By Benjamin Whitney
Bellingham is home to what may be the Pacific Northwest’s rowdiest cyclocross race series. Cyclocross races typically include dirt, grass and pavement, but Cascade Cross races are longer, rougher and contain more singletrack than series hosted in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. Kip Zwolenski has been racing cyclocross for years and organizes the Bellingham Grind Corps, a series of adventurous group gravel rides. He took over as Cascade Cross race director this season, which started in October and runs through January 13.
MBE: How did you jump into the role as Cascade Cross race director?
KZ: I volunteered and helped out last season. Ryan Rickerts who has been running the series for 10 years was looking to dial back his role and I was ready to step in. I’m really excited to connect with the nexus of people that make this series happen year after year.
MBE: Have you organized any events like this in the past?
KZ: Well, I’m a teacher so I facilitate stuff. I’ve also done a lot of community activist work in the past. Currently, I coordinate the Bellingham Grind Corps, which overlaps a lot with the cyclocross crowd. Most riders will modify their cross bikes for gravel season and we have the same vibe.
MBE: What’s new for the 2017-2018 race series?
KZ: My biggest thing is consistency over the course of the season. This means hosting races every two weeks, more preseason planning and gathering input from main volunteers and team captains. But I’m not looking to make any large changes. This season I’m working to make each event stand alone. I crunched the numbers and easily 40 percent of our racers only make it to one or two events. So we’ve added podiums after each race, something we’ve only done at the season’s end before. We’re also trying to encourage more female riders to give cross a try.
MBE: How are you going to increase the female race field?
KZ: We’re at about 20-25 percent female racers. That’s a disparity. So we asked ourselves what can we do to change that? The Queens of Dirt have been really helpful. They’re putting on clinics for female riders to talk through techniques and course features. We also put together a package for women to participate in an evening clinic with Queens of Dirt at Lake Padden. We offered half off towards a Cascade Cross series pass or single race fee. Our series is really open. You can show up on a mountain bike and still have a good time.
MBE: What’s the best way to grow cyclocross in the Pacific Northwest?
KZ: Bring a friend. Once people see it, they get it. We’re definitely trying to grow our youth and women’s fields. I think the biggest thing is word of mouth.
The final two Cascade Cross stops of the season are Saturday, December 2 at Camp Lutherwood on Lake Samish, and Saturday, January 13 at Cornwall Park in Bellingham.
Inspired by the allure of the North Cascades, Benjamin Whitney moved to Bellingham from Vermont last winter. He writes about people, place and community, and is excited to contribute to the creative wellspring that surrounds the alpine.