University City

Park's winter biking series gains popularity

Organizers say Renaissance Park's Winter Short Track Series, which combines elements of trail riding and a road criterium, is catching on with local cyclists, especially with two large groups sometimes underrepresented at mountain biking events: women and youth.

Generally speaking, the number of women participating in this year's Winter Short Track Series has doubled from last year, said CSC president Neal Boyd. He added that the number of youth has increased by about 50 percent.

"It's just really good to promote that kids can be safe and women can come out and give it a try," Boyd said.

Now in its seventh season, the series' previous record for participants in any race was 237. This year, the series has approached 300 cyclists, with the most notable bump coming in the women's Beginner, Sport and Expert divisions.

Traditional mountain bike races are stretched over long courses.However, the Winter Short Track Series takes place on a shortened portion of Renaissance's long course, eight-tenths of a mile long. About half that distance runs through the park's parking lot, which increases the race's speed and gives riders the sensation of competing in a city-street style criterium.

The race is based on how many laps a cyclist can complete in a designated time frame. The Beginner women's division is allotted 30 minutes. The Junior divisions, for riders 18 and younger, get 25 minutes.

The course is fan-friendly. Riders are at arm's length and spectators can take a short walk to any point of the course and see their favorite riders.

"It's a great place to learn how to bike," said CSC marketing director Erica Dillon, who also competes. "The trails are wide and not too technical."

Dillon is also a member of the Charlotte-based Dirt Divas, a women's mountain biking club and advocacy group that has 66 members. Led by president Patty Smith, the Divas volunteer at the Winter Short Track Series, helping with registration and timing, but they also compete as riders.

CSC, the Dirt Divas and other clubs such as the Tarheel Trailblazers have promoted the series through Internet forums and social media. This season, each of the three women's divisions regularly has a field of 10 to 15 cyclists. The Junior races have drawn more than 30 riders this year. In addition to the youth races, the series also offers a free kids' race (one lap around the course) for those younger than 8.

Benji Hund, 13, has competed in the series for the past three years with his father Ben, who rides in the one of the men's beginner divisions.

"I'm the youngest in my age group," Benji said. "So it's not really easy for me. But ... it's a great way to relax ... as long as you don't wreck."

Next month, CSC introduces the Charlotte Youth Cycling League, a four-race series that will be held at Davidson's Fisher Farm Park. Today is the final race for the Winter Short Track Series. Registration open at 9 a.m. Racing starts at 10 a.m.

For more information, visit www.charlottesportscycling.com or www.charlottemtnbike.com.

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