By Karen Kefauver
April 12, 2013
Joh Rathbun and Kathy King have never competed in a dirt jump competition, but the two mountain bike riders may soar skywards this weekend during the fourth annual Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival, taking place Saturday and Sunday in Aptos.
Festival Director Mark Davidson, president of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz, a local bicycle club that is presenting the festival along with Fox, a prominent bicycling company headquartered in Scotts Valley, expects between 6,000 and 10,000 visitors to attend the festival over the weekend. It’s free to attend the event and watch all the action unfold at the pump track, short track and jump competition.
Designed for both spectators and riders ranging from amateur to pro, the festival aims to promote mountain biking as a fun and healthy lifestyle and to celebrate the local bicycling industry and its riders.
“The most exciting thing is that we have 11 cycling companies, plus two component manufacturers, offering demos. That gives people the opportunity to try out mountain biking and get to ride on trails or the track,” Davidson said.
He added, “We can inspire another generation of riders and parents to get into healthy outdoor activities.”
Yet that mission doesn’t eliminate riders’ fear factor when trying new things on a bike, like flying through the air as both Rathbun, 38, and King, 53, plan to do.
For the first time, the festival will include a separate contest for women to compete on the Aptos Post Office Jumps. The steep ramps made of dirt form spiky towers that have drawn some of the best freeride mountain bikers in the world to the soon-to-be-leveled lot across from the Aptos post office.
The Sugar Showdown is organized by Kat Sweet, a former professional mountain bike racer and cycling coach based in Seattle. Sweet has organized a two-day event for women which features a day of skills coaching followed by a day of competition.
Both Rathbun, a freelance writer, and King, a graphic designer, are among more than a dozen women who have signed up for the clinics, which are taught by a talented quartet of coaches: Tammy Donahugh, Lisa Tharp, Gale Dahlager and Cortney Knudson.
As a group, the women will learn techniques for jumping, pumping, railing berms and performing tricks. After practicing these skills Saturday, the women can opt to compete at the Sugar Showdown Jump Competition on Sunday. The event will be held prior to the festival’s premier showcase of dirt jumping, the Bell 831 Jump Jam, which will be judged by Santa Cruz professional biker Cam McCaul and is expected to draw thousands of spectators.
“For me, trying something new is always a good way to expand my comfort zone,” said Rathbun, a professional downhill bike racer who relocated from Santa Cruz to Folsom. “I seem to have the risk-taking gene. …I enjoy the feeling of fear.
“Dirt jumping for competition is new to me,” Rathbun added, “but it’s a natural evolution for me from downhill singletrack, where I started jumping over ruts, then bigger jumps. More recently, I started practicing at a jump park in Folsom.”
Rathbun has come a long way in her athletic career since her days as a self-described couch potato.
“At first, I was totally out of shape,” she recalled. “Then I started riding and racing downhill in 1996 thanks to the encouragement of a boyfriend. I was on the downhill race scene when it was getting under way in Northern California. There were about a dozen women involved. So I feel like I am coming full circle now because the women who are coaching the Sugar Showdown clinics are my old racing buddies. They are amazing athletes and I know and trust them.”
Like Rathbun, King, of Santa Cruz, is ready to push her limits by participating in the clinics. She said she’ll decide later whether to enter the jump contest for women on Sunday.
“My mountain biking is at a level where I feel the need to try the next thing. I’m a little nervous. …I already have a lot of scars on my legs,” she said. “But I just feel like I’m ready for the next level.”
King, a former competitive soccer player and current beach volleyball player, skier and surfer, is no stranger to physical challenge. Still, she plans to be cautious with her jumping.
“I started to do some small jumps for fun,” King said. “You just get a thrill even with a small jump at first. I will take baby steps. I am excited about this and will wear elbow pads and knee pads and give it a try.”
Both King and Rathbun plan to spend time roaming the festival, too. For King, it will be her first time there; for Rathbun it’s her fourth year in a row.
One of the most popular zones is the pump track.
“The pump track is pretty rad,” said Sean Andrasik, the festival’s volunteer events manager. “It’s a great spectator sport because the cyclists are riding pretty much at your toes and you get to cheer them on.”
Also sure to draw interest are the expanded kid-friendly activities. If spectators need a change of scenery, Dave Smith’s company Shuttle Smith will be offering shuttle rides to the top of Soquel Demonstration Forest during the festival.
“It’s a little Whistler and it’s happening right now,” said Smith, in reference to British Columbia’s popular mountain bike destination city. “The festival is in the amazing town of Aptos and complete with a jump jam, a pump track, jumps, and beautiful rides from the redwoods down to the ocean. Where else can you find that? Nowhere!”
Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer who covers sports and travel and is based in Santa Cruz. Also view her stories on the Sentinel’s Out and About blog at www.santacruzsentinel.com/blogs.
IF YOU GO
Take a look at the stellar line-up of cycling events this weekend and I bet you will agree with me that Santa Cruz should rebrand itself as “Bicycling City.” Here’s a rundown of fun spring cycling activities, many of them free, in Santa Cruz County this weekend.
— Karen Kefauver
Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival
WHEN: April 13-14
HOURS: 9 a.m. -7 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Aptos Pump Track and Post Office Jumps in Aptos Village, Aptos, next to Epicenter Cycling
COST: Free admission to Expo
Meet Your Maker Tour 2013
WHEN: 10 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: Ride will start and end at the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival
COST: Free, no registration needed, no rider limit.
DETAILS: Join some of Northern California’s talented bicycle frame builders, including reps from Black Cat, Blue Collar, Caletti Cycles, Calfee, Paragon Machine Works, Rock Lobster, Soulcraft, Steve Rex and Sycip for a road ride in Santa Cruz County that spans 51 miles and includes 3,800 feet of climbing.
45th annual Santa Cruz Classic Criterium
WHEN: April 14, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Professional races: women at 1:20 p.m. in 18-mile race, men at 2:20 p.m. in 35-mile race.
WHERE: The finish line is at Third Street at Main Street in Santa Cruz. Streets in the race: Front, Spruce, Laurel Extension, Third on Beach Hill, near the Boardwalk.
WHAT: Professional and amateur road racers compete by doing laps on a .9-mile loop on City of Santa Cruz streets.
COST: Free for spectators, registration required for racers.