat with the precision of a NASCAR pit stop. We were off and riding in no time. I rolled up to him a few miles later as we entered Penn Valley and said, "Do you guys do that for everyone?" Several riders said, "No one is left behind. This is a group ride." I made instant friends on that Saturday, and they all were genuinely excited to have another rider in the weekly rides to challenge each other.
Nevada County cycling has grown from those early 2000s to a bigger and better scene. We now have the growing National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), which is the high school mountain bike league. In 1998 Matt Fritzinger wanted to start a road biking team at Berkeley High School, and on his first practice, four kids showed up on mountain bikes. So, he started the first mountain bike team in the country. Nevada Union High School joined the mix in 2001, along with Casa Grande and Salinas High Schools. There are thirty-one leagues across the United States, in thirty states. The Northern California league now has 84 teams. This year’s team is coached by Dr. Jon Pritchett and has thirty-two racers on the team with five women racers. They just had their first race of the season on Saturday, March 7, in Redding, California. Look for reports of the teams' accomplishments in the sports pages. They have a six-race season that culminates with a State Championship race in mid-May.
The non-profit organization that supports the high school mountain bike team is Youth Bicyclists of Nevada County (YBONC). The President of the board of directors, Jet Lowe, has run this organization for many years and has developed an independent mountain bike race series with the proceeds of the races going to fund the high school team. This years’ “CA Dirt MTB Series” has a four-race series with three of the races in our county. These type of leagues and supporting organizations for the junior riders is the type of feeder system that goes on all over Europe. It creates a system for discovering great talent and promoting it at an early age.
As you can see, the mountain bike scene in our beautiful county is coming together due to a lot of hard work on the trails and generous donations. We now have a local Bike Park located within the Gateway Park in Penn Valley. Five years ago, this park was championed by Richard Baker, John "Moss" Quaglia and supported massively by our local mountain bike club, Bicyclist of Nevada County (BONC). The bike park has a pump track and two jump lines with a skills area being built this month. Doctor Dan Goldsmith, SNMH emergency department physician and long-time board member and current President of BONC, stated, "We have continued infrastructure work that needs to be done, including water, electricity, and parking. We hope to have a grand opening this May 2020." Dan also informed me that there is another bike park being built in Auburn, as well as the stellar park in Truckee. I have spent several days at the Truckee bike park and find that park to be top quality and a template for others to follow.
There is a multitude of trails right in town like Hoot, Scotts Flat, Miners, Taxicab, Pioneer Trail, Dascombe Loop, Round Mountain, South Yuba Trail, Hirschman's Pond & Trail and Loma Rica Ranch. The trails are maintained by many organizations such as Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT), Forest Trails Alliance, BONC, and YBONC. Then you throw in Empire Mine Park and the property adjacent to the park is "The Ranch." Ron and Debbie Sanchez own this prime real estate for mountain biking. Their annual TDS Enduro race, which is an invitation-only professional Enduro Mountain bike race, provides us with a hotbed for shredding. This year TDS Enduro race is scheduled for April 24-26, 2020. This is a must-see event as the Sanchez family, friends, and countless volunteers have created quite an international buzz in the mountain bike world with this ninth running of the event. I will again volunteer my time to help Dr. Jon Pritchett and his staff of physicians providing emergency medical care for the event. TDS is excited to once again work with the Semper Fi Fund and hosting an advanced mountain bike camp as part of their “Recovery Through Sport” program.
The middle schools are also heavily involved in the mountain bike scene. Almost every middle school in the county has a mountain bike club with regular organized rides. This early exposure is just the thing needed to keep our kids healthy and into being in the outdoors. I have written, in this monthly column, about the healing powers of nature and getting kids outside on bikes being a great way to foster healthy living habits and empowering kids to protect their environment. Tandie and Casey Sanchez have created a non-profit organization, Chain Linkz, at The Ranch. They will be offering a Spring mountain bike race for middle school kids (April 21, 2020, at the Sanchez property), and that will be followed up with a four-race mountain bike series in the fall of 2020.
Lastly, our local amateur bike racing team, Sierra Express Racing Team, has a new title sponsor for 2020 and into the future. Body Logic Physical Therapy has stepped up to the plate to create a vision for youth in cycling. Our mission is two-fold, 1) continue to train and race in all disciplines of cycling, and 2) Support the young kids in getting on bikes for fun and fitness.
While road riding is still enjoying its popularity, our county, like many others that reside close to large areas of public land, riding on the dirt has seen a tsunami of activity and growth. Enjoy the trails, and remember to "keep the rubber side down."