Fourth Annual Biggie rallies community around bikes
By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR
BIG SKY – Finishing a 60-mile mountain bike race in the mountains of southwest Montana is cause for celebration under any circumstance, but there’s something particularly triumphant about the way cyclist Syd Schulz rides through the Big Sky Biggie finish line Saturday.
It’s about 3:30 p.m., or seven and a half hours since Schulz started pedaling. Both Schultz and her bike are coated in mud, her toothy smile vibrant against a dirty face.
“That last hour was like a jungle out there,” said 31-year-old Shulz from Los Alamos, Texas.
She goes on to tell tales of hail, lightning and rain that she and the other 60-mile Biggie racers endured as they crawled toward the finish line in Town Center. One of only 55 athletes to complete the Biggie’s longest race, Schulz looks beaten and battered, but she wears her mud and exhaustion like war paint.
In its fourth year, the Big Sky Biggie brought a record 408 mountain bikers to the start line on Aug. 27 to ride in 15-, 30- and 60-mile courses that traversed all over Big Sky, from Town Center to the slopes of Big Sky Resort. Founded on the intention of building community and expanding mountain bike trails and events in southwest Montana, the Biggie asserted itself this year as a tradition now deeply embedded in both the culture of Big Sky and mountain biking itself.
“It draws everybody from the pro or the semi pro to the young athlete to the beginner who’s maybe just wanting a challenge or something to train for,” said Natalie Osborne, cofounder of the Biggie. “…That’s definitely the culture that I want to promote at this event. It’s not just for the elite athlete. It’s for everybody.”
Part of expanding the race to different riders, Osborne said, was adding the 15-mile race this year in response to community requests for a short course. The 112 riders in this race ranged from seasoned athletes to beginners and off-the-couchers, and a number of junior riders took home hardware. All of the women on the podium for the 15-mile race were juniors.
Clara Makoutz from Bozeman took home fifth place in the 15-mile race, a special way to celebrate her 12th birthday. Following in the footsteps of her parents, Scott and Heidi Makoutz, who’ve found great success at the Biggie since its first year in 2018, Clara accepted her award onstage beside the other top five women for the race, all from Bozeman.
Scott, who placed eighth among men in the 30-mile race this year, said the Biggie has been like a “yardstick” for their family. One of their favorite family photos, Heidi added, shows Heidi at the top of the podium in the first year of the Biggie with their youngest daughter, Juniper, a baby on her back.
Now 7, Juniper participated in her first ever bike race this year in the Biggie kid’s race for riders aged 4-10. Juniper and Clara’s sister, Frances, 10, also participated in the kid’s race this year and looks forwarding to trying the 15-mile race next year.
“Natalie has just done an amazing job with her whole team to create this environment where it’s a family event,” said Heidi, who placed first among women in the 30-mile event.
“It’s really rewarding for me as a father to see [my kids] enjoying biking and finding success in it,” Scott added.
Clara said one of her highlights from the race was reaching the top of the road climb, the peak elevation for the 15-mile course. “You could just feel a sense of conqueringness … or something like that!” she said.
Such a sense was demonstrated by bikers from all courses as they flew through the finish line throughout the day, some donning glitter and jean shorts and others wearing Lycra racing suits.
The oldest racer to finish the 60-mile course was 60-year-old John Shull from Chicago. Shull crossed the finish line just shy of eight and half hours after starting, coated in mud. Shull said he did the race at the request of his daughter, Liz Shull, who lives in Montana. Liz did the 30-mile race. The Biggie was somewhat of a reunion for the father-daughter duo. Liz said she grew up racing with her dad but hadn’t raced with him since 2012.
“There was so much hail the trail was just covered like snow,” John said, describing the Yellow Mule section, one of the more remote legs of the course. “It was pummeling my arm so hard at one point that I was like ‘Can I take this?’ And I was like ‘I can take this,’” he said with grit. “After the race, I felt fine, like I could go do it again,” he added.
Not just a mountain bike race, the Biggie is a fundraiser for local organizations supporting trails in Big Sky. This year, the event raised a record $6,000 apiece for the Big Sky Community Organization and the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association Big Sky Chapter.
Osborne said a byproduct of the Biggie has also been connecting land managers, owners and organizations to seek solutions to further connect Big Sky’s extensive yet largely disjointed trail network.
“The goal is to be able to have a family park at a trailhead and ride for hours on different skill levels of trail and currently it doesn’t work like that,” Osborne said.
An example of recent work that’s moved the needle on that goal is Adam and Tele’s Connector, a .6-mile trail that connects the Uplands and Hummocks trails near Town Center to join two formerly independent lollipop loops. Part of the Biggie course this year, the connector was completed by BSCO with support from the landowner, Lone Mountain Land Company.
While the race continues to have impact on the Big Sky community, the growing event brings in racers from all over the country, a ballooning family joined by a network of trails, a love for the sport and in the name of the Biggie.