The fabulous Dirt Crits

Late on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in the heart of Santa Rosa, there are bicyclists of all shapes and sizes lining up to test their mettle for a few hot laps of good old-fashioned bike racing in Howarth Park.

The Dirt Crits, Santa Rosa’s longest running mountain bike race series, are in full swing. This is the eleventh race of the year, the penultimate battle before summer starts its gradual fade into fall. The smell of sizzling hot dogs permeates the air. The vibe is cheerful, laid-back and convivial as the kids line up to race, their faces lit up with excitement. Astride all types of mountain bikes, from steel hand-me-downs to carbon fiber racing machines, they listen intently as Chris Wells (current Dirt Crits organizer, Bike Peddler manager, and nicest guy in the world) announces the rules and prepares the young racers for takeoff. The crowd of parents, fellow racers, and onlookers cheer as the Juniors charge off the line in a cloud of golden dust.

The Dirt Crits began at a time when mountain bike racing was at a lull in the United States. Road biking was king, but even so, pre-Tour, pre-Fondo Santa Rosa was a ghost town when it came to cycling events. The mountain biking boom of the 80s and 90s had quieted down, and long-running races such as the Rockhopper were gone. Duncan Arnot Meyers moved back to Sonoma County in 1999 and decided to start an event similar to the ones he had been racing in Durango.

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“The City was very cool about helping me do everything to get it going. I pulled it off solo the first year, then Pedro Rusk and Chuck Scarpelli started helping me the next year. They ran it together for a few years before the Bike Peddler took over.”

Chris Wells started racing the Dirt Crits in 2002 after moving to Santa Rosa from Chicago. “I’d get off of work, race over there, and catch the A race. I’d get lapped by everybody, so I wanted to race in the B’s. So the next year, I talked the Bike Peddler into sending me there to support. I helped Pedro and Chuck out for a couple of years and then I took it over. Carlos Perez started showing up to the races, and then he began Bike Monkey after that. He wanted to try out some timing stuff at the Crits.” As it turned out, Carlos’ “timing stuff” became the foundation of Bike Monkey as the local race-production powerhouse responsible for well-known bike events such as Levi’s Gran Fondo, Boggs Enduro, and the Annadel XC.

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That homebrewed, DIY approach to racing is a key element in mountain bike culture, an element which Wells is glad to share with riders of all levels and abilities. As he puts it, “The Dirt Crits are a way of introducing people to this culture, this community. It’s a race, but there’s not a focus on getting first, second, or third place. It’s not just an introduction to mountain bike racing, but an introduction to mountain biking in general. What’s cool about this course is a six-year-old can do two or three laps on it, but it can also be interesting for pro-level racers. It’s just ten bucks, you’re not going to lose anything, and you discover that racing’s not that scary. It’s about showing up and giving it a shot.”

If you’d like to give it a shot, Dirt Crits ride every Wednesday through August, at Howarth Park, with bye weeks June 7th and July 12th. For details and more information, visit Bike Monkey or the Bike Peddler (605 College Avenue).


The Chronicler of Sams

Of all the epicurean delights that can be found in our fair city, few are as under-appreciated as the humble deli sandwich.

International variations get all the hype, such as the exotic bánh mì (best found at the deeply authentic Thuận Phát, 3020 Santa Rosa Avenue) or the hearty torta (best found at the OG orange taco truck, Delicias Elenita, 816 Sebastopol Rd). Less attention is given to that lunchtime staple, the classic American cold sub, but that’s about to change. Let’s talk about sams.

With a limited palette of cold cuts, mayo, mustard, veggies and bread, a masterfully built sandwich is designed to delight the palate and not break the bank. There are plenty of fancy sandwiches that are worth the extra dough, but for the purposes of this article we’ll focus on the blue collar sando. Lunch for under ten bucks is still alive and well in our city. So let’s get to it: here are the five best deli sandwich spots in old Saint Rose.

Lazzini’s Market (3449 Bennett Valley Rd) is a family-owned deli that has been receiving some well-deserved love from the community in the five years since they opened. The market is stocked with craft beer and Old World specialties for a picnic in nearby Galvin Park, and their hoagies are heavenly. Every signature sandwich on the board is a good choice, but the Italian Stallion, a classic sub loaded with salami and mortadella, is an offer that cannot be refused by true sando connoisseurs.

Mac’s Deli and Cafe (630 4th St) is possibly the most beloved restaurant in Santa Rosa, and for good reason. The Soltani family makes delicious food and offer exemplary service. This is not a grab-and-go deli; rather, it’s a classic diner, a community gathering place where you’ll find suit-and-tie business people dining alongside plumbers, punk rockers, and Santa Rosans of every stripe and color. Their hot pastrami with slaw on an onion roll is about as timelessly delicious as it gets.

Perry’s Delicatessen (1220 Mendocino Ave), right across from historic Santa Rosa High School, is a local treasure. Their signature hot sams are all very good, but when a Panther wants a classic ham and cheddar or turkey and swiss, Perry’s is the only place that will do it right.

Canevari’s Deli (695 Lewis Rd) is a classic purveyor of Italian-American delicacies, specializing in house-made ravioli and lasagne like mama used to make. The little building, open since Santa Rosa was little more than a few walnut orchards, also happens to turn out some scrumptious sandos. Try the California, which is essentially a BLT with Swiss on rye.

9th St Market (766 Wilson St)/Sam’s Market (212 E St)/Dave’s Market (320 West 3rd St). These three liquor store delis received honorable mentions for their honest, straightforward sandwiches for working folks. Don’t expect heirloom tomatoes or artisanally cured meats; instead, you can count on getting a good, filling lunch for around five bucks.

There are plenty of other great options out there in SR. Check out #samchron on Instagram for a more comprehensive list of wicked ‘wiches, and if you have a favorite, please join in with the #samchron tag.


More Cowbell:
Cyclocross at The SR Cup

Most normal folks wouldn’t dare ride their bikes during the wet weather that passes for winter in Santa Rosa.

Luckily for us, most Santa Rosa cyclists wouldn’t dare be described as normal folks. Hardcore riders who relish a roll in the mud and love riding in the rain have a niche cycling sport to call their own.

Welcome to cyclocross season.

Cyclocross – also known as ‘cross or CX – has European roots that can be traced back to the turn of the 20th century, but its popularity in the US began in the 1970s and hit its stride in the 1990s. The race format consists of a number of laps on a short course, usually consisting of quick climbs, descents, and hairpin turns on dirt, mud, sand, and over natural obstacles or man-made barriers.

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While the racing may be fast-paced, intense and brutal, the culture surrounding cyclocross races tends to be good-natured and fun. There is a distinctly laid-back, mountain bike party vibe: beer is consumed, riders are heckled, hand-ups* are encouraged, and spectators generally have a great time watching the action. It’s perhaps the perfect spectator sport, since heckling and partying are as intrinsic to the race as racing itself.

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Although the West Coast capitals of ‘cross are in Santa Cruz and Portland, Santa Rosa has been stepping up its game since 2008 with the SR Cup. Produced by the pro crew at Bike Monkey, this three-day race series attracts riders from all over the Bay Area and further afield to sample the unique flavor of our local cycling culture.This year’s event will follow the same format as last year, although Bike Monkey’s Carlos Perez hints at a few exciting changes to spice it up for returning racers and spectators alike. The first race, held after sundown at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, features a barrier constructed of Lagunitas kegs, a huge overpass, fog machines, lasers, and blaring techno. It may be the most psychedelic bike race ever produced.

Whether you’re a hardened, mud-loving racer, a total CX virgin, or a sideline spectator, all three days of the SR Cup are guaranteed to be a good time, rain or shine. It all goes down November 11-13 at Sonoma County Fairgrounds and Spring Lake Park. Check out the Bike Monkey SR Cup website for details.

Thanks to Dylan Buffington/MASH for the b&w photos.

*Click here for a great glossary of ‘cross terms.


Get Pumped

Here in Santa Rosa we’re getting our very first public pump track bike park.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, here’s what to expect: a pump track is a small course consisting of berms, rollers, and other features that allow a bike rider to roll around a groomed dirt loop without pedaling. The rider uses their body, chiefly by pumping their arms and legs into and out of terrain, in order to gain momentum. This helps riders of all levels, from absolute beginners to seasoned pros, develop critical riding skills that can be applied to mountain biking, road racing, cyclocross, BMX, dirt jumping, or simply riding a bike. It also happens to be an insanely fun way to spend an afternoon with family and friends.

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The Santa Rosa pump track, hopefully the first of many, is the brainchild of Doug McKenzie. After over three years of planning, fundraising, permitting, and plenty of waiting, the 56-year old Santa Rosa native is seeing his dream become a reality. Professional riders and builders, including track designers Andrew Taylor and Greg Watts, are putting the finishing touches on the course with the assistance of many volunteers from our local cycling community.

But it won’t stop there. McKenzie has been involved with the Redwood Empire Mountain Bike Alliance (REMBA) to promote an initiative for a pump track in every park. If that sounds overly ambitious, you haven’t met REMBA before. And if one pump track seems like enough, you haven’t ridden a pump track before. So inflate the tires on your old BMX, strap on a helmet and get out there. You’ll be pumped too.

The pump track can be found at Northwest Community Park adjacent to Comstock Middle School.

For more information, visit the REMBA Facebook page