The day comes when your city has its first trails open for mountain biking at a local park. Its been a lot of work, but the dream is finally realized. But now that you have this resource, can you have events on these trails? If so, how can you? What issues or items should you be aware of?
All this and more will be answered as we discuss mountain biking events at urban parks.
âThe first thing we need to do
Before we go any further, lets define what we mean by âeventsâ. Events are structured activities that require some degree of planning that occur at a specific time or date and are organized by a set group. Additionally, events usually have a bifurcated structure: 1) organizers who do all setup and usually do not participate in the activity and 2) attendees who do little or no setup and typically only participate in the activity. A mountain bike race would qualify as an event. A scheduled group ride likely would not. Sometimes, an activity can straddle the line between being an event and not being an event. A skills class can fit many of the of the criteria mentioned above but may only have a few participants, often a dozen or fewer people.
Depending on your municipality, there might be differing criteria for an activity to become an event. Based on that criteria, the municipality might require event permits, monetary securities or bonds and other items of paperwork to be filled out. Its important to do the research of what your city may consider an event or not. Its possible something that starts out not requiring an event permit can morph over time into one requiring a permit. Knowing that ahead of time might stave off some embarrassment or negative consequences.
A good example of this is the group ride mentioned above. Letâs assume for a moment that your city has a limit on how many people can be involved with an activity without having an event permit. When the Lady Pedals ride was 16 people, it doesnât require a permit. But as it grows in popularity, it gets closer to that limit. In this case, knowing where that threshold might be ahead of time could save the originators a lot of grief, especially if they have no desire to do the paperwork that an event would require.
Because of this, there should be some basic questions that we should ask ourselves before we even flesh out what we want to do. They are:
âEven if we have the answers to these questions in mind, we still have one more item we must consider.
âActive vs. passive use strikes again
One of the concepts we touch on here a lot at City MTB is that of active vs. passive recreational use. Because we have discussed it so much, we wonât go into it again. You can read the article series on the subject here and here. Because of the legal difference between these recreational use definitions, itâs important that as a possible event originator, we understand whether the location containing the trails we plan on using is active or passive use. Why? Remember, two of tests to determine active vs passive use were built around impacts to other users and impacts to the environment by an activity. Those impact tests donât magically stop when an event is happening.
Many events require exclusive use of the trails for the safety of the participants. We wouldnât want to have a bike race at the same time the trails have everything from trail runners to birdwatchers on them. It just wouldnât be safe. Yet, one of the tests for a passive recreational use is that the activity âcan occur with other passive activities and users simultaneouslyâ. So how can we square the circle if an event requires exclusive use and passive use requires simultaneous usage? The fact is, we may not be able to. Depending on city requirements, there might be a whole host of events that we may not be able to have at a passive use park.
This brings up the next test of the two, namely our activity should âhave no greater impact than other passive usesâ. A race with only 100 participants is going to put 200 tires on the ground in a very short time. Depending on race layout, lapping and length, its possible that any given section of trail could see multiple hundreds of tire passes in just a few hours. Regardless of the relative minor impact a single rider or group of riders might have, hundreds of passes by bike tires in such a short time-frame will have much greater impact. That impact is almost certainly going to have a greater impact than other passive uses. Again, there likely no way to get around this fact. A city can (rightfully) look at the potential impacts and deny an event permit at passive use parks.
However, many cities will acknowledge that events are something special, out of the norm. Therefore, some will, under certain circumstances, allow event permits within passive use parks. Are there ways to minimize the impacts an event will have under these circumstances? The answer is a resounding âyesâ.
The biggest impacts at a bike event like a race are the start/finish, the first section of track used at the start, a start loop (if it exists), pits or nutrition areas and the vendor area. Placing these items smartly within a passive use park or on adjacent lands can minimize the overall impacts to said park. For example, if there was a school or commercial site adjacent to the park, this would allow many parts of the event to be placed here versus in passive areas of the park. Some passive parks have an area of grass or a parking lot that might be utilized for race activities, especially if there is a close by location to use for parking.
There are locations that are passive use parks that host any number of bike events, including races. Being a passive use park doesnât mean doing events at a location is impossible. But it does mean the bar to do so is higher and in a lot of cases, way higher. Its something to consider when thinking about an event. Do some research first to determine if your desired location is a passive or active use park.
If we know where the event can be held, what are some items we should put some thought into?
Event size (general) â How many people do we want at this event? For bike demo days or similar events, the attendees are spread out over the duration of the event. Also, the number of attendees will be directly proportional to interest in that event. A demo of all types of bikes from one manufacturer is going to generate more traffic than a demo of just a specific type, like mountain bikes or road bikes, from said manufacturer. For skills clinics and other teaching events, the size is typically limited to smaller number in set times. That means we will know exactly how many people we will have at any point during the event. For races, its typically the number of racers plus 10% to 20% spectators. Bike rodeos and festival events are the hardest to nail down and some guess work will be required to figure this out. Its important to know these numbers as each of these events will require a certain amount of space that will create certain impacts to the parks and trails. Given the size of an event, we might find that our ideas of an event and what can actually work on a given park are different.
Event size (races) â Races present a special issue as the size of the race, that is the number of racers, can greatly influence the amount of room a race requires. For mass start events, 100 riders are about the maximum any type urban trail system can handle. That doesnât mean that is the upper limit of possible racers, it means that waves will be required to send off more than 100 racers. For single or small number start races, like a time trial, this a non-issue as riders will leave the start line one at a time. If you have a mass start race that will be primarily raced on singletrack, you need a way to spread out the riders or they will bunch up the instant they hit the confines of the singletrack. This means a start loop to string out riders. Gravel or forest roads work the best, especially if they have a series of punchy climbs or extended climbing sections. Typically, these are about 1 mile (1.6km) in length. If they are flat without much in the way of elevation change, they would need to be longer.
Event size (vendor & pit areas) â A typical commercial pop-up tent, you know, the kind with metal legs and a fabric top is 10 âx 10â (3m x 3m). Assuming a little space between tents to allow people to move around, like 5â (1.5m) and a walking aisle between, say 20â (6m) wide, you end up with an area of 650ftÂ² (60mÂ²) meaning for a one-acre (4046mÂ²) site, you could get 60 vendors. However, all those numbers assume a perfect layout with the same size tents. Its not going to happen. A number closer to 30 or 40 is more likely. Again, depending on the event, vendor mix or race pit type the number will float. Parks have precious little space. Often fitting everything in the space we have can we hard at times. Mapping out the areas for vendors or pits in extremely important. Letâs not be the group that decides to âwing itâ when it comes to vendor space.
Biffies â As a famous book reminded us, everyone poops. You will need a place for all those people to relieve themselves. The basic estimate is that for 100 people at a 4-hour event, you will need one toilet. That is, however, a basic estimate. Factors like having alcohol venders will increase the number of toilets needed. Regardless of the final number of toilets needed for an event, likely that number will be larger than the number of available restrooms of any kind of existing park infrastructure. The solution to the toilet gap is rental portable biffies, commonly called port-a-potties. Prices for biffies can vary based on time of rental, number needed and location of the biffies. For bike races that involve longer loops, it might require placing biffies along the course. For most events though, the biffies would be located at a central location, such as near the vendor area.
Parking â The great car debate will continue for some time but what canât be debated is that parking cars for an event takes up a shocking amount of space. As our discussion here is about doing event in urban locations, parking is even tougher. As we discussed above, its possible some portion of the parkâs parking area could be taken up with event items: vendor areas, start/finish or other associated event doings. Letâs be honest here, most parking lots at urban parks are just too small for any kind of event to begin with. How can we work around this? Well, its always important to look for adjacent parking, like a school or commercial campus site. As most events will take place outside normal business hours, it might be possible to discuss using adjacent parking areas with those owners. Being a bike event, having parking within a Â¼ mile is usually good enough. If you use this option, having a drop-off system can work well. That is, convert a section of the parking into a one-way loop that allows attendees to be dropped off while someone parks the vehicle. Another option is to do park and rides. Maybe a school or some other location is a mile away. Using busses or trucks to shuttle riders is an option. Rental rates for school buses can be quite cheap, usually a flat rate plus driver time. Some races use large equipment flatbed trailers pulled by trucks in what can best be described as the weirdest hay ride ever. The best option is public transportation. Maybe the park is near a light rail, streetcar or bus stop. Encouraging riders to come in via public transportation options is something that should be encouraged if possible.
âMountain bike events at urban parks are very doable
There are dozens, if not hundreds of events, at urban parks around the country. There are some excellent examples of events to choose from. This includes some pretty spectacular races like the Urban Assault race at the James River Park in Richmond, VA or the Wirth on Wednesdays (WOW) weekly race at Theodore Wirth in Minneapolis, MN.
What mountain bike events at urban parks do require over the same event at other locations, however, is understanding the peculiar situations of the urban park environment. That means understanding if the park is passive or active use first. But it also means really understanding the size of event we desired and see if that squares with what the park can actually handle. As we discussed above, there are plenty of work-arounds, but at some point, the work-arounds just stop working. That means there will be an upper limit placed on any event just by the park and its location. By âlocationâ we mean the park and its neighbors. We might be the nicest group of people in the world with best intentions, but if our presence in a park would damage the park or upset the neighborhood, maybe another place would be better. As much as a big event at some place like Southwest Way Park in Indianapolis, IN might be fun, the size of the park and the surrounding roadways would greatly affect the park and those surrounding it. There might have to be other locations for such an event.
If you are interested in creating a mountain bike event at local urban park, do your research first. Talk to the city. Talk to other groups that do events in that park. Talk to the neighbors. Get a feel for what would actually work before doing any other planning. Then begin the planning for the event. Because mountain biking events can, and do, work just fine within urban parks.
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