by Jon Hornbeck
Big Bear is becoming quite the destination place for the cycling community whether your a top World Tour professional or just the weekend warrior looking to get some good riding in. Big Bear has been a part of the Tour of California for a number of years and just recently hosted the time trial stage this past year. The city also has become a popular area to stay for altitude training for top cyclists. Phil Gaimon enjoyed it so much he even bought a cabin up in Big Bear.
A couple years back I got my first experience at the riding available in Big Bear while I was up there getting ready for Tour of Utah. Living in Southern California it is a relatively close destination to go for an altitude stint. It just so happen that during my time up there the Tour de Big Bear was going on as well. I was able to join the fun and get in a good day of training before heading out to the races. Since then I haven’t been able to go back due to conflicts with racing but now that those days are done I sure wasn’t going to miss this chance to get up there for another adventure.
Oh and what an adventure it turned into. The week leading into the Tour de Big Bear turned into a busy one as I was on the east coast with Cannondale for their CX team camp. That wrapped up Friday with my flight from New York to LA arriving at 9pm Friday night. Not ideal but enough time to get up the mountain in time for the 7am start of the Tour de Big Bear. Well a few hiccups with missed flights had me leaving New York at 9:30pm and finally landing in LA at 1am. Once getting my bags and car I was out of the airport and heading up the mountain to roll into Big Bear at around 4am. With nobody out this late around town I must’ve stood out as I was quickly pulled over by one of the local sheriffs. Not ideal but once he realized I wasn’t some drunk driver and actually here to cover the event which started in three hours he let me go on my way.
A couple hours of sleep and I was ready for the Tour de Big Bear HC category. The HC category is a new feature which Big Bear has recently added to really up the challenge for 200 brave cyclists who don’t believe the standard century is hard enough. With over 12,000 feet of climbing at altitude and multiple K.O.M.’s it offers quite the long day in the saddle. It’s events such as these which are needed as recently so many local races have been removed from the calendar that rides like these are much appreciated. The Tour de Big Bear isn’t just about the long hard fought miles but offer up many other distance options as well with the 25, 50, 70, 107 and 125 mile options. There’s no surprise that with the route options and hospitality on hand that 2,000 plus riders show up to take on the challenge of their choosing.
The long route started by taking us around the lake which was a good way to open the legs up and have some friendly chats with other riders and friends which showed up. Former pro’s Phil Gaimon and Freddy Rodriguez were on hand with also current pro Alison Tetrik. The first 40 miles or so were rather mellow until we hit the first climb up to Onyx summit where Phil had to up the pace to keep his K.O.M. challenge going. After slipping off the pace a bit I decided it was time to go my own pace with a group where we could enjoy ourselves for the next five hours.
The next few hours were spent going up and coming down many times through the thin air while loading up on bottles and food from the stops and support cars we had. Luckily being up front we had a Sram neutral car and volunteers in vehicles that were handing us bottles and food when needed. Pretty top notch in my book. During the route there were a few out and backs with the climbs which really put into perspective how many riders were up taking part in the Tour de Big Bear as we would see them all on our way back.With very little car traffic it was quite the scene to see all of the riders out on the roads.
Once coming back into the village to finish our 125 mile trek we were greeted with our names being called out over the microphone and medals being handed to us. With most of the riders from the shorter distances finished up already the post ride expo was jam packed with people telling stories and speaking of their day out on the bike while having some recovery beers. If you participated in the HC category you were treated to your own sectioned off area with plenty of food and drinks. Myself, Phil and Alison all chatted about the day we had and their rides as Phil took home the men’s K.O.M. and Alison took the honors in the Q.O.M. competition.
Catching up with Alison after the ride she had to say; “As a cyclist, I have become very familiar with Big Bear. The town always opens its doors to iconic cycling events such as the Amgen Tour of California, Redlands Bicycle Classic, and the Tour de Big Bear. The Tour de Big Bear really showcases a beautiful part of California and offers routes, challenges, food, and fun for all types of cyclists. I opted for the grueling HC Fondo, which covered over 125 miles and 11,500 feet of climbing. But at the finish line, we all were able to enjoy the beer, food, and festival as we relived our glory and our pain along the way. The best thing about the Tour de Big Bear is it isn’t just about one event, it is about a full week of activities on the bike and in the community to enjoy the Southern California mountains in the summer. Even the day after the main ride, I enjoyed a lap around the lake with hundreds of my new friends. For some reason though, they all were riding much faster than I was.”
The Tour de Big Bear is not just a one day event though as they have many different cycling events spread out over the days. The day before the event on Friday they have a Poker ride, road bicycle concours, Big Bear cycling expo and the New Belgium beer garden. Saturday is the Tour de Big Bear with all of the routes, Big Bear cycling expo, raffle and beer garden. Sunday you can take part in the recover ride and big bear time trial if you didn’t get enough suffering the day before. Now I just need to convince them to have a Gravel event as well as I’m sure that would be epic with the riding they have to offer up there!