“We started this race over a decade ago,” said Collin Kemmesat, general manager of 701 Cycle and Sport. “It was originally called ‘Race to Sunset,’ and because there was a big push in endurance mountain bike racing back then it lasted for a grueling 12 hours, from sun up until sundown. We ran it that way for almost eight years until we decided it was time to change things up a bit. We wanted to reinvigorate the race — and found the perfect new venue for it at Harmon Lake.

“Even though the Otter Creek 55 is shorter than its predecessor, 55 miles is no cakewalk for anybody. Going that long takes training and preparation. The terrain at Harmon Lake has a lot of elevation, especially by North Dakota standards, and just staying focused for up to seven hours on the foot wide dirt trail before you takes a lot of concentration. Of course, June here can mean any kind of weather you could imagine, and we’ve seen it all. We’ve had to pull competitors out of the running before because they were on the verge of heatstroke. But if you can push through it, it’s a very rewarding ride.

“The area around Harmon Lake is beautiful. We chose it in large part because racers’ families can enjoy themselves during the race there, too. There’s camping, playgrounds, a boat ramp, a sandy beach, and plenty of places to cook out. At only eight miles north of Mandan it’s a convenient drive for a day trip as well.

“You might imagine that the competitors are ready to eat and drink something after their race, which is why we have a big party afterward. We arrange the food, a local burger truck in recent years, and we have a contract so we can serve adult beverages. (Nothing like an adult beverage after riding a bike for 55 miles.) The beer varies from year to year, but we always try to showcase our area’s local brews. This year we’re having Laughing Sun take care of the drinks, because they’re pretty well-tied to the local mountain biking community. We’ll follow up at their brewery for the after-party as well!”

The Otter Creek 55 Mountain Bike Race is expected to draw up to 150 racers from throughout North Dakota and her surrounding areas this year. You don’t have to race to participate — just watching the dusty cyclists whizzing by, fighting terrain and muscle cramps alike, is itself exhilarating, and beer and burgers do not require any preceding tests of athleticism to be enjoyed thoroughly.

If you would like to participate in your first mountain bike race, this nearby contest is as good a one as any to start. You can rely on 701 Cycle and Sport to get you started. The employee-owned bike shop is now celebrating its 15th year in business in Bismarck, and their enthusiastic staff are able to take your ability, preferences, and budget for a bike into account while recommending the right ride for you. Collin advises that many newcomers prefer rear suspension for this type of endeavor — “Your body will like you more after the ride is done.”

Please visit facebook.com/ottercreek55 for more information about the big event, and 701cycleandsport.com to see about Bismarck’s own local bike shop.


By David Scheller