24 hour bike relays used to be en mode around North America, 15, 16 years ago. That’s when the first one was in Whitehorse, 16 years ago. The popularity of the relays waned most places. But not in Whitehorse.
Here, the race is held close to the summer solstice. It has grown and evolved to attract a following outside of the territory and to include serious riders and those in costumes, a beer garden, a contingency of families who camp overnight in trailers, and a race category for toddlers.
Sierra van der Meer is organizing this year’s race. She’s been a long time participant, too. She figures the race has endured in the the Yukon because of the light, this time of year.
She says it’s rare to see the sun set or rise in the summer. But, she says riding the 12 kilometre relay course takes about an hour, and “you can start a lap when the sun’s starting to set, and finish when the sun’s peaking over the horizon.”
Here’s how the relay works. Racers sign up as a solo rider, or in teams of two, four, or five to eight people. The course is the aforementioned 12 kilometre lap, somewhere on the Grey Mountain trails. It changes every year. A racer wears a timer, does a lap, and hands off the timer to the next racer. Whichever team does the most laps in 24 hours wins.
There are nuances to the race. Van der meer says some people take it seriously. “People on the serious serious racing teams will do three, four laps in a row. The next person goes, and they recover.”
She identifies serious racers by the spandex they wear. They tend to hang around the finish line, bike at the ready, waiting for teammates to finish a lap to do a quick handoff.
“Serious people are wearing spandex, fun people are wearing costumes.”
That’s according to van der Meer. Fun racers finish a lap and wander off to find their teammates, maybe in the beer garden, maybe konked out in a tent or camper.
Van der meer says the 12 kilometre loops can be done as quickly as 35 minutes. But most people take the average hour to finish it. She says it’s funny, because in the Whitehorse mountain biking community, everyone knows how everybody else rides — “We don’t need a race to know who’s the fastest.”
But why race, then?
She’s not sure. She says she loves the loops at two in the morning, when she catches the elusive summer sunset and rise in the course of an hour. She says everything’s a little hazy – the light, her head. “It’s hard to describe.”
Van der Meer said on the day of the interview, on June 15, there were 150 racers registered. She expects the number to be over 200 by the time registration for teams closes, on June 23. Over 70 of those people will be from outside of the territory. They come for the race. Some of them have never been to the Yukon before. “It’s so hard to describe, that haziness at 3 a.m., it’s really special to see people from out of town experience it,” says van der Meer. “Yukoners enjoy it when people come up and are wowed by our mountain biking paradise.”
She wants to emphasis the inclusiveness of the event. Van der Meer says there are some Yukoners who don’t like the race culture but still want to participate, so they make it more fun. The race has also evolved. It used to be adult-centric, now it has a one to two kilometre course for kids, and a push-bike category for toddlers. These courses are closed from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
The start and finish line is at Biathlon Yukon, on Grey Mountain Road. Van der meer says it’s very fun. She describes a huge field, “it’s very social, there are tonnes of prizes. People are hanging out, enjoying the sun.”
The 24-Hours of Light mountain bike relay runs from June 25 – 26. For more information go to www.24hoursoflight.ca.