WT Report – Terry Larrazabal Bike Festival

As much as I hate to admit it, I actually had to look at a map to find the Philippines when Karen asked me if I was interested in attending.  Should have known it would be an interesting trip.

The 7,107 islands that make up the Philippines sprawl out over the Pacific Ocean, covering an area roughly the size of Arizona.  With a population of approximately 97 million people, you can imagine just how densely populated the urban areas can be.   Cultural diversity varies greatly island to island, and region to region.  While English is the business and education language of the Philippines, and is widely spoken and understood, locals don’t have to travel far before regional Tagalog dialects make communication in the native tongue difficult.  Like many third world countries, economic diversity is a stark reality.  The slums of Manila are set on a backdrop of new, ritzy high rises, while primitive indigenous villages are not hard to find.  Driving through the countryside, you’ll see thatched roof shacks, splashed with the color from blue tarps, set above small plots of farmland with maybe an ox, or two, dotting the rolling hills.

Eighty-five percent of Filipinos are of the Roman Catholic faith, due to nearly 500 years of Spanish rule.  Magellan landed here in 1521, and was reportedly killed shortly thereafter by a local down south for his crusade to spread Christianity.  Read more about the Philippines here on Wikipedia.

The host town of the festival, Subic Bay, was once home to one of the largest US Navy bases in the south Pacific until the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo.  After the eruption, which left feet of ash raining down on the area, and closure of the base, the Subic area spiraled into decay.  Within the last few years, there has been a huge push to reinvent Subic as a tourism destination, and possibly even the cycling destination of the Philippines eventually.  This emphasis on fostering cycling tourism is a definite sign of progress for a country which is far more likely to see purely utilitarian uses of pedal power.

For a little introduction to the Terry Larrazabal Bicycle Festival, check out my blog here. In its eighth year running, most reports indicate this TLBF was the best yet.  The festival kicked off on Thursday with presentations from Hans Ray, Brian Lopes, Jeff Jones, and Jay McNeil from Banshee Bikes.  Hans talked about his non-profit organization Wheels4Life which strives to provide bicycles for those in need of transportation, whether it be kids getting to school, or farmers carrying coffee beans to the market.  Wheels4Life is doing some great things, check out their website and support the cause.  Lopes talked about what it takes to perform on top of the world stage, and gave advice to those who strive to do their best.  Jeff Jones did a quick presentation on his design vision and theories.  Jay McNeil gave a highly informative presentation on rear suspension designs.

The next few days were filled with racing, both on road, and off, ranging from road racing, triathlon, XC, downhill, 4x, BMX, and even trials.  The road cycling scene here in the Philippines is fairly well established, but the mountain bike scene is quite green.  Comparing the off road race courses to those here in the states, and in Europe, simply isn’t fair since we’ve been continually working to refine our trails for decades.  For instance, the XC race course had about 1/8 mile of freshly cut singletrack, while the rest of the course was smooth fire road and paved road.  But, the real story here is simply the fact that this festival is even happening, and is giving the cycling scene here in the Philippines kick start.  Regardless of any scheduling issues–punctuality seemed to be much less important here than us up-tight Americans desire–everyone I talked to was simply happy to have a festival with mountain bike racing.

I’m sure by now you’re wondering whether or not you should entertain attending the TLBF.  The Philippines is an easy place for English speakers to visit, as nearly everyone speaks English, and those who don’t mostly understand the language.  Don’t come here looking for miles and miles of amazing singletrack mountain bike trails, you have to keep in mind the scene is young and there hasn’t been much time for development.  If, however, you’re looking for a good bicycle related excuse to visit the south pacific, this might just be your ticket.  The best part of coming to the Philippines has been taking in the relaxed pace of life here, and meeting some wonderful new people who helped give me a glimpse of life in the Philippines.

The shear excitement and low-key nature of the people at the TLBF was great fun, and a refreshing change from the intense and commercial nature of many of the festivals here in the US.  Overall, I think the TLBF shows a great deal of promise for the burgeoning cycling scene here in the Philippines.  For a visual tour, check out the Dirt Rag gallery for more pictures.

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