Thin treads in a fat tire town

Local bikers breaking away from mountains to hit the road

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A new movement has taken hold inside the Steamboat Springs cycling community.

"It's the 'Lance effect,'" local bicycle shop owner Brock Webster said. "Lance Armstrong has definitely had an impact on the popularity of road bikes in Steamboat Springs."

It's a trend that Webster, a self-proclaimed roadie who grew up in bicycle-happy Trexlertown, Pa., welcomes.

"We had 25 riders show up on Tuesday," Webster said. "Just a few years ago, we were lucky if we had three riders come out for the group rides."

Local cyclist Ian Prichard, who has excelled on the mountain and in the world of road bikes, also has noticed a recent surge.

"It's definitely growing in town," Prichard said about road biking. "We just had one of our biggest group rides, and I see a lot more people cruising around on road bikes these days."

Prichard thinks many mountain bikers have discovered that the road bike is a valuable training tool especially in the spring when trails are still too wet and muddy to ride. A few, including him, have shifted gears to the sleeker lines and ultra-competitive world of roads.

Prichard was a competitive mountain bike racer who switched his focus to road bikes several years ago. However, he still races mountain bikes when he gets the chance and is usually a frontrunner in the men's open division in the Town Challenge Series.

"I liked the team aspect of racing road bikes," Prichard said. "I've got people I can travel with, and a team offers support."

Prichard said that wasn't the case when he was trying to make it on the mountain biking circuit. He said mountain bikers tend to be loners, and the team concept has not crossed over.

Bill Kipper, a sales associate with Steamboat Ski and Bike Kare has noticed a trend of people turning to road bikes.

He said many of his customers are former mountain bikers who have discovered that road biking is a little easier on the body, but still offers a great opportunity to improve fitness in a fitness-crazed town.

"Mountain biking is pretty intense," Kipper said. "If you're not riding up a mountain, then you are riding down one. It's rough on the bike and the body."

He said road biking is an excellent way to maintain a high fitness level, but without the wear-and-tear on the body.

Inside his Orange Peel Bicycle Shop in downtown Steamboat, Webster's customers will find plenty of custom mountain bike frames, oversized knobby tires and full suspensions.

But there are also plenty of bikes crafted from carbon fiber with pencil-thin tires that beg to scream on the fast-moving asphalt of a country road.

They have handlebars with angles that resemble the rack on the head of a big horn sheep and sleek lines that inspire speed even when the bike is standing still.

He said a lot of customers are coming in and buying mid-level road bikes that average about $1,500. He said most of them are not planning to race, but simply are looking for a way to stay in shape.

Local road-racing enthusiasts meet once a week, usually at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays, for an after-work journey along one of the many county roads in the area.

The rides are not officially sponsored, but are promoted through word of mouth and e-mails.

"It's not for the guy who just bought a road bike the other day," Webster said.

To take part, riders need to have a pretty high fitness level and at least intermediate biking skills.

Local rider Barkley Robinson said the rides are a great way to learn how to ride in groups and offer intermediate riders a place to improve and possibly make the next step to racing.

Webster said several other events also hold promise for the road biking community.

This summer, organizers have planned to hold the first Steamboat Century ride, a trek that follows the former Gore Gruel course.

The ride will be fully supported with aide stations along the 110-mile course.

Road racers will get another shot during the Gore Pass Road Races scheduled for Sept. 10. The races will offer courses for different classes and abilities, and will be held on the scenic Gore Pass between Kremmling and Toponas. Webster also plans to hold introductory and women's clinics this summer.

For a complete list of road races available in Colorado, racers and spectators can log onto www.americancycling.org.

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