Spoke Talk: The joy of mountain biking
May 26, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Riding bicycles in the mountains is divine. The joy of zipping through the forest on a singletrack trail that seems to be built for you, arcs of dirt linked together to make banked turns right where you want them. The exhilaration of holding on for dear life while bouncing down a rocky trail on the side of a cliff. The excitement of flying off manicured jumps and trying to keep the rubber side down. Or just hours of solitude, pedaling alone in the forest and testing your endurance.
The freedom that comes from a mountain bike is hard to match and the diversity of emotions even harder. Endorphins, adrenalin, fear, pain, elation, pride, despair, fatigue and satisfaction can be felt on one ride. None of these exciting experiences would be possible but for one thing: the trail. How often do we think about the trail beneath our tires, how it got there and what it takes to keep it?
Most trails were built many years ago for the purpose of transportation, always trying to find the shortest line from Point A to Point B. As years passed, humans discovered leisure time and started building recreational trails for hiking and horseback riding. It's the U.S. Forest Service that is responsible for the vast majority of these trails that we enjoy today. Yup, the government. Although many of these trails are fun and exciting to ride, the fact that bicycles were never a thought when designing or building them makes these trails lack flow and, in some cases, contributes to their deterioration.
The times are changing, with most new trails being built not only with bikers in mind, but being built by bikers for bikers. Today, mountain bikers are responsible for the vast majority of new trail construction as well as old trail maintenance. In Steamboat, we are lucky to have Emerald Mountain, where trails were built by bikers and therefore have great flow. These multiuse trails still are great for hiking and horseback riding, and we don't mind sharing, but we are very encouraged by the growing trend of building user-specific trails, i.e. bikes only.
Now Steamboat Ski Area is building-user specific trails, separating hikers and bikers, thus reducing conflict and adding to everyone's enjoyment of the mountain. Riding directional (downhill only), user-specific trails add a whole new level of freedom as one can open it up and push themselves without fear of encountering uphill traffic or rounding a blind turn into a horse's butt.
So imagine your favorite trail not being there. How would the land look without the trail? Would you be able to ride at all, or would you be bushwhacking with your bike over your head? Not only do these trails need to be planned, designed and built, they also must be maintained. As we push hard to get user-specific trails on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land, we also must maintain what exists. With major government cuts, the Forest Service does not have the resources to keep what it has up to par with its own standards. All across the country, local cycling and riding clubs are stepping up to the plate to ensure the continued existence of their favorite trails because it is the bikers who have the greatest interest in keeping trails smooth, clean and open.
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Routt County Riders now is doing the same. Although change usually happens slowly, there are moments of accelerated evolution, and Routt County Riders is experiencing one of these moments. Routt County Riders has a new president and three new board members, all with the desire to push the club in the direction of trail development and maintenance. We want more progressive, directional and user-specific trails and are willing to do what is necessary to make that happen. We need to prove to the Forest Service that we can maintain what we have. During the past few months, we have been developing new memorandums of understandings and volunteer agreements with the Forest Service and the city of Steamboat Springs so that official, legal trail work can commence.
Recently, we had our first official workday with the Forest Service. Fifteen people trimmed the Hot Springs Trail and rebuilt a section of trail that had eroded and fallen into the creek. This involved building a rock retaining wall in the creek, and Forest Service employee Kent Foster led the way as he waded knee-deep in freezing water to stack 10- to 200-pound boulders to form the wall. We are going to continue to work with the Forest Service to help maintain trails and install new ones. Routt County Riders has numerous volunteer days scheduled throughout the summer to do trail work.
Only in very recent years have bike-specific trails been allowed and built on BLM and Forest Service land. This is an evolutionary leap, and it's happening fast. Bicycle and trail design is ever-changing and some mountain towns are installing miles of trail every year just to keep up. Here in Routt County, we are playing catch-up. If you would like to see more progressive mountain bike trails in the valley, come help us on a volunteer maintenance day. If you can't contribute time or labor, you can still help. There are many expenses involved in building trails, including environmental studies, design and engineering.
The bikes we ride today are amazing and cost a lot to buy and maintain, but they're worth it, right? Because riding bikes is so fun. Or is it riding trails that's so fun? Without trails, what is the value of our bikes?
So the next time you're riding a trail and loving it, ask yourself, "What is this trail worth to me?"
Aryeh Copa is a professional photographer, trail designer and builder, and a voting board member of Routt County Riders.
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