By Gary J Boulanger. Photos by Maurice Tierney.
Yes, there were winners and prizes in multiple categories at the 19th annual Skyline Park Mountain Bike Race June 23 in Napa, Calif. Yes, there was awesome wood-fired pizza served under the big oak tree afterward. And yes, local rider Levi Leipheimer won the Pro/Expert category at the site of the 2008 Singlespeed World Championships and the 1999 Grundig UCI World Cup cross country race.
The highlight, though, was the Race Your Maker component, organized by Soulcraft Cycle’s Sean Walling and race co-organizer Curtis Inglis of Retrotec/Inglis Cycles. Custom framebuilders from the greater Bay Area camped and raced together, much to each other’s delight. Theirs is a tight-knit fraternity, reliant on camaraderie and friendship, not bitter competition. It’s doubtful the owners of Trek, Specialized and Giant would camp, eat, drink beer and race against one another in a similar environment.
With 8.5-mile loops of mostly narrow singletrack and gobs of technical climbing and descending, it was a memorable day in the saddle, with the proceeds supporting the Eagle Cycling Club and local trail maintenance.
Chris Schierhotz, Curtis Inglis and Sean Walling.
Mark Norstad, Jeremy Sycip and Jeff Hantman.
In addition to Walling, Ingles, Steve Rex, Rick Hunter, and Jeremy Sycip, other Race Your Maker builders Cameron Falconer and Todd Ingermanson (Black Cat) joined the party but didn’t race. Ingermanson is still recovering from a bicycle-car accident on Tunitas Creek Road this past April, but it didn’t keep him from enjoying the company of friends (or slicing a gazillion strawberries for Sunday morning pancakes). Jocularity and entertainment was infused consistently by Napa’s graphics guru Ken Prosser, and was fully supported by Oakland artist and Clif Bar curator Jeffrey Hantman. All this tomfoolery was fathered by Paragon Machine Works owner Mark Norstad, who always enjoys a party with friends.
As the 90-degree heat was dropping in the late afternoon on Saturday, the Race Your Maker clan gathered at Skyline Park to pitch their tents and saddle up for a group ride. This was my first time riding what my friend Anthony Mangieri has called a ‘brutally intense’ course, and he was right on the mark. As a roadie who dabbles on the trails, like my buddy Steve Rex, the highly technical trails were a tad eye opening, but not overwhelming.
The shake-down ride was a holy terror of intense climbing right away, which is something I can handle. I’ve ridden with this crew on the road and dirt during last year’s King Ridge Gran Fondo, and they’re fit and fast when they need to be. Afterwards, Race Director Dave Pruett and Prosser made fajitas for the crew, as we traded stories of eclectic artists and funky childhood experiences around the picnic tables into the night.
Weaving a thread
Another highlight of the weekend began a few days before, when a simple email thread among the builders about logistics and food evolved into a light-hearted dig on Asian-made bikes, with Falconer feeling the brunt of it based on a carbon Santa Cruz frame he received in a trade. The friendly banter continued over the weekend, reinforcing the Makers’ focus on American-made bikes, and the importance of resource sharing to support each other.
Rex and I finished the first lap of the race together, and I asked him when he last raced a mountain bike. “Twenty four years ago,” he said with dirt and chocolate energy gel splattered all over the back right side of his jersey, evidence of a crash. “It was right before I got married, then life kind of got in the way.” My last race was the 2005 Chequamegon 40 in Hayward, Wisconsin, which I enjoyed on a fully rigid steel 29er singlespeed with drop bars, in homage to the early pioneers of mountain biking, mixed in with a little dose of youthful over exuberance.
Anthony Mangieri posing with his Steve Potts.
Mangieri, who owns Una Pizza and raced the 2008 Singlespeed World’s on the same course, finished fifth in Sunday’s singlespeed category, earning a belt buckle for riding fully rigid. His custom titanium Steve Potts disappeared under his skinny body, clad in a retro La Vie Claire racing kit, with tattoos covering most of his exposed skin. He relocated his pizzeria from the East Village of New York City to San Francisco in 2010 to be closer to the trails and his custom builder friends, from whom he owns several bikes.
Alive and well
According to Dirt Rag publisher Maurice Tierney, the good old local mountain bike cross-country race is still alive.
“Skyline Wilderness Park is the antidote for all the less-than-technical riding in the Bay Area,” he said. “A great mix of fire roads, death marches, and technical downhills. Proudly, I was the last finisher in the 40-plus Sport category, thank you very much,” Tierney said with his trademark Cheshire cat grin.
“I had a blast.”