Off-road riders from around the world come together to compete at the ISDE: desert riders, GNCC riders, cross country riders, WEC riders, WORCS riders, and enduro riders. "Qualifier" is the format used at ISDE to determine the best off-road rider in the world. I will give you a simple description of Qualifier, but I would also encourage you District 36 racers to talk to Anson Maloney, AJ Lehr, Dillon Sheppard, Brian Garrahan, and some of the other District 36 cross country riders that have competed at ISDE and get their opinion. You know how these guys ride. They absolutely are not toiling over an enduro computer as they rip through the woods. I'm telling you, this format is a blast and is basically a series of "time trials" with pieces of trail in between that tie it all together. No timekeeping. Just a series of start lines and finish lines. It is what you guys are good at and you can come out and be successful on your first Qualifier.
Just as ISDE uses the Qualifier format to determine the best off-road rider in the world, at North Bay Motorcycle Club we think of Qualifier as bringing together cross country and enduro riders to determine who is the best off-road rider in District 36!
Basically, this is how it works. In a qualifier, 3 or 4 riders start the event each minute, which is informally referred to as a “row” of riders. When you sign up you will be assigned a number. The riders on the first row are assigned 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D, and they all start the event together at 8:01 in the morning. The riders on the 28th row are assigned 28A, 28B, 28C and 28D, and they all start the event together at 8:28. There will be a big orange District 36 clock where the course begins that you will watch so you know when to leave. The clock will be on what is called “flip time,” so at 8:01 it will only show 1. And at 8:28 it will only show 28.
Once you are on the course, you ride for a ways at trail pace, just cruising. At some point you come to a checkpoint called a "check in." When you are at a "check in" think STARTING LINE. ONE RIDER leaves every 15 seconds from a check in. From the check in you are timed until you get to the another checkpoint called a "check out." "Check out" means FINISH LINE. When you leave that "finish line" you go back to trail pace, again, just cruising. You will hear some people refer to these trail pace sections as "transfer." After you transfer for a while you will come to another check in. Again, think STARTING LINE. You will be timed until you get to the check out. That's it! In a Qualifier you spend the day repeating that pattern. Transfer, time trial, transfer, time trial….. You will probably do 5 or 6 time trials throughout the day without needing any of your own timekeeping equipment! When you get to the end of the course, the club adds up your combined times for all the timed sections and the winner is the person with the least total time.
OK, wait, I left something out. There is one thing that makes it a little more complicated. Let me tell you what it is and why it is important to the club that is putting on the event. There is another type of checkpoint called a "route check." There will be a few of these in a Qualifier. Route checks always occur in the transfer sections when you are just cruising. In other words, when you come to a route check you are most likely not in a hurry. You are between "timed" sections. Take a piece of duct tape, put it on your bars or fuel tank, and write down the mileage for each "route check” so you know where they are. At route checks there will be another big orange District 36 clock. Only cross the line between the flags at a “route check” when the minute for your row comes up. Like the earlier example of when you started the event, if you are riding on row 1, you will cross the route check line when the clock reads 1. Not at 0, or -3, or 2, only at 1! If you are riding on row 28, you will cross the line at each route check when the clock reads 28. Not before, not after! If you cross before or after, you will be penalized and your buddies will beat you!
I know, this sounds like a goof-ball enduro type rule, and it is. But the purpose of these route checks is to both keep riders spread out on the course and compel them to keep moving forward. Without route checks large groups of riders tend to bunch up at check ins making it frustrating for both riders and check workers. Likewise, you can see that with a series of time trials, a rider could get out on the course somewhere between the timed sections and decide to take a nap with the plan to finish the race the next day, and not be penalized. Not good, right? So the club needs route checks to keep the riders moving forward with the threat of penalty if they don’t. Since the transfer sections of a qualifier are generally set up at a “cruising” pace, you will probably have a little extra time when you get to a route check. Stop, take your helmet off, have a little water, clean your goggles, and tell your buddies how you are going to beat them on the next "timed" section.
Keep in mind that in the previous paragraph I wrote "you are most likely not in a hurry" coming into a route check. If you had a flat tire, or a crash, or the trail was difficult for you, you may be late when you arrive at a route check. You are penalized for crossing the line late, as well as early. So the best thing is to move along at a good trail pace in the transfer sections, get to the route check a little early and watch the clock from YOUR SIDE OF THE LINE until your minute comes up, then cross the line. It seems like a goofy rule, but pay attention and get it right, and in no time you will be in another timed section having a blast.
Look, this is a simplified description of Qualifier. If you want to know all the technical details of the format like the flag colors at different types of checks, what it means to "bump up or down" a minute, or to "assume a new minute", you should definitely look at the AMA rules (https://www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Racing/Story/international-six-days-enduro). These simple directions, however, will get you through your first Qualifier. After that, you'll be hooked and will learn the few other rules that Garrahan, Sheppard, Lehr, and Maloney already know.
Coming up soon, on April 7 and 8, the North Bay Motorcycle Club is putting on a ISDE Qualifier at Cow Mountain near Lakeport. On friday evening, April 6, in camp, there will be a training session on how to ride a qualifier. If you like riding hard all day you don't want to miss this race. Be prepared for 4-5 hours of fun competition rather than the typical 2 hour cross country race. Why don't you guys all come out to Cow Mountain and let's see who the best off-road riders are in District 36! I think it's gonna be a dogfight!