We initially heard of the Brown County Breakdown via an article about the “Best Bike Festivals of 2013” published in Outside Magazine. And since it was the same group of discerning tastemakers at Outside who also named our Rudy Jersey to a list of “Best Fall MTB Essentials,” who were we to disagree? After departing the rain-soaked Appalachian hillsides, we plotted a course for the surrounding hardwoods of Nashville, Indiana — home to great riding, and a quirky community with a massive affinity for arts-and-crafts just a short drive from Indianapolis in the navel of the Hoosier state.
The Breakdown doesn’t follow many of the typical conventions of the traveling circus: it isn’t a race, it isn’t fully a “dirt fondo,” it isn’t an exhibition, and it isn’t technically a ‘festival’ either, by any traditional interpretations of the terms. Think of it more like a weekend centered around choice cuts of bluegrass music, with plenty of grilling, camping, and cavorting under the stars before heading into the surrounding woods for a fantastic ride with “a few hundred of your closest friends.” And what a great ride it is. The Breakdown is built around the Brown County State Park — a very deserving entry in IMBA’s catalog of Epic Rides. Expertly built and faithfully maintained by the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association (the area’s local IMBA chapter), the greater majority of the trails used for the Breakdown range are fast, smooth, and incredibly flowy, and hardly lacking in frequent occurrences of high-banked, grin-plastering moments.
The weekend begins with an expo — a chance for attendees to sample the latest and greatest in singletrack-worthy bikes and apparel. The expo is held within mere footsteps of some of best riding for hundreds of miles around, so it goes without saying that day one of the Breakdown is brisk, with early attendees clamoring for a chance to experience familiar trails for the very first time on the bike of their dreams. This also gives us the perfect opportunity to let people see and feel just what makes our signature Soft Shell A/M Shorts such a dramatic upgrade from a traditional baggy short.
Year after year, the staples of the Breakdown are its great music, fantastic catered food, and a massive raffle — in addition to the endless riding opportunities, of course. But it also wouldn’t be a proper weekend in the Brown County State Park without a little camping in the woods. While some setups were a little rougher around the edges than others, one thing was certain from every campsite: this is truly a destination gathering centered around bikes, and the fellowships of people that love to ride them.
The first two days of the Breakdown were under perfect skies, but like our week at the Pisgah Stage Race, Mother Nature decided to shake things up a bit for the last day of the weekend. Under clear morning skies, we ate breakfast, oiled chains, and pulled on arm warmers. But as we rolled out at 8am sharp, the clouds finally unburdened themselves, leaving us beneath a steady rain in the woods. For the first twenty or so minutes of riding, the dense overhead canopies kept everyone dry, and morale high. But the soft pitter-patter soon changed to a dull roar as the rain fell with greater urgency. I eagerly pulled on my Mixed Shell as the temperature dropped dramatically, quietly congratulating myself on having had the foresight to bring it along. Light, yet remarkably warm, watertight, and unbelievably breathable — this jacket affirms that classic outdoor adage of preparedness: there is no bad weather, only bad gear. But despite the vast network of trails being professionally designed, and specifically for efficient drainage, it wasn’t long before they were overrun. With several hundred riders still arrears and threading their way through the quagmire, the conversation quickly shifted to mitigating trail and drivetrain damage. It was decided that we pull the plug at the day’s planned midpoint, some 25 miles short of the day’s initial ride forecast.
But once the bikes had been thoroughly washed and we’d changed into dry clothes (always pamper the bike first — priorities!), it was time to savor the Breakdown at its very best: for the stories and for the soundtrack and for the joy of the gathering — all made even more savory with the turning of the weather. Mountain biking is best relished as a collection of moments — shared and otherwise, from the anticipation at the trailhead, to the agony of a long climb and the rush of a descent, to the post-ride revelry shared with the best of friends. The Breakdown unites these moments with relative ease, reminding us that no matter how far from home we might find ourselves, we’ll have family wherever we press our knobbies into the trail. [zp]
You can find more photographs from our time in Brown County here, on our Flickr photostream. As the road’s end grows ever-closer, make sure to follow us on Twitter or ‘like’ our page on Facebook to stay abreast of the most current updates.