The popularity of mountain bike racing is constantly in flux with one new disciplines becoming popular as other ones fade into the background. In the 90s, cross country racing was huge. In the early 2000s, 24 hour racing exploded. Then, as the 24 hour bubble burst, or at least started deflating, 50 to 100 mile races stepped in to fill the void.
Unlike cross country races that most racers could finish quickly or slowly, ultra endurance races provided a challenge in just finishing the event. The longer distances provided a new goal for many who were looking for something new to do. Ultra endurance races provided events where overcoming personal challenges and finishing the course became the focus and beating the next guy (or gal) dropped in importance.
Then online registration came along and registering for popular races started becoming more difficult than actually racing them. This year, the Park City Point 2 Point sold out in three minutes, the Lumberjack 100 sold out in 11, the Gunnison Growler split their online registration into three waves to ensure that everyone had a fair chance to enter even if they couldn’t be at their computer to hit ‘Register’ at a specific time on a specific day.
Clearly, the combination of the challenge of a long race without the logistical difficulty of a 24 hour race was in high demand.
As a response, several ‘underground’ races started to emerge. These races were all self supported with no official start list, no finish line banner, no prizes, and no press.
They started small and then they grew. Races that were originally only announced on online forums suddenly developed webpages and through the organizational skills of a handful of people, ultra endurance race series were born to operate under the rules set out by the National Forest Service for permitless events. Rider limits are strictly capped, there are no aid stations, no entry fees, and everyone is responsible for him or herself.
These races are the essence of grassroots racing.