The U.S.’s first-ever singletrack bikejor race will happen in Moab the weekend of March 5.
Imagine dogsled racing on dry land, with a mountain bike instead of a sled and two dogs instead of 16. The “Western Singletrack Trail Dog Challenge” will be held on the Klondike Bluffs Trail System just north of Moab.
According to Brad Kassing, a bikejor enthusiast who helped organize the race, bikejoring has been growing in the U.S. since the mid-2000s.
“It’s a lot easier to get into than sled racing because you only need one or two dogs,” Kassing said. Kassing lives in Flagstaff and has been bikejoring for five years. There are a few things driving the sport’s growth—for one, he said, a lot of dogsled races are becoming less viable due to climate change affecting how long sled race courses can be raced on; and during the pandemic, both bike ownership and dog ownership grew. Bikejoring puts together “all of those things,” he said.
Kassing first got into the sport when his adventure partner dog started getting older and less able to join Kassing while mountain biking and backpacking. As Kassing was looking into adopting another dog, his wife suggested he adopt a sled dog—a dog bred to have tough feet and athletic endurance.
“I describe her as a great friend, but a terrible pet,” he said. He started bikejoring with his dog from the start, and found that they both excelled at the sport. His wife adopted a sled dog also, so the couple could bikejor together, and now, they do it competitively.
In Flagstaff, bikejoring is rather popular—a race Kassing attended last fall had 64 teams. He’s trying to keep the Moab event smaller, he said, as it’ll be the first bikejor event in the U.S. on a singletrack trail, or technical mountain biking trail. He picked Moab because it’s well-known in the national mountain biking community as a mecca for the sport, and because the mountain biking trails near Moab are designed for more experienced bikers.
By hosting a bikejor race in Moab, he hopes to show people that bikejoring is a serious sport.
“The culture of racing sled dogs on singletrack trails in the U.S. is very, very different,” Kassing said. While this race will be the first-ever singletrack event in the U.S., in Europe, bikejor athletes have been competing on singletrack trials for years. “It’s a bit of a delicate subject in some ways,” he said.
That’s because many Americans see the sport as outlandish, and a bit dangerous. Kassing said it can get dangerous when people try it because of their dog, instead of the other way around. To succeed as a bikejor athlete, you have to be a mountain biker first.
“A lot of us are trying to show that this is a real thing. This is a safe thing. Some of the European athletes are laughing at us, literally like joking at some of the posts that Americans are making, about how we’re too afraid to go on singletrack trails,” Kassing said. “So for the whole mushing community, this race has a lot of significance.”
Bikejoring on a singletrack trail will be a challenge for the same reason that mountain biking on a singletrack trail is: trails have sharp turns, small ledges, loose cobbles. Riding with dogs pulling you sometimes makes that easier though, Kassing said, as the dogs can help stabilize the bike through turns.
“There is an issue with mountain bikers not taking the sport as seriously because they can’t imagine a dog actually pulling them,” he said. “But these dogs can top out at 30 miles an hour. Mountain bike gearing won’t get you to 30 miles an hour.”
Kassing is expecting about a dozen teams for the Moab race, he said. The race will be run time-trial style, and each team will run the course twice. Typically during bikejoring races, the teams average speeds over 20 miles per hour.
“The most fun part to watch is the starting line,” Kassing said. “You see the dogs just lunging, trying to go.”
Anyone interested in registering for or observing the race can find more information via the “Bikejoring Western USA” Facebook group.