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Fat Tire Fest Recap + Low Down on AR Mountain Biking

FC Team mountain biker, Tandie Bailey, recently placed first in Downhill, Super D, and DH Duo during the 18th Annual Fat Tire Mountain Biking Festival. Join her in celebration as she shares her weekend festival experience + gives us the low down on the state of AR Mountain Biking as it quickly gains national attention.

"Stay loose. Don’t touch the brakes. Smooth is fast."  

-- My current mental racing mantra

Such sentiments change from race to race & person to person, but the end game remains: hustle the course with tires on the dirt.

Eureka Springs was bound with similar mental reminders during the Fat Tire Festival, an all-encompassing Arkansas Mountain Biking weekend.  This fest has something for everyone, from cross country (10-22 miles) to downhill (2 minutes of adrenaline). And if none of the above, all are welcome to just have a beer and hang out-- cow bells & bull horns were encouraged all weekend. Check out the 2016 recap video and see what I mean.

Events like these make Arkansas mountain biking what it is – inviting, encouraging & so much fun.  It’s pretty rad that we’re currently in the eye of a mountain bike storm that’s taking over Arkansas. If one steps back, it's easy to recognize that there’s something different about the way we do things here.  While Arkansans are dripping with talent, we keep it light; we don’t impart expectations on each other, we just encourage one another to try that new thing or pedal a little faster, and when it ends well, we couldn’t be more pumped for each other. I’ve seen it happen a million times over & have been on both the giving and receiving sides.

Recently, I was on the receiving side; a friend helped me take a step I thought I might never take-- I hit The Rock Drop in Eureka.  There are many rocks, jumps, hips & drops in Eureka Springs, but only one of them is capitalized.  The drop itself is debated between 8ft – 15ft (depending on how far one sends it before tires retouch dirt), but the waterfall of drops leading up to The Drop are what make it so tough.

I’ve been working up from curbs for a few years, and learned that getting rowdy on a bike is as much a mental challenge as it is physical. Physically, I had to learn what my bike wanted to do in the air, what my body would feel like on the way down, how hard I’d fall – things like that aren’t inherent knowledge, one has to experience them.  The mental part though, is extra special as everyone is different. For me, I needed to see it happen & hear a fellow rider’s words and beta about how they did what they did.  

On the Tuesday before the race, I went out to Leatherwood with a few fellow riders, Jonathan & Carmen.  Jonathan always hits the big drop, and I thought maybe I’d give it a go.  After a few roll-ups to the ledge & watching Jonathan send it, I decided “no, thanks” so we kept rolling & finished the run.  The next run though, watching me roll up to the ledge, Jonathan said “you have the speed, just stay loose & off the brakes” —it seems simple but that’s what I needed to hear, with those words running through my mind I committed & sent it!

After about 97 roll-ups, I finally committed & sent! I thought this drop was going to evade me for life, the waterfall of smaller drops before the big one makes this section so scary, but after baby steppin' up from smaller drops for awhile I can piece them all together now! So so excited about it 🚀 thank you @rootsmtb75 @smithoptics @fayettechill @deitycomponents @phattirebikeshop for keeping me rolling! #fattirefestival2016 #smashdropsend

A video posted by Tandie Bailey (@tandielion) on


Experiences like this highlight the unique energy around Arkansas mountain biking. The interesting thing about Arkansas is that most of us haven’t grown up riding mountain, which puts us in a unique position to progress together.  Years in, we’re past the point of stumbling through the newbie gear, but we are just now wrapping our heads around exactly what it takes to sustain a mountain bike mecca. It takes an army.  

Builders are laying down new ribbons of trail at an exponential rate, volunteers are tirelessly keeping the foliage back far enough to ride the trail & this year, for the first time, Arkansas has launched a High School Mountain Bike Program through NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association).  

The years of growth will come to fruition in November of this year when the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) holds their biennial World Summit in Northwest Arkansas.  Following the summit, I expect our secret to be out-- Northwest Arkansas will be on the map & hold a top spot on the “mountain bike paradise” list. I count myself lucky to be a part of the magic.