Rolling with it

“It was just terrible,” the seemingly frail woman whispers in a shaky voice. “In a split second they were on us, howling like raving lunatics. We were sure we’d be killed.”

The friend of an acquaintance goes on to describe a peaceful Durango day, birds chirping, train tooting in the background, cottonwood and sneezes filling the air. She, her husband and their twin dogs are out for a little foot-powered recreation when the two-wheeled menace strikes.

“They were just going so fast,” she says. “I was sure they’d run us down. All I could see was a flash of facial hair and then tattoos and piercings. They were also wearing body armor like some kind of Road Warrior/apocalypse thing. I felt like calling the cops.”

When you ask her to elaborate, she closes her eyes and whimpers, “Bikers! They were bikers.”

Ah yes, Hells Angels and Banditos, you reply leaning in with a sympathetic pat on the back. You, too, recall being menaced by a motorcycle gang back in their late 1970s heyday. Scary stuff, indeed, you relate as an image of leather, chains and chrome flashes before your eyes. Maybe not all Harley Davidson owners are lawyers, accountants and doctors after all, you tell her.

“Not those bikers!” she responds with an air of insult in her voice. “These ones had pedals. It was the mountain cyclists.”

Again, you offer condolences but now the circumstances have changed. After a brief “sorry, time to go,” you start backpedaling, hoping she doesn’t know what the “Specialized” logo on your T-shirt means. You also pray she doesn’t recognize those strange tan lines on your fingers and ankles. And you hope beyond hope that she didn’t see the “mountain cycle” fastened to the top of your car.

All goes well. You manage a safe getaway.

But that conversation is like a light-switch flipping. Suddenly, it feels like reality has shifted. People no longer seem to look on your mountain bike with respect. Rather than offering pleasant hellos, fellow trail users stare sharply as you pass. The weirdo tan lines are now viewed with disgust rather than curiosity.

Yep, the times, they are-a-changin.’ Based on audience feedback, you would think that mountain bikers recently crossed over to the dark side. Forget that granola-munching, trail-loving, Sierra Club card-carrying roommate of yours, the one who lives for knobby tires, bird and butterfly watching and perfectly buffed Mancos shale. Forget that you, yourself, are a dedicated cross-

country rider equipped with a mild temperament and an investment portfolio containing only a titanium soft-tail and a steel singlespeed. Forget the quiet horde who puts in tens of thousands of volunteer hours installing water bars, cutting deadfall and enhancing the trail experience for all users.

The truth is that many – even here in one of fat tire cycling’s hallowed birthplaces – share the opinion of our friend at the top of the story. More and more, hikers, horse back riders and automobile drivers are looking on mountain bikers as the dark knights of dirt – only a small gasoline tank removed from four-wheelers and dirt bikers in terms of their impact on the trail experience.

Neighborhoods are beginning to pipe up and object to trail improvements. Some have even alleged a conspiracy to put the Durango Mountain Park on the national map in order to draw fat tire villainy from the four corners of the planet. Fences are going up all over La Plata County, moments after new surveys adjust old property lines. Meanwhile, the local trail network – one of Durango’s greatest assets if you take a straw poll – is undergoing a dramatic, back room facelift. Long-time classics are going beneath the blade, and some of the nation’s finest singletrack is being gobbled up by gravel pits and wiped clean by expanded roads to facilitate logging or utility expansions.

Not long ago, a conversation with a friend of a friend (a close enough acquaintance to safely discuss dabbling in dirt) turned to the recent downturn in mountain biking numbers. We discussed the ramifications of an increasingly obese Uncle Sam, local economic impacts and potential harm to some of Durango’s vital roots and culture. Another partygoer – swimming in the haze of too many beers – overheard, interrupted and chimed in, “What’s wrong with that? It’ll finally make the trails pleasant for the rest of us.”

I could only chuckle. But I also realized I had to keep on the same trail I’ve been following for the 20-plus years since I got my first knobby tired bike. Whatever the masses say, I’ll keep pulling over, yielding trail, waving, smiling and trying to keep my total number of tattoos and body armor to a minimum.

– Will Sands

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows