Binghamton, NY. Not a town that comes to mind when thinking of mountain biking. More so, one of the many Rustbelt towns in the Northeast that’s been clawing its way out of the crippling economic decisions of the twentieth century. Yet there is a flourishing mountain bike culture here that’s truly one of a kind. Having spent 7 years here between school and jobs, I’ve come to appreciate the people and the trails that make this area so unique.
Mountain biking in Binghamton is quite the experience. Sure there are conventional parks in the area, but to experience riding right in town, right from your front door, you have to go out with Chenango Point Cycles. Chenango Point Cycles is the soul of the mountain bike scene in town. From hosting the weekly Friday night rides that take you on a wild ride through the city’s urban riding spots and finishing with generous amounts of adult beverages, to putting on events like the Mustache Ride, The Kamikaze, or the Five Summits and a Six Pack ride, these are some of the most unique events you’ll get the pleasure of participating in. There is an unmistakable feel of outlaw here. You never know exactly what to expect but chances are, you’ll have a story to tell afterwards and come out tougher and faster than you started. Rugged and gritty are some of the words that come to mind in describing these rides.
The decision to do the annual Five Summits ride was an easy one once I found out I didn’t have any other commitments for the weekend. Drinking beer, hanging out and riding just about everything you can within the city limits, who am I to say no to that? Enlisting Chris on this ride with the promise of a good time, I was curious, to say the least, about what he’d think of the whole affair. – Paul Dotsenko
(Is this thing for real?)
A couple weeks ago Paul calls me up and says “Wanna do the drunk Sunday ride in Binghamton?”
My reaction (after a moment of contemplation): “What?”
Here’s the pitch: A bunch of mountain bikers get together on a Sunday in June to do a gritty, grueling ride that climbs and descends five of the summits that surround the city of Binghamton. Sounds reasonable enough by itself, but there’s one more detail: each climb is preceded by a drinking a full beer, which makes for a six pack’s worth of consumption (at minimum) throughout the day.
I love mountain biking. I love beer. I, like so many other riders, believe in a direct correlation between the two. And despite some eight years of riding almost daily, I’ve never found myself mixing them so…freely. I did run the beer mile once in college, so the concept is not new to me, but the beer mile is done in 7-15 minutes and this is a five part mountain bike ride that spans several hours.
Nevertheless, I love a good adventure so “Count me in!” I replied.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. Paul and I arrived at Chenango Point Cycles a little after 8:30am (drinking before noon – talk about another flashback to my college days) with what may or may not have been a slight hangover from the night before. Paul used to work at this shop, and the owner Jim is a key supporter of this ride. I’m rather surprised to see a full parking lot with some 30+ riders prepping their bikes and beer, and I drag my haggard self out of the car and join them.
Around 9:30ish we take the traditional group photo and hit the pavement. It’s a few miles on the road before we reach the first climb and there were no complaints from me – it was a great opportunity to warm up my legs and burn off my *alleged* hangover.
The rollout is not unlike a tamer version of critical mass – a few dozen cyclists who have taken control of the streets by sheer volume, but not for any purpose other than to have a great time. At times, chatter is drowned out by the sound of knobby tires fighting tarmac.
At one point I remarked to another rider “That sound is awesome” to which he replied “That’s the sound OF awesome.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.
After a few miles through the sleepy morning streets of Binghamton we hit the first climb and regrouped in a grassy clearing near some sort of pond that resembled a reservoir (I’m a mountain biker, not a city planner, OK?) before continuing on up through rough cut singletrack to a water tank that would serve as the “peak” for the Ely Park summit.
It’s worth noting that despite the enormous group, this was a no-drop ride which meant that even though some riders were pedaling faster than others, we all met up at key points throughout. No one cared how fast you were moving and there was no extra incentive to be the first one up, or down. This event was entirely un-race-like in its nature and the sense of community was incredibly similar to the Oneonta Epic ride that I’ve helped lead & promote every October just a few miles north in Otsego County. Dare I say this was almost like an Enduro? (Except we actually rode up the hills)
Because of the long road leadout, the first summit was one of the longest segments, but fortunately local riders had setup checkpoints at their homes between each leg. The first checkpoint had (in addition to beer) a selection of Fruit Loops, orange juice, assorted fruit and other various sundries. These extra snacks were much welcomed and saved many a rider from imminent bonking.
After a 15-20 minute break we were back on the road, with The Brickyard in our sights, across the Chenango River on the northeastern end of downtown. Summit 2 was one of my favorites and arguably the most rugged. After a steep road climb we arrived at The Brickyard, colloquially named for the numerous bricks and chunks of bricks strewn throughout. There was a regular amount of hike-a-bike en route to the peak – areas where shale and loose stone or mud made for spinning wheels.
The most stunning views of our entire ride were immediately behind one of the most daring features, the fin. The fin is best described as the east coast’s version of Joe’s Ridge or Zippity Do Da (two trails in Fruita’s famous 18 Road network). A narrow ridge of singletrack runs between a rock-filled ravine on the right and a seemingly endless fall down the hillside to the left. Either way, the penalty for failure is HIGH.
After sessioning the top for a bit we were again pointed downward where the steeper terrain we experienced on the way up was much more welcome. I thoroughly enjoyed this downhill. Rugged and raw, not unlike the kind of riding you’d find at Plattekill. At the bottom were Sierra Nevada Pale Ales and donuts, which sound awful together, but after lengthy (and steep) climbs, they’re quite the lovely pair.
A short while later, we climbing Summit 4. Yes, Summit 4. I can’t tell you a whole lot about Summit 3 and in the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
A mere hundred yards into this climb I flatted and Jim from Chenango Point Cycles was kind enough to spot me the use of his tire lever and CO2 cartridge. Effectively killing my flow and falling off the back of the group, I lost a lot of juice on Summit 4. At this point I put the camera down and just pedaled it out to catch up with the group.
Turns out the rest of the peloton was starting to feel it as well. By the time we got to the checkpoint before South Mountain, the still active contingent was noticeably drained. After all, we had completed some 27 miles, a few thousand feet of climbing and numerous instances of hike-a-bike and bushwhacking.
My reaction was both acceptance and disappointment. Acceptance because I’ve ridden South Mountain before and it’s a really cool spot. Fairly easy climbs rewarded with a thrilling variety of quick downhills. Disappointment for that very same reason – Paul and I were so drained that we only did one run for the sake of completing the ride and ticking off box #5 on our figurative checklist.
A few particularly ambitious riders headed off to add on X19 – I’m told this is another peak adjacent to South Mountain and a bonus summit, so to speak. My legs had other ideas. I rolled back to the shop, impressed with my ability to muscle out a 30+ mile run on trails that were at times, quite slimy. An honorable mention to my stomach and my liver for surviving on booze and snacks for some 7 hours in a row.
I can’t guarantee that I’ll get to ride Drunk Sunday every year, but if I’m anywhere near Binghamton, I’ll sure make the trip.