Sue Lebrecht home

Chico Racing Mountain Bike Events

2002 July 20 – Chico Racing Mountain Bike Events

Active Pursuits, Travel Column
Toronto Star Newspaper

Singletrack trails for mountain biking were non-existent in Ontario in 1994 when Chico Racing debuted with its first mountain bike event. The course was set up on doubletrack trail used by logging trunks and maintenance vehicles in Durham Forest and 240 participants showed up.

“We had two rental port-o-potties and a tent we borrowed from a friend,” said Adam Ruppel, who started up the company with his brother Sean. “We ran it by the seat of our pants, but it went smoothly. Riders had low expectations at the time.”

Today, Chico Racing – Ontario’s largest mountain bike event organizer – carefully orchestrates its events with radios, a high-tech sound system, and chip timing system. Its annual 24-hour Summer Solstice relay race, which filled to capacity this year with 1900 riders and nearly 3,000 spectators, engages 25 paid staff plus100 volunteers.

However, the biggest difference between then and now is that the race course is set on singletrack – the narrow, winding type of trail that’s become as core to mountain biking as wind is to sailing.

What sets Chico Racing apart from most mountain bike event organizers is that it builds and maintains the trails it uses. And, Chico Racing is credited for constructing some the best singletrack trails in southern Ontario.

It’s no coincidence that the trails at Durham Forest, Ganaraska Forest, Dagmar Resort and Albion Hills Conservation Area ride with the same flavor. All were built by Chico Racing. While advancing the sport of mountain biking, the company has left a wondrous playground in its wake – along with a benchmark for trail building.

“We’ve never received money to build trails, but the events we run pay for the hundreds of hours that go into trail construction,” said Adam. “We looked at venues that didn’t have great mountain biking but had the potential for great mountain biking. With permission, we built up the infrastructure of trails at those venues. We got our event, the venues got the trails. It was a win-win reciprocal relationship. That’s become our blueprint.” Trails designed by Chico Racing are appreciated most for their flow and transition. They rollercoaster with a good balance between technical and physical challenge. Tough steeps are followed by flats. There are twists and turns and swoopy, undulations. There are plank bridges, rock piles and log obstacles. Routes trace ridges, weave among trunks, and dive in and out of gullies.

Sean Ruppel is the master behind the workmanship. “A lot of people build tighter singletrack that we do,” he said. “We design it to be technical with fast sections so a decent rider can maneuver through with speed.”

On Sean’s well-marked courses, “easy-out” options are included. These are points where technically advanced riders can tackle a rock pile or an exceptionally tight and twisty segment, while the less technically adept riders can take a longer, easier bypass that will cost them a few extra seconds.

“Every course has to be designed differently depending on the event, but I try to make courses exciting for the hardcore rider while also allowing intermediates to get through without having to dismount their bikes,” said Sean. “If you can build a course that riders of all ability levels like, then you’re doing a good job.”

In addition to its Summer Solstice event, Chico Racing organizes an Enduro Cup Series, which is a grass roots recreational racing event, and a weekly race series at both Albion Hills and Dagmar. This year the company is also running the full Ontario Cup race series, which consists of five events plus the championships and a downhill component.

“I wanted to have a job in the cycling industry and saw that mountain bike events weren’t organized at the level they could be,” said Adam who was on the national mountain bike team and ranked 5th in Canada and the best in Ontario in 1994.

“We thought it would be a part-time business that would allow us to survive and still ride and hang out with the people in the industry that we love.” In reality Chico Racing has been a full time job for the brothers for the past four years.

In the off-season there’s building and repairing trail, getting sponsors, choosing venues, doing promotions, getting each event insured. In season, there are myriad event details from making sure signage is up, to hiring ski patrollers with first aid training, to organizing volunteers and ensuring riders are registered.

“People see we’re constantly trying to improve the events,” said Adam. “We’re in for the long term. The worst that can happen to us is to have a bad event – even if it’s the smallest event of the season.”

Chico Racing, phone 905-852-0381, web site: www.chicoracing.com