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Pedaling Amateurs' Mountain Race

July 15, 1993|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. and

Orange County is blessed with some fine mountain biking areas, but because trails are shared with hikers and equestrians, riders must in most cases keep to a less-than-blistering pace.

One place to escape the speed limits is Snow Summit in Big Bear, a ski resort that has become in recent years a mecca for mountain bikers. The ski lifts keep moving even after the snow melts, carrying riders and their bikes up into the San Bernardino National Forest for trail riding.

Big Bear is also the site of some big races, including one series that is specifically for non-professionals. The Snow Summit Amateur Cup, now in its fourth year, takes place over four weekends, with the next go-round starting Saturday and future events taking place on Aug. 14 and 15 and Sept. 25 and 26.

Cyclists needn't be experienced to give racing a try: There's a special category for first-timers (that's first time racing , not first time on a mountain bike). "It's designed specifically for those riders who want to stick their toes in the water," said Patrick Follett, co-owner of Team Big Bear, organizer of the series.

Other categories range from beginning to expert, with age divisions. There is also a "Clydesdale" category, for riders weighing 200 pounds and up, and for the first time there is a special category for tandem riders. There are men's and women's divisions, but Follett said that while female participation is growing, about 90% of the riders now are male.

There are three main events; riders can choose one or go for all three. In the cross-country event, cyclists tackle a loop course ranging from 12 miles (for beginners) to 18 miles (for experts). The event takes between one and two hours, and the courses include some single-track trails (about 15%, Follett estimates) with the rest consisting of wider U.S. Forest Service and ski area dirt roads.

The downhill course descends from about the top of Snow Summit, at 8,200 feet, to the base area. The 1,200-foot drop takes about four to six minutes and is probably the most exciting event to watch (spectators are welcome). The slalom is a short run of a few minutes, set up like a downhill ski slalom.

The first event in the series, on June 19 and 20, drew 960 riders, about 20% over last year's numbers, Follett said. Many of the riders come from Orange County.

All the racing events take place on Saturday and Sunday, but riders can arrive Friday to register and practice on the downhill course. Registration can also be accomplished all day Saturday.

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