Sometimes, all it takes for an idea to explode is a little push.
With a record number of racers in the sixth year of existence, the Soldotna Cycle Series has been given the push it needed.
Like a kid taking off the training wheels, the series made the big jump this summer with record attendance. The eight-race series saw an average of 52 riders each week, with a record-high of 74 at the July 27 event.
For race organizers and volunteers, it was a big step in the right direction.
“Yes, by a long ways,” said Brian Beeson, brother of series organizer Mark Beeson.
The eight-race series wrapped up last week with a pursuit-style event based on riders’ average times this summer, but a ninth event, simply known as “The Gauntlet,” will challenge local bikers one more time as summer fades away.
The Gauntlet, which begins Saturday at 11 a.m. sharp, features no set course, but eight checkpoints give riders the option to decide their own route. Racers are assigned a number and must pick up the matching number at each checkpoint, and complete as many laps as possible within a three-hour time limit. A rider’s final lap may be shortened to ensure they reach the finish in time.
Beeson also reminded riders of a fat-bike series of races this winter which will utilize the Slikok and singletrack trails, with the first tentatively being scheduled a week after the Super Bowl in February.
The Cycle Series was the brainchild of Soldotna rider Mike Crawford, who relinquished the reigns three years ago to Beeson, who has helped take it to new heights.
Most riders trace the success of the series in 2018 to two key factors — the Tsalteshi Sprockets program for youth riders and the introduction of two race distances this summer.
The Sprockets program took off this summer as an eight-week training program in June and July that transitioned seamlessly with the Cycle Series races. The program helped develop young riders ages 8 through 16 and help bring them up to speed with six different ability levels getting sage advice and technique lessons from local experts from around the area.
The number of young riders coming out with parents and family members helped inject new excitement into the series, Beeson said.
“We had a lot of youth riders this summer,” he said. “They rolled their Tuesday classes into Thursday’s races when we started up.”
The series also introduced a shorter race each week, with a six-kilometer event being offered along with the traditional 12K race, the latter which increased from 10K last year.
“I noticed last year when all the races were 10K, a lot of people just did one lap (out of two),” Mark Beeson said. “A lot of them said it was more palatable.”
“It helped reduce the intimidation factor,” added Brian.
With the revamped format, Beeson said the locals turned out again. The first two weeks each saw 62 total riders show up, both attendance records, and Week 3’s showing of 74 set the record again.
Nathan Kincaid, a series veteran of three years, biked in four races this year, and said he enjoyed being able to tackle the longer races while his wife, Alicia, took on the 6K event.
“I like to ride,” Kincaid said. “Why not ride longer?”
Alicia said she showed up for one event last year after moving to the peninsula, then decided she would try more this summer because of the friendliness of the events.
“The biking community is just so welcoming and really fun,” she said. “The shorter races for me give me the opportunity for doing it on my own time.”
Nathan’s parents, Darryll and Wanda Kincaid, both avid cyclists from Sterling, also joined in this summer to see what the fuss was about.
“The races were the impetus for us to come out,” Darryll explained. “Nate challenged us to come out and stay healthy.”