Women’s expert cyclist Marne Barrow, of Kirkland, rounds a bend during mountain bike racing action last month at the Key Pen Parks 360 Park. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

Wheels give people mobility and freedom; car wheels for teens, bicycle wheels for pre-teens and tweens.

Local roads and drivers can get scary, especially when vehicles and bikes mix. Where can children (young and old) ride safely? Try the 360 Park on SR-302 at 144th Street.

Wheels were spinning and muscles were pumping last month, as hundreds of bicyclists flocked to Key Peninsula’s 360 Park for a day of safe family fun, competition and camaraderie.

A series of mountain bike races were held at 360 Park on March 10. The three major divisions were beginners, sport (intermediate) and expert. Each division had sub-classes for age (under 18, 19-29, 30-39, 40-49 and more than 50), male or female, single or multi-speed and physically fit or “Clydesdale.”

Bicycle racing brings to mind BMX (20-inch) bikes flying through the air at parks or stadiums. Mountain bikes are different. They are bigger (26-to 29-inch rims), heavier (up to 25 pounds), more gears (10 to 30) and are ridden more sedately, without tricks over paths on rough terrain with lots of natural obstacles and slopes and switchbacks.

Rory and Deanna Muller, through their business, BuDu Racing, have been developing bicycle racing events in Western Washington from Port Gamble and Seattle to Portland for the past 10 years. They ran 44 events last year between February and September. An associate, Courtland Capwell, volunteers to develop the race tracks.

Capwell has invested more than 200 hours of his own sweat and tears to develop the Key Pen Parks’ 360 Park to its current condition. He expects to invest another 200 to 400 hours before phase one is completed in 2014, and expects to complete an additional four-mile trail by February 2015, as phase two.

Trails are well marked, with numerous marked options for skill level. There are six to seven optional jumps where the riders can get about six feet of air, if they so choose. Those less bold have no difficulty staying firmly planted on the ground, organizers said.

The race course at the 360 Park is five and a half miles long. The beginners raced for one lap, the sports for two laps and the experts for three. “It’s a real cardiovascular workout,” Rory said.

Course times for the beginners varied from 27 to 54 minutes for the single lap. For sports, it was from 45 to 90 minutes for their two laps. The experts did the circuit from 59 to 90 minutes for their full thee laps.

Of the 218 individuals who raced last month, 117 were between 30 and 49 years old. One participant traveled from Alaska.

The youngest beginner was age 6, and the oldest expert was a 70-year-old man from Auburn.

One of the expert riders was Donny Buchanan, 45, from Olalla, who has been racing for some 10 years.

Buchanan claims to have weighed 300 pounds when he started riding in 1999, dropping to 230 pounds in 2012 and to a trim 196 pounds today. He is racing on the Old Town Bicycle road race team in mountain bike and cyclocross events. Old Town has a bike shop in Gig Harbor.

Buchanan admits to being obsessive–compulsive about both his online business and his cycling, but his resting pulse rate is only 55 beats per minute and his body-fat ratio is very low.

“I am much healthier with cycling. I see very few physical ailments across my entire body,” he said.

No injuries were reported at the recent race. Most racers are so fit that few were even breathing heavy at the finish line.

“Where else can you spend time with your child, outdoors, doing something good for you and it makes you feel like a kid again?” said Buchanan.

Key Pen Parks has been working closely with BuDu Racing as the Parks’ first major improvement to the 360 Park. Park Commissioner Mark Michel got so involved that he raced as a beginner in the race held on March 3, at Fort Steilacoom. Michel moved up to sport class for the March 10 race on his home turf.

In addition to the race track, the 360 Park also has multi-use trails for walkers, cyclers and equestrians. The park district encourages users to read and comply with posted rules, especially who must yield to whom to keep riding as safe as possible.

To voice your opinion on how else to develop the 360 Park, visit keypenparks.com for a survey. For more about BuDu Racing and upcoming events visit buduracing.com.

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