By David L’Heureux
When the subject of mountain biking hot spots comes up, names like Fruita, Moab and Marin County, Calif. immediately come to mind. But thanks to a rapidly growing population in Eagle County, and the desire of many up-alley residents to mountain bike more than just three or four months out of the year, the Eagle area, with its surrounding terrain and network of trails, is becoming locally known as a great place to ride.
Where should I ride in Eagle?
The options for mountain biking in the hills and mountains surrounding the town are virtually endless. Charlie Brown, owner of the Mountain Pedaler shop on Broadway, says that’s one of the beauties of riding in Eagle. Hundreds of acres of federal lands are accessible from town.
“In Eagle, if you have two hours to kill you can do a multitude of rides,” said Brown. He lists ” Redneck Ridge” – the nickname mountain bikers have given the old race course – on Bellyache; Eagle Ranch’s Fourth of July Road that leads up to Hardscrabble Mountain; a new race course at Eagle Ranch; and Abrams Creek, which is accessed out of Eagle Ranch and climbs up into Hockett Gulch, which features numerous loop routes.
There are also some good rides on the north side of the highway, as well, meaning pedalers can truly go in any direction here and find a good mountain bike ride. Not many places in the country can make that claim.
Bikers from Vail, Avon and Edwards are quickly finding out that the early season itch to ride can be scratched right here in Eagle.
“I love riding in Eagle,” said Roger Moore, an expert-class mountain biker from Vail. “You can extend your mountain biking season by a month or more on either end of the summer. The trails down here are amazing and can be a nice change-up from riding up in Vail all the time.”
While the influx of riders is certainly beneficial to the local economy, it is not without its drawbacks. The more riders there are the more crowded the trails become, and in turn, the more maintenance the trails need.
The problems associated with increased trail usage by mountain bikers are becoming well documented. Mountain bikers are, generally speaking, environmentally friendly folk. But there are some among their ranks who have little knowledge of, or regard for, the potential damage done by cutting switchbacks, creating “pirate” trails or riding in areas clearly marked as private property.
“We have had some complaints from private property owners about people tearing down signs and trespassing,” said Dorothy Morgan, recreation supervisor for the Bureau of Land Management’s Glenwood Resource Area. “Oftentimes, people cross private land to access the public land, so it’s a big issue figuring out how to build access points for people to get to the public lands.”
In recent years, technological improvements to biking equipment have progressed rapidly. Advances like full-suspension bikes with anywhere from three to 10 inches of travel, and disc brakes with exponentially better stopping power have revolutionized the sport, and made it possible to ride in places that no one would have ever dreamed of even 10 years ago.
Riding off of marked trails and creating one’s own trail is a leading cause of erosion, a concern even greater in a place like Eagle, where coverage from trees, grass and other plant life is already sparse.
“We try to instill an understanding in people that all trail users have their own unique impact on a trail-system,” said Morgan. “Mountain bikers certainly create some erosion concerns, but so do motorcycles, hikers and horse back riders.”
Bill Heicher, open space coordinator for the town of Eagle, said bikers often have to cross the town’s open space to reach the trails on federal land. He points out that mountain bikers are subject to the open space rules and regulations, including season closures intended to protect the land and wildlife.
Eagle as a destination
Eagle is not a mountain biking mecca, but it does have plenty in common with places like Moab or Fruita in terms of climate and existing trail systems. Eagle has the hotels, restaurants and airport to accommodate tourism, and mountain bikers have been known to travel in search of places to ride.
So, will Eagle land on the map as the next place that mountain bikers “have to ride?”
Probably not. There are too many things working against the potential success of Eagle as a national destination for mountain biking. Climate is one factor that would hold Eagle back. Winter is here for about five months out of the year, and, by the middle of summer, temperatures gets too hot to ride during the day.
Also, the trails in the mountains surrounding Eagle are made of dirt, not rock, like the trails in Moab or Fruita. It’s questionable as to whether the trails here could support a drastic increase in rider numbers without causing severe damage.
“I see a future for this place locally with people coming down from Vail, Avon and Edwards,” said Brown. “But I don’t see it like a Fruita or Moab because we don’t have the rock like they do. The trails here would not be able to hold up if the usage were to skyrocket.”
Brown says that he has seen the number of people mountain biking in Eagle double or triple in the four years he has been at his shop on Broadway.
Much of the business comes in early spring and fall, when riders are trying to get a jump start on training for the summer or looking to get in that one last ride of the fall.
“It’s great because you can start training on the road in March down here,” said Moore. “Then, by mid-April, you can start getting out on your mountain bike and get your legs ready for summer racing.”