24 HOURS OF SUMMER SOLSTICE
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.