There is something special about racing.
Whether it’s the pre-race jitters, the nervous chatter, or the crisp morning air; the half-way point burning thighs, the “I have HOW MUCH farther to go?” decision point, or the feeling of personal achievement and fulfillment at the finish line; there’s something to love about race day for everyone.
our favorite races are the ones that feel more like being in a big group ride than a competition. we love the feeling of solidarity created by a mob of riders charging the same trail, pushing through their physical and mental boundaries together, then commemorating the experience with a beer in hand at the finish line.
These are the races that we can’t get enough of—the ones we come back to year after year.
The Dakota Five-0 is 50 miles of single track, two track, and forest service roads that form a loop through the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota. South Dakota is rarely associated with mountain biking, but the Black Hills on its western border should be. The low lying, rolling mountains paired with its extensive network of trail make this place a XC dream. The Five-0 embodies the frontier, cowboy mentality of the place: cow-trail turned world-class singletrack linking up 50 miles of pristine pine forest. When riding here you rarely see another person on the trail.
What I love about the Five-0 is that it’s in that sweet spot between Weekend Warrior and Avid Rider. What I mean is that you can’t hop off the couch and race it (or at least, those who try look pretty crummy at the end), but you don’t have to necessarily train for it. If you ride 3-4 days a week during the summer you should finish feeling good!
Riders come from all over the U.S. to make the Five-0 their first ‘long’ race. I can see why. For one thing, it’s the best marked course I’ve ever been on. Seriously, it’d be hard to get lost. The trail is also mostly cleanable (totally cleanable for some!), with hike-a-bike being limited to a section of Cardiac Climb, the 200 feet of Sand Climb, and parts of Ball Park. What’s more, there are 5 aid stations on course. Yep, 5. You can find aid every 10 miles, making it an ultra safe race. Not only are the aid stations numerous, but also cool places to hang out. The final aid station, the Bacon Station, serves up beer, bacon, and tunes in the middle of the forest.
On even years the course is raced clockwise, while on odd years it’s raced counter-clockwise. While at this point in time the race includes a bit of road and two-track, you can bet that in the next few years it will have transitioned into 100% singletrack.
The party doesn’t stop at the finish line. After the race there is local music, brews from Crow Peak Brewery, and burritos from Barbacoas—all free for racers and volunteers. The entire Five-0 week is a party, actually. From scavenger hunts to pub crawls to slow bike races, the Five-0 is a huge event for Spearfish.
Want to sign up? Mark your calendar for April 1st, 7 a.m. MT. The race is limited to 500 riders, and it sells out in 15 minutes.
Location: Spearfish, SD. Black Hills National Forest
Length: 50 miles
Date: September 1
Register: on BikeReg on April 1st at 7 a.m. MT
Where to Stay: the party is in Spearfish City Campground, located a half-mile from the race start and finish. For motel lodging there are all the usual suspects, such as the Days Inn. Mom & Pop places include Bell’s Motor Lodge Motel, located on Main Street a mile from race start; Canyon Gateway Motel located in the base of Spearfish Canyon, and Crow Peak Lodge. The Black Hills National Forest allows camping, with a 14-day stay limit. There are tons of places to park a van along Tinton Road and Higgins Gulch—both of which access parts of the Five-0 trail. For a campfire you’ll have to camp in Spearfish Canyon at Timon, Rod and Gun, or Hanna campground.
Dinner: For a delicious burger and a beer or an Indian curry, head to Killian’s. It has something for every palate and every budget. It’s located at the base of Tinton trail, and makes for a great stop after pre-riding the course. Other local favs include the classy Red Water Kitchen, Fuji San for the best Japanese food and sushi you’ve ever had in the Midwest, Guadalajara for a big plate of Mexican food, and Roma’s for authentic Italian and a great view for a sunset.
Lunch: Barbacoas serves up the tastiest, freshest wraps in town, and also caters the Five-0. Antuñez is a stellar spot for lunch. It has amazing Mexican food, and the chef will likely come and ask how your meal was. I recommend the hearts of palm tacos! Other local staples include Common Grounds and the Green Bean. They whip up a mean panini and latte!
Breakfast: This is going to sound silly, but hear me out. The best coffee and breakfast food is a part of our Fresh Start by Walmart. Soul Food makes everything from scratch, and my friend Grady personally roasts the coffee. Go try some of Grady’s Blend!
Beer: Crow Peak Brewery has been a local spot for years. They are always creating new and interesting beers to try, and from their spacious wooden deck you can catch the sun setting over Crow Peak. They cater tons of local events, including the Five-0. Don’t leave Spearfish without checking it out! Our newest brewery, Spearfish Brewing, is also great. With an awesome Main Street location and great brews, it’s a great place to end a ride. Finally, Lookout Lounge is a nice place to drink a beer after riding on our local gem, Lookout Mountain. They don’t do any brewing themselves, but they have great beers on tap and offer killer drink specials. On Monday they offer 1/2 off pints of craft beer. Yep, 1/2 off.
Tatanka MTB Race
The Tatanka is one hell of a race. Named after the Native American word for buffalo, this race is as hardy as the animal itself. It will challenge you. Each of it’s three lengths of race is comprised of almost 100% of the sickest Black Hills singletrack.
The Sprint riders will enjoy Loop C, with its 13 miles of hand-tooled singletrack that offers incredible views of Bear Butte. Even though the mileage is low, the terrain is techy. Although the Sprint was intended for kids and new riders, shredders of all levels will appreciate the Centennial Trail’s mix of flow, tech, and elevation. There is not an aid station on this loop, and it is surprisingly challenging. Make sure you’re prepared!
The Marathon riders are challenged to finish Loop B and Loop C, which combine to make for a tough 41 miles. These racers first head out on Loop B, which starts out steep. The first few miles of Vanocker Canyon are painful. Although this short portion of the riding is on the road, in 5 miles it climbs over 1,000 ft. From there it is steep and rocky singletrack all the way to the checkpoint at mile 13. From there it’s almost all downhill to Sturgis, with racers having conquered about 5,500 feet of elevation. From there racers will set off for Loop C. Trust us, it’s harder than you’re expecting.
The Epic racers will experience a huge day in the saddle. They will ride about 90 miles of tough singletrack and all three loops, including Loop A, Loop B, and Loop C. The first loop they climb is “Poppa Bear,” or Loop A. It could be a race all on it’s own, with 49 miles and 8,500 feet of elevation. After getting back to Sturgis these riders are then sent back out to ride Loop B and Loop C. At the end of the day they’ll have climbed ~14,500 feet! In the 90 total miles racers have 5 opportunities for aid. There are two aid stations on Loop A and one mid-way through Loop B. Because of the courses “clover-leaf” shape racers will be coming back to the race start two times, where they will not only receive all the usual aid-station suspects, but also a big mister machine! Ah, nothing like a face full of mist. If you plan on pre-riding A Loop, be aware that it does cross private property. Give your thanks by being respectful.
As if this race needed to be any more challenging, it is made more so by the weather. South Dakota weather is famously unpredictable, yet it seems like every year the Tatanka takes place on the hottest day of the summer. In 2018 the temps hit 97 degrees. Aid stations average about 18 miles apart, and therefore the barest of bare minimum is two bottles. Most riders take three or four. Last year I used two bottles for drinking water and one for cooling my head. Race smart!
Center photo by local shredder, professional photographer, and certified badass, Laura Heisinger.
Important Note: As of 2018, the Tatanka is no longer a “point-to-point” race. Now it is a “clover-leaf” race, with each loop representing one of the three lengths of race. I.e., C loop = short distance, B+A loop = medium distance, C+B+A = long distance.
Location: Sturgis, SD. Black Hills National Forest
Name: Sprint | Marathon | Epic
Length: 13 miles | 41 miles | 90 miles
Date: June 8th
Register: on BikeReg
Local Bike Shop: Xtreme Dakota Bicycles
Where to Stay: Days End Campground is the official campground of the race, and sure to be a good time. Alkali Creek is also a great place to camp, but is a little further from the race start. However, it is conveniently located right off of Loop C and Loop B. This is a great place to stay if you are going to pre-ride the course. It has outhouses, RV hook-ups, and a beautiful stream to dip your feet in. Not into paying? Sturgis is on the edge of the National Forest, and there are hundreds of miles of old forest service roads to park a van on. One of the best things about South Dakota is if you need to get away from the crowds, solitude is always just up the road a ways. Just so you know, campfires are restricted to fire rings in the Black Hills National Forest year round. Cook stoves are usually okay, depending on how hot and dry the year has been. You can check here to find out. Not into roughing it? You can stay at the Super 8, Best Western, the Baymont, or the Days Inn.
Where to Eat: If you’re at all interested in Sturgis’s Motorcycle Rally culture, the local pubs are a cool way to get to know a little more about it. If a beer and some wings are what you’re after, The Knuckle Saloon, One Eyed Jack's Saloon, and the Loud American Roadhouse are a good place to start. For something old fashioned, try out Jambonz Grill & Pub. If you’re looking for something different, try driving 20 minutes to Spearfish for Japanese or Italian. Still looking for something else? Rapid City is the largest city in the surrounding area, and has restaurants for every palate. And some impressive singletrack, as well!
Where to Park: This race stops and starts downtown, so you’ll want to leave your vehicle at the hotel parking lot. Sturgis is a small town, and it’s unlikely you’ll have to ride far.
Parked too far away? There is plenty of parking at Lynn’s Dakota Mart, located a block away from the race start. Don’t forget to be a patron! (Side Note: They have clean bathrooms, too)
When: July 28 Where: Rapid City, SD
When: September 15 Where: Sundance, WY
The 28-Below is a really special event. For one blissful day the snow mobile community opens up its premier trails for fatbikers. The 30 mile race (50k) begins at a ghost-town-turned-resort called Savoy, located in Spearfish Canyon. Racers head off on groomed trails that follow Spearfish Creek. Steep limestone walls dwarf the racers as they climb through pine forested hills, eventually topping out at the high-point in the Northern Hills: Cement Ridge. Here, racers can take a shot of whiskey and take in the stellar views while they catch their breath. From here, it’s 10 miles downhill to the finish line.
Conditions can vary wildly for this event, which is all part of the fun. Since it’s in March in South Dakota, pretty much anything can happen. It can be 70 degrees and sunny, 40 degrees and raining, or, like last year, it can be 25 degrees and sunny, with hardpacked trail and a tailwind. You really never know what you’re going to get into.
At the finish line there’s free beer waiting for you as you cheer the other racers across the finish line. It’s an intimate event, with about 100 riders entering.
The rest of the day is spent finishing off the kegs and eating spaghetti, catered by the awesome staff at the Latchstring Inn.
Photography by @LegendaryRandyEricksenFilms Randy Ericksen is a professional photographer and cinematographer located in Spearfish, SD. Randy puts on his mittens and photographs the 28-Below every year.
Location: Spearfish Canyon, SD. Black Hills National Forest
Length: 30 miles
Date: March 16, 2019
Register: on BikeReg October 31 2018, 7:00 a.m. MT. — March 10, 2019 at 11:59 PM MT
Where to Stay: Most riders stay at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge at the top of Spearfish Canyon, located at the race start and finish. It is a really nice hotel with hot tubs, big rooms, and stellar views. If it’s out of your budget, consider lodging in Spearfish. The Black Hills National Forest allows camping, with a 14-day stay limit. There are tons of places to park a van along Tinton Road and Higgins Gulch, just outside of Spearfish. Hanna campground is accessible year round.
Where to Eat: The Latchstring has everything from Rainbow Trout to Caprese, and is across the highway from the race start. For a more affordable meal, keep driving another 10 miles up the canyon to Cheyenne Crossing. There are plenty of other places to eat in Spearfish, twenty minutes down Spearfish Canyon.
Location: Deadwood, SD. Black Hills National Forest
Length: 24 miles | 15 miles
Date: February 2, 5:00 p.m. MT
Register: on BikeReg October 6 at 12:01 a.m. MT —January 16
Where to Stay: Most riders stay at the Deadwood Mountain Grand. They are the event sponsor and offer discounted rooms. Other lodging is available in Deadwood, as well. If Deadwood is out of your budget, consider lodging in Spearfish.
About the Course: Ever raced a bike at night? One thing we love about this race is its start time! Another thing we like? The after party! It’s a short race, and by 7 p.m. you’ll likely be listening to music and having a cocktail at the Deadwood Mountain Grand.
The course takes place primarily on the historic, rail-to-trail Mickelson. It finishes up on some steep, Lead, SD singletrack with a fast finish back into Deadwood.
The Gold Rush Gravel Grinder is a great way to start out your summer of racing. The three different length options are all challenging—in my opinion there isn’t really a “beginner” course (no matter what race directors Kristi and Perry Jewett tell you!), and instead there is hard, harder, and stupid hard.
Each length of race offers some of the most beautiful gravel riding I’ve ever seen. In June (during the race), the forests and prairie that these courses wind through are covered in blooming purple lupine and bright green aspen and birch. It will likely be a breezy 70 degrees F and sunny (except for that one time it was 95 degrees F and miserable—this is SD, after all).
Black Hills gravel is special in that there is rarely any traffic. I didn’t see a single car during the 2018’s Gold Rush expect on the 20 miles of highway through Spearfish Canyon at the end of the race. Of course, bombing down the iconic Spearfish Canyon is an experience well worth sharing the road.
The Gold Dust is 70 miles and 4500 feet of climbing. You’ll grind your way along Sand Creek—a beautiful gulch where you might just run into a cowboy moving cattle from one parcel of land to another. From there you’ll hop onto Moskee Rd 807 for a few miles before turning onto Grand Canyon 875. If you aren’t paying attention you’ll accidently end up on the Gold Rush course. Yikes! The highpoint of this race is Cement Ridge, an old brick fire lookout. The grind up to it is tough (think steep and rocky). However, topping out is worth the effort—at about 6,000 feet it has the best view around. After the checkpoint at Cement Ridge it’s almost downhill from there. You’ll pass through Savoy and then rip down the last 20 miles through Spearfish Canyon.
The Gold Rush is the Gold Dust’s beefier cousin. At 110 miles and over 7,000 feet of climbing it’ll be a long day in the saddle. The course is very similar to the Gold Dust, however these racers will stay on Grand Canyon (instead of turning onto Rattle Snake) all the way to Trailshead, where they will find their drop bag and cell reception.
The Motherlode is 210 miles and 13,000 feet of climbing, with almost all of the course on gravel. Often, these riders don’t finish the course until well after the party at the race start/finish point has packed up and left. Those that do finish are rewarded with the knowledge that they finished one of the burliest ultra-endurance races around. Riders have from 5:00 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. to finish the race—hats off to the race directors!—and a lot of riders use the whole time limit.
Location: Spearfish, SD. Black Hills National Forest
Length: 70 miles | 110 miles | 210 miles
Date: June 8th
Register: on BikeReg on December 1st 7:00 a.m. MT — June 1st 11:59 p.m. MT
Where to Stay: Like the Dakota Five-0, the party for the Gold Dust Gravel Grinder is in Spearfish City Campground, located a half-mile from the race start and finish. For motel lodging there are all the usual suspects, such as the Days Inn. Mom & Pop places include Bell’s Motor Lodge Motel, located on Main Street a mile from race start; Canyon Gateway Motel located in the base of Spearfish Canyon, and Crow Peak Lodge. The Black Hills National Forest allows camping, with a 14-day stay limit. There are tons of places to park a van along Tinton Road and Higgins Gulch. For a campfire you’ll have to camp in Spearfish Canyon at Timon, Rod and Gun, or Hanna campground. However, the Wyoming side of the BHNF (a 30 minute drive from Spearfish) allows campfires outside of campgrounds for most of the year. To find out, click here. Always remember to break down your pit and Leave No Trace!
Dinner: For the best lamb burger you’re likely to have and a cold craft beer, head over to Killian’s. This place has something for every palate and every budget. Their best dishes are their unique twists on classic favorites like the Indian Curry, but no matter what you order there, you can do no wrong. Other local favs include the classy Red Water Kitchen and Fuji San for the best Japanese food and sushi you’ve ever had in the Midwest. Guadalajara is great for a big plate of Mexican food, and Roma’s has authentic Italian and a stellar view for a sunset.
Lunch: Barbacoas serves up the tastiest, freshest wraps in town, and also caters many biking events. Antuñez is an awesome spot for lunch, too. It has amazing Mexican food, and the chef will likely come and ask how your meal was. I recommend the hearts of palm tacos! Other local staples include Common Grounds and the Green Bean. They whip up a mean panini or latte!
Breakfast: This is going to sound silly, but hear me out. The best coffee and breakfast food is in our Fresh Start by Walmart. Soul Food makes everything from scratch, and my friend Grady personally roasts the coffee beans. Go try some of Grady’s Blend! Spearfish has also just opened up a little crepe shop downtown. The food is amazing!
Beer: Crow Peak Brewery has been a local spot for years. They are always creating new and interesting beers to try, and from their spacious wooden deck you can catch the sun setting over Crow Peak. They cater tons of local events, including the Gravel Grinder. Don’t leave Spearfish without checking it out! Our newest brewery, Spearfish Brewing, is also great. With an awesome Main Street location and tasty brews, it’s a great place to end a ride. Finally, Lookout Lounge is a nice place to drink a beer after riding on our local gem, Lookout Mountain. They don’t do any brewing themselves, but they have great beers on tap and offer killer drink specials. On Monday they offer 1/2 off pints of craft beer. Yep, 1/2 off.
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