Rolling slowly on my bike I pass a goat dressed like Superman. As I come to a stop and position myself — for what I’ve learned will be an awesome day of riding mountain bike — a friend walks up wearing a green Speedo and a cape. He high-fives me so hard it rattles my toenails. Some of the country’s fastest mountain bikers are already lined up. They take notice, chuckle and quickly refocus on the task at hand.
I need to focus, too, but I spot Smokey Bear also high-fiving a large crowd of people, including my wife. Come to think of it, I’m currently just feet from where I proposed to her years ago. A deep breath of cool morning air and it’s all feeling familiar again. A few more friendly faces arrive.
The energy of everyone is buzzing, and before too long, the mastermind behind the reason we’ve all found ourselves here, Perry Jewett, yells “Pedal Power.” On a four-wheeler with his daughter holding on to him tightly, he hits the throttle and leads 700 cyclists, including myself, up and out of the Spearfish City Park and into the beautiful Black Hills.
Is this a dream? Actually, it’s a dream come true for mountain bikers.
Every year during Labor Day weekend hundreds of cyclists make the voyage to Spearfish, a town that’s become an emerging mountain bike mecca. What started as a small race that linked various slices of trails built just outside of town has grown to become a week of festivities leading up to the main event, the Dakota Five-O mountain bike race.
Now in its 18th year, this 50-mile race sells out 700 entries in just hours and has become so popular that the U.S. Forest Service has made the race course an official trail – FS Trail 55 | Tinton Trail – that is available to ride year-round.
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One trip to the Five-O and you’ll realize quickly what makes this event so special. Perry and Kristi Jewett along with the Ridge Riders of the Black Hills have built the Five-O in a grass roots way that feels as much like a bicycle party with good friends as it does a bike race.
The host town of Spearfish has a setup uniquely inviting in that most riders camp at the City Campground, park their cars for the entirety of their stay and commute around town by bicycle, fully immersing themselves in the Five-O’s festive vibes. Bumping into fellow cyclists around town, sharing a cold beer at a local pub and spending nights swapping riding stories around a campfire makes you feel like you’ve pedaled right into a cycling paradise.
But don’t let the relaxed atmosphere totally fool you. The Five-O attracts everyone from weekend warriors to professional racers. With cash payouts for top riders and thousands of dollars in prizes on the line, the competition can get hot in the woods.
Once in the forest, you quickly realize why the Five-O’s trails are some of the most sought-after slices of single track around. The hard efforts of the trail volunteers are ever-present.
While rolling through this two-wheel-heaven you’ll also find some of the best aid stations any race offers. Food, supplies and the Five-O original Bacon Station are sprinkled throughout the course. There’s no shortage of trailside cheering that’ll leave you smiling all the way to the finish line back in town where cold beer, live music and 700 of your cycling friends are waiting to high-five, swap stories, keep the good times rolling and make plans for next year’s Dakota Five-O.