Thirty years after its debut, the famed race is scheduled to return this fall with racing of all types.
The famous Mammoth Mountain Kamikaze downhill debuted in 1984. It began at the peak’s top of over 11,000 feet on an unassuming gravel access road and plummeted riders 1,932 feet downward on a 3.2-mile course, highlighted by turn one—a sketchy high-speed off camber affair. During its heyday racers on hardtails or even fully rigid bikes regularly hit speeds of 55 to 65 mph. Legends of the Kamikaze included Jimmy Deaton, Dave Cullinan, Greg Herbold, John Tomac, Cindy Whitehead, Missy Giove and perhaps the best of them all, Myles Rockwell.
As the sport declined in the late 90s the iconic event ended in 2001. Last year as the town and resort of Mammoth Lakes began to rebound from a nasty bankruptcy case involving its overhaul and redesign, the former mountain bike mecca is working towards reestablishing its place as one of the most famous off-road vacation destination places. Part of that plan was the recreation of the famous race last year: dubbed the Mammoth Kamikaze Games. It ran September 4-8 and included a traditional downhill race, an enduro, cross-country, dual slalom and speed and style and, perhaps the most anticipated, legends of the Kamikaze downhill.
It all started with one man in the beginning—Bill Cockroft. A passionate cyclist, he wanted to bring bike racing to the Mammoth Lakes. It was the mid-80s and cycling was very much in the public eye, thanks to the Oscar-winning film “Breaking Away” as well as the USA’s success in cycling events at the ’84 Olympics, which took place in nearby Los Angeles.
Cockroft was friends with the man in charge of the cycling portion of the Olympics and one of their mutual buddies approached him and asked Cockroft over dinner, “How much would it take to produce a major cycling event?”
Bill pulled out a pen, grabbed a napkin, completed some rough calculations and delivered the tally.
Soon the napkin turned into a check and many volunteer man-hours later, a bike race was born. Mammoth was regular on the international race schedule and the Kamikaze changed bike racing as we know it as the first lift accessed downhill race in history.
The Mountain Bike Hall Fame acknowledged as much when they inducted Cockroft in 1994 along with other bicycle visionaries Ignaz and Frank Schwinn (yes, those Schwinns), Keith Bontrager, and Douglas Bradbury.
After a long hiatus Kamikaze returned last year and was a major success, connecting the sport’s genesis with its progression. The legends returned, with Brian Lopes claiming the Kamikaze legends title, and the sport’s new stars joined them for a weekend that revived an important time and place in Mountain biking history.
The event returns this September 18-21 and will now include a two-stage cyclocross race and all new cross-country course. For more info go to kamikazebikegames.com.