The oldest mountain bike enduro in America
Words by Kurt Gensheimer • Photos by John Shafer
Tucked far away in the east central part of Nevada, the small town of Ely stays under the radar of most outdoor enthusiasts. Many have passed through Ely while driving Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest Road in America,” but passing through is about all most out-of-towners do in Ely. It’s a shame, because for those passers through, they completely miss some absolutely outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities. Mountain biking is especially good in Ely, with an extensive network of singletrack right from town that winds its way up to peaks like Ward Mountain towering 5,000 vertical feet above Ely at nearly 11,000 feet elevation.
The backcountry of Nevada rewards those who venture off the beaten path; rewards like lush aspen groves, wildflowers, ice cold streams, abundant hot springs and singletrack. Lots of singletrack. Ely might not be on the level of places like Moab or Crested Butte, but locals are just fine with that, as they can go out and ride all day long on a high quality network of trails and never see another human.
Showcasing the impressive amount of trails that are rideable right from downtown Ely, the Fears, Tears and Beers is the oldest mountain bike enduro event in America. Started in 2006 by a couple of moto riders and modeled after a motorcycle enduro, the Fears, Tears and Beers (FTB) was enduro well before the format ever became popular in mountain biking. The 2017 edition of FTB celebrated its 12th running on June 10 with nearly 100 participants.
FTB is grassroots mountain biking at its best; there’s no flashy sponsors or website, no attitude and no wait list. There’s also no course map, no GPS coordinates of the routes and no high tech microchip timing systems. You simply prepare for a big day on the bike, secure a number plate that volunteers hand write your segment times on, follow the course markings and ride with a smile. If you get lost, it’s nobody’s fault but yours, so pay close attention. And the highlight for many participants in FTB … everyone starts the day by riding their bikes through both the Jailhouse Casino and the Hotel Nevada, slapping high fives with locals trying their luck on slot machines. FTB hearkens back to an earlier time when mountain bike events were simpler and really showcased the vibe of the local community.
Whether signing up as a Beginner, Sport, Expert or Pro rider, each category navigates a physically demanding course with lots of vertical, with Beginners riding 17.5 miles and 2,300 feet of elevation gain/descent over three timed sections, Sport covering 26.6 miles and 3,500 feet over four timed sections, Expert pedaling 33.3 miles and 5,400 feet over six timed sections and Pro knocking out a massive day on the bike with 40 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing with 7,000 feet of descending over seven timed sections. For some Pro riders, the 2017 FTB event was an all-day affair, starting at 9AM and finishing at 6PM. Because of Ely’s high elevation, weather in early June can range from low 90s and sunny to snowing. In 2016 the event had to be delayed a day because of high elevation snow.
Last year the weather was ideal, mid-80s and sunny with a pretty stiff afternoon breeze that made matters interesting for riders, especially for Expert and Pro riders who descended the infamous Whorehouse Hill trail, named after the active brothels where the trail ends on the west side of town. Whorehouse Hill is definitely a highlight of FTB. After gutting out a huge climb to Squaw Peak at just over 8,000 feet elevation, the two-mile, 1,600 vertical foot plunge starts out flowing and somewhat friendly. But that friendly flowiness doesn’t last long, with the final mile careening into town on a very steep, loose and rocky doubletrack that really only has one clean line. And the best part of Whorehouse Hill is the spectating, as the entire final half-mile of rowdiness can be watched by anyone right from the heart of town.
Not only does FTB deliver a rootsy, family-friendly vibe, but the event also raises funds for the Great Basin Trails Alliance, the local trail advocacy group that does much of the trail work and maintenance in the region. FTB organizers Kent Robertson and Kelly Ernest are also the brains and brawn behind the Great Basin Trails Alliance, and over the last 12 years, the event has raised enough money for the organization to considering purchasing a trail dozer to help make building new trail more efficient and easier on the body.
FTB is an event every type of rider can enjoy. It’s a low pressure atmosphere that welcomes all styles from first-timers to seasoned racers. The inclusive and laid back spirit of FTB is the heart and soul of mountain biking, and its unique, old-school feel makes it a truly unique event that is well worth the journey to eastern Nevada.
For more info look up @FearsTearsBeers on Facebook.