Kamikazi mountain bike race returns

The Chinese term that was introduced to Japan as "banzai" was originally translated as "ten thousand years." Today, in Japan and around the globe, banzai has become a cheer of congratulation and triumph. It's the latter, more modern use for which Wild Rockies race organization has appropriated as the name for one of Boise's coolest mountain bike races.

The Bogus to Boise Banzai is a super D race, which means it is a long distance downhill that includes a bit of climbing. And interestingly, it has been a really, really long time since the last Bogus to Boise Banzai mountain bike race. Not 10,000 years, but close.

Wild Rockies, which has put on more than 200 bike races since 1988 (not to mention all the running, motorsports and triathlon races), wraps this year's racing season with the Banzai, and they bill it as "The World's Longest Downhill Race." With a distance of 16.5 miles, the course drops 4,100 feet from start to finish. "We're not aware of anything that loses more downhill or is longer," says Ron Dillon, owner of Wild Rockies Outdoor Works and Play Company.

"This is the 10th and final Wild Rockies mountain bike event of 2006," says Dillon. "But Banzai is especially noteworthy because we're bringing it back after a 12-year absence."

The original Banzai was created in 1985 by John Platt. It was a series of about six races, and they were mostly in the evenings over the course of a month. Originally they were "outlaw" races because the trails were on private and Bureau of Land Management land, but as the city grew, it became much more complicated to put the race together because of all the different entities required to OK the races.

And that's when Chris Haunold, the owner of bike and outdoor store Idaho Mountain Touring, came up with the idea to start the race at Bogus. The new trail then became the entire Banzai event, and Wild Rockies joined the crew, too.

That version of Banzai lasted through the mid-90s, until the big Boise foothills fire. "[The foothills] burned prior to the event date," Dillon says. "And the Forest Service was concerned that burnt trees would come down and fall on people."

While it was gone, bikers fondly remembered the race that started with a gun shot on the mountain and trailed straight down 8th Street to the finish line at Lucky 13 in Hyde Park.

"We've been talking about trying to bring it back for a long time," says Haunold. "Well, this year we finally got our shit together. It's a very difficult event to put on." Haunold hooked up with Dillon again, as well as the Boise Co-op, to orchestrate the return. "Idaho Mountain Touring brought me on board to run it," says Dillon. "They are very instrumental in the history of the event and this year, too." The Co-op jumped in because they wanted to see the series be successful in the community. "We want to do anything to enhance the community," says Peterson. "We're gonna bring it to the next level. The Banzai is all grown up."

So instead of finishing at Lucky 13, the race culminates at the Co-op. "We are really excited about having the finish at Boise Co-op," Dillon says. "They have more room to spread out in the parking lot and they are planning to have lots of cool things going on. The Banzai party will be in full swing."

And at the Co-op party, the organizers will award cash and medals to the winners of each class and category (there are 33 classes, so prizes should be aplenty). Local band the Rockafellas will play, and there will be free samples from Co-op vendors and local farmers' crops. The race also coincides with beer festivals Oktoberfest and Harvestfest, so expect the Co-op's huge beer selection to make an appearance.

In the hopes of permanently bringing back Banzai and making it bigger and better for the coming years, the organizers have added a new event this year for runners, which will begin right after the bikers take off. The course looks something like this: All racers will take the ski lift to the top of Deer Point at Bogus Basin. At the shot, bikers go. The first mile is downhill, then it's a mile and a half uphill and the remaining 14 miles are again downhill. The runners and walkers follow the same course.

Dillon is forecasting that between 200 and 300 mountain bikers and between 50 and a hundred runners will do the Banzai (because the course is mostly downhill, it tends to bring out people who wouldn't normally do a mountain bike race).

According to Haunold, back in the days when mountain biking wasn't as popular as it is now, a lot of people got into mountain biking specifically because of the Banzai. It was a race a lot of people could try for their first time. "The hardcore guys can go out because they have the skills to do a very challenging event," says Haunold. "And at the same time, a 10-year-old kid can do it with his mom. The way we're doing it now, it's not a really technical trail."

Dillon concurs, declaring the course is great for anyone with a Huffy, as long as the brakes are adjusted. "You don't have to be in real good shape, you don't have to be a really skilled rider," he says. "You have to be skilled and fit to win it, but anyone can ride a bike down 8th Street."

Dillon says the old course record at Lucky 13 was 43 minutes, so they are predicting a winner to cross the finish line between 40 and 45 minutes. For those on foot, they have no predictions. "How fast can someone run downhill? We're just scratching our heads," Dillon says. "Maybe an hour and 15 minutes--if their knees stay together."

In any case, Dillon and Haunold surmise that a lot of people are looking forward to the Banzai because there really isn't another event like this, and because there's a lot of nostalgia about this race.

"It represents old-school mountain biking," Dillon says. "When people raced in Levis, tennis shoes and a football helmet--the good old days of mountain biking. It really speaks well of Boise that you can run all those bikes down the mountain and finish in town."

The Bogus to Boise Banzai is Sunday, October 8 at high noon. For more information or to register, call 208-587-9530 or visit

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