Chequamegon
The 2021 Chequamegon 40; (photo/Chequamegon MTB Festival)

Legendary MTB Race Slices Through Deep-Woods Wisconsin: What Is Chequamegon?

This month, the Chequamegon mountain bike race celebrates its 39th birthday. Here’s everything you need to know to party right along with the legendary race.

A legend on two wheels was born in an unassuming woodland glade in northern Wisconsin. The Chequamegon 40 race originated in 1983 among a group of 27 ragtag riders, and then grew to revered status among U.S. mountain biking festivals.

This year’s single-track action kicks off Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Top mountain bikers from around the nation headline the festival, which the namesake 40-mile race punctuates. Family-friendly events like kids’ rides and a “Fat and Short” 16-miler dot the weekend schedule.

Chequamegon "little loggers"
“Little Loggers” at the 2021 Chequamegon 40; (photo/Chequamegon MTB Festival)

Race organizers call the course a “roller coaster conglomeration” consisting of glacial features and a punishing focal segment of rolling 25- to 50-foot climbs. The race is one of six stops on the Life Time Grand Prix Series. Pros who take it on — including the likes of Lex Albrecht and Ashton Lambie — will pedal for an enormous purse, with $250,000 in prizes up for grabs.

Chequamegon MTB Festival History & Course

Chequamegon started when a handful of ski bums got together and dreamed up the concept. Then-Telemark Northwoods employees Tom Kelly, Dan Hunt, Mike Cooper, Phil Van Valkenberg, and Phil Rasmussen brainstormed a bike race on the American Birkebeiner ski trail at Lakewoods Resort in Cable, Wisc.

“If ever there was a case of the right people, in the right place, at the right time, coming up with the right idea, this was it,” the race website explains. “Mountain bikes were coming into popularity, the American Birkebeiner trail offered a challenging race course, accommodations and volunteers were plentiful, and it doesn’t get any more beautiful than Northern Wisconsin in mid-September.”

The point-to-point course leads riders from Main Street in Hayward, Wisc., to the finish line at the resort. The route comprises a patchwork of forest roads, snowmobile trails, and various wooded paths.

Chequamegon racers in mud
(Photo/Chequamegon MTB Festival)

“While not a technically demanding course in terms of tricky switchbacks and narrow single-track trails, the race course will wear you down with the never-ending changes of terrain and surface conditions,” race organizers said in a press release. Along the way, spectators can catch the action at multiple bottlenecks and gathering points.

chequamegon 40
(Photo/Chequamegon MTB Festival)

2022 Schedule Notes & How to Enter

This year’s festival starts on Friday, Sept. 16. A bib pickup event at the American Birkebeiner trailhead showcases live music, food trucks, and all-important beer beginning at 1 p.m. At 4 p.m., kids (as young as 2 years old!) kick off the show with the first “Little Loggers” ride.

 

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The pros get underway on Saturday at 10 a.m. Cole Paton and Melisa Rollins return to defend their 2021 Chequamegon 40 titles. As of this writing, registration is still open. Entry to the 40-mile headliner costs $95, and kids ride free in Little Loggers.

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.