Imagine there’s a mountain bike in front of you. It’s there, beckoning to be ridden. The only catch: it’s not assembled. Everything from the frame to the fork, handle bars, seat, pedals, sprockets, wheels and brakes down to the gears and chain are all right there, spread out on the ground. All it needs is to be built up before it can be taken out on epic rides. Of course there’s much more to building up a top-notch mountain bike, but you get the idea.
In much the same way mountain bikes take shape to become beautiful outdoor, trail-shredding machines, the festivals that welcome those bikes, their riders and those neck-deep in the sport, require the same kind of build up. The trails, the community, the culture, all of it has to become one and flow in unison in order for the ride to happen.
Last year, Over the Edge Sedona Bike Shop’s Jason First and Mike Rainey did just that: they surveyed the carved out, two-wheeled landscape of northern Arizona’s forever-stoked mountain bike family, waited for previous festival attempts in the area to dwindle, and decided it was time to piece it all back together with the inaugural Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. What transpired, as Rainey says, was “a three-day mountain bike festival with exhibitors, bands and beer.” And, of course, and most importantly, riding. But the foundation of the festival was to share with everyone their community, culture, and bevy of pristine and unique trails.
“When we were brainstorming about doing the whole thing, we used to travel for our jobs to go to events like this, and I never had one in my hometown, and always thought it would be cool to have one that you could go to and share your own trails,” Rainey says. “The experience of why we live here, and why we ride bikes here, and that whole vibe, we get to share that with anyone who wants to come from out of town.”
In its first year, Sedona MTB Festival saw roughly 1,000 attendees cycle through, many from outside of Arizona. As they switch gears to year two, First and Rainey note that there’s a big draw for these types of festivals. They plan on attendance numbers growing significantly, pulling even larger numbers from around the Southwest states, beyond, as well as right here at home, and look to gain even more traction with big-name vendors showing interest and taking up residence for the weekend.
“There’s always been an opportunity for it,” First says. “And not only is Sedona growing, but we always have the advantage of the weather, and it’s a great winter-time destination, so we felt like we could be one of the first major mountain bike festivals to kick off the year for the spring season.”
Among its many highlights, the festival, which will stake in at Posse Ground Park in Sedona from March 4–6, will be an expo for some of the industry’s leading manufacturing, apparel, and food companies. Ibis and other brands will be bringing newly released bikes, Troy Lee Designs will be launching new apparel, and Giant will be filming with their Olympic pro-riding team, to name just a few.
“We have almost 50 bike vendors, clothing, and food companies that are all in the biking industry,” Rainey says. “You can come walk around and see what they do and take out bikes from them.”
He notes that while the festival is free to attend, registering, which can be done at the festival upon arrival, allows attendees to demo any number of the bikes being exhibited at the festival. It also allows riders to get on shuttles offered by Hermosa Tours—which will leave the festival grounds for numerous trail heads in Sedona—an unlimited amount of times.
The shuttle will even take riders to the top of Schnebly Hill. Outside of taking a Pink Jeep, which often means digging deep into the wallet, the Sedona MTB Festival is the only time permits are issued to journey up Schnebly, making it an extra-special time to break out the bike.
“It’s a super rugged dirt road that goes up to the top—without being on the peaks it’s the highest point you can drive to—so you can get dropped off and just let gravity bring you all the way back down,” Rainey says. “It’s just a cool thing. They’ve only done this so far for the festival and they’ll be opening shuttle permits in the coming years, but right now you get three days during the festival to go do it.”
On the flipside, one of the big concerns that First and Rainey say they regularly hear with mountain bike festivals is that people think the trails will be too crowded, which is not at all the case in Sedona.
“There’s so much mileage, it’s amazing,” Rainey says. “I think the Forest Service is pushing 300 or so miles of trails. When we first moved here it was like 200, and it’s just been going up and up and up. Every month it seems like they’re opening something new. And you should be able to go to spots that don’t cause you a problem.”
In addition to vendors and shuttles, the Sedona MTB Festival will also include a number of clinics, group rides, a beer garden, live music in the afternoons, camping, and a raffle of donated parts and gear from various bike companies and more. Beer sales will support the Verde Valley Cycling Coalition, whose mission is to improve the local bicycling environment and life in the region through trail building, safety and education, while money from the raffle will go to the Sedona Red Rock Trail Fund for trail maintenance efforts.
When it comes down to it, there aren’t a lot of mountain biking spots around that match Sedona. It’s one of the primary reasons First, from Southern California, and Rainey, from Pittsburgh—who met through bike racing—made their respective moves five years ago. They had the passion for riding bikes and saw how it fit their lifestyles and the potential for what could be and has now become. It started when the two were visiting the area six years ago and met with the guys of the Over the Edge bike shops in Utah and Colorado.
“They were talking about the bike shop opportunity here and one of the older shops closing down, and we both had this gut feeling that it was a really good opportunity,” First says. “We wanted to move back to this area, so over the course of six to eight months of planning we went for it, and opened up the shop partnering with Over the Edge.”
But when it comes to the Sedona MTB Festival, they’re quick to point out that it’s not an Over the Edge event, but a Sedona event, and that it’s super community minded. An outdoor community that continues to blossom.
“The outdoor culture is really growing a lot in Sedona,” First says. “Even five years ago when we first moved here it was a little bit more new age culture-wise, and that’s been declining a bit and the outdoor community has really grown.”
And at the end of the day, it’s all about leaving it on the trails and this one-of-a-kind biking landscape.
“Here ... it’s just ridiculous,” Rainey says. “There’s no trail that I have to drive to. The quality of the terrain—they built these trails with bikes in mind from the beginning. So you don’t run into really weird stairs or any weird hiking trail features. It’s like a playground for bikes everywhere.”
First adds, “The landscape is certainly unique. But the proximity to trails is really special. There’s not too many places with over 200 miles worth of single track right from town. You don’t need to drive an hour outside of town and I think that’s what really sets it apart. You can just hop on the bike and do epic rides in any direction.”
And if for no other reason than putting the pieces together to bring fellow mountain bikers together, the Sedona MTB Festival looks to be another one of those epic rides.
The Second annual Sedona Mountain Bike Festival kicks off at 9 a.m. on Fri, March 4 and wraps up on Sun, March 6 at 4 p.m., and will take place at Posse Ground Park, 525 Posse Ground Road, in Sedona. Passes are $50 for a single day, $80 for a two-day pass, and $100 for a three-day pass. Registration is available all weekend on-site. For details, call 282-1106. For a full schedule of events, list of exhibitors and more, visit www.sedonamtbfestival.com.