Phoenix summers mean it is time for the off season for all Valley-based racers, right? Wrong.
Thanks to the Short Track at Papago, a little non-sanctioned grassroots race series that runs every Tuesday evening from late April through the end of September, mountain bikers and cylocrossers of all abilities who want to keep some fitness in their legs during the hot months have a weekly ride to gas it out.
And with five different courses that can be run in any number of directions with a whole slew of devious rules thrown in to keep things interesting (how about chugging a beer halfway through on a sweltering evening?), the series never gets old for the devoted riders who return each week in hopes of claiming bragging rights for the night.
The Short Track at Papago rides originated in 2004 by then-ASU student Scott Nowicky as an excuse to get his Tempe-based riding buddies out for some romps in the hot dirt before grabbing some late dinner and beers. The series has grown to now attract twenty to thirty riders, from Cat. 1 racers to easy riders, who grind it out each Tuesday and still go for those tacos and brews, frequenting Tempe faves like the Tavern on Mill or Boulders on Broadway.
"It started as a way to keep riding in the offseason," said Chris "Scooby" Capages, one of the early organizers of the series who regularly shows up to ride on cyclocross rigs. "It's really just an excuse for people who enjoy riding bikes to get out."
Each race starts at 6:30 p.m. in the south end of Papago Park at the pedestrian bridge just off of Lake View Drive, and is governed by a "Baron" who pre-selects one of the five established courses and determines what, if any, race rules are to be implemented for the evening. Such rules include doing ten pushup at the top of a hill, exchanging an article of clothing with another rider, or getting a picture with a stranger.
All of the courses are fairly short, the longest registering a little over three miles, but present challenging hill climbs and descents to keep things edgy.
"It makes for some really hard racing for 45 minutes and then we all go hang out," said Kevin Trowbridge, a series regular and Baron for this week's race. "We get guys who just crush it and other who kick along. I've been doing this race since 2006 and maybe won twice, and other could have won four or five times but make wrong turns. It's all just good fun"
It even attracts riders from outside the Valley, such as 18-year old Ian Wilkey and his dad Eric who come up from Casa Grande each week. The younger Wilkey is a budding Cat. 1 racer headed for the University of Arizona this fall and is looking to hook on with the AZ Devo U23 team.
"I really like these Papago races because it fits into my training really well."
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This week's race, four laps around the Lopiano Loops course while pounding a beer after the second lap (non-drinkers had to wait for a racer to come in and down a cold one before heading on), was won by Caleb Guest who was punished under 110-degree temps to finish with a time of 28:20.
All races are free, don't require a license and are open to everyone. The series will continue into the fall until the race can't be run without lights, usually late September.