Big Fat Tire: The joys of social cycling from an old-school trail rider |

Big Fat Tire: The joys of social cycling from an old-school trail rider

For over 20 years the Summit Fat Tire Society has been taking care of trails in Summit County and Mike Zobbe(pictured) has been there since the beginning. Why? "Cause I like mountain biking. It's totally selfish."
Sebastian Foltz / file photo |

When I was thinking about what to write for this week, I came up with a few trail opinions I want to cover (I’ll get to those later on), but I was having a little writer’s block when it came to writing something fun and happy. Not that I’m a real writer or anything.

Lately I’ve been riding early in the morning to miss the afternoon rain. It’s worked most of the time, but I’ve been caught in some early-morning showers. Actually, I’ve been getting caught in the rain so much this year that I finally decided to retire my old cycling rain jacket. It had become so worn out and threadbare that no amount of waterproofing would bring it back to rain-shedding perfection.

So the folks at the Pearl Izumi store set me up with a sweet MTB-specific jacket. Not only is it very stylish, it works: watching the water bead up on the arms while I stay warm and dry is a beautiful thing.

Last night, the happy part of the column hit me. I tend to ride by myself a lot. Although it could be argued that there is better company out there, mostly it’s because of the unpredictability of my work schedule, and often I find myself with only a small window to slip out for a ride.

Now, I don’t mind riding by myself. There are advantages to it: You can go where you want, you ride at no one’s pace but your own and you don’t end up giving away your only spare tube.

That said, one of my favorite things is riding with friends. I have a group of friends who have been doing a weekly evening ride for at least 10 years. Usually we get anywhere from eight to 15 people.

While I wouldn’t call anyone who participates a beginner, we’re usually of varying fitness and skill levels. But it doesn’t really matter, because the purpose of the ride isn’t to hammer out miles at full gas, or see who can descend gnarly trails the fastest. It’s to have a fun, social time on the trail. Nobody gets dropped, we stop when necessary to let the caboose catch up, and nobody cares if we do.

I think doing fun stuff with friends is a big part of what mountain biking (or almost any other sport) is all about for many of us. It doesn’t matter what the activity — it can be walking, trail running, running rivers, skiing, anything. We need solitude once and a while, that’s for sure, but few things beat a shared experience with old and new friends. Smiles and laughter are good, but they’re even better when they’re shared.

Onto trail stuff …

Lately (OK, it’s more than lately — this isn’t a new issue) there has been talk about what kinds of trails are being built here in Summit County and everywhere else. There is a segment of the MTB community that desires more advanced trails. By advanced, I mean, rockier, steeper and less manicured.

A lot of this is being fueled by advances in bike design. There are a bewildering variety of mountain bikes now available. I always just thought of riding on dirt as mountain biking, but now, bikes and styles of riding are categorized into any number of subgroups.

Now, there aren’t just mountain bikes. There are cross-country, trail, all-mountain and probably a half-dozen more. Often, the lines are blurred between what makes a “cross-country” bike and a “trail” bike, or what makes a “trail” bike and an “all-mountain” bike. The amount of suspension, the frame geometry, the wheel and tire durability — all are now factors.

You can certainly buy any number of bikes that are very capable at both climbing and descending, but it seems the majority of bikes on the market are more specialized for going down the trail than going up it. The bottom line is that these bikes allow people to ride more technically challenging terrain, faster. Whether that’s a good thing or not probably depends on who you ask, but that’s not a can of worms I want to open right now. Let’s just say it’s a trend that’s not likely to die out anytime soon.

The riders who are buying these downhill-oriented bikes (I’ll call them “AM” bikes from now on) are finding that the bikes are more capable than the trails that are commonly available. For these folks, flow trails — the ones that have become popular in Breckenridge and with trail-building agencies across the country — are fun, but not particularly challenging.

Some of these folks also desire directional trails, arguing that one-way trails are designed for bikes and, thus, must be safer for hikers and descending/climbing bikes.

Now, to be fair, we have a great variety of trails here on our open space lands, as well as on the U.S. Forest Service lands. Yes, we have baby-butt-smooth flow trails, but we also have trails that are something of a hybrid between flow and tech — trails like V3 or Barney Ford. We have trails with plenty of rock and root. We have steep, baby-head, chunk-filled Jeep roads. To say we don’t have technical trails is a stretch.

That said, I understand where these folks are coming from. Their arguments are not without merits. The position of the Summit Fat Tire Society is that while we advocate for multi-use trails and feel the majority of trails should be multi-directional, there is a place for expert, directional trails in the spectrum offered in Summit County. (All users should still practice multi-use etiquette.)

I will also say that I understand very well the challenges of building trails that are not sustainable. Many of the trails you see in bike porn and ads are in places with a lot of exposed bedrock and less-organic soil, as well as less precipitation. It’s not that challenging, technical trails can’t be built in Summit. We just can’t fool ourselves into thinking it will be easy. The folks who build trails like these will have to be creative and thoughtful when designing and building.

I must admit, I’m pretty old school. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who loves mountain biking, but these days, even though I love a fast, technical descent as much as anyone, I’m what’s called an “XC” or “trail rider.”

So be it. I’m comfortable with that, as long as those kids keep off my lawn. I might be an old-school old fart, but I support accommodating newer segments of the sport, as long as it’s done in a responsible and thoughtful manner. I hope that all the land agencies can work with groups like the Fat Tire Society and responsible “new skool” riders to create a total riding experience here in Summit County.

Mike Zobbe is vice president of Summit Fat Tire Society.

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