Big Fat Tire: August snow and Park County’s best fall mountain bike rides
Big Fat Tire
The peaks got dusted the other day, and it kind of looks like Baldy is getting it as I type on Thursday.
This is probably not news to most of you. Lots of folks get all excited when we get those first dustings in late August or early September, when the ski resort marketing departments shift into a higher gear with photos, videos and lots of exclamation points at the end of pronouncements that ski season is right around the corner. It’s kind of like counting down the shopping days until Christmas.
Those of us who have been around a long time (or who aren’t in the business of selling pre-season passes and gear) just admire the view, shrug our shoulders and go about our business — knowing that the snow will melt in a day or two. We may be in a chilly, damp cycle right now, but, statistically, there is little correlation between early peak dustings like these and the onset of winter.
It’s the same with the first hints of gold in aspen trees. There’s always one little patch or branch on an aspen that turns two or three weeks early, and, as soon as that little bit of yellow shows up — there’s one in every crowd — the photos appear all over social media. It’s not that I’m a curmudgeon about this stuff; I just know that we almost certainly have another six weeks (maybe more) before the snow really arrives.
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Fall riding in Park County
September is usually one of the best times of the year for mountain biking in the High Country. The stray day or two of rain/sleet/snow aside, Indian summer is glorious. The crush of tourists is gone (Not that I have anything against tourists — they enable most of us to make a living), and we can actually get around town without having to dodge folks who aren’t quite sure where they’re going.
I have a hard time pronouncing any particular time of year as my favorite. Spring is when I’m jonesing to ride, and those first dozen or two times out on the bike feel so new and fresh. High summer is when you could actually call it warm in the High Country, and the flowers are at their most splendid and boastful. Autumn is when we’re getting those last rides in before it’s time to trade bikes for skis — yes, I know, with fat bikes some of you never quit biking — and now is when we get the fall color rides we’ve been craving.
One of my favorite fall color rides is the Gold Dust trail all the way to Como. The aspen groves on the lower third of this trail in Park County are amazing. You can loop back on Boreas Pass Road, but the better option is to do it as an out-and-back to avoid the dusty traffic on Boreas Pass Road.
A couple other Park County classics for aspens are Sheep Creek southwest of Fairplay and the Colorado Trail at Kenosha Pass. If you go south on the CT at Kenosha, you’ll see fewer people — although, after about seven miles, you’ll hit the boundary of the Lost Creek Wilderness and have to turn around. But, it’s still a great out-and-back ride through groves of ginormous aspens spaced perfectly to give off fluttering golden light.
Missing my granny gear
Gear talk (literally): I have my new bike. If you haven’t read this column before to follow my recent bike saga, I broke a chainstay on my 2014 Camber when riding on the underappreciated Great Flume trail. Specialized didn’t have that particular frame available for warranty, but they did have a 2016 S-Works Camber available. If you’re unfamiliar with how Specialized works, the S-Works model is the top-of-the-line build — something I ordinarily could not afford — but not all my old parts work with it.
The new frame carries my handlebars, stem, wheels, old brakes, seatpost and seat (should have replaced that — it’s getting pretty decrepit). That means the stuff that makes the most difference — the frame, shock, fork and drivetrain — are all new. The new stuff is enough to make it feel like a 100-percent new bike to my mind and legs.
So far, I really love this bike. I haven’t weighed it, but it’s definitely lighter than my old bike, and, with a little tighter rear end, it climbs like a goat. It has an extra 10 mm of travel to soak up bumps with a bit more cush, and it has a slightly slacker front end to be more stable at speed.
It also has a 1×11 drivetrain, and this means there is only one chainring. When I first started riding, pretty much all mountain bikes had three chainrings. About 10 years ago, most bikes dropped to two chainrings. Now, more and more bikes are coming with just one ring.
While one ring up front has some advantages, like simplicity and lighter weight, you lose some range in gearing. My new drivetrain came with a middle-of-the-road, 32-tooth chainring, and one of the first things I noticed when the trail started to pitch up (and up and up) on steep ground was that I didn’t have the granny gear I’ve become accustomed to.
Now, I have no illusions that I’ve ever been a great climber, and I have no problem invoking excuses Nos. 4, 9, and 12(a) for my current lack of fitness and strength. I also know I’m not 28 or even 38 anymore (I ain’t dead, either). But trying to ascend a steep hill when you’ve gone as far up the cogs as you can, and your legs and lungs are not happy with your choices, is humbling to say the least.
Happily, this is a problem that my local bike shop and checking account can address with smaller chainrings. They are a better match for my wimpy legs and lungs, at least until I can ride myself back in shape.
Trail work this Saturday
Trail project news: The town of Breckenridge is looking for volunteers this Saturday to continue work on the Mineral Hill trail. When finished, this trail will take you from Lincoln Park to the lower part of the Side Door trail. It traverses through some pretty rocky hillsides and will offer more technical challenges than most of the trails around here.
If you want to volunteer, get more info at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Zobbe is lifelong gearhead and longtime mountain-bike addict originally from Indianapolis. He serves as vice president of the Summit Fat Tire Society, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to access, maintenance and stewardship on local trails.
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