The Zia Rides ABQ Dirt Fest was in full swing at the Oak Flats Campground and trail system in Tijeras, New Mexico during the last weekend in September. Despite a healthy mountain bike community in Albuquerque, there are not many mountain bike races hosted this close to New Mexico’s largest metropolitan area. Zia Rides does a great job offering something for everyone with a fun race about 30 minutes outside of Albuquerque. Touted as a family first endurance mountain bike series, Zia Rides is well known for races that are fun for the seasoned racer and the first timer alike, all while offering things for the entire family to enjoy.
The main events for the weekend are the 12 and 6 hour cross country mountain bike races, but new this year, Zia Rides was offering a 1/2 marathon and 5k trail race. Oak Flats trail system and campground, is a well known trail area to many outdoor enthusiasts in the Albuquerque area, and offers plenty of campsites and areas for food vendors and sponsors to setup.
Unlike so many mountain bike races, where you show up, race, then leave as quickly as possible, the ABQ Dirt Fest is all about family, friends, and enjoying the outdoors. The atmosphere is great with live music on Friday and Saturday nights and beer being served by a local brewery, Canteen BrewHouse. Although camp coffee is something special to many of us, Grinding Gears Coffee truck was onsite keeping everyone properly caffeinated. I for one, was very thankful to have good coffee available at a moments notice and visited the converted parcel truck often to stay energized for shooting photos all day.
Beyond the music, great food, and beer, there of course was racing going on. The 12 hour race was a seven to seven affair with the six hour race starting at noon and going until 6:00pm. The 12 hour course was a 13 mile loop with a good mix of technical descents and semi smooth singletrack. The six hour course shares parts of the twelve hour course, but cuts out some of the more technical sections for an appropriately abbreviated lap time. Encouragingly for the serious racer and beginners alike, there are plenty of opportunities for riders to pass safely.
If you haven’t tried an endurance mountain bike race, this is an excellent race to start with. For those not interested in pushing through the race solo, there are plenty of team options. In fact, racing with a team is perhaps the best way to enjoy this race to its fullest. Make a lap, maybe even two, then tag in your teammate and head back to camp for a beer, camp food, and relax with friends. Of course there are those with more endurance intentions, for which the solo categories are perfect. This years overall solo winner was, Timon Fish who completed 11 laps and somewhere around 140 miles total in just under 12 hours.
Zia Rides owner, Seth Bush reiterates the fun race theme and reminds everyone at the pre-race meeting of the most important rule,“Don’t be an asshole”. This rule, which is preceded with an earmuffs warning for kids, speaks to the ethos of the race. This is a fun race and riders shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. If you are slowed by another rider for a couple seconds, take a breath and wait. Be courteous to your fellow racers and always respectively make your presence know before overtaking. As someone that has been around a lot of bicycle racing, its refreshing to see everyone leave their ego at home and just come to have fun riding bikes.
Zia Rides is known for the fun atmosphere and the Albuquerque Dirt Fest is another fine example of mountain bike racing at its absolute best. As a race photographer, I love shooting endurance cross country racing because of all the photo opportunities I am afforded. This race is no exception and as someone who spent the race weekend laying, sitting, or standing in the dirt as racers buzzed or ran by, it was clear that the stoke was high and everyone was loving the race. If you want to try your first endurance cross country mountain bike race or trail run, or just looking for some multipart events closer to Albuquerque, be sure and check out the Zia Rides series and put the Zia Rides Dirt Fest on your calendar next year.