Finding the flow

Mountain biking enters new age of design



What defines a flow trail? Let’s think back to the halcyon days of a kid’s summer, dripping popsicles, scabbed knees and all.

Remember the big hill in your neighborhood where the local tough guys and girls built milk-crate jumps and effortlessly aired in banana-seat high style? You finally (wo)manned up in your cutoffs and queued up for your place in local legend.

Gravity pulls you down, the back wheel wobbling against the chain guard, and despite the ferocious urge to stab the brakes at the last (and worst) second, you acknowledge that the bike knows best, and with the whump, whump of the plywood ramp, you soar into fame. High fives are exchanged as you brave a smile over shallow breaths.

One of the hardships of adulthood is the lack of these visceral thrills. We are expected to live vicariously through the exploits of pro athletes in HD. Not so, however, for those who never let go of the BMX handlebars. Mountain biking is entering a new era on the trail construction side. Historically, mountain biking was done on old hiking trails, and those trails might have had their genesis in game paths or American Indian routes. Riders are generally thankful for any trails that give them a chance to commune with nature and build up a good sweat (especially in Boulder), but the match with ad hoc trail layout relative to riding isn’t always perfect.

Enter the idea of professionally engineered singletrack — trails built by grimy mountain biking people for grimy mountain biking people. Firms such as Arrowhead Trails in Salida and Progressive Trail Design out of Colorado Springs have made the production of drool-worthy single track their bread and butter. You can see their work on Facebook and sample the recently built goods at spots like Soapstone Mesa and the bitchin’ S Trails of Salida.

Think of the best parts of classic rides such as the oh-so-choice 401 in Crested Butte. Those trails generate that warning message deep in the primitive brain that shouts, “No way I should be going this fast on two wheels!” Yet you surrender to sliding into the ribbony goodness. The route was built with a master’s touch, and if you take advantage of the berms and dips and let the magic carpet activate, the master plan becomes evident. One might even be tempted to close his or her eyes momentarily and absorb a rushing oxygen bath.

Here in town the best place to sample the goods is the new Benjamin Trail at Betasso Preserve (closed to mountain biking on Wednesdays and Saturdays). It embodies the flow principles to a T. Blasting along a sidehill with several hundred feet of vertical in your peripheral vision unleashes your adrenaline.

The new berms at the bottom of the connector convey that rush nicely, too. Those monster stone banked corners up on Heil Ranch? That’s the stuff, and g-outs from the gullies of Picture Rock show the artisan’s hand, as well.

For those who favor a full dragonslayer experience, the downhill courses sprinkled through the major ski areas (Winter Park and Keystone among them) offer unlimited challenges for the full-face helmet. Gap jumps, roll-ins and ladder bridges galore await. In town, we are now blessed with Valmont Bike Park, which delivers flow every inch of the way, starting with features that are suited to the Strider bike crown and up to Red Bull Rampage-type insanity.

Lastly, if the city of Boulder open space staff finally ends its prohibition on all mountain biking in the West TSA (speaking of crazy) and accepts the recent 4-1 vote by the Open Space Board of Trustees to build a trail system on Anemone Hill — the professional trail alignment already paid for and laid out — we will all be flowing a little more freely soon.


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