Riding, goofy fun on tap at bike fest

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The usual suspects will get up to some unusual shenanigans this weekend when bicyclists literally make a big splash during the 29th annual Ozark Mountain Bike Festival at Devil's Den State Park.

Known for its focus on bicycle riding rather than bicycle racing, the festival is the park's spring weekend of welcoming trail rides, skill-building workshops, socializing and fat-tire bicycle games (aka "reindeer games," aka "shenanigans").

Longtime organizer Tim Scott, assistant superintendent at the Northwest Arkansas state park, says one of this year's games involves hopping a mountain bike into Lee Creek cannonball-style -- with the aim to displace more creek water than anyone else.

Scott credits (or blames) Brannon Pack, executive director of Ozark Off-Road Cyclists, with the idea.

But first, the weekend opens Friday afternoon with two more-normal events:

• The 29th annual "Anniversary" Ride at 2:30 p.m. led by Scott on the park's Fossil Flats trail, one of the state's first (legal) off-road bike routes. All beginner to intermediate riders who wear helmets are welcome on this 6-mile, no-drop outing.

Rolling and rocky, the path has two potential creek crossings, depending on how recently it has rained. Leaders can take an easier or a harder route, depending on the group's needs. The trailhead's at Campsite A near Site 15 in the park.

• The 12th annual Devil's Den State Park Night Ride at 7:30 p.m. will begin at the same trailhead. "Big John" Sandy, Nick Biondi and Mike Biondi will lead a headlamp-adorned rolling parade through the night woods.

It's a no-drop outing paced for beginners to intermediates, but parents are urged to "please use good judgment if considering taking children." Also, in addition to helmets, participants must have two sources of light.

Scott loves the night ride.

"Usually we don't allow anybody on the trail at night," he says. "It gives them an opportunity to kind of like 'break the rules.' It's just really cool to watch them coming in. It's almost like an airplane landing, all these bikes, and all of a sudden you see these lights coming through the woods."


As they did in 2016, riders can compete for swag by trying to photograph the park's white squirrel -- which once again provides a theme for several events.

"Last year, we hadn't seen the white squirrel almost all winter, and all of the sudden, the first ride the first day, it jumped out," Scott says. "It was just incredible. Everybody goes, 'Wow, there's the white squirrel.'"

And they took pictures to prove they'd seen it, earning small prizes.

Squirrelly doings this year include a 3-mile Family Ride tailored to novices at 9 a.m. Saturday and led by Pack, Bob Cable and Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette outdoors reporter Flip Putthoff.

Also, at 1 p.m., Pack, Chuck Woods and H.B. Fink will lead a 6-mile squirrel-chasing ride for beginners and intermediates; and this will be the weekend's only guided ride to take the Fossil Flats counter-clockwise, which makes it tougher.

And at 4 p.m., The White Squirrel Poker Run will invite families on a 3-mile circuit with five stops where riders will collect cards to build a poker hand. The cards are redeemable for swag at the cookout that evening. Nick Biondi, Rebekah Mann, Christian Johnson and Callie Stoltzfus will lead the ride at novice pace.

Saturday's offerings also include longer trail rides, an intermediate workshop, one for kids and a skill-building area for children. Nonbiking evening fun will round out the day with paddleboat races, burgers off the grill and pedal-made ice cream. (At the cookout, everyone takes a turn pedaling the park's bicycle-powered ice cream churn.)


The weekend will conclude with the Eric Williams Memorial Ride at 10:30 a.m. beginning at the Fossil Flats trailhead in Campground A. Led by the Frontier Ozark Off-Road Cyclist and Phat Tire Bike Shop, the ride will honor a member of Phat Tire's racing team who died March 3 from the effects of a mountain biking wreck Feb. 22 in Oklahoma.

Eric Jacen Williams was 42 and a resident of Sallisaw, Okla. Friends are collecting donations for his widow and two children. More information is on Facebook at bit.ly/2nEbigC.


Scott notes that while several rides are aimed at beginner-to-intermediate riders, a workshop offered Saturday for intermediates doesn't necessarily require intermediate-level skill. It's for those who aspire to be intermediates.

At what point does a mountain biker transition from beginner to intermediate?

Scott says, "Intermediate riders, they're starting to do a lot of riding. They're willing to travel to go to trails, and our 6-mile trail for most intermediate riders would not be enough. Even though part of the trail is a little bit technical, the mileage probably is not enough for them. They do a couple of laps."

The hallmark bike-handling skills for intermediates include being able to bunny hop over small obstacles in the trail.


The shenanigans portion of the festival are scheduled for noon Saturday at Lee Creek Crossing. Two games are planned: slow races in the creek -- object being to ride more slowly than anyone else without setting a foot down -- and the aforementioned "cannonball" splash contest.

Scott: It's kind of a project in the works at this point. Depending on how much water's in the creek, we're going to try to set up a little kicker, which will kind of launch them a little bit so they can then hit the water. It's like a little ramp.

Style: That people can run and jump off?

Scott: They won't be jumping off it, they'll be doing it on their bikes.

Style: Wait. What? So, noon on Saturday, when people still have more riding to do, they're going to jump their bikes into the water?

Scott: They are. If there's not a lot of water in it, they'll have to hit it as hard as they can to make the big splash.

Style: So who's going to judge who's got the biggest splash?

Scott: We'll have a panel of judges there. We haven't decided yet if we'll be holding up cards or not.

Style: Are you going to have some sort of photographic backup, instant replay?

Scott: Haven't got that far.

Style: You realize this is a goofy idea.

Scott: Exactly.

More information is at (479) 761-3325 and on the Devil's Den pages at arkansasstateparks.com.


From Arkansas Online article published 4/3/2017