Full disclosure: I am not a festival person.
Call me a curmudgeon (my wife does regularly), but I like my music in hi-fi, my beer served in glass not red plastic cups, and the trails I ride all to myself. So the first time I attended the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival, I did so reluctantly.
And yet, I rode away from that long weekend—and every subsequent SMBF I’ve attended—more stoked on mountain biking than I was before I went.
This festival is a rare event that manages to put together many people and moving parts without turning overwhelming or chaotic. Maybe it’s the national park-like setting, maybe it’s because mountain bikers are generally so chill, maybe it’s the vortexes—but somehow this festival has retained an easygoing, downhome vibe while simultaneously managing to provide tons of benefits and service to all who attend.
Here are the top reasons I recommend attending:
#1: Location, Location, Location
While most of the country is still locked in winter’s deep freeze, Sedona generally provides near-perfect riding conditions this time of year. March typically sees 26 days of sun, with an average high temperature of 69 degrees.
If you’ve been riding all winter in tights and mittens—or worse still, Zwifting—there’s something gloriously satisfying about bearing white legs to warm sun for the first time in months. (And even on the odd bad-weather year, precipitation is short-lived, the riding is still great, and it’s way warmer than it is back home.)
It’s not only the climate, either. Posse Grounds Park, the setting for the festival, seems tailor-made for an event like this, with space for 100+ vendors, an outdoor amphitheater overlooking a grassy hillside, a giant pump track and skills park, and singletrack access to one of the city’s densest trail networks, the Adobe Jack complex, with connections and shuttles to the rest of town’s 250 miles of riding.
#2: Try Before You Buy
The market is flooded with great bikes these days. And every year, new models and more brands are coming online. Meanwhile, innovations continue unfettered: think, electronic group sets and suspension, tire inserts, fabric spokes, etc.
How is a rider supposed to choose? The SMBF, naturally!
With most of the major bike manufacturers showing off their latest models, including Diamond Back, Giant, GT, Ibis, Kona, Liv, Pivot, REEB, Rocky Mountain, Scott, Specialized, Transition, Yeti, and more, this is an easy place to test ride a stack of bikes back-to-back and decide on your new whip. There are direct-to-consumer-only brands, too, such as Propain, Vitus, Nukeproof, and YT, which might otherwise be almost impossible to test out.
Even if you’re not in the market, it’s a great place to come out and try something you haven’t—mullet build, anyone?—or just log a few hot laps on someone else’s dime.
#3: Meet Some Heroes
Given the SMBF’s reputation as an early-season party, it attracts athletes and luminaries from around the industry, most of whom are just as happy to get out and ride as you are.
This year, there are group rides with freeride and trials prodigy Jeff Lenosky, Olympian and World Champion Jill Kintner, and living legend Hans “No Way” Ray. There are also meet-and-greets and riding opportunities with many of the latest industry influencers, such as Dusty Betty, Calirado Kid, Mo and Hannah, and Micayla Gatto.
Keep your eyes open, too, as there are tons more industry insiders who show up than are listed on the schedule.
“Lots of people just show up without telling me. I’m always surprised,” says Mike Raney, director of the SMBF.
#4: Get the Inside Scoop
It used to be that bike brands showed off their latest models and newest wares annually at Interbike, a September gathering of the industry. But since that show went belly-up a few years back, manufacturers have been using regional shows and festivals for debuting new tech and testing out gear in the market. That means you, the lowly consumer, can be first in line for some of the industry’s latest swag.
Given its early date on the calendar, the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival has been the spot for lots of big reveals over its nine-year history, including the outright launch of Revel Bikes, one of the hottest brands in the industry right now.
“I can’t talk about specifics,” says Raney with a twinkle in his eye. “But I know that a number of brands have big plans.”
It’s not just bike manufacturers, either. Soft-goods companies such as Dharco, Pit Viper, 7iDP, Shredly, and Party Shirt International have had a big presence and lots of gear to go around in the past.
#5: Hone Your Skills
The festival doesn’t have to be all sick swag, shralping red dirt, and post-ride bacchanalia. Sedona also happens to be a great place to learn new skills and test them in real-time on trails fit for any level. And the Sedona Mountain Bike Academy, the official coaching partner of the SMBF, offers a complete schedule of skills clinics and guided rides over the course of the festival.
Whether you’re new to riding and developing the fundamentals or an old hand and want some local beta and pointers on a local test piece like Hiline Trail, there are choices for everyone. There are even half-day women-only clinics and a youth program on Sunday.
“Sedona is such a great place to learn and practice because it packs so much into such a compact space,” says Evan Puglia, co-founder of SMBA.
There’s even a Q&A roundtable with some of the best coaches in the industry on Saturday, including Joanna Yates, Jess Hana, Jeremiah Stone, Ryan Leech, and more.
#6: It’s Not Just About the Bike
Even if you didn’t ride a single bike, the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival would be a good time.
There are food trucks (don’t miss Dough Broughs Wood-Fired Pizza!), beer tents, raffles, movies, and a line-up of great musicians. Top screening is Freehub’s Biketown, proceeds from which go to the Verde Valley Cyclist Coalition. And on stage, the Saturday evening headliner is Dekker, a local Indie folk-rock favorite and multiple Arizona Artist of the Year recipient.
You can sit on the lawn, swill regional craft beer (in complimentary glass beer mugs etched with the SMBF logo if you sign up in time!), ogle the epic red sandstone views, and suck up the relaxed mountain biker vibe.
As much as I hate to admit it, we’re all pretty good company.
For more information or to book your festival reservation, check it out at the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival.