By Ben Olson
Sandpoint is a cycling town. No matter if it’s a lonesome dirt road, a mountain trail, gravel or asphalt, Sandpoint cyclists find a way. There is no better representation of this mix of cycling terrain — as well as the lifestyle of Sandpoint — than the 3/4-Minus Cykeltur bike race.
This unique race takes place Saturday, May 7 and draws cycling aficionados from all over the region because of its varied terrain and skill levels.
Back for what would’ve been its fourth season, the 3/4-Minus was put on hold for two years during the pandemic, but is back in a big way. With more than 125 riders turning out for the inaugural race in 2019, the event was hailed an immediate success.
“For a population-starved city, in terms of cycling culture, we were really happy with the turnout [in 2019],” said cyclist and event co-creator Jason Meshberg. “The words ‘instant classic’ were being thrown around over beers afterwards.”
Race creator and Syringa Cyclery owner Charles Mortensen said the sport of gravel cycling has grown by leaps and bounds, mostly on the strength of a cycling culture hungry for fun challenges.
“Gravel races have gotten super popular, more so than just straight road races,” Mortensen said.
The 3/4-Minus is a unique race because it combines elements of road and off-grid riding, as well as a mix of surfaces including gravel, dirt, single track and asphalt. Split into two routes, the “two-humper” is a 76-mile tour of Bonner County, starting at Matchwood Brewing Company (513 Oak St.) and winding through Sandpoint, into Selle Valley and far up some lonely U.S. Forest Service roads not normally associated with bike racing (there’s even a grizzly bear habitat sign at the top of the trail).
From Selle Valley, the route winds back toward Sandpoint, with a detour up Syringa Heights on single track through the Pine Street Woods and back to finish at Matchwood Brewing. As the name suggests, there are two significant hills to climb on the long route.
The “one-humper” is a shorter route of 52 miles, which bypasses some of the farthest reaching segments of the race and only features one big hill to climb.
Along the way, rest areas and volunteers will help keep riders on course. Pend Oreille Pedalers executive director Jason Welker serves as the volunteer coordinator for the event, and POP will sponsor one fo the rest/aid stations on the route.
Cyclists can choose to ride any type of bike they desire, but most opt for a bike that is specially tuned for gravel riding. However, road bikes with skinny tires aren’t recommended for the “two-humper” route.
“In general, it looks like a road bike, but you’ll notice they have knobby, much wider tires,” said Mortensen. “The stuff you won’t notice is that the geometry is a little different. There are slacker angles on the tubes to make it a more comfy ride. They have longer wheelbases, too, to be more stable downhill on loose gravel roads.”
For those interested in trying out a gravel bike, Syringa Cyclery is hosting a demo day with bike manufacturer Otso at the Velo Tout Terrain trail, located 0.4 miles north of Highway 2 on West Pine Street. The demo event will run from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., with gravel bikes and fat tire bikes available to try for free — just make sure to bring a credit card and valid ID to check out a bike.
“This race celebrates what this region has to offer,” said Meshberg. “It’s a real honest look at the cute downtown area, heading past the ski resort, past the Selle Valley agricultural area into the National Forest. It showcases everything our natural landscape has to offer and pushes those riders through it.”
Mortensen said the race is a great way to showcase the inclusive cycling community of Sandpoint.
“Most of our sponsors are all local businesses,” Mortensen said. “Outdoor Experience is sponsoring a rest stop, as is Pend d’Oreille Winery and Kaniksu Land Trust and the Pend Oreille Pedalers. Matchwood Brewing and the Alpine Shop are providing podium prizes, as is the Pend d’Oreille Winery. Evans Brothers Coffee is providing podium prizes, as well as coffee at the rest stops. Ace Septic is providing all the port-a-potties at the rest stops. That was one of our goals — to involve the local business community in this race.”
The race will begin and end at Matchwood Brewing, which will throw a big after-party for racers when they arrive thirsty for beer and camaraderie. There will be live contemporary bluegrass and roots music by the band Spring Tonic after the race. Oak Street will be closed off for traffic that day, with Ponderay-based Collaborative Trails directing traffic at the intersection of Oak Street and Sixth Avenue.
Along with bragging rights, the race will also serve as a fundraiser for the local trail-building organization Pend Oreille Pedalers, which is responsible for building and maintaining so many of the highly used cycling and hiking trails in the region.
“All of the proceeds will go to POP,” Mortensen said. “That means more trail building, more access and more bike tourism for this region.”
“This race fits the motif of what Sandpoint is all about: adventurous and a little rugged,” said Meshberg. “No matter who wins, we’ll meet for beers, high fives and smiles afterward.”
To register for the 3/4-Minus Cykeltur, contact Syringa Cyclery at 208-610-9990 or visit syringacyclery.com for more information.
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