Sugar Showdown at BikeFest

Kat Sweet's Sugar Showdown at Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Fest specializes in teaching women mountain bikers to jump, drop and rail.

Story and photos by Karen Kefauver

March 27, 2014—Fifteen-year-old Katelyn Praly is on a mission.

“I want to become a better bike jumper and I want to learn how to be a better teammate,” says the Santa Cruz County resident, who plans to compete in the women-only Sugar Showdown, part of the 5th annual Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival, held April 5-6 in Aptos Village.

Riding since she was 8 years old thanks to her dad’s encouragement, Praly is passionate about mountain biking, despite its inherent dangers.

“I love the adrenaline rush,” says Praly. “And I love the amount of work and dedication it takes to keep control of the bike and land properly without eating dirt. That’s one thing you don’t want to do: eat dirt.”

Riding her purple bike named “Mischief Managed,” Praly will be improving her skills and racing at the Sugar Showdown, presented by Seattle-based mountain bike coach Kat Sweet of Sweetlines.

Sugar Showdown can be a one- or two-day event. After registering with Sweetlines, women can take a skills clinic at the festival on Saturday that will focus on an array of skills including basic riding techniques, pumping, jumping, drops, wheel lifts and railing berms. They have the option to compete in jumping on Sunday. For the competition, a special course has been developed for women at the hair-raising, world-famous Aptos Post Office jumps. The training will happen at the pump track. The cost is $155 for the clinic only or $185 to add the competition.

The super-fit, pink-haired Sweet, a former pro mountain bike racer and skiing competitor, specializes in coaching women.

“I’m doing it for the ladies. A lot of them want to jump bikes and they may want guidance in how to do it correctly. I coach new jumpers and also those doing it for a while to get them to the next level.”

Kathy King, an alumna of last year’s Sugar Showdown at the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival, isn't participating this year because she was inspired to sign up for a longer full-weekend course. But, she says, “I do use what I learned at the event every time I ride. Flow trail and turns and jumps and where to look. All good info.”

Ivy Lui, a Bay Area-based two-time veteran of the Sugar Showdown in Seattle, says learning new moves alongside other women is helpful. “When you see somebody else do it and their physique is not that different from yours and their skill set is not very different from yours, it give you courage,” she says.

Lui adds that the clinic works for all skill levels. “It’s really worthwhile for anybody getting into mountain biking or learning new skills, because it's a very methodical process. They can get anybody to learn these skills and tricks.”

With the help of four other topnotch women jumpers, Sweet hopes the Saturday clinic will attract 30 participants. On Sunday, she’d like to see at least 15 women competing.

“It’s rewarding to teach women how to jump or do a new trick and see the smiles on their faces. It’s pretty awesome getting a pack of a ladies out there shredding the jumps and Santa Cruz.”

“It’s an impressive festival,” says Sweet. “So many things going on—jumps, pump track, vendors. It’s a fun venue and I am very happy to be back and to be part of it.”

The two-day festival, designed for both spectators and participants, is organized by Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz.

“This is a celebration of mountain biking in our community,” says Santa Cruz Mountain Bike President Mark Davidson. “We have great people, athletes, bike companies, trails and we want to showcase them. Plus, we’re creating a really positive message and introducing parents to this healthy lifestyle,” he said. “We want more awareness of the great resources we have in this county. Mountain biking can be invisible here unless you mountain bike. Everyone knows it’s a surfing town, but it’s a mountain biking town, too.”

Davidson credits Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival Event Director Murphy Mack, who is a professional event promoter with SuperPro Racing, for continuing to grow the event in its fifth year.

Attendance is expected top 9,000 visitors during the course of the weekend.

With no admission fee to attend, cycling fans of all ages can visit dozens of vendors and exhibitions plus watch the action at the pump track, an enclosed area consisting of a dirt course with twists, turns and berms and at the short track, a course that runs around the perimeter of the festival. The daredevils who brave the massive jumps at the Aptos Post Office spot always draw the biggest crowds for the Sunday afternoon 831 Jump Jam and Contest.

For 10th grader Katelyn Praly, all that really matters is that “When I get out there, I get in the zone. I don’t care about what anyone thinks… I want to show people that girls will ride a bike, will jump and can and will do well.”

(additional reporting by Traci Hukill)

Karen Kefauver is a freelance writer and social media consultant based in Santa Cruz. She enjoys bicycling, yoga and travel and maybe some day will learn how to jump her bike.

If You Go

What: 5th annual Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival. In addition to cycling, the festival also includes a food court, beer garden, live music at 4pm Saturday with Coffee Zombie Collective, special areas for kids and shuttle rides to the top of Nisene Marks with Shuttle Smith Adventures ($25).

When: April 5-6, 2014

Hours: 9am - 6pm Saturday, 9am - 5pm Sunday.

Where: Aptos Village, Aptos, next to Epicenter Cycling

Cost: Free admission to expo area

Details: Pre-registration is required for some events. Find more information at