Pedal Magazine - - Out In Front - BY PETER KRAIKER

This year marks the 20th an­niver­sary of On­tario’s pop­u­lar 24 Hours of Sum­mer Solstice moun­tain-bike event or­ga­nized by Chico Rac­ing. Since its hum­ble be­gin­nings, the event has been a fam­ily af­fair. That sen­ti­ment ap­plies to both the or­ga­niz­ers and the par­tic­i­pants who sign up to race.

Chico’s race or­ga­nizer Adam Rup­pel was quick to say it’s been both im­por­tant and ex­cit­ing to work with brother Sean and their fa­ther, Tom, to make these events hap­pen. Over the years, they’ve each found their niche and de­liv­ered their part. Rup­pel’s son, Cole, is get­ting into it now too, at the ripe young age of three years.

He was just as quick to point out how much the event is in­flu­enced by the ca­ma­raderie and re­lay-race team struc­ture based on fam­ily ties or friendly bonds.

Rup­pel first raced on the road and then on a moun­tain bike as it be­came a world-level sport. His re­sults in­clude a 13th place as a ju­nior at the 1990 MTB World Cham­pi­onships. He was ranked top 10 in Canada for both road and moun­tain bik­ing in his youth. While he en­joyed rac­ing, he also started to think about what he might like to do be­sides work­ing in a bike shop when he was ready to re­tire. At the age of 23, he saw event pro­mo­tion as an op­por­tu­nity and started or­ga­niz­ing some events, in­clud­ing his pop­u­lar Chico Rac­ing se­ries. Laird Knight, the cre­ator of the first 24 Hours of Canaan race in 1992, just hap­pened to be some­one Rup­pel knew. One thing led to an­other, and here Rup­pel is, 20 years later with North Amer­ica’s big­gest 24 Hour event. He and Knight formed a deeper bond of friend­ship over the years.

The Early Years

The first two years’ events were held in the Ga­naraska For­est near Rup­pel’s home­town of Uxbridge, Ont. The Rup­pels de­vel­oped some of their long­stand­ing spon­sor re­la­tion­ships in the early years and he’s proud to have re­tained the re­la­tion­ships all these years. It’s also where the re­al­iza­tion came that the so­cial as­pects of the event were as im­por­tant as the com­pet­i­tive side. Camp­ing out for a week­end with hun­dreds of like-minded peo­ple mat­tered to the par­tic­i­pants and that set the tone. The first year saw ap­prox­i­mately 300 rid­ers take part. It dou­bled the next year to 600. Rup­pel knew he was onto some­thing. He also re­al­ized the venue wasn’t ideal, so he scouted around and found the Albion Hills Con­ser­va­tion Area, northwest of Toronto.

There had been moun­tain-bike rac­ing at Albion be­fore. Rup­pel re­calls rac­ing there as an ado­les­cent. When he re­turned to look at it, there was a net­work of dou­ble­track trails through­out the con­ser­va­tion area, though it lacked some of the more tech­ni­cal sin­gle­track re­quired for the 24 Hour event. But what stood out was its camp­ground: the in­fras­truc­ture and the num­ber of sites were ideal and com­ple­mented what Rup­pel en­vi­sioned. He of­fered to rent the en­tire camp­ground for the next Solstice event and to build the sin­gle­track trails needed for the race. That turned into a win-win for ev­ery­one. Rup­pel de­scribed it as “bold move, and the right move. We found the per­fect venue for our event.” Time has proven him right as they pre­pare for the up­com­ing event, with ev­ery in­di­ca­tion it will go on for years to come.

The con­ser­va­tion area now sees a steady stream of rid­ers en­joy­ing the net­work of trails through­out the year. That’s in ad­di­tion to the Chico 24 Hour, Chico Epic 8 Hour and Su­per­fly Wed­nes­day Night race events. In Rup­pel’s words, the 24 Hours “is still the event I most love. And would most love to do [as a cy­clist].” He’s been known to hop on a bike for a lap or two at the event and en­joys test­ing the cour­ses his brother Sean de­signs. Ev­ery year is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, and 2017 is no ex­cep­tion.

Fast-for­ward to 2017

The race is limited to 2,300 par­tic­i­pants, in part due to camp­ing space, as well as be­cause the lo­gis­tics seem to work well at that size. Other events or­ga­nized by the Rup­pels in­clude Mud Hero ob­sta­cle runs, with up to 17,000 peo­ple on a week­end. This is not a size he thinks will work for a 24 Hour race, so 2,300 it is. Those spots go quickly too! The 2017 edi­tion sold out in Fe­bru­ary and there’s a wait­ing list. That’s the norm now, as, for the past few years, it sells out. Teams form, peo­ple bond and they come back. Af­ter 20 years, even some of their off­spring are com­pet­ing now.

When asked about which cat­e­gories were most pop­u­lar, Rup­pel an­swered with a laugh, “The 10-per­son team – you get more of the so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence.” He went on to say, “You don’t need a lot of train­ing for that, but if you are well trained, you’re still get­ting a good work­out.” The four- and five-per­son teams are also very pop­u­lar, and with less time be­tween laps, they’re even more de­mand­ing. Of course, the solo rid­ers are the true hard­core par­tic­i­pants. Ac­cord­ing to orig­i­na­tor Knight, it took a few years to give the very per­sis­tent ul­tra-en­durance ath­lete John Stam­stad an op­por­tu­nity to make “solo” the show­case that it is.

One thing be­yond any­one’s con­trol is the weather. The event is def­i­nitely rain or shine, so par­tic­i­pants come pre­pared to both camp and race in what­ever the solstice brings. While many years have been sea­son­ably warm, some have been wet. There are lim­its to what the trails can take, and over the years, those lim­its have been tested. Two years stand out in par­tic­u­lar, as the amount of rain made rid­ing very dif­fi­cult when trails be­came too slick and muddy. This most re­cent oc­cur­rence was in 2009, and it re­sulted in the race be­ing short­ened to 12 hours. The rid­ers, their bikes and the trails were all one muddy blur when all was said and done.

Twenty Years of Mov­ing For­ward

Tech­nolo­gies have im­proved over the years, with bet­ter sus­pen­sion, brak­ing and brighter light­ing be­ing three sig­nif­i­cant ar­eas of im­prove­ment. The early years saw in high de­mand the charg­ing sta­tions for the night-light bat­tery packs. Now the forests are brightly lit lap af­ter lap all night long. Bet­ter tires and lighter bikes have cer­tainly helped up the rider fun-fac­tor too. As pre­vi­ously men­tioned, the trail net­work has evolved as well, though it con­tin­ues to be aimed at rid­ers of most abil­i­ties and fit­ness lev­els.

There will be sup­port from spon­sors such as Shi­mano for the me­chan­i­cals that can oc­cur. Out­door Gear Canada is an­other spon­sor that will be there, as it has since Year One. There will be food and beer dur­ing the days and evening to fuel the rac­ers be­tween their laps and for fam­ily there cheer­ing them on. There will be the very pop­u­lar chil­dren’s race, which will in­clude Cole Rup­pel as a par­tic­i­pant. And for the 20th edi­tion, there will be added ex­cite­ment that in­cludes more DJ and live mu­sic. Ex­pect some­thing for ev­ery­one, as well as the fun course that Sean Rup­pel de­liv­ers year af­ter year.

If you missed out on the 20th-an­niver­sary reg­is­tra­tion, watch for ticket sales early in 2018 so you can se­cure your spot to camp. And bring the fam­ily. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.chico­rac­ing.com/24hour.

Rid­ing and camp­ing out with hun­dreds of like-minded peo­ple was a cor­ner­stone to the suc­cess of 24 Hours of Sum­mer Solstice.

Chico’s Mud Bog is al­ways a favourite “op­tional” route for rid­ers to try.

24 hours of rid­ing builds ap­petites

The ap­peal of night rid­ing con­tin­ues.

A proud me­mento says you’ve “done it.”

Ev­ery­one wants “in” on the ac­tion.

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