Manzanita Adventure Sports team members Ken Shepherd and Brian Gobel said the lure of mountain biking is not always the thrill of victory.
"We are both very competitive, but it's the camaraderie and the friendships that come with each race that we enjoy," Gobel said. "I made so many new friends last year."
"Most everyone in the sport is super friendly and although racing is one-on-one, we encourage and help one another," Shepherd agreed.
An example of the fellowship that attracted the pair to the sport occurred Saturday when Shepherd escorted fellow riders, some from the Valley, around the course to be used for the April 2 Payson Pounder race.
"It's pre-riding, racers ride the course the weekend before to familiarize themselves with it," Shepherd said. "It's kind of the way we help each other out."
Although Gobel won't be racing in the Payson Pounder --e's opted to go canoeing instead -- Shepherd will race to continue his pursuit of a Mountain Bike Association of Arizona state championship title in the 45-49-years Sport division.
Shepherd enters the race fresh off a win at the Gardner Grind race March 12 in southern Arizona. The race was the fourth in the MBAA series of eight state championship events.
The Payson competition will be the fifth in the state series that culminates May 21 in Flagstaff.
After the first three races in the series, Shepherd was in eighth place in the MBAA division standings. The points for his win at Gardner Grind have not been added to the standings. When MBAA officials do so, he should move up significantly in the standings.
Shepherd had planned to race in all seven of the state series, but missed an early season event when he mistakenly thought it had been rained out.
His plans after the Payson event are to compete in the two remaining MBAA state races
Shepherd began mountain bike racing about 10 years ago after being encouraged to by local cycling guru Dan Basinski.
"Before that, I was a ‘roadie,' I rode the road for years down near Tucson," he said. "Mountain biking is more challenging."
Gobel is a relative newcomer to the sport having raced only since 2003 when he competed in just one MBAA event.
In 2004, he won the MBAA 40-49-years Sport division state championship. At the beginning of this season, he hooked up with Shepherd on the Manzanita Adventure team and now competes in 50-54-years Sport division.
His greatest accomplishment on the racing scene occurred March 18 to 20 at the first national championship mountain bike race held in Arizona. Sponsored by the National Off Road Bicycle Association, the event was the second in the 2005 Shimano series.
About 1,500 racers representing several countries, including Canada and Japan, competed in the race at McDowell Mountain park. There, Gobel won his age division championship in what he called the most challenging race he has participated in.
"Because it was a three-stage race, it was tough," he said.
On the first day, Gobel captured the crown in the time trials. The second day, he won the short track race and the third he claimed the title in cross country. His trio of wins and overall championship drew praise from his cycling teammate.
"He's a natural," Shepherd said. "He's only been racing a few years and he goes out and wins a national race."
Gobel calls his experiences at the NORBA competition ones he'll never forget.
"I was there rubbing elbows with Olympians and the best racers from around the world," he said. "It was unbelievable."
Both Shepherd and Gobel say they are grateful to Manzanita Adventure Sports and owner Devin Wala for his support.
"He does everything he can to assist us," Shepherd said. "And I imagine he's be out there helping out at the Payson Pounder."
Gearing up for the Pounder
Shepherd and Basinski spent several days laying out the track for the Payson Pounder which will be held on Walnut Flat near Shoofly ruins.
A portion of the loop course is over the old Payson Mayor's Cup route northwest of Star Valley.
According to Basinski, the route is challenging.
"It's very rocky and will beat the heck out of the riders," he said. "It tests the riders and the bikes."
To use the course, the MBAA received a recreation permit from the Forest Service. Basinski is asking outdoor enthusiasts to limit their use of the trails in that area this weekend so as not to interfere with the competition.
During the race, Basinski will serve as site director and as a NORBA competition official.
He said he hopes the race doesn't suffer the same fate it did last spring when it had to be canceled due to inclement weather.
"With all the rain, we were concerned about rider safety and damaging the environment," Basinski said.
The Pounder is expected to attract about 400 cyclists from around the state. The first race begins at 8:45 a.m.
For questions or additional information, call (928) 978-2365.
Round 'em up, head 'em out
Next on the Rim country cycling calendar is the Payson Stampede 24-hour mountain bike race, June 18 and 19.
Organizers predict more than 400 riders, including about 10 Payson racers, will enter the event.
Because the Payson Stampede is a first-ever competition, he's not sure how many racers it will draw.
"It has good sponsors (Mazatzal Casino and Tucson Racing) so it should do well," Basinski said. "Plans are for it to be a total festival with a post-race party, pasta feed and other events."
The race begins at noon, June 18 at the Payson Event Center and wraps up 24 hours later at the original starting line.
According to Basinski, the 10-mile loop course begins on the Event Center Trail and traverses Peach Orchard Springs, Golden Wonder Mine, along Main Street and McLane Road.
The object of the race, Basinski said, is to determine which riders can cover the most loops in the 24-hour period.
Tucson Racing officials are billing the event as "a test of physical and mental endurance"and "a carnival, festival, a wild time."
Competitors have the option of camping out at the event center where sites will be set up. Riders can also enter as a sole competitor or as part of a two- to five-person team.
For more information about the Payson Pounder, visit www.tucsonracing.com.