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Two decades of WORCA

Worcapalooza to celebrate biking and community on Saturday

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Twenty years ago mountain biking was still a fringe sport. Doubletrack roads counted as trails, while actual singletrack trails were few and far between. A 2.1 was a wide tire, and a fork with three inches of travel was a luxury, although more often than not you'd be riding a fully rigid bike.

Twenty years ago in February, a group of local mountain bike enthusiasts banded together to lobby for the reintroduction of mountain bikes into Garibaldi Park, after access to Singing Pass was cut by the province. They called that group the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association, because nobody understood what mountain biking was exactly. That summer a few of the board members started hosting Loonie Races, and would get up to 20 riders out for a race along local trails where the winner would get to keep all the Loonies.

The original board included Bob Eakins, Richard Kelly, Eric Wight, Vincent Massey, Charlie Doyle, Keith Bennett and Paul Rawlinson. Grant Lamont joined later, along with Milo Rusimovich and Todd McPhelan, with Lamont and Rawlison launching the Loonie Race series.

Things have changed, from the bikes to trails, and today WORCA is by far the biggest mountain biking club in the world. A quick Google search of other clubs making that claim turns up groups of mountain bikers with a few hundred members, while WORCA has signed up over 1,000 members for eight of the last nine years. This summer WORCA is on pace to set a new record with 1,500 members, which means that roughly one out of every seven Whistler residents is a member.

This year the club is hosting 22 Toonie Rides (formerly Loonie Races) as well as eight weeks of youth dirt camps, numerous volunteer trail sweep and maintenance days, regular clinics for kids and adults, the annual bike swap, and special events like the Four Jacks. They also sanction events such as the Phat Wednesday Downhill Series, the West Side Wheel Up, the Ken Quon Ride On and others.

To honour the 20 th anniversary of WORCA, the present board held a birthday party in February to celebrate the Feb. 27 anniversary of the group's first official meeting. This Saturday at 3 p.m. WORCA is hosting Worcapalooza, an outdoor bike festival at Base II on Blackcomb that is open to everyone, members and non-members alike.

Worcapalooza includes a series of bike challenges and events, as well as the premiere of a documentary on the club that has been in development for more than a year.

The fun gets underway around 3 p.m. The first event is the Celebration Criterium at 3:30 p.m. Participants will make laps of the trails on lower Blackcomb, racing or riding. It's free, but registration is required.

The Avid Chainless Downhill gets underway at 4:15 p.m. Tyler Morland and his team are putting together a fun and relatively flat course on Blackcomb where riders will be challenged to keep their speed without pedaling. The event is limited to the first 100 riders to register, with all participants getting a new chain at the finish and great prizes for the winners.

At 6 p.m. WORCA will host a hill climb event on a narrow, technical track up Blackcomb. Racers will be timed, but special recognition will also go to riders that clean the course.

That sets up the WORCA 20 th anniversary film premiere at Eight Below, which gets underway at 7 p.m. The documentary includes footage from WORCA events over the past year, as well as interviews with founding members of the world's biggest mountain bike club. There will be a few presentations after the screening, as well as a chance for riders to socialize.

During the day there are a series of unscheduled events. The Trackstand Contest will award the rider that can stand in one place on their bike for the longest. The best times could end up with a head-to-head showdown outside the beer garden.

Cary Lopes will also decorate helmets belonging to kids aged 10 and under over the course of the day, a new variation on face painting.

One of the biggest attractions will be the Celebrity Dunk Tank, which is a fundraiser for WORCA's trail building program. Various local celebrities have volunteered to get dunked from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., but bring a change of clothes in case you get tapped to get wet.

There will be live music, with Brother Twang taking the stage at 5 p.m., and others will be showcasing their talents on guitars and turntables.

Splitz Grill is providing burgers and Granville Island Brewing is sponsoring the beer garden. Lucia Gelato will also be on hand. This is not a Toonie Ride, so bring some cash to pay for food and beverages.

Worcapalooza is free to attend, and you don't require a membership if you want to participate in any races or skills events. There is limited parking, so participants are asked to bike to the site, as well as to bring their own chairs or blankets to sit on.

After the video premiere and awards the organizers will be moving the party to Merlin's for an unofficial apr├Ęs.

If you can help out, WORCA is looking for volunteers to make the day go smoothly. All volunteers will earn a spot in the WORCA VIP Celebration this year, which recognizes the efforts of volunteers and board members through the season. To volunteer e-mail tracy_howlett@hotmail.com.