Mountain biking boom comes at a cost

(Photo by Brian Peterson)

BISMARCK, N.D. — When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered summer plans, many dug out their bikes, dusted off their helmets and enjoyed the outdoors.

Melissa Marquardt, marketing and event coordinator for 701 Cycle & Sport, told the Bismarck Tribune that this led to a “bike boom.” The sudden growth in popularity also sparked a bike shortage that is still ongoing.

“We’ve definitely been selling more bikes than we ever have so that is resulting in a lot of new people out on the trails,” she said. “You definitely notice it when you’re out on the paths, you see more people out there than you probably ever have before. It’s great to see, we love it.”

Last year, 701 Cycle started organizing weekly community group mountain bike rides. Marquardt leads the women’s rides on Mondays.

“Because we have seen so many new faces in the store, we’re trying really hard to expand our biking community,” she said. “So we started incorporating some group rides that we keep very beginner-friendly and try to encourage people to come and give them a try.”

Jamie Fuchs, who has been going on these rides from the start, said the groups have gotten bigger as more people are giving mountain biking a shot. She said the best part of riding is the supportive community that comes with it.

“It’s been nice getting to know some of the riders,” she said. “Everybody cheers everybody on.”

Every week, Marquardt and her group check out a different trail system in the Bismarck-Mandan area. Marquardt said they keep rides at a casual pace, with breaks for water, chatting and taking selfies.

Marquardt said biking has no age limits and can be enjoyed by anyone with two wheels. Her group rides have included women in their 60s to girls in the sixth grade. The only requirements are to wear a helmet and bring some water.

Her rides are considered “no-drop,” which means no one gets left behind.

“I just want it to be very welcoming because biking can be intimidating,” Marquardt said. “I want everybody to feel like they can do it and just have fun with it.”

Whether it is the fear of trading paved streets for rougher terrains or the steep price of investing into new equipment, some may be apprehensive about taking the plunge into the mountain biking world.

Jennifer Morlock, owner of Dakota Cyclery in Medora, said if you’re not sure if it’s for you, try renting. Both Dakota Cyclery and Cycle 701 offer bike rentals.

“Renting a bike is the perfect way to try it out, especially since you can’t get bikes right now,” Morlock said.

Morlock said the consistent high temperatures made this year a lot slower compared to last year’s record-breaking number of visitors.

But despite the heat scaring some away, Morlock said they still have bikers from all over visiting their shop and the acclaimed Maah Daah Hey Trail system, a 144-mile singletrack through the Badlands.

“I still have tons of stuff booked through the month of September, so we still have a good season left,” she said. “I’m optimistic that it’s going to stay busy.”

One thing that has really helped biking get big, Morlock said, is the Maah Daah Hey races hosted by LAND. Their Badlands Race Series features races throughout the year and draws hundreds of mountain bikers from across the country.

Bismarck has its own fair share of races including the AlKemist Gravel Fest in October and the Fat & Flurious Fat Bike Race in February.

Additionally, the Burleigh County Bicycle Cult sponsors the Summer Mountain Bike Series, free weekly races on local trails, which are open to all.

Amy Juelson and her daughter, Mia, were two of the 41 that took part in the series race at Fort Lincoln State Park in July. Amy and her family have been biking together for years. She said the races are great family-friendly events, which have had a good turnout this year

Mia Juelson, 11, has made it to every one of the weekly races so far. She said her favorite part of racing is winning – when she does.

Marquardt hopes that more people, especially women, will get out on their bikes. She said only around 15% of bikers at Cycle 701 sponsored races are women. There is enough room on the trails for everyone.

“I want everyone to feel welcome and stop worrying for just a little bit and enjoy themselves,” she said. “I’ve been there. I know that feeling like everyone is waiting for you and you feel like you aren’t at everyone else’s level, like you just don’t belong. Those feelings are what I am trying to get women to forget about. To just ride their bike and have a good time.

“The biking community around here is really welcoming,” she said. “So just try not to be too afraid and give it a go.”

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