That Mountain Magic
“And I don’t even care to shake these zipper blues; and we don’t know just where our bones will rest; to dust I guess; forgotten and absorbed into the earth below”
—”1979″ by the Smashing Pumpkins (1995)
The year was 1993, and I had left a store that sold NordicTrack as well as mountain bikes with what was the first new bicycle I had ever purchased—a lime-green Nishiki Pueblo. I was 13 years old and had recently ridden on my first ever mountain bike ride—a Boy Scout day trip to the Pawnee National Grassland in northeastern Colorado. From what I can recall, the riding was terrible, but the scenery and feeling of youthful ignorance were beyond compare. I was riding a friend’s 1992 Specialized Hard Rock, which was a welcome change from my mother’s Bridgestone hybrid I had been riding. Upon seeing the excitement in my eyes, I suppose my father knew that a new bike would pay dividends. He was right.
In 1993 mountain biking was something you did on either a fire road or a hiking trail. Growing up in Fort Collins, Colorado (the current home of Niner), the best cycling around was either at Horsetooth Mountain or up the Poudre River Canyon at such trails as Hewlett Gulch and Young Gulch. In truth, these trails were average at best—typical, multi-purpose hiking/biking/horse trails. So, it’s no surprise that when I dreamed, I dreamed about Moab. For you newcomers to the sport, in the ’90s, Moab was Whistler. Everyone remembers their first time riding an unforgettable trail—a bucket-list ride—and for me, that trail was Slickrock.
Fast-forward to spring break 1995. I was in 9th grade; a scrawny kid with a bowl cut, baggy shorts, ankle-high socks and hiking boots (it was the ‘90s, after all), listening to Depeche Mode and Stone Temple Pilots. My father, who was my constant road-trip companion for many years, offered to drive me and my best friend Brian for the week. My Nishiki had quickly been replaced by a used MTN TEK I’d purchased and quickly tweaked with the addition of a RockShox Judy XC, which was pretty high-end stuff back then. I can still recall the drive: a typical early-spring snowstorm near the Eisenhower Tunnel aside, it was a clear drive full of good spirits, Euro-pop music, Subway sandwiches, Red Vines and Squirt.
When we awoke in the morning, typical of Moab in early March, it was well below freezing and had snowed the night before. Thankfully, rock absorbs heat, and after a quick breakfast of donuts and orange juice at the local Albertsons, we made the short drive to the trailhead where the snow had already melted. At last, we had arrived. The truth is, I remember very little about the ride itself that day, other than a lot of ups and a lot of downs. Keep in mind, drivetrains were 3×9, and you only had front suspension, so staying in your granny gear and grabbing your bar ends was commonplace. If you don’t believe me, try riding it now with your 1×12 trail bike. It’s not easy. But, in 1995, it was the bomb. We would go on to ride Poison Spider, as well as Porcupine, and then went for a second and final Slickrock ride before returning home. By then I was hooked. My calling in life (or at least in the mind of a 15-year-old) was confirmed—I was a mountain biker.
As time progressed, my vacations shifted from Moab to St. George, which is tucked away in the far southwestern corner of Utah. If such networks as the Green Valley/Stucki Springs or Santa Clara trails don’t whet your appetite, perhaps this will: Virgin, also known as Rampage. This is southwestern Utah at its finest; in particular, the trails of Gooseberry Mesa. By the time I discovered Gooseberry, technology and time had advanced me onto a GT STS XCR that I built up with Spinergy Rev-X Rox wheels. It was a looker.
Over the course of various trips, my riding continued to evolve, and I ventured on to the neighboring trails of Guacamole, as well as Little Creek. But, as it happens to all, life gets in the way, and my travels to southern Utah became much less frequent as a wife, three kids and a career got in the way. In short, I grew up. Now, when I travel to St. George, I find myself at the pool, splash pad or golf course collecting balls out of the ponds with my sons, which I’m perfectly happy with. Yet, I still long for me time, so when the opportunity came to make the trip to Sedona in March, I was quick to answer the call. As the drive from my home near Boise, Idaho, to Sedona would take nearly 13 hours, I decided to break it up into two days, allowing me a much-needed return to Gooseberry to relive my glory days.
For the trip, I loaded up my trusty 2014 Specialized S-Works Enduro, which received a fresh piece of eye candy up front with an inverted fork provided by the folks at Wren Sports, just in time for a first ride on the always challenging South Rim trail. The South Rim is rated as double black diamond for extreme difficulty. You are, after all, riding along the edge of a mesa for various portions of the trail. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for my childhood form to return, as my S-Works, Eagle drivetrain, Hope brakes, Enve wheels and Wren fork were more than up for the challenge. The temperature was a perfect 63 degrees with clear skies, sunshine and all of five cars in the parking lot.
On Gooseberry, five cars means you’ll probably see two other riders during your three-hour jaunt, so, basically, I had the South Rim to myself. For three hours I found myself returning to childhood form and cheering out loud as I maneuvered over ledges and through tight spots that are unique to desert riding. Perhaps most important, I was reminded of why exactly I love mountain biking so much: in a word, it’s peace. There are very few places in this world where you can escape and hear nothing other than yourself grunting, your gears grinding, your chain slipping and your cares seemingly slipping away.
By now, you’re wondering why I’ve spent so much time reminiscing about the past. Well, it’s rather simple; memories are what make life worth living. Memories of the good times had while mountain biking are what keep me coming back for more, despite my knees telling me to take it easy and my head telling me to be a little more cautious over the next jump. When it comes to mountain biking, memories are made at bucket list destinations. You don’t brag to friends about riding the local bike park on Facebook or Instagram. You wait for the pilgrimage to Whistler for that. Or, in this case, my detour through Gooseberry on the way to Sedona.
The Sedona Bike Festival sponsored by Over the Edge is perhaps best explained as the unofficial annual kick-off to the riding season. This was my first time attending, and I wasn’t disappointed. The natural beauty is beyond compare—imagine Moab with trees and that’s Sedona. And, much like Moab and Virgin, the riding is spectacular. With temps in the mid-60s all weekend long, and with COVID-19 not yet requiring us to ride on our trainers instead of dirt, the timing was perfect to get out and enjoy the latest and greatest bikes and products from nearly 80 different brands.
In typical bike-festival fashion, it was 5 o’clock somewhere all day long, as people enjoyed good company, great food and drinks, tricycle races and wheelie competitions.
Mountain Bike Action had the chance to get a good look at some new product from such up-and-coming brands as Guerrilla Gravity, Alchemy, Revel and Eminent, to name a few, while the old favorites were there as well—Specialized, Yeti, Giant, Santa Cruz, Ibis, Rocky Mountain, Niner, Canyon, Pivot and plenty more.
Now, is there a time and place to talk about the Specialized’s of the world? Yes. Heck, I ride one! But, this article is not that time. This isn’t Sea Otter; this is Sedona. Let’s give the smaller brands the love they deserve. Among the multiple bike brands attending the festival, I was excited to see the guys from Colorado, notably Guerrilla Gravity, Revel, Alchemy and Canfield.
Producing 100 percent of their frames in Colorado, Guerrilla Gravity’s Trail Pistol is a thing of beauty, especially when equipped with a Trust Shout upfront. Then there was Revel, who arrived to the show with not only the best-looking, return-to-the-’90s, hot pink bike of the weekend, the Rail 29er, but some American-made, environmentally-friendly carbon wheels as well (the RW30s). I’m all for environmentally-friendly, and I’m 100 percent behind American made products, too.
Then there’s Canfield who, after having relocated to Fruita, decided to come to the show specifically to allow MBA some first-access looks at their new Balance and the One.2 downhill 29er. The pictures speak louder than words. And, last but not least, Alchemy. As you’ve seen by now, we are fans of the Arktos, and there’s sure to be greater things to come from the guys in Denver.
Do other brands deserve mention? No doubt. The Bike Fest isn’t just about bikes; there are plenty of products, too. Take bike racks for example. Who knew racks could be so cool? Kuat isn’t the only name in the game. New players such as Alta Racks and Rubicon Expedition are producing burly, American-made racks that give the bigger brands a run for their money, not only in price but also in value. In suspension, DVO is always worthy of a mention. Its tent was busy all weekend long with riders getting their bikes dialed in. But, don’t forget about MRP. They don’t just make the Ramp and chainguides; they do so much more.
Then there are drivetrains. Time to start thinking outside the Box…Components, that is. Don’t you know that 1×12 is so 2017? In 2020, Box is back to the future and out to prove that 1×9 is all you need with their Prime 9 drivetrain with a 11×50, 9-speed cassette. As they like to say, “Nine is fine.”
How about wheels? Derby was there to show off what they claim to be some of the best carbon wheels on the market. Industry Nine was there as well, showing off their high-quality hubs, stems and other components. And then there’s Spank rolling out its new Spike line of hubs that are built for the punishment that only Spank riders can give. I could go on and on, but I’d rather give you the thrill of planning your own trip and going yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Sedona is where it’s at.
Oh, and by the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the one key reason why Sedona is so great—the riding. No matter where you look, Sedona is surrounded by singletrack for every skill level. My favorite is Hiline, which I’d heard plenty about from those attending the festival. Due to my “on the clock” status over the weekend, I only had time for a brief run over a portion of the trail, but it was enough to know that all I’d heard was true. One caveat: don’t plan on getting your Strava personal-best time on any local trails during the week of the bike festival. To say traffic jams are commonplace is an understatement.
I felt my mind drifting back to the solitude felt only days prior, solidifying why it is that I love mountain biking so much—peace. When leaving town, I had a little bit of a pit in my stomach, as though I wasn’t quite content with my trip. It wasn’t until 400 miles later on my 13-hour drive home that I realized what I was feeling. I was feeling just like I did 25 years ago after leaving Moab, or 15 years ago after a jaunt to Gooseberry. I was wanting to turn around, but that’s life—you spend your youth wishing you were old and your middle years wishing you were a careless teenager again. It’s funny what mountain biking does to you. Thank you, mountain biking. And many thanks to my memories.
Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun.