There are places in the West synonymous with mountain biking, meccas where the sport grew and flourished, where thousands come each year to ride the storied trails.
Crested Butte. Moab. Fruita.
Not quite, but we may be getting there.
Local riders have long known Colorado Springs is a mountain biking paradise. Places like the Air Force Academy, Palmer Park, Garden of the Gods and Red Rock Canyon offer first-class trails for all skill levels, which, thanks to the usually mild winters, can be ridden when Monarch Crest or Crested Butte Trail No. 401 are choked in snow.
But the secret is getting out. A series of races, including 24 Hours of Colorado Springs, a national event, have drawn attention to the area’s trails. Parks officials say the number of out-of-town riders has increased in recent years.
“It’s become more and more apparent that we support mountain biking and that there are a lot of absolutely fantastic opportunities in our community,” said city parks director Kurt Schroeder. “I’d like to think we could rival Moab, but I won’t kid myself. Moab is known worldwide for its opportunities.
“But we have a lot of terrific opportunities as well. The difference between us and Moab is that our opportunities happen right here in town.”
City founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer loved to ride horseback on the bluffs northeast of his small town that offered spectacular views of Pikes Peak and the foothills.
But the park that bears Palmer’s name is best-known today for mountain biking, and it’s become the most popular spot in the region, thanks to its varied terrain — from beginner to seriously technical — and location in the middle of the city.
“Everybody locally that uses it loves it, because of the proximity to our lives. We’re able to go out there, get some exercise and get back to life,” said Tim Scott, organizer of the 24 Hours of Colorado Springs race.
“There are trails and significant mileage of trails that speak to anybody’s ability. Palmer Park taught me how to ride a bike better, and there are a lot of people who can say the same thing in this city.”
When security regulations at the Air Force Academy forced Scott to move the race from the Falcon Trail — another highly regarded trail — he chose Palmer Park.
Nearly 230 cyclists from 17 states rode all or part of 24 hours on a 13.5-mile loop in the park. Scott said that 67 percent of the competitors came from out of town.
Riders were “in shock” and “blown away” by the park, he said.
“I heard comment after comment, ‘I can’t believe you have this type of resource in the middle of a city like this. These trails are amazing,’” he said.
Jon Hurly, a rider and bike mechanic at Criterium Bicycles, agrees the city’s mountain biking reputation is growing, and said Palmer Park is but a “small part of it.”
From beginner trail riding on the flat New Santa Fe Trail to the up-and-down-mountains on Cap’n Jacks to the high-speed bombing at The Chutes in Stratton Open Space, he sees something here for every rider. With no wilderness areas nearby, bicycles are allowed most anywhere, though riders wisely avoid some steep trails on eroded granite, such as the Seven Bridges Trail in North Cheyenne Cañon, and bikes are prohibited on Garden of the Gods trails except in the southeast and east areas of the park.
New parks built in recent years cater to mountain bikers, including Red Rock Canyon Open Space and Cheyenne Mountain State Park, as will the planned South Slope Recreation Area on Pikes Peak.
“What we have here available to us, just for not having to drive to get to trails, is amazing; the diversity, the types of the terrain, the views, everything about it,” Hurly said.
Mike Boire, a former Colorado Springs cyclist who created the website epictrails.com to highlight the area’s biking trails, still comes from Denver regularly to ride here.
“In Denver, there are trails you really can’t ride on the weekend because there are so many people on them,” he said. Despite its growing reputation, you can still find solitude on trails in and around Colorado Springs.
“I think it’s still relatively untapped. I know there are trails down there that I’ve never ridden,” he said.
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