Road rules

Mud season drives mountain bikers to look at skinny tires

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— Mud season and mountain bikes don't mix. After two years of drought, Steamboat spoke species may have forgotten how easily May can break their hearts -- the single track that isn't still covered in snow is too sloppy to ride, at least in good conscience. And this is normal weather.

There are alternatives, however.

Chris Johns at Wheels bicycle shop said he's seen a 20 percent uptick in interest in road bikes.

"This time of year is so key," Johns said. "Now, people are finding out that in order to stay fit, they need to keep riding. As soon as their (ski) season pass fun ticket expires, they want to go biking."

Chris Gibbens at Sore Saddle Cyclery said he thinks Routt County's unpaved roads are an undiscovered resource for fun hogs.

"The dirt roads out near Sleeping Giant are awesome to hit this time of year because there's no traffic," Gibbens said.

Gibbens likes to take a cyclocross bike out in the spring, but he says road bikers can adapt to the gravel and dirt by switching from their narrow 23-25C tires to a wider tire in the 28-30C range.

Mountain bikers can adapt by swapping their nubby tires for something slicker. Mavic is making a new tire it calls "Speed City."

Some mountain bikers are even buying an extra wheel set so they can quickly change over when the summer monsoons arrive and force them out of the high country single track.

There are plenty of people enjoying pure road biking this spring and one of the best ways for intermediates to get their wheels spinning is to show up for a group ride.

Brock Webster at Orange Peel Bicycle Service (in the alley behind BAP on Oak Street) has set up a series of weekly group rides.

Experienced intermediates and above are meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays for rides of 50 miles and less.

Typical destinations are Oak Creek or Willow Creek Pass.

"It's definitely not a beginner ride," Webster said. "It's for people who are comfortable riding close to other people."

Within the group, riders tend to find their comfort level in smaller groups of five to 10 cyclists.

Thursday night at 5:30 p.m. riders are gathering at Orange Peel for a mellower ride. The group that shows up inevitably starts riding fast, but it's not "hammer time," Webster said.

More loosely organized rides of longer distances have been organizing around 10 a.m. most Saturdays and Sundays, but riders need to be prepared to hang loose on the start time.

This is Steamboat, right?

As always, road bikers in Routt County are asking motorists to be kind and give them a couple of extra feet of comfort zone as they pass.

Johns said road biking here has grown safer as U.S. Highway 40 west, Routt County Road 129 from Clark to Columbine, and Colorado Highway 131 as far as the big curve at the Catamount turnoff have all been improved and now have wider shoulders.

Johns pointed out that the Colorado Department of Transportation has sent representatives to meet with local cycling enthusiasts, and has shown sincere interest in improving conditions.

"It's important, as a biker, to get involved," Johns said. "I need to get more involved."

Gibbens said people who don't want to ride on the highway can find a great 10-mile training loop without ever leaving the city. The completion of the new section of Steamboat Boulevard links the hills of Fish Creek Falls Road and the base of the ski area.

The winding tour takes in the smooth pavement of the Sanctuary and the hilly subdivisions above AprÃs Ski Way.

"You can get a good circuit just riding in town," Gibbens said. "And if the weather turns bad, you have a much better chance of finding shelter. The other day I got caught in a lightning storm on Fish Creek Falls Road. I don't think I've ever ridden my cyclocross bike that fast."

That's mud season biking in the 'Boat -- thunderstorms and snowstorms are all part of the experience.

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