Thursday, April 10, 2014

Erie Singletrack | The One Thing

“…and that’s all I need.”  Navin R. Johnson, affectionately known as “The Jerk” found happiness in just one..uhmm..7 things not including his dog, but my first date with the newly constructed Erie singletrack reminds me that there is only one thing I need to have fun on a mountain bike; DIRT…and that’s all I need.

The track is spread out over a sloping plain just north of the Vista Ridge subdivision off County Road 5 and although the scenery surrounding the trail leaves you wanting, the view of the mountains on a clear day can be amazing.  I’m used to our spectacular mountain trails and the entire atmosphere that surrounds them and I can’t help but wonder if the track builders, knowing that there are amazing rides just a few short miles away, had something else in mind for this project.  I should mention that there is no designated parking so just find a spot off any of the side roads.

The trail itself is hard pack singletrack with fantastic rolling sections and plenty of opportunities to catch some air.  I chose to map the course in a counterclockwise direction and at certain speeds this route can be quite exhilarating.

After completing a couple of laps I realized that this track would be perfect for training or racing.  It’s a short course but in the right gear this ride can be a grueling workout.  Having ridden in both directions, clockwise allows for higher speeds early while counterclockwise takes you on a thrilling roller coaster ride through the first section of my start before settling down.

With a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde complex, the trail can be split into two sections.  The south section, in a clockwise direction, is built for speed with some great opps for airing it out but you’ll need to skillfully mash on the pedals to get the most out of it.  Take the north section, in a counterclockwise direction, with some speed and you’ll quickly discover the Mr. Hyde in the trail.  The jumps, twists and turns will get your adrenaline flowing and the skillful rider will definitely want to try this more than once.  I tried the whole trail locked and in half travel and I can’t decide what I prefer so experiment to find the right setting.

Not your typical Boulder County trail, Erie has done a fine job creating a course for many uses.  We need to thank the Erie Singletrack Advocates and their small army of volunteers for all their hard work and the businesses and organizations that made all this possible.  You can find them on the web at Erie Singletrack for more information.  It also sounds like the Velodrome off East County Line Road is nearly operational and this new singletrack is a great compliment for a burgeoning cycling community.  You can also find the trail profile at Erie Singletrack Map and check back often for more trails and maps.

Thanks for clicking in and I hope to see you on the trail - Dirt Life

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Outrageous! Egregious! Preposterous!

Jackie Chiles, Kramer's eccentric attorney, is one of my favorite characters on Seinfeld and when I think about how much we have to lay down for the latest mountain bike designs one can't help but utter those famous 3 words.

It's amazing to me that some folks will actually defend this aggressive pricing.  In the last issue of Mountain Bike Action I can recall 2 letters to the editor from readers defending these inflated prices.  I guess there are some who prefer to pay more than less for their favorite hobby - what an incredible shift in economic theory.  For the rest of us it's getting tougher and tougher to keep up with this frightening trend but what are we to do? To help me understand this market I thought I'd conduct a little market research on the subject so let's take a peek at some key statistics.

It would seem logical to assume that the price of materials would be a contributing factor so I thought I'd take a look at the price of aluminum, since aluminum is still the primary metal used in bike manufacturing.  I follow the commodities markets pretty closely and aluminum prices have been declining since 2012 [] and aluminum has never really been a volatile commodity so this can't possibly be the primary cause for the steady increase in prices.

So what about the costs of labor?  According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), unit labor costs in the US have declined significantly since 2007 [] and although labor is a significant cost in any industry it doesn't seem to be the major contributing factor.  I should point out that every industry has it's own unique labor costs and the OECD is measuring the aggregate costs of labor but you can clearly identify the trend.

Inflation is the gift that keeps on giving, or taking would be more appropriate so how much has inflation factored into the equation?  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation peaked in that last decade at 4.1% in 2007 and for the 12 months ending March 2014 inflation came in at a paltry 1.1% [].  Inflation has actually been declining since 2011 so we can also rule out inflation as the main culprit.

Ok, so we looked at the price of aluminum, labor costs and inflation but one more variable can have a role in what plagues the mountain bike industry; exchange rates.  We're all too familiar with the world of outsourcing and although it can result in lower prices it all depends on the country.  This is not an economics lesson so I'll keep the concept of exchange rates simple.  Suppose you're importing bikes from France for €3500 a piece.  You would need to come up with $4823 for each bike you'll be bringing into the U.S.  That is a 37.8% premium for any part you import from Europe and that can have a significant impact on the price you pay here in the states.

I couldn't help but wonder how much prices have changed over time so I decided to visit the website of Bicycle Blue Book [] for a little assistance.  I ran a search for a Trek Fuel EX9 and this is what I discovered.  From 2007 to now I found that the price for this bike increased 68%.  That is an average increase of 11.33% per year which is well above the normal rate of inflation.  There can be a number of reasons for this but it will all eventually come down to the same factors discussed here.

I understand that every business has to make a profit so you'll never her me complain about the profit motive but isn't there something manufacturers and retailers can do to help make this hobby of ours more affordable?  There seems to be a great deal of chatter about the advancement in designs and materials but I feel like we the consumer are funding the costs of all this experimentation, which would't be so bad if we could actually get to use it.  Prices for the latest technology is far beyond the reach of most mountain bikers and that's what's most frustrating.

Margins baby!  Fox going public could have a positive impact on the industry because going forward there will be pressure to improve margins and that could mean a more efficient company.  

This trend cannot continue forever and the companies that recognize the importance of the middle market will earn their loyalty for years to come.

Dirt Life

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Where Have All The Good Times Gone

Van Halen I hear is working on a new ‘record’ but if you ask me the best VH is probably collecting dust in your garage.  If that’s not enough to get you back into that cold dark space then how about that other interest that occupies that slightly immature section of your brain – your bike!

It’s been a rather cold winter and we’re not done yet but our days grow longer by the minute so it’s only a matter of time.  So what are we fat tire enthusiasts supposed to do until the first crocus breaks the surface?

I typically find myself sitting around staring out the window, dreaming, thumbing through the trail files in my head searching for the best first ride of the season but these days are perhaps the best opportunity to address what’s been long overdue but rarely on your mind – bike maintenance!

If you’re lucky you have a free lifetime maintenance plan from your local bike shop (if you don’t, check out Bicycle Village  This is a great place to start.  Winter is sure to find your local bike shop eager to please so take advantage of the lull in the season.  Most bike shops will offer a basic maintenance plan and while great for the part time enthusiast, for the diehards you may want to spring for the extra services if you don’t have the time, skills or tools to do it yourself.

The most important of these services I believe is a thorough lube job.  A season of Dirt, debris and moisture can wreak havoc on components and a complete work over will surely make you and your bike feel like a superstar.

You’ll also want to evaluate the condition of your tires.  Up here in Colorado terrain can vary significantly from trail to trail and can cause premature wear on rubber and if your skill level has improved after another season then a new tire tread may be in order too.  Grips are another area to inspect.  I like the lock-on variety for better control and Renthal has a great product, just ask your dealer what’s on hand.  If you like to jam on your pedals you may want to consider a new chain as they have a tendency to stretch under intense pressure and don’t forget an extra master link.  Speaking of pedals now would be a great time to adjust or replace especially if a new pair of cycling shoes are on the new gear list.  Brakes should be checked before every ride and chain lube should be on a regular maintenance schedule as well.

Finally, take the extra time to inspect all the hardware on your bike and tighten any loose bolts and screws.  The cold days of winter are waning and good times await.

Dirt Life 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Caribou Ranch Open Space | A Mountain Elixir

Trail Head Coordinates:  N39°58.936’ W105°31.131’

My Dirt Life revolves around what lies beneath my feet.  My favorite terrain sounds more like an exotic drink than a cleared path through the Colorado wilderness.  A mixture of finely ground rock and reddish brown soil, a splash of mountain dew, seasoned just right with blue and green pine needles, and on the rocks of course.

Up here in the Rockies we have conditions to contend with and this time of year it’s the champagne powder Colorado is best known for.  For a mountain biker this can mean a lot of down time so this past weekend I decided on a more intimate excursion; snowshoeing and where else but Caribou country just outside Nederland Colorado.

I’m quickly falling for this little mountain community, so much so that I’m starting to look at real estate signs.  I recall on my trip to Mud Lake that the Caribou Ranch trail head was just up the road and although it’s early I figured there would be plenty of snow to give those snowshoes a workout.  Once at the parking area I quickly noticed that the snow depth was only about 2 to 6 inches, not enough for snowshoes I thought but that didn’t stop me from slipping into my Keen snow boots for an afternoon of solitude.

The whole trail consists of 2 routes; the DeLonde Trail and the Blue Bird Loop.  The whole hike is short by Colorado standards at about 3 miles but with the detours you can squeeze out about 3.25 miles.  It took me 3 hours to complete but I was taking my time as I explored new territory.  The trail itself is well groomed with minimal elevation changes and perfect for hikers of any skill level.  The trail is rich in mining history so take some time to read the plaques along the way.  The highlights are the DeLonde homestead and my favorite the Blue Bird mining complex – once the setting for vintage motion pictures.  Both features are well maintained and the older structures at Blue Bird are well preserved.

The wind was blowing mildly through the dense pine forest and in the clearings it was a bit chilly.  At times you could hear the wind swirling all around only to dissipate through the towering pine trees.  Along the way you’ll pass a beaver pond and running stream, both showing signs of winter this time of year.  The air was fresh and chill at about 40 degrees and the aromas delicately flavored the afternoon.

It was an afternoon free from the pressures of life and I didn’t want to leave.  It is early winter and West Boulder County will soon be covered in snow measuring in feet.  The snowshoes are back on the shelf but not for long.  The hike went down smooth with a fine finish...pour me another, I think I'll stay a while. 

Thanks for clicking in and I hope to see you on the trail.

Alan – Dirt Life   

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Switzerland Trail: Dirt Life Shrugged

Trailhead coordinates: N40°01.521’ W105°25.526

Riding the Switzerland Trail was like reading Atlas Shrugged; it was long, Colorado played a central role and the railroad was part of the central theme.  The Switzerland Trail is an old railroad grade that was used to transport people, supplies and ore between Boulder and the surrounding mountain communities from 1883 to 1919.  Curiously the tracks were destroyed by major flooding which threw the GSL&P rail line into bankruptcy.  The once bustling communities along Wall Street and in Sunset still remain and this ride will take you on an intimate ride along one of Colorado’s storied railroad routes in and around Four Mile Canyon.

I took the abandoned railroad, now a fire road, from the trailhead off Sugarloaf Road, down to Sunset then up the north side to Gold Hill Road and back.  The first leg of the trail gets a lot of shade and with the recent snow fall there remained a layer of hard packed snow and ice.  I like to think I have good brake control but these skills were not enough to prevent me from losing control and sliding down 20 yards or so on a hard sheet of ice.  I was lucky to come away with just a couple of scrapes and bruises – rubbed a little Dirt on ‘em and I was good to go.

In 3.89 miles you come to the sleepy little ‘ghost’ town of Sunset Colorado.  An important stop during the mining days of Colorado, a shell of the town remains but you will undoubtedly find a community that holds on to its historic past.  A quick glimpse to the west at just the right time will show you how this town got its name.  The trail continues on the other side of the road and the climb is long and steady.  It’s not a difficult climb but it is continuous and seems rather lengthy.  You finally reach Gold Hill Road at 8.48 miles.  About a mile before you reach Gold Hill you’ll come across one of the most curious landmarks along this trail – a tall and lonesome chimney surrounded by well placed picnic tables.  Also reachable by car, this would make a delightful picnic spot with great mountain views all around you.  Unfortunately there is no camping here but campsites aren’t far off.  The views are great and at times you’re able to catch a glimpse of the Indian Peaks just piercing the landscape to the west.

The trail itself is pretty rocky but most rocks aren’t much larger than a softball.  The loose stuff is no problem but does make the ride a bit uncomfortable if you’re not used to it.  Parts of the trail are relatively smooth and if you’re lucky a little muddy.  This weekend involved a fair amount of hard pack snow but only on the first leg of the ride.  Climbing back up this section wasn’t much of a problem but you’ll learn quickly to stay away from the shiny stuff going and coming.  This picture shows one of the few smooth sections.

The descents are exhilarating but the steep drop offs and loose terrain can make this trail very dangerous at high speed.  Maintain control at all times, especially in winter conditions.  It was tiresome but not terribly difficult.  The trail is an old rail line so take a few minutes to appreciate the cuttings along the way – imagine what it must have been like traveling by train back in the late 1800’s for the first time through the Rocky Mountains.

For me, a thousand pages are hard to get through once but the Switzerland Trail could have been 1000 miles long and I would not hesitate to do it again.  View the trail profile at and check out the player section to see the route in action.

A great afternoon!  Wall Street has been devastated by the recent floods but they're working hard to repair this great scenic drive.  Thanks for clicking in and I hope to see you on the trail.

Alan - Dirt Life

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Betasso Preserve | Cheers! Boulder

Mountain biking in Colorado in the fall is like chocolate in your Dom PĂ©rignon; the trails are moist and dark and hidden beneath gold colored leaves and together make for one tasty treat.  Boulder County trails are coming back online after the horrific flooding recently, unfortunately some will take a while longer but we are happy to wait while those affected get back to normal.

It was going to hit the mid 60’s this weekend and with winter on the horizon we fat tire enthusiast have to hit the trails while we can.  My Moab plans were derailed this weekend but Boulder in the fall will never leave you wanting.

Boulder Canyon Drive is finally open and Betasso Preserve is only a few short minutes from downtown Boulder.  I entered through the Boulder Canyon link trail, which is sure to challenge the best riders.  Trail work has been done on this section to make it more rider friendly but the steep grade still requires strong legs and strong lungs.  With my TwinLoc system fully engaged and in a climbing position I headed up as far as I could before my ride was interrupted.  From here the grade was too steep for me to remount so I ended up walking for a short distance before I could keep going.  This section is steep and rocky so you’ll need to exercise certain skills to keep your front wheel on the ground.  If you have to stop, take caution when mounting up because the trail is very uneven and steep and the ledge looks muy peligroso.

If you can make it through this leg of the trail you’ll be treated to one of the finest trail systems in the area.  Full of twists and turns, the trail this weekend was tacky in all the right areas from the recent light snow fall.  Threading through dense forest, feathering my breaks to control my speed, the chill in the air surrounds you as you wind around on through to the sunny spots that are sure to warm the chill.  With the damp Dirt your tires can really hook up allowing the skilled riders to take the high bank turns, just be careful for wet roots and rocks as you come out of the turns.

It was a great ride.  Canyon loop was running clockwise, which I feel is a bit easier than the opposite direction.  Benjamin loop was running counter-clockwise and it seems to me that the level of difficulty is about equal in either direction.  This loop is worth the extra mileage so give it a shot if you get the chance.  Four Mile link was closed as I’m sure it has suffered some flood damage.  Please mind all the trail closures; they’ll open when they’re safe.

View the profile at and don't forget to mind the closures.  Have a great ride and hope to see you on the trails.

Dirt Life - Alan