Carfree course draws cyclists to PIR
As they have done for many years, dozens of cyclists rode across town to congregate at Portland International Raceway every Tuesday night from May through August.
About 150 cyclists competed regularly this summer in the Castelli Tuesday Night PIR bicycle races. Some of the riders were of elementary school age; they went four laps around the two-mile track. Others qualified to race at the professional level and raced 24 to 46 miles.
The Tuesday night event is designed to promote friendly competition and unify the city's biking community. Almost all of the major club cycling teams participate and help sponsor the weekly races. The Tuesday night PIR series has been around for decades. It began in the 1970s and gained a following in the 1980s. Previously, it was at Delta Park.
"It's one of the most established, if not the most established, midweek series in the country," race promoter Will Laubrends says.
Most midweek cycling events do not draw the crowd Tuesday Night PIR consistently does. Most usually do not have state officials at the event, either, meaning individual times and results are null.
Laubrends has been with the event for a decade. Tuesday Night PIR was his first race when he began biking. Six years ago, he took over for a friend, Jeff Mitcham, as race promoter.
Laubrends sanctions the race every week through the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, which provides officials and first-aid administrators. Laubrends pays the officials and first-aid team when they arrive at the track he rents through PIR. He also works with OBRA on participant registration and insurance paperwork.
"I always tell people, whenever I've had a life-changing event in my life," he says. "whether it's getting married or having a kid or whatever, I have more people come up here and congratulate me than anywhere else. It's a very strong community."
Tuesday Night PIR features five races. The evening begins with a junior race, which spans four laps. Next is the six- to eight-lap novice race. It is designed for those who are looking to give cycling a test and/or have little racing experience. The third race is the senior race, which goes seven to 10 laps.
After the senior race, things get more competitive. Most cyclists enter in the "men 3/4" race and bike 10 to 20 laps.
To cap the night, the "men 1/2/3" goes for 12 to 23 laps. This race is for the fastest cyclers.
Women compete in all the races as well.
Individual entry through OBRA is $15 per race. Nonmembers pay $20. A team pass is $14, and an individual season pass is $200.
Compared to standard 60- to 70-mile road races in the summer, Tuesday Night PIR is not a long ride. It does not require as much training to compete, allowing for both younger bikers and cyclists who also race over the weekend to participate.
A race with a similar setting to Tuesday Night PIR is where most bikers begin.
"It's kind of the natural progression for most people who end up racing but haven't been doing it their whole lives," says Sean Williams, a member of the team "Fast. Fun. Nice."
"You start going farther, but you want to go faster, so you start thinking, 'Oh, maybe I should go put a number on and see what happens," Williams says.
Some club teams are more competitive than others. The results from each race are tallied, and a weekly leaderboard is posted. At the end of each month, points based off individual finishes in every race are counted. The leader from every race is given a Castelli jersey to wear for the next month and is designed to promote bragging rights.
Additionally, the top two finishers from each team in the 1/2/3 race are given gift cards to 10 Barrel Brewing.
Before the start of each race, bikers are reminded that everyone has a full-time job or school to attend in the morning.
"Our goal is just to have as much fun as we can and be the best ambassador we can to the bike community," Williams says. "Being a good steward — it's tough to coexist with cars, so just showing everybody that we're not all that one guy you see running the stop signs, cutting cars off and throwing up the middle finger."
The event brings together multiple teams for other activities, too. Large group rides often are scheduled for weekends, and some bikers set up dates to train together.
Laubrends' day job correlates with Tuesday Night PIR. He works for a software company that designs GPS and navigation technology for cyclists.
Another biker, Sarah Mensch, started her own website, clippedin.bike. Mensch, who has raced at Tuesday Night PIR for six years, says it's "hard to find resources for training and racing." Her website links and shares group rides, training routes and team and coach information from across the country.
Laubrends predicts registration numbers will continue to grow. Tuesday Night PIR relies on the biking community and sponsors to promote the races.
"OBRA is a grassroots community," Laubrends says. "On the whole, it's word of mouth. We don't do any advertising, per se, although sometimes our sponsors will put in plugs for us at places through social media channels."
This year's final Tuesday night race was on Aug. 21. Look for it to be back next year.
"It gives everybody something," Williams says. "Racing is more a question of you pushing yourself than competing against other people."
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