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Feature: Shuttle Dave Rides to the Top

May 8, 2013
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Load ’em up: For a mere $15, riders get 10?15 miles of singletrack with over 4000 vertical feet of descending. Just a stone’s throw from the megatropolis of L.A., riders have access to trails that are far different than their typical fare. 

When we first heard about a guy who was taking cash from riders to shuttle them in his van to the top of a very remote mountain above Pasadena, California, we joked that it wouldn’t last long before the operator got fined, arrested or both. Our sport has seen countless user conflicts and even trail closures due to individuals recklessly abandoning the rules in the name of an adrenaline rush. We assumed that this was just another example.

The wheelman: Dave is a shuttle driver on the weekends, but this isn’t his only gig. He doesn’t do this for the money; he does this because he’s passionate about this sport and wants to provide this service to the riders. He’s up at 5 a.m., and every single Saturday and Sunday he drives the shuttle.  

That was until we met “Shuttle Dave.” Dave is a driver for the United Parcel Service during the week, a heck of a rider on the weekend, and passionate about the sport we all love. In 2011, he jumped headfirst into the sea of red tape that is the County of Los Angeles to help feed the habits of gravity riders who, let’s face it, aren’t on the friends list of many other trail-user groups. Dave formed Shuttle Run.

While Shuttle Run’s history is more rocky than the trails it descends, the future looks smooth, because Dave jumped through the right hoops to get where he is today, giving gravity riders a legal way to the top of the mountain. We sat down with the man in the shuttle van to see how he got Shuttle Run off the ground and how he plans to keep it going. 

: When did the idea for Shuttle Run come about?

Shuttle Dave: The idea for running a shuttle business just came to me on the way back from a road trip to Chicago. There’s a lot of time to think about random things on the open road, and it was becoming such a hassle to do the Mount Lowe ride. Since I drive for UPS as a day job, I already had a commercial license and 24 years of driving experience. I figured there was a need for such a service, and I had the passion and credentials to provide it. The name for the company comes from the expression we would use among fellow riders. The question would always be whether to pedal it or do a “shuttle run,” so that’s what I named it. Shuttle Run was born.

MBA: What were the early days of Shuttle Run like?

Shuttle Dave: In the beginning, it was underground. It was just word of mouth, and people would call or text me. I did have a schedule and business cards, but no website then. The van was an auction find; the trailer frame I bought from a junkyard and attached some cheap bike-rack kits. It wasn’t very solid, and the bikes would wobble against each other and sometimes get scuffed up. The revised trailer we have now is a hanging system capable of holding up to 20 bikes. It’s very secure, efficient and user-friendly.

Getting stupid texts and calls at all hours of the day and night got old quickly. It was also very unorganized, with occasional overcrowding and riders fighting for a spot on the van. So, I finally launched the website in 2011, which now allows members to RSVP for any event.

MBA: What were the steps you had to take to make Shuttle Run a legitimate business?

Shuttle Dave: Initially I got a business permit and a DBA, thinking that was all I needed. So just as I was becoming more established, the La Canada Station Fires hit in August 2009. For two years the forest was closed, and there was no trail accessibility. Not much happened. In 2011, Highway 2 was again opened but with limited access. I started up again, but now sported the Shuttle Run logo on the sides of the van. Well, that got me noticed! The Forest Service charged that I was operating without a permit and sent a cease-and-desist letter. I always assumed that since I was using the highway, and not the forest per se, a permit wasn’t required. Man, was I wrong.

After almost a year of plan revisions, finalizing requirements and several meetings with the ranger, he agreed on a one-year provisional outriggers permit. Shuttle Run became the first USFS-recognized and approved shuttle company in the Los Angeles district in 2011. I am proud to say that due to a tremendous positive response from the county, the U.S. Forest Service and fellow trail users, Shuttle Run has now earned a five-year extension on our permit.

MBA: Now that you’ve gotten Shuttle Run off the ground, what advice would you give to another rider trying to make this business model work in his area?

Shuttle Dave: My advice is don’t do it for the money. I do it because I love to ride. Do your homework; know what you’re getting yourself into. I work every weekend and get up at 5 a.m. to run the shuttle. I try to run the business as if I were the customer by providing on-time, reliable service at a fair price.

MBA: You’re shuttling riders to the top of multi-use trails, yet you seem to have very few user conflicts between your riders and other trail users. How do you pull this off?

Shuttle Dave: It’s always been a goal to peacefully coexist with other trail users. The website promotes trail etiquette and responsible riding. It reminds riders to share the trail and be courteous to hikers and others. The use of cowbells is an example of our efforts to avoid confrontation. We sell them at the van and strongly encourage riders to wear one to alert others ahead.

Get away from it all: Shuttle Run is designed to give gravity riders a better way to shuttle, which minimizes their impact on other trail users. By going through the right channels, working closely with the U.S. Forest Service and taking riders to less-busy trails, Shuttle Run has found the right way for gravity riders to get their fix.

MBA: How do you and your shuttlers work to keep trails open?

Shuttle Dave: Trail use is a privilege, and I remind my members often to consider this. Misusing a trail puts it at risk of being closed to mountain bikes. Luckily, our close partnership with the ranger has created awareness and communication between groups who may otherwise oppose the sport. Gravity riding is often misunderstood and sometimes comes with a negative connotation?not that these trails are downhill-specific; they’re actually perfect for all types of riding. It just so happens that these trails have minimal climbing, which is conducive to gravity bikes.

I am always open to address any issues or concerns the rangers or other trail-user groups may have. The Shuttle Run organization gives other trail users a place to voice concerns first, rather than closing the trail system down for all mountain bikers. Having the relationship with the rangers makes it easier to communicate to my members to help resolve any negative situations.

Shuttle Run also supports the efforts of organizations such as IMBA, CORBA and the MWBA. These groups routinely do trail maintenance and hold awareness meetings. I, and many other members, “give back” and participate in these events. That alliance is imperative to keeping our trails and my service open for many years to come.

Choices abound: The shuttle offers everything from flowy singletrack to technical downhill trails for riders to choose from. Dave is adamant about keeping riders on the legal singletrack only and refuses to shuttle riders to illegal spots. 

MBA: How do you deal with the racer mentality?

Shuttle Dave: Many of our members are on Strava for training purposes. It’s one of many cool apps that inspire the competitive nature of the sport. These riders prefer the earliest shuttle at 6 a.m., because there is a much lower chance of confrontation with other trail users?although that certainly doesn’t mean riders can disregard trail regulations or proper riding etiquette. Shuttle Run takes riders to a safer area than the busy multi-use trail areas, where they can ride gravity bikes safely and legally.

But common sense plays a big role here. When used responsibly, apps like Strava can be a good too for measuring your progress and improvements. I personally use it.

MBA: What are the risks and liabilities of operating this shuttle service?

Shuttle Dave: We all know mountain biking inherently has risks. Therefore, a liability release agreement is required for every participant to read, sign and agree to. Getting to the trailhead itself is a safety issue as well. Since Angeles Crest is notorious for vehicle accidents, we take driving conditions very seriously. Although the trail may be open, we will not run when it’s not safe to be driving a van full of riders and a trailer full of bikes 20 miles up a mountain.

Shuttle Run is a self-guided ride, so we encourage everyone to come prepared. This includes tools, tubes and a pump; H2O in a hydration pack; protective gear; and preferably a full-face lid. It should also be mentioned, this is not a trail for beginners. Unless you ride the fire roads down, there are some steep, exposed areas on the singletrack that require experienced-to-intermediate skill.

MBA: What are your thoughts about rogue trails?

Shuttle Dave: We discourage members from riding down closed or prohibited trails for obvious reasons. Shuttle Run does not provide transportation to areas that access illegal trails.

Evident passion: Dave is the perfect guide for these trails, because he knows them like the back of his hand. He’s been riding here for about 20 years and only started the shuttle service because shuttling with his riding buddies had become too much of a hassle.  

MBA: What’s your favorite route down?

Shuttle Dave: My preferred way down is what we call the “front side.” You start on Mount Lowe to Sam Merril, pedal to Upper Sunset then Lower Sunset, through the Mallard Campground, and finally El Prieto. It’s just over 13 miles of sweet singletrack with a 4642-foot elevation drop and several historic points of interest. Other times, I’ll skip the Lower Sunset Trail and hit Channey instead. It’s a short, exhilarating trail
with challenging ruts and berms. Taking that route cuts down the ride to just under 10 miles.

MBA: How do new riders find you?

Shuttle Dave: When Shuttle Run first started, it was strictly word of mouth. Now, though, it’s usually from our website or Facebook page.



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