Free weekly mountain bike race series brings 'family atmosphere'
Photo Gallery | Mountain bike races at Springside Park
PITTSFIELD -- Erik Forestell was looking around for mountain biking companions a few months ago. He wasn't finding many.
To increase interest, he thought up a way to provide a free and fun atmosphere to both learn and compete in the sport. Forestell organized the 13-week Berkshire Bike Race Series, at 6 p.m. every Tuesday at Springside Park through August 26.
"What we really strived for was a family atmosphere," he said. "The idea is to have the families out here. If a racer brings his significant other, then the next week they'll bring their kids, and the kids see what's going on. They'll come out with their bike and start tearing it up, and I've seen that progression."
Last Tuesday, Springside was filled with children and adults, in their ugliest racing jerseys, riding around the two courses set up to test their skills.
Forestell worked with Jim McGrath from the Pittsfield Parks Department to secure Springside for the race series, after initially focusing on Pittsfield State Forest as the race site.
The Berkshire Bike Race Series consists of 13 different races for youth and experienced riders throughout the summer. Each race features a one-lap, two-lap or three-lap course for adults, and a three-lap kids' course for children 12 and younger.
A race win earns 10 points on the series leaderboard. The series also offers special events like an ugly jersey competition, or a log pull for riders who may not be the fastest racers, but have strengths in other areas. A special-event win is worth five points. Each rider gets one point for competing, and each point equals one ticket toward the end-of-year raffle.
The kids' course provides the riders with riding skills and bike safety training. Each week, racers have different obstacles to navigate, similar to obstacles a rider would encounter in the wilderness. Each obstacle, such as riding over a log, ducking under a bar, etc., can be avoided if a rider does not feel capable of completing the task.
Forestell said when the young riders started, many were intimidated by the obstacles. But, as the season progressed, he said he noticed strong progression in the participants.
"It's exactly what we were striving for at the beginning of the season," he said. "They've absolutely amazed me. I figured we'd be doing the kids' course all year, and we'd have the same kids having difficulty. And these kids have just excelled."
Forestell said he's seen the series grow to about 130-140 registered riders.
He credits Dave Clark from Berkshire Bike and Board, along with the Berkshire Cycling Association, for donating their time and supplies so the events can run smoothly.
Everyone -- from the people who set up the course to the people who register riders -- is a volunteer, donating his or her time for the series. Volunteers Judy Perreault and Julie Heritage donate their time because they realize the benefits programs such as the bike series provide.
"It's hard for kids to get started with biking and you need someone to show you," Perreault said. "Every week, the course has gotten harder, and the kids meet the challenge."
"Getting the kids out from sitting on the couch is a lot different from playing their video games," Heritage added. "They're out there getting fresh air, exercise and they're socializing. It's a great thing."
Forestell's goal with the series was to inspire the next generation of mountain bike riders.
Young riders like 9-year-old Jac Dahrouge of Dalton and Cole Davenport, 9, of Pittsfield, have been at nearly every race and enjoy the competition of the race series.
"It's fun, it's a great resource and it's free. We've met some great people," Jac's mother, Joyce Davenport, said.
"It's a great opportunity to get into mountain biking at a more competitive level. [Cole] is having a great time," Cole's father, Joe Davenport, said.
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