Haliburton Forest hosts first gravel race
By Darren Lum
Published Aug. 6, 2019
This September there will be a series of firsts at the Haliburton Forest Wild Life Reserve.
From the Forest’s first ever gravel bike race, dubbed the 8 Hours of Hurt’n in Haliburton, to its first-time organizer, Marc Sinclair.
Sinclair was inspired while vacationing at the Forest, where he envisioned a gravel race at the 100,000-acre property with 100 lakes.
“There has to be something here. There has to be a race here. It was just too good for the community to not know about it so I think that really sparked my interest,” he said. The property has on-site accommodation, food, and gated access to the road, limiting vehicular traffic.
The event, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 14, offers a unique gravel race experience unlike anything in Ontario. “You’re not going to be riding on public paved roads or through farming communities like you would expect in a typical gravel race. This is going to be in the middle of the forest. You’re going to be riding past beautiful lakes and vistas, some steep gravel climbs, some blind back corners. It’s going to be a fun event in that regard ... it’s an opportunity for family, friends and spouses to all ride together in an environment that typically would not in a standard gravel race,” he said.
There are few if any other relays, as far as gravel races go in Ontario, he said.
The race includes a 27-kilometre course loop and is held at the start of the cyclocross season, and the end of the seasons for road and mountain biking in Ontario. Racers are often looking to extend their season, he said.
One of the objectives of the race is to complete as many laps in eight hours, whether as a solo rider, or in relay teams of two (duo category) or three (trio category).
Every competitor will race the course, but their experiences will be different depending on which category they select. For solo riders, it’s about a personal challenge; for two- and three-person teams, it’s a relay race, which provides for an adventure, team or family experience.
Sinclair, who is a passionate cyclist, is drawing upon his more than 10 years of cycle racing across many cycling disciplines and the support of the community to make this race a success.
“I’ve become quite calibrated to what is appropriate and what is not and, again, the relay races are so good for that ... [if] you need to take a break because you’re getting frustrated you can and then you can pick up the race when you want or you could tag in your buddy so he can share in the pain. I think it’s such a flexible format for that,” he said.
The course route includes enough features to appeal to a broad spectrum of competitors with varying levels of cycling abilities.
“Cyclists often look for challenges so the course has 330 metres of elevation, which is not insignificant and not insurmountable either. Being 27 kilometres, it’s enough to challenge those people who maybe go for a couple of rides of the year,” he said.
Sinclair said there is reward that comes from completing a physical challenge, specifically referring to the solo riders.
“It’s painful while you’re doing it and you question yourself several times, but the minute it’s done you have this sense of relief and accomplishment,” he said.
Sinclair said there’s potential for this to be an annual event. The support from the Forest and the area businesses have been great so far, he said. It’s made him aware of how continued annual support would give a “community feel to this race and make it feel like a festival or something people will attend not only to race, but to experience what the local community has to offer as well.”
The first-time organizer said Haliburton Forest’s Tegan Legge welcomed the idea right away.
Legge said this race will bring people not only to the Forest, but also to the Highlands.
“We love races. We love people coming out and seeing our property and enjoying the trails. It’s seems like an easy format of a race, but really exciting and a cool event. It’s partly getting people here and showing them what we’re about,” she said.
“It’s not what it just means for Haliburton Forest, but what it means for the community,” she said.
Although there is on-site accommodation, some racers will need accommodations elsewhere.
Legge said before Sinclair presented his plans, she didn’t know much about gravel riding.
That said, she adds, the 400 kilometres of riding includes the gravel roads and were considered easy trails for mountain bikers. Increased social media posts about trail running has garnered public interest in the Forest, which is something Legge believes could happen with gravel riding.
Sinclair said mountain bikers are already familiar with Haliburton Forest trails, but this event will help to raise the profile among those who want to ride gravel roads.
There are now bicycles designed specifically for gravel riding. A gravel bike is a hybrid of sorts, a cross between a road, cyclocross and mountain bike. It looks like a road bike with its combined brake-shifter levers (known as brifters) curled handlebars that are wider and sometimes flared at the bottom bar ends for greater stability, but has a frame that allows for powerful hydraulic, disc brakes, greater clearances for lugged tires (some up to 40 mm wide) similar in width to what mountain bikes would use. Endurance is an element of gravel riding so instead of tight geometry like a cyclocross bike, it has a more relaxed setup for comfort to cover greater distances instead of cyclocross races, which typically only last a little more than an hour. The gearing is also set up for riding up and down steeper grades on off-road in loose and on uneven surfaces.
The cost for registration, which includes male, female and mixed categories, is $79 for solo, $139 for duo and $199 for trio. Sinclair said the course is suitable for gravel, cyclocross and mountain bikes.
As traffic will not be restricted from the course, racers are being asked to share the road with other users and abide by the Ontario Highway Traffic Act regulations.
Users are also being asked to use a certified helmet and to not use ear buds or headphones while on course. Other suggestions include using tires measuring 32 mm wide or greater.
The course is a mix of hard packed and loose gravel. No motorized bicycles are permitted. The course will have three aid stations (snacks, small assortment of tubes and tools) located evenly on the course.
Accommodations are available on site, whether group camping or in one of the Forest’s cabins.
There is no electricity, but washrooms and showers are available for campers.
See www.valleyworks.ca for more details.
Sinclair said there is an aspect of gravel riding that sets it apart from other racing disciplines.
The philosophy of gravel cycling is it’s “more about the adventure than the race.”
“More about the ride and riding with your friends and family versus a very competitive environment,” he said.