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NEMBAfest grows with popularity of Vermont’s Kingdom Trails

Published June 21, 2016

LYNDONVILLE and EAST BURKE, Vt. (BRAIN) — Go to any consumer bike event, and it’s not difficult to find at least someone with a gripe about it: “Too few demo bikes.” “Not enough bathrooms.” “The weather always sucks.” “Swag was weak.” But it was all smiles and uniformly good vibes this past weekend as NEMBAfest staged the 19th edition of its “celebration of summer and all things mountain biking” in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

“The proximity to trails is fantastic. Everyone is in such a great mood and the weather is amazing,” Focus USA’s Nate Rex said in the expo area as he sent out demo bikes on the closing Sunday.

NEMBAfest Powered by Pedro’s is presented by the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) and the Kingdom Trails Association in collaboration with the Burke Area Chamber of Commerce and the Wildflower Inn, the event’s camping and expo venue the past three years.

For five years now, the festival has been staged at Kingdom Trails, a 100-mile-plus network of flowy and berm-laden forest terrain contained entirely on private land thanks to the cooperation of 62 contiguous landowners, including early supporter the Wildflower, all of whom saw the trails as a way to create a mountain bike tourism destination and reinvigorate the struggling local economy. An additional five owners have agreed to open their lands this year and are waiting for trails to be built, according to Tim Tierney, executive director of the Kingdom Trails Association, which builds, maintains and manages the trail system.

And much like Kingdom Trails has become that long-envisioned bike destination, drawing 80,000 riders a year who pump an estimated $16 million into area businesses and rental properties, so has attendance at NEMBAfest grown. Pre-registration this year numbered more than 1,000 riders, up 40 percent from a year ago, Tierney noted, and overall attendance was shaping up to be an all-time record.

“We try to build this festival to be very community- and family-oriented,” said Philip Keyes, NEMBA’s executive director.

That means an emphasis on fun and camaraderie over competition — racing has never been a part of the NEMBAfest formula.

“We made the decision when we were funded to focus on recreational riding and advocacy rather than the competitive side. I think racing is a vital part of the industry, but some people get intimidated by it,” Keyes said.

The terrain at Kingdom Trails reflects that culture of inclusiveness. While advanced shredders can rail berms at speed and fly high and long to link jumps together, most everything is rollable by less-experienced riders.

“It really brings everyone together. That's the difficulty with mountain bike festivals: It's either too flat and boring or too gnarly,” Keyes noted.

Kingdom’s certainly not too gnarly for 7-year-old JoJo Brasslett, attending her third NEMBAfest with dad Aaron, president of the NEMBA chapter in Penobscot, Maine, and mom Robin, volunteering at this year’s fest.

For the record, JoJo’s favorite trail at Kingdom is Troll Stroll. “I think she just likes the name,” Robin laughed.

A rider since getting her first balance bike at 18 months, JoJo took a particular shine to the Trek Farley 24 fat bike she got to demo over the weekend. However, “it was hard to ride up Burrington Bench,” she noted.

This year’s fest also brought out more than 80 industry vendors demo’ing bikes or showing off product — more exhibitors than ever.

Industry Nine attended NEMBAfest for its third time, and David Thomas, sales/service for the North Carolina-based brand, rolled out a dozen or more wheel demos a day. He also carved out time to shoot fresh visual content on Kingdom Trails for the high-end MTB wheel maker.

“It's a perfect venue for a demo like this with demo loops right out the door — or you get out on a shuttle up to (Burke) mountain for a longer run. We'll be back next year for sure,” he said.

Focus USA, which is just making a push back into mountain biking, brought 15 bikes to the event and sent out as many as 35 demos a day. Rex, the company’s New England territory manager, also gathered leads from fest-goers about shops in Vermont and New Hampshire, two states where Focus currently has no retailers.

“This is a big blank spot for me. I’m going to go visit dealers after this,” he said.

“There's been a ton of traffic, and the vibe has been unreal,” said JP Gendron, tech/demo representative for Envelo, which represents SR Suntour in North America. Marin Bikes and Novatec also contract with Envelo for field marketing, and Gendron was at NEMBAfest displaying and demo’ing a dozen Marin bikes outfitted with Suntour and Novatec components.

A former Vermonter now living in Park City, Utah, Gendron was blown away by what’s been achieved at Kingdom Trails.

“Mountain biking existed back when I lived here, but now it's just exploded. Kingdom Trails — I don't know that I've seen trails like this crossing so many people's private property. It makes me want to move back here.”

For more on NEMBAfest and Kingdom Trails, look for stories in the July 15 print and digital editions of Bicycle Retailer.

 

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