Dennis Barber didn’t even own a bicycle when he suddenly decided he wanted to travel to Carrollton, Kentucky, to compete in a mountain bike race at General Butler State Park.
Barber, who was 35 years old at the time, was looking for something that would help him stay healthy when he came across the mountain bike race in the newspaper. He was so intrigued by the race that he grabbed himself a mountain bike from Walmart and headed to Kentucky.
The race was through the woods, but it started with a large hill. All the other riders pedaled up but Barber walked his bike until he got to the top, then hopped on to ride through the woods.
That was the fun part.
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“It got to be like when you were a kid again, when you were going over logs and through mud puddles and stuff like that,” Barber said. “I just liked the whole thing.”
Barber took that experience and turned it into 25 years of racing that includes 12 DINO (Do Indiana Off-Road) Mountain Bike Series championships in the the men’s expert division and a third-place finish in the 2018 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Nationals Showcase in Snowshoe, West Virginia.
The DINO Mountain Bike Series is a series of seven races throughout Indiana where riders accumulate points based on how they finish. The rider with the most points wins a biker jersey and the 60-year-old Barber has won 12 jerseys in the past 15 years.
The series is broken up into an A class, B class and C class for each age group. The A class, which is labeled the expert class, is the division in which Barber has been racing for 15 years.
Barber has been the most accomplished DINO rider in that time span, having missed just three jerseys in the past decade-and-a-half.
“I’ve had some drivers sneak up on me a few times,” Barber said of the few years he didn’t win. “The first year I raced the expert class, I didn’t do too good.”
The 30-mile expert race is a bit longer than the B class races that Barber was coming from.
“It took me awhile to adapt to that,” he said. “So I had a transition year of getting beat pretty bad, but then I started doing better.”
Barber became good enough to the point where he decided to give this year’s USA Cycling Mountain Bike Nationals Showcase a try. There were 20 riders from 17 states lined up in three rows at the starting line. The bikers’ starting positions depended on how many USA Cycling points each rider had accumulated over the year. Barber was placed in the back row because the DINO series isn’t sanctioned by USA Cycling.
Barber’s back-of-the-line start didn’t stop him from moving into seventh place just 15 minutes into the hour-and-a-half race. Randy Kerr out of Alabama was more than two minutes ahead of the pack by the last stretch of the race and finished in 1 hour, 23 minutes, 41 seconds. But Barber was right behind the second-place rider, George Smith of California, heading into the final lap.
Barber figured Smith would just give up on a second-place finish if he was able to pass him, so Barber went for the lead. Smith kept at it and passed Barber right back. Barber ended up passing him again, but it took a lot out of him.
“When I passed him that second time, I was out of breath,” Barber said. “I thought I just need a little bit of a break. I just sat down just for a second, and then he went right back by me.”
The final stretch heading to the finish line was a big hill, but Barber is far from having to walk his bike up hills anymore. In fact, hills have become his strength, which allowed him to pass Smith a third time. However, he got slowed down by going through some rocks and finished the three-lap race in 1:25:52.6, less than six seconds slower than Smith’s 1:25:47.1
The top five places earned medals.
“I was thrilled,” Barber said of placing third. “I told the wife (Martha) when I went down there that morning if I could finish in the top 10, I’ll be happy.”
Obviously, Barber enjoys winning races, but his original goal of finding something to help him stay healthy looks to have worked out pretty well. He plans on continuing to ride for as long as his body will allow. It doesn’t feel like its going to give out on him anytime soon, he said.
“My body still feels pretty good,” Barber said. “I’m waiting for it to say, ‘We’re done.’ One of these days, it’s going to say, ‘Oh, I’ve had enough.’ But so far, it hasn’t said that, so I’m going to keep going.”
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Name: Dennis Barber
Hometown: North Vernon
High School: Jennings County
Occupation: Biehle Electric
Key milestones: DINO (Do Indiana Off-Road) Mountain Bike series champion 12 of the past 15 years; third place at the 2018 USA Cycling Mountain Bike Nationals