Local Dirt: Getting More Kids Riding in the Dirt More Often

Pennsylvania Interscholastic Mountain Bike Race

Local events, big-time smiles.

Why Dirt Needs to Be Local

Local events are keys to making mountain biking more accessible, more affordable, and more inclusive to all riders across the state. We know from our statewide events (and personal experience) that reducing the time we drive to events saves money and translates to more time on the trails. We also know that big events can be an intimidating way to jump into the fun.

By making events more accessible to more riders, we will grow participation, add riders to existing teams, and create new teams in more towns all across the state. We bring more people to this great sport we all love.

Simply put: Local events gets more kids on bikes more often. And isn’t that why do this?

So What Is Local Dirt, Anyway?

Local Dirt is a pilot program in Pennsylvania, supported by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). We will work with you to create low-lift, simple events and scrimmages across the state. These events will be organized by local teams, with operational support from PICL staff in the training and transition to team run events with League oversight when appropriate or necessary.

To contrast Local Dirts and League Events, think about little league baseball, where local games are organized between coaches and teams at the town’s ballfields vs. Little League World Series hosted by Little League Baseball at the Williamsport fields.

These take the form of scrimmage events that include 1-3 neighboring teams and intra-team fun rides. Events will initially be designed to accommodate 30 to 100 riders and be run midweek during the season or on weekends when statewide events aren’t happening. 

Our plan (see below) is to create events that require minimal staffing from teams, yet deliver maximum risk management to keep our student athletes and volunteers safe. Our goal is to have each region in Pennsylvania host multiple events each season and build awareness and excitement about bringing youth mtb into our towns!

Muddy mountain biker in Pennsylvania Local Dirt race

Types of Local Dirt Events in 2021

Local Dirt events fall into two broad categories: scrimmages or social adventure rides. We anticipate running adventure style rides in the pre-season and early season as a way for teams and coaches to gain experience hosting events, followed by scrimmages in the late summer and fall. Here are the styles of Local Dirt events that may be offered:

Fun, Adventure and GRiT Rides: Getting groups together from neighboring teams and building a stronger community by hosting fun, social rides. One team may simply invite two or three others to its favorite trails. Or organize days where every rider brings a new, non-cycling friend for a beginner-friendly session on easy trails. Or an all girls ride, or break it up by grade so riders can meet more riders in their area of the same age.

As we build into more competitive offerings, a successful Local Dirt follows all NICA risk management protocols and allows for course set-up, racing and clean up to take place on a weeknight afternoon and early evening or on a weekend morning before noon — simple, easy, safe, fun!

Time-Trial: Short one-rider-at-a-time events that are a staple of cycling, from less than 1 mile up to 3 miles of trail. These are easy to time and open doors to new locations. As passing zones are not required these can be almost complete singletrack experiences.

Short-Course XC: Like a standard PICL race, but on shorter courses. Local Dirt XC courses are no longer than 3 miles in length with the short course simplifying event production. Considerations likes starts, waves, staging, and passing make these a bit more complicated than ITTs.

Team Relay XC: A fun format that scores the cumulative time of teams, who put one rider on the course at at time. This format reduces pressure on passing and course density. These might be by team. They also might be mixed across teams. Teams might start one at time or all at once. There are certainly ways to change up relays! For later season, we’ll work on relays together.

All Local Dirt events will include three elements – they’ll begin with an opportunity for teams to interact with each other, get to the fun on the course, and they wrap up with some team and family interaction. What happens off the course is as much of the fun of mtb as is the riding.

How To Local The Dirt

Follow the links in the steps below for additional details. The first six steps will be part of the PICL Local Dirt Application that organizing teams need to fill out before July 1 in order to hold an event and secure PICL staff assistance.

Creating a successful Local Dirt has three keys:
1. Simplify – these are simple weeknight events. Think about other youth sports. There are no podiums or trophies at the Tues. night baseball game. No one goes home after the Sat morning soccer game with new swag. Trophies and free bobouls have zero impact on the fun. Getting together and doing this thing you love is the fun and rewarding part.
2. Simplify – the riders make the event. The course. Simple to mark – few intersections, .5-3 miles. Simple to marshal – low risk. Simple to maintain – keep the land manager relationships strong. Simple to learn – the event goes quickly.  If you’re adding complexity, you’re doing it wrong.
3. Simplify – by doing so you stay focused on what matters – a course that is safe and appropriate and an experience that creates a fun outlet that connects our community. That is success. Anything more is a complication.

⇒ Identify organizing team and roles    Define event type   Find appropriate venue   Determine course with approved setter Secure permission      Request approval from PICL Schedule and promote ⇒  Line up volunteer parents and coaches  ⇒  Prepare and Share Emergency Action Plan  ⇒ Run event  ⇒  Report on event and planning

Fans at a PA Local Dirt Race

Local Dirt Roles and Responsibilities

Many of our coaches have already started Local Dirt training. To simplify the process even further, we’ve streamlined the roles and responsibilities for coaches, making it even easier to get certified to host an event.

Note: Local Dirt Events are designed to allow multiple teams to come together to organize and support. Hosting an event should not fall on one team or one coach. In fact, in order to meet NICA event organization standards it is required that trained staff critically examine all event aspects to ensure the best and safest possible experience for our participants. This is a group effort that a few coaches, parents, and volunteers from neighboring teams can pull off. Local Dirts are a great way for you to plug others in your local riding community into PICL too.

This document contains a list of roles required for Local Dirt events and the primary responsibilities of each. PICL staff will work with you, as part of the application process, to determine roles and sort through the responsibilities.

Local Dirt Sample Schedule

Finding the Right Local Dirt Venue

Unlike statewide races, Local Dirt formats give us much more flexibility in selecting venues. With fewer riders, these events require less space for parking (always a challenge for big events) or infield area.

Also, adventure-style rides and time trials almost entirely eliminate the need for passing zones. Even short-format XC races and relays (with shorter distances and fewer riders on course at any time) allow us to be more creative in finding courses. Many places that would not work for a statewide race, in fact, may be perfect for Local Dirt events.

Here are some key considerations to put on successful events while still meeting the League’s risk management requirements:

XC-style scrimmages require a 1- to 2-mile course
Anticipate parking at 1.5 times the number of registered riders.
Consider whether other users will be on the trails, and if the park will allow you to close them.
How weatherproof is the area? Would even a little rain increase risk to the riders or to the trails and venue?
Just like statewide events, uphill starts and finishes are safer; uphill finishes make it easier to watch the line.
Have you kept it simple?

Here is PICL’s Complete Venue Inspection Checklist

Annual Local Dirt Calendar

Each region will progress through the following event formats and timeline at roughly the same pace. The exception will be for late engaging regions. In cases where regions kick off later in the year, they will still follow the same progression of events — fun, then ITT, then XC, then final weekend of fun.

June – Nov Adventure, GRIT, or fun rides among neighboring squads.

Mid August  Local Dirt Individual Time Trial (ITT)

Mid Sept Local Dirt (short course) XC

Mid Oct Local Dirt XC

End Oct Local Dirt State Weekend with final events of season, social rides, relays, and fun stuff!