Have you ever watched the biathlon in the Olympics and thought, “ Wow! That would be so cool to do, but on a mountain bike?” If so, you’re not alone. The mountain bike biathlon dream came alive in all its glorious splendor on April 11 with the Double Barrel near Bentonville.
For you non-Olympiads, the biathlon is a winter sport that pairs cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. As in, you ski for a while, then shoot a gun at targets, then ski some more, then shoot at more targets. Phat Tire Bike Shop partnered with Benton County Quail, Winchester, and Bike Rack Brewery to adapt the biathlon concept in a uniquely Arkansan way. For the Double Barrel, riders toured gravel roads for 13 miles, then shot skeet at the Benton County Quail Barn, then did the whole thing again for a total of 26 miles and lots of empty shells.
An open field in front of the Benton County Quail Barn started filling up with bike-laden vehicles at least an hour before the 2 p.m. start of the ride. The atmosphere was decidedly more relaxed than most mountain bike events I’ve attended – no tension of a race, no long registration lines (though there were release forms: guns, beer and bikes = release forms). Just good music, conversations and a gun blast here and there.
Participants were advised to lay their bikes along a tree line for a Le Mans-style start. Yep. A running start. At a pre-ride meeting that included a spot on gun etiquette, Phat Tire’s Scott Schroen sweetened the pot. The first rider to various checkpoints would receive cash on the spot, and the first two finishers would win some pretty cool swag. When the gun went off to signal the start, mountain bikers scurried across an open field to the place they had dropped their bikes. Except the bikes had been moved. Some shenanigans occurred while riders were in the barn for the pre-ride meeting – confused cyclists ran up and down the treeline looking for their bike. Once bikes were found, riders took off like a shot (forgive the pun) on their first loop. A combination of gravel riding, dog avoidance maneuvers, and beautiful Benton County farmland made for a fast ride for some and a leisurely pace for others.
When riders were ready to shoot, members from Benton County Quail helped inexperienced gun users try their hand at shooting skeet. The mood was light, but safety was taken very seriously throughout the event.
The lure of good beer and a crawfish boil led several riders to call it a day after their first lap while other continued on in the quest for glory and swag. Bluegrass band Cutty Rye played throughout the afternoon in the barn, and a fly-by from a P-51 Mustang rounded out a pretty perfect and eclectic day.
Here’s hoping the Double Barrel becomes and annual event. Kudos to the event organizers for taking a chance and investigating new types of partnerships.
Say whaaa? That is one of the most unique things I’ve ever heard of! Way to think ‘outside’ the box to start a completely new event! Hopefully they will do it again?