Fun Racing and Fundraising at Belmont Plateau

Summer MTB races have been held at the Belmont Trails since 1989. Last week, Parks on Tap set up on the plateau with proceeds benefitting the trails.

Fun Racing and Fundraising at Belmont Plateau
Food and beverages from Parks on Tap awaited finishers of the Belmont Races last Thursday.
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Every Thursday from mid-April to early September, a motley crew of dirt-loving cyclists ride in an informal but city-permitted race through the miles of trails in West Fairmount Park. The Belmont Races were established in 1989 and are one of the longest-running events of their kind in the country. Many of the original riders still participate and have grown into devoted stewards to trail access in Philadelphia's premier watershed park.

The Belmont Plateau Trails Alliance (BPTA), established in 2010, is one of over a hundred Park Friends groups that partner with city agencies to advocate for and improve our many public spaces. Last Thursday, as in summers past, Parks on Tap set up a beer garden coinciding with the races with 25% of proceeds going to BPTA to support their volunteer trail maintenance operations.

On a typical Thursday, about 50 or 60 riders of all abilities converge on Belmont Plateau to run the ever-changing course that's marked by cones and arrows and consists of a few 3ish-or-4ish mile laps. With about 13 miles of trails in Belmont to choose from, each week can be totally different from the last. While the fastest win bragging rights and Strava kudos, every rider has their own goals and finishes stronger and more skilled, if maybe a little out of breath.

Thursday's route tackled trails with names as wild as a Philly driver: Brass Monkey, Kitchen Sink, Chumpie, Sampler, and 420. Featuring winding singletrack, log-over obstacles, fast gravel straightaways, steady climbs, and steep descents, there were plenty of opportunities for racers to break away or chase down their nearest competitor.

Photos from this series feature a log-over on Chumpie, a sprint down Trolley, and a -15% descent down Parachute, where some riders approached 30mph going into a 90° turn. Dang. The fastest riders completed the course in under 30 minutes.

The evening came to a close as the sunset cast its golden hue on the towers of Center City's skyline below the plateau. I made new friends and caught up with familiar faces while enjoying Parks on Tap's menu, which caters to all tastes and includes vegan and gluten free options with beverages of all types to wash down the grub.

The Belmont trails and decades-long running races are an incredible part of Philly's cycling culture. I'd encourage anyone to explore the trails or join the race. Of course the word race feels intimidating and exclusive, but these riders are as welcoming and uplifting as possible.

There's so much more to the history of the Belmont trails and races, and I'm looking forward to pulling on the threads to share the story. Kirk Fromm (pictured standing in the above left picture next to BPTA President Mark Elsassor) has been riding the Belmont races since 1990 and graciously offered his memories and other insights. If you or someone you know has memories or photos from the early days of the races, I'd love to talk! Please reach out: