Outdoor Indiana - March/April 2009 - Feature Story
Meet the DINO’s
User-friendly mountain bike racing for all
Story by Marty Benson, Photography by John Maxwell
Just as a lot of working married couples, the Castles of New Palestine sought a leisure activity they could enjoy together once they left the office.
That was four years ago. Neither had owned a bike as an adult nor had interest in getting one.
Now, both race mountain bikes regularly in the DINO mountain bike series, wife in the Expert class, husband in the Sport class. DINO is an acronym for Do INdiana Off-road and is pronounced just like the name of the Flintstones’ pet dinosaur in the old cartoon.
The couple’s transformation set sail when neighbor Barney Rubble ... oops ... make that Roger Grah, invited the couple to ride with a group from his work on its monthly journey down Indianapolis’ paved Monon Trail.
(Above right) The start of the DINO men’s Expert race at Muscatatuck County Park in Jennings County last July. The Experts raced five laps on the 5.5-mile-long hilly and wooded course.
The Castles found riding borrowed mountain bikes on the smooth blacktop of the Monon OK, but then they turned onto the Canal Towpath and its hard-packed gravely surface. They were lukewarm on that too, but then came to a short offshoot that veered off the path, with a bump about a foot high.
They shot right over it into an addiction to mountain biking.
Within two weeks, Dave, a 45-year-old research and design manager, led the charge to buy the couple his ‘n her bikes. Soon, they were rolling knobby tires over Indianapolis’ Town Run dirt trails.
“We had a blast,” he said. “Looking back, the hills there were really challenging (at the time), and it was a riot to either go up the hills or stop and crash and fall down.”
After a year or so, they outgrew Town Run, a relatively easy course.
(Above left) DINO Sport-class riders joust on the scenic trails of Muscatatuck County Park last July.
Chikage, Dave’s 35-year-old wife and a native of Japan who moved to Bloomington 12 years ago and now works as an accounting manager, had competed in DINO trail-running races for a few years. She’d seen the organization’s mountain bike races. Her mental wheels started turning ... ‘why not?’
Whoa, said Dave, a self-described non-athlete.
“It had only been a year of riding,” he said. “I didn’t think I was quite ready but ...”
Chikage entered both riders in the Intro class of the Westwood race in New Castle in 2005. At the finish line, both found themselves unscathed. And stoked.
“I felt like I was the king of the world, because I finished without crashing,” Dave said. “I wasn’t in last place. I had no mishaps.”
Now both were hooked not only on mountain bike riding, but mountain bike racing.
For Chikage, the sport has left her former hobby of running in the dust.
“It’s more challenging and there is more skill involved, not just cardio like running,” she said.
Having found the answer to their recreational quest, they now compete in any race within decent driving distance, regularly hitting the Brown County State Park course, their favorite, in between.
“We look forward to it every weekend. We plan for it. We’ve got our routine down. It’s a priority in our life now,” Dave said.
(Above right) Dave and Chikage Castle from New Palestine rest at Hesitation Point along Brown County State Park’s mountain bike trail system.
DINO hatched in 1990, when founder Chris Gatowski of Bloomington staged a hometown mountain bike race, which matured into a series in the mid-’90s. Brian Holzhausen of McCordsville, near Geist, in suburban north Indianapolis, has been DINO’s master since 2001.
While readying to ride in a 2000 DINO event, the now 37-year-old overheard that the series was being put up for sale. If it wasn’t bought, the grapevine said, DINO would go the way of the dinosaurs. The running-and-biking enthusiast, who said his first date at Purdue with his future wife Amanda was a run, went home after the race and broke the news. Even though she also competed in DINO, Amanda didn’t quite understand Brian’s gist.
(Above left) DINO director Brian Holzhausen from McCordsville manages the Town Run Trail Park race in Indianapolis last September. (Right) Amanda McKay from Petersburg, Ky., finished second in the DINO Expert women’s race last July at Muscatatuck Park.
“She said ‘I wonder who will take it over?’ And I said ‘I thought we could.’ ”
He’d been a civil engineer for six years when DINO became their job. “Part-time race director” stayed avocation in 2001, then became a full-time job in 2002. Since then, the couple has expanded the series from seven annual mountain bike races to 22 total events, half of them trail-running races, triathlons or adventure races. About 200 people, separated at the start of the races by age, talent and experience, routinely compete in each mountain bike race at various sites around the state, throughout late spring and summer.
The term “race” can scare away potential participants like Dave Castle because, for many, it connotes “expert;” however, “Expert” is just the elite division of the DINO classes. Virtually anyone with some mountain biking experience can find a fit. That wasn’t necessarily true until Holzhausen launched the Intro class in 2003. Before that, the lowest division was Beginner, which turned out to be a misnomer.
“We decided that the Beginner category really wasn’t beginners—the people who were really beginners and just getting into (mountain bike racing), they were intimidated in the Beginner category,” he said.
The Intro distance is usually well under 10 miles, usually closer to 5 miles. Typically, the Beginner and more advanced-level races are twice as long as the Intro event. Some novices choose Intro for their first race; some, using their times on courses and input from fellow riders as references, choose Beginner.
Dave Powers of Whiteland, a 39-year-old project manager for a heating and air conditioning controls company, rode his first DINO in 2006, opting for Intro.
“I had no clue what was going on,” he said. “I probably could have done Beginner, but I looked at it as ‘this is your first race, this is your first experience.’ ”
Scott Rothenbush, a 38-year-old banking executive in Carmel and father of two young children, started riding DINO at Beginner, but he sure looked like an Intro candidate when a friend first steered him toward mountain bike riding at Town Run in October 2005, at 7 a.m., on Rothenbush’s birthday.
(Above left) Dave Powers from Whiteland competed in the DINO Beginner race held at Muscatatuck County Park last July.
“First I had to take the baby carrier and the connection for the pull for the kids off the bike,” he said. “It was freezing, but we stayed out for hours.”
A motocross motorcycle racer in his high school and college days, Rothenbush DINOed for the first time two years ago as a Beginner, then raced in that class for all seven other races that year. Last year, he raced in all but one event, finishing seventh overall for Beginner men, fifth in the 30-39 age group.
(Right) Scott Rothenbush from Indianapolis rehashes thrills and strategies with fellow racers after the DINO men’s Beginner race at Town Run Trail Park on the north side of his hometown last September.
A rider can do Intro until finishing in the top three in a race, then must move up to Beginner for future races.
Brad Hill, a 46-year-old custom home builder from Carmel and father of two teenagers, won the Beginner series two years ago after one year of racing experience and three prior years of frequent trail riding. This year, he competed in Sport, age 40-49, and finished 11th overall for the year. He plans on moving up to Sport Open this year.
“(When I started,) the more I rode, the more fun I had,” he said. “A friend told me I ought to look into DINO to see how I stacked up.
“Mountain biking is a great way to stay fit. Going to the gym is work; mountain biking is fun.”
Novices pay from $10 to $20 to enter a DINO mountain bike race. Riders who compete in at least six of the seven races get entered in a drawing for a new bike, which Powers won two years ago. The prize upgraded his ride from a $500 bike to $2,000 worth of hardware.
(Left) Brad Hill from Carmel finishes the Sport-class race at the park.
Certainly, winning such a prize is a long shot. Most riders, while competitive, just like DINO for the fun, the exercise, a chance to test themselves against others and, believe it not, the tranquility.
“It’s quiet and peaceful, even during a race,” Dave Castle said. “Usually all you can hear is your own heartbeat, your own breath.”
The riders themselves help make the entire experience enjoyable. While competitive, they’re always ready to help others, particularly newcomers. That’s partially because so many share other common bonds.
“The people are absolutely fantastic,” he said. “We found out by accident that a lot of the (other riders) out there are just like us. They are professional people just looking to have fun.”
No matter your age, gender, talent level, or desire to compete, explore DINO. If you’re anything like these Hoosiers, even if you’re relatively new to the sport, you may soon find yourself interrupting the woodsy solitude with a “yabba dabba doo!”
Marty Benson is senior editor of OI and DNR’s assistant director of communications/public affairs and publications.
Should you say yes to DINO?
If you have a mountain bike and occasionally ride trails, you’re probably capable of DINOing, regardless of age or gender. The series has a level for everyone.
If you’re going to take the plunge, first, of course, you need to have a mountain bike, one of those with knobby tires and, ideally, but not necessarily, shock absorbers on that bike. DINO director Brian Holzhausen said that it’s important to have a good bike but by no means does it need to be top-of-the-line.
“If you have a department store (mountain) bike, try an easy course to see what (riding a mountain bike trail) is like,” he said. “If you like the concept of it, but think the bike’s too heavy or the ride’s too rough, you probably need a better bike.
“If you buy from a bike shop, you’ll have something that’s good enough to be a casual rider (in DINO),” he said.
Cost, certainly, is a limitation for most. Plan to pay a minimum of $300 to $400. Upper-end bikes can eclipse 10 times that much.
Cost for entry for Intro, typically, is $10 in advance and $15 on the day of the race. Beginners pay $15 in advance, $20 on race day.
If you’re worried about DINO crowds, don’t be. Although about 200 people compete in the average event, 10 is an average number for those in Intro. They start separately, after all other categories have taken off at two-minute intervals.
“(Intro riders) ride only against other Intro riders who are just out there to see if they like it,” Holzhausen said. “It’s a little incentive (to compete hard) because you’re riding with others but you’re not going to be pushed by people passing you all the time.”
Even if you jump directly into Beginner class, like Carmel’s Scott Rothenbush did, you’ll find the people to be competitive, but not cutthroat.
“It’s not intimidating because you can ask anyone anything and they will help you,” he said.
If you’re a female cyclist, DINO may be your chance to be a star because only about 10 percent of the riders are women. Usually, age-wise, they are in their 20s or 30s.
If you don’t want to DINO and haven’t tried mountain biking, and are looking for a way to keep fit, you might give mountain biking a try—you may even forget you’re doing it.
“It’s like a video game,” Rothenbush said. “The trails take you to different places, sometimes there’s wildlife, sometimes there are other bikers. It’s like skiing—it’s exercise but you don’t really think about that because it’s so fun.”
(Above left) The DINO Youth race at Muscatatuck County Park last July. (Above right) The DINO men’s Beginners ride though remnant rains and wind gusts from Hurricane Ike last September at Town Run Trail Park.
2009 DINO Mountain Bike Events
April 11, DINO Spring Tuneup, Avon*
May 2, Warsaw: Winona Lake Trail
May 31, Nashville: Brown County State Park
June 13, Fort Wayne: Franke Park
July 5, North Vernon: Muscatatuck Park
July 26, Versailles: Versailles State Park
Aug. 16, Logansport: France Park
Sept. 6, Indianapolis: Town Run Trail Park
Sept. 19, 24 Hours of DINO, Versailles*
*All of these events are part of the Kendra DINO Mountain Biking Series.