A wily sales pitch

It was billed as a mountain bike race. It was actually a shrewd bit of marketing.

Officially, Saturday’s 6 BC was billed as the second in a series of four, 6-hour endurance mountain bike races sponsored by the Triangle Off-Road Cyclists. And while there was indeed a race (these results prove it), it was also a cleverly crafted sales pitch by the venue host: C’mon out and race — and see what kind of trail you could be riding every day of your life for the rest of your life without ever throwing your bike on the roof rack.

Who cares about 4 br, 2 bth, when you’ve got 20 mi. mtb. tr.?

That’s the plan for the Briar Chapel development coming out of the ground in Chatham County south of Chapel Hill: 20 miles of singletrack mountain bike trail. Officially, the new development is being pitched by developer Newland Communities as a “green” community. Thirty percent of the houses face south to capitalize on solar energy, compact fluorescent bulbs are in 50 percent of the fixtures, the showers use low-flow heads that use 50 percent less water, the HVAC units are on programmable thermostats. The list goes on.

But to 73 mountain bike racers at Saturday’s 6 BC, it wasn’t so much the green that made Briar Chapel seem like a good place to settle, raise a family and retire, it was the brown. The brown of the six miles of trail built to date, a down payment on a network that eventually will snake through the entire development.

Saputra De, No. 128, won the Single Speed open division turning 11 laps in 6 hours, 4 minutes and 7 seconds.

“Our plan is to have over 20 miles of biking trails,” according to Kristy Yule, Briar Chapel’s vice president of marketing. That’s 20 miles of singletrack mountain bike trail, in addition to another 4 miles of greenway and a network of sidewalks in a community designed for pedestrian travel. Eventually, the plan is for Briar Chapel to be a self-contained community, with shopping, schools, restaurants, parks and community centers all reachable by foot or bike.

And, of course, the singletrack, which won’t be squeezed into a small portion of the development. Briar Chapel sits on a 1,589-acre tract, 900 acres of which will remain undeveloped, according to Yule. (Some 2,389 homes are scheduled to be built in the development; 55 have been completed so far.)

There’s no pretense that the trail and open space are some altruistic gesture.

“We’ve been doing this for 40 years,” says Yule, “and we’ve learned to give people what they want. In the 1980s, what they wanted was golf courses. Now, people want trails.” Indeed, according to a report in the winter 1999 issue of the Planning Commissioners Journal, golf courses had slipped to 13th in a survey of most coveted features in a new housing development; “natural open space” ranked third. (Interestingly, a survey of homeowners in a golf course community outside of Philadelphia around the same time found that only 20 percent of residents played golf; Most of the residents just liked the view across the green fairways.)

Yule said the decision to emphasize mountain bike trails at Briar Chapel came at the suggestion of their greenway consultant, who suggested they touch base with TORC. TORC had formed in 2005, the result of a consolidation of several smaller local mountain bike groups who figured they would have more power as one big club. Working with local parks and rec departments, TORC quickly developed a reputation for building trail up to IMBA standards and was eager to build more. A dearth of riding in the Chapel Hill area made Briar Chapel a good fit. Sealing the deal was the developer’s contribution of $50,000 to TORC, which the club used to buy trail building equipment. Saturday was something of a coming out party for the emerging  trail network.

Cleverly, Saturday’s race began near Briar Chapel’s community center and snaked down three streets featuring a cross-section of new homes. Some of the racers passed the houses as many as 11 times. For a number of us, the modified sales aphorism, “If you lived here, you wouldn’t have to throw your bike on the roof rack and drive 30 minutes to the nearest trail network” crossed our minds.

Standing in line for barbecue at the community center post-race, the discussion turned to the trail itself, which got good reviews for its flow (if not for a rock garden that stymied all but one or two riders). The guy in front of my did a quick sweep of the surroundings, then announced, “Oh, yeah. I could live here.”

Wily sales pitch indeed.

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