More than 225 bike racers of all ages took part in the challenging, muddy Bubblecross race Sunday, Sept. 10 at Bubbling Springs Park.
The race, organized by the Town Cycle Bike Club in West Milford, was the first race in the New Jersey Bicycling Association (NJBA) 2023 CX Cup season.
The NJBA is the governing body for road bike racing in the state. It has more than 30 clubs and 1,000 riders.
The Town Cycle Bike Club is a nonprofit group with about 25 members and is an offshoot of the Town Cycle bike shop.
It has hosted Bubblecross at the park since 2015.
There were six age categories this year, with 17 races for men and women and boys and girls from age 5 to 60-plus.
“Hosting the race at Bubbling Springs is a great opportunity to bring people, many for the first time, to our township,” said club member David Kahl, a lifelong West Milford resident who grew up in the Highcrest Lake community.
“Our Bubblecross race has grown and is increasingly popular, bringing together racers from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and beyond.
“Along with enjoying and advancing the sport of cycling, our club’s purpose is to bring families and friends together, encouraging junior riders and adults to get out there on bikes and to have fun.
“We promote a healthy and active lifestyle as we enjoy together a lifetime sport,” said Kahl, who is also a cycling coach. “There are young racers with parents, parent racers who brought their kids into sport, and kids who bring parents into cycling. It’s been encouraging to see so many more juniors getting involved with the sport.”
Bubblecross participants included beginner to elite racers.
One of the podium finishers in the elite women’s race was a 12-year-old girl from Connecticut who raced at highest level along with the race winner, multitime national master’s champion, coach and professional Stacy Barbosa.
The masters racers become role models and mentors to the next generation of cyclists.
An idea while riding
The Town Cycle Bike Club has promoted Cyclocross and Mountain bike races in Wawayanda, Ringwood State Park and other areas.
Kahl had the idea of hosting a race at Bubbling Springs as he passed by there during one of his long bike rides years ago.
“I thought, Why not bring the race to West Milford, and Bubbling Springs looked like a great venue,” he said. “We got a plan together and worked in partnership with the West Milford Community Services and Recreation Department, especially (programs coordinator) Sue Pappas to make it happen. We’re very proud of the race, its growth, and what it has become for the community and the sport.”
The name Bubblecross is derived from combining Bubbling Springs and cyclocross, which is a unique discipline of cycling that takes place over rough terrain during fall and winter months. It’s a cross of road cycling, mountain biking and steeplechase.
Competitors use modified road bikes equipped with skinny, knobby tires; disc brakes; and slightly different geometry, which allows for better clearance when passing over various obstacles.
The Town Cycle Bike Club was created by bicycling enthusiasts more than a decade ago with the support of Town Cycle and proprietor Michael Hoek, who is an avid cyclist.
In addition to enjoying cycling and advancing the sport, club members have raised about $5,000 in each of the past five years for the New Jersey League of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) and the Jersey Off Road Bicycling Association (JORBA).
The New Jersey NICA League has more than 700 middle and high school participants with more than 15,000 junior athletes participating nationally.
The donated JORBA funds have been used for trail building and maintenance, specifically to assist with construction of the handicapped-accessible trail in the former Jungle Habitat area last summer.
Rain and mud
The course was relatively dry early Sunday but rain made it more muddy later, Kahl said. “That said, everyone had fun and (a) highly competitive day.”
He participated in the age 50-plus category. “It’s a grueling race that I consider anaerobic,” he said. “Irrespective of how fast every competitor out there goes, it’s the same course and the race requires the same high effort. Everyone is working hard.
A local landscaper, fellow cyclist and classmate of Kahl’s from West Milford High School provides hay and bulk seed for club members to spread along the course and event area “to ensure that the grounds look like we were never there come springtime,” he said.
“We want to make sure the township continues to support this event moving forward. We greatly appreciate the support of Bubbling Springs, the town and Recreation Department, Town Cycle, our volunteers and participants who make this event possible in West Milford.”