What: Grease Monkey Mountain Bike Challenge. A five hour relay mountain bike race, open to riders of any skill level, with options team options that include Solo, tag team, or leisure team (3-5 members). http://www.greasemonkeymtb.com/home.html
Where: Brant Tract. A government managed forest section along the Saugeen river, just south of Paisley, Ontario. http://www.mtbthebruce.com/trails/brant-tract.php
When: This August past. Sunday the 23rd, 10:00am to 3:00pm to be exact.
Who: Steve VandeVoren of Martin’s Bike Shop Southampton, and the small band of volunteers who organized this event.
Why: This question needs no answer.
I’ve been participating in mountain bike events for about 12 years now. Weekly races, Epic 6-8 hour races, 24hr events, group rides, club destination weekends, anything I can fit into my busy summer schedule. I love every event, and I especially look forward to the races. For me, the prospect of being in another race seems to be the secret to perpetual motivation. The very thought of that next race gets my heart rate up and sets my mind into training mode. Each new opportunity to race strengthens that ideal.
Fortunately for people like me, another race has cemented itself in the summer schedule of “Must Do” events. The Grease Monkey Mountain Bike Challenge is a new race for all Western Ontarians who are looking for the chance to get out and try mountain bike racing. With a well-organized website, a solid venue, and a format that is palatable for all levels of mountain bikers, this event is something I can really get behind.
I first heard about the Grease Monkey Mountain Bike Challenge (here after referred to as GMMC) through my contacts at GORBA, the Guelph Off Road Bicycling Association. GORBA’s communications officer Jim McEachern posted a link to the GMMC home page on the GORBA facebook page. I did the obligatory double click on the link and immediately became a fan of the event.
First glance told me this event was not staged by a professional or For-Profit group. The website was clean, but it lacked the high polished finish and multiple drop-down menus of a high rolling organization. But under that grass-roots, volunteer based ambiance, I could see someone had put real thought into it. The people behind this event are looking to run it for the long term. All the questions I had about the GMMC were quickly answered within a few mouse clicks. The directions were clear, the date and times easy to find, payment was simple, and the price was low enough that even a low budget racer like me could sign up without a moment’s hesitation. Did I mention it was just over $50 to register as a solo rider? That puts this race somewhere around half the price of another great mountain bike relay I enter every year. And how was the event come race day? In a word, Awesome.
The Long Version
So now that I’ve given the basic information and set out my general opinion of the Grease Monkey Mountain Bike Challenge, stick around and I’ll take you through my day at the race.
Apart from the price, the location for the GMMC was a huge selling feature for me. Brant Tract is pretty far west in Ontario. It lies in the mid-section of Bruce County (You know, that county that sticks up into Lake Huron, thereby making Georgian Bay a bay.). From my home base of Guelph Ontario, this is little more than a one hour car ride. More importantly, this location services the western Ontario riders who are weary of having to drive half their day to the 45minute radius of Toronto, where most mountain bike races take place. And no slight to other race organizers, survival dictates that you go where business is plentiful. But I really enjoyed the quiet morning drive through the countryside to get to this race. I arrived rested, relaxed, and ready to roll.
As mentioned previously, the venue is easy to find. Thanks to some serious effort on the part of the Bruce County (see Explorethebruce.com) there was ample information on Brant Tract, including GPS location, Trail Maps, and a few details about the trails themselves. Of course I should also make clear, that I did not have to go looking too far to get these details, they were all included on the GMMC website.
Upon arriving at Brant Tract (somewhere just after 8:00am), I was greeted by many enthusiastic mountain bikers, ready to get into some racing. A line of cars pulled over to the right side of concession 12, with the drivers out assembling bikes, putting on helmets and exchanging good morning pleasantries. I was surprised to find, even arriving a good two hours before the race, that more parking was not available right on the grounds of the venue. From my visit to the trails a few weeks earlier, I thought ample parking would be available. I was wrong about that. By the time the event staging, organizer’s vehicle, sponsor tents, and support staff had set up, there wasn’t too much room left for participant’s parking. Not that concession 12 is a busy road, or that the short walk into the staging area killed me. It was just one minor inconvenience that took some gold finish off the event’s flawless execution.
In an email exchange I had with the organizer, Steve VandeVoren implied that parking was not ideal. Steve indicated that he was working on different parking arrangements, and did have a couple of different ideas in the works, but the cost of implementation could be a limiting factor. Or, as Steve put it “if we only muster 60 riders again, it might not be feasible for us to do it [improve parking and staging] just yet”.
After I’d slung my pack of race gear over my shoulder, and exchanged some hellos with the other race participants, I walked my bike into the GMMC staging area and registered. Much like my experience with signing up for the race on the web site, registration was a snap. Volunteers took my name, and handed me the race package. I was given a quick run-down of where I could set up for the day, where the race would start, what food, drinks and aid would be available through the day, and where the port-a-potty was located. Simple, smooth and no surprises. As the staging area was relatively small, and the Start/Finsh Line was clearly visible from where I stood, there was no anxiety over where I had to go, or what I had to do. I dropped my gear and my bike in the Solo Rider Pit and got my race uniform on (chez port-o-potty change room).
Two things that caught my eye when I received the race package were the nice graphics on the number plate (I still keep the plate from every race I’m in), and a little lumpy thing taped to the back of the plate. I’d already wandered away from the registration table before I noticed the “lumpy thing”, so I had to wait to find out what it was all about. The mystery was solved when the first round of announcements were made about 10 minutes later (08:40 or so). Along with the welcome and the confirmation that the event was on schedule, we were all informed that attached to the back of our plate was a transponder. This little device would automatically log our times as we passed over the start/finish line. As I had entered the event as a solo racer, and wished to cross this start/finish line as often as possible, I was quite pleased to hear I would not have to stop or scan my I.D. at the completion of each lap. I am also pleased to report that Speed River Timing kept the whole process going flawlessly throughout the day.
The race started promptly at 10am, under absolutely perfect conditions. The sun was up, but the temperature was taking it’s time to climb. And much like the weather, our small group of riders were cheerfully off, and slow to heat up. For my part, I was well aware of my limitations leaving the gate, and I believe those who were prepared for the day knew how the chips would fall within the first half of the first lap. Two riders set the pace, a couple of strong single speeders followed, and we all tried to figure out where we belonged in the pack.
Trail conditions were perfect. Brant Tract is known for having some pockets of mud that never seem to dry up. And there are enough roots throughout the trails to make you wish for dryer conditions if you are a little tired, or off your game. None of this would be a worry on our race day, for the sun had been shining on Brant Tract for long enough that week to get rid of almost all of the mud. Some other good news was that the trails had been cleaned up quite a bit for this race. I don’t know how many hours of work had been put into preparing this race course, but it was nicely done. Trail markers were clearly visible, soft spots had been graded, over hanging brush had been cleared away and the few patches of threatening Poison Ivy had been very deliberately flagged. More important than any of these things, is that some industrious person had gone along and painted every single hidden killer on the trail. You know, hidden killers. Those small stumps, rocks or saplings that sit right on the apex of the turn? The tiny obstacles that threaten to catch your pedal or flatten your tire every time you pass by? The ones that you are absolutely certain will one day be the cause of the worst accident you’ve had in years? Yeah, those ones – the ‘hidden killers’. Well, I am happy to say that the trail crew responsible for the GMMC did a bang up job of bringing those nasty little things into the full light of day. Each and every one was painted bold and bright orange. I did not get snagged once in the whole five hour event. Bam!
The course laid out for the GMMC was fun. There were quick descents, some tricky switchbacks, a few man made landmarks, and a well graded double track straight to the finish. Topographically speaking, it was pretty flat. The climbs were not the sort of up-hill battles you’ll find along the Niagara Escarpment, but they were long and steep enough to wear me down after the 4hr mark. If you ask for an on the spot commentary as I climbed out of the valley on Razor’s Edge the last time, I would not have been asking for a bigger hill. And considering events like this are meant to draw new people into the sport, I think these climbs were just big enough to give new participants a sense of accomplishment. And if any of this paragraph makes me sound boastful of my solo five hour efforts, I will point out now that all three of the top Single Speed finishers lapped me in this race.
2015 Grease Monkey Mountain Bike Challenge couse Link
At the end of the GMMC I felt the natural relief any rider has when finishing a competition. There’s the feeling of a job well done, and a feeling of relief in knowing that I didn’t have to go out for another lap before sitting down to a celebratory beverage of one’s own choice. Yup, I’d put in my best effort, and I now I just had to wait and see how I stacked up against my opponents. I was happy with how I’d performed, and it turns out my efforts had earned me third place. It was a very nice feeling indeed.
The award for placing third was a nice medallion and the opportunity to stand on an actual podium while my name was read out and my picture was taken. And I have to say, the fact that the organizers had an actual wooden podium for us to stand on was great. Maybe this speaks to the narcissist in me (in all of us? please agree in silent support that I’m not the only one), but I really got a kick out of it. Judging by the smiles and applause that followed the announcement of each winning team, the other racers and spectators enjoyed this spectacle as well.
True to form, this event did not leave anyone out at the end of the day. Those who didn’t have a chance to stand on the podium did not walk away empty handed. There were dozens of draw prizes, a giant wrench trophy for the fastest lap of the day, and a 50/50 draw worth more than three times the race entry fee. Prizes included grips, shirts, mugs, sunglasses, hats, tires and decorative plaques filled the better part of three tables in the staging area. The ratio of prizes to participants was icing on the cake. I managed to walk away with two T-shirts and a hat, all emblazoned with sharp bicycle logos. Prizes, a medallion, good conversation and a 50 cent can of coke (yes I still drink the garbage on occasion) all made a great end to race day.
The drive home from the GMMC was a pleasant one. There was no traffic to speak of, no tragic news of the world on the hourly national update, and the sun had started to cool down. I was already thinking of next year’s race, and what I’ll have to do differently. One somber thought did cross my mind though. If word gets out on this one, more great riders will show up in 2016, and there’s no way I’m going to make the podium again.