May The Force Be With Your Two Wheels
Return on the Jedi mountain bike race rounds out season
In 1996, Bill Clinton was entering his second term, the first blog was launched, the global temperature was some few degrees cooler, and mountain biking was still a relatively new sport, and the equipment was crude, little better than big boy dirt bikes. A few prototypes had shocks, and disc brakes were only for the very most elite. And, at that nascent time, a group of local riders organized the Return on the Jedi.
On the first Saturday in June, the Return on the Jedi will run its 19th race, making it a veteran and trailblazer for mountain bike races in the Pacific Northwest. The race is the second to last in the expanding Oregon Off-road series, an eight race series that has bounced around the state, from races in Bend, to the coast, with a loyal group of 100 riders from juniors to elders, mostly men, but a moderate group of women. Inviting participants to campout and hangout, the race is also far more welcoming and relaxed than any hyped-up road rally.
The race is named after a popular trail in Merlin—Jedi—which, in turn, is named after the movie Return on the Jedi, reportedly because a particular fast section of the trail whips through rows of thin, stock-straight trees, creating a blurring effect much like the well-loved scene in the movie where a newly emboldened Luke Skywalker zips through a forest on his racer.
“It is a fast, fun session,” says Tom Keller, a rider from Central Point who has been competing on the Oregon Off-road series, and plans to race for the seventh time at this year’s Return on the Jedi. Most of the top riders in the state are from Central Oregon, which offers hundreds of easily accessible trails for cross-country riders, but Keller is one of the southern Oregon riders in that pack.
“This is one of the best races in the state,” he explains. “It has all different types of trails, technical sections, fun stuff, single track, good climbs; it is everything a mountain biker like to race on.”
In particular, the 21.5 mile race concludes with a screaming three miles of chutes and ladders.
Although mountain biking is not as prevalent in southern Oregon as the Bend-area, which is home to a handful of professional riders, and even the Portland-area, with its proximity to carefully engineered trails on Mt Hood, Keller points out that mountain biking has a loyal following, and the availability for high quality trails is expanding, especially for downhill biking with a newly opened trail systems.
“It keeps me young,” concludes Keller.
Return on the Jedi MTB
Noon start time (pre-registration required). Saturday, June 6.
Sam Brown Campsite, Merlin, OR.