For years the notorious Horsethief Drop-In has intimidated mountain bike riders visiting the popular trails near Fruita, Colorado. But no more, thanks to the foresight of government agencies, trail advocacy groups, and lots of riders with little skill and no vision. The "Drop In" was originally dynamited into the sandstone cliff to allow livestock access from the upper mesa to the lower "bench". But since becoming part of the popular Horsethief Bench mountain bike trail, the Drop-In had become steep, rutted, and boulder-strewn and had frightened many riders.
To get to the smoother trails below, most cyclists found themselves walking their bikes down the rugged section. Prior to the recent improvements, one cyclist in tight, sweaty lycra said "Ride it? I can barely walk it!" He then picked up his bike, stepped forward and bashed his shin on a rock. Most riders welcome the change to smooth pavement. "I'd heard of this section of trail before I ever made it out here. I'm thrilled to see that it's not nearly as tough as I'd thought." said area rider Cynthia, who has been mountain biking for over three weeks.
Local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) official Mr. Rogers said, "We're proud of the changes we're making to area trails. There's almost nothing we won't do to make these trails slower, safer, and less interesting, especially for experienced riders. The population of the US is getting older and, let's face it, fatter every year. This kind of change just makes sense for the largest body, er excuse me, biggest proportion of potential trail riders."
Rogers continued, "The Horsethief Bench trail can see hundreds of riders on a busy weekend. I don't see why that couldn't be thousands. With a ticket booth, proper guardrails, slow zones, a medical staff, and traffic signals, there's practically no limit to the number of riders we can cram into a safe, yet thrilling, mountain bike experience. At $5, $10, or even $15 a pop, I might add."
The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) applauded the changes. "That trail was too steep, eroded, and rocky to be sustainable. It exceeded the 10% average grade rule, didn't have any grade reversals, and had gotten wide enough to drive a herd of cattle down." said an IMBA spokesperson. "We welcome the changes. Besides, now we can drive our Subaru Trail Crew station wagons on it."
The local BLM and a contingency of riders who aren't very good at the sport have been been working diligently for years to remove annoying rocks, trees, fast turns, steep sections and other trail features in order to smooth area trails into a new level of rideability. A level that, frankly, isn't very difficult. "We gave you one Freeride trail. Now leave us alone."
A faint cry of protest over the trail changes came from a small group of local riders and frequent visitors, some of whom are deeply involved in the bicycle industry as professional mountain bike racers, long-time enthusiasts, talented young athletes, or product designers who are helping produce equipment that could expand the envelope of what is possible on a mountain bike -- a group that could help define the future of the sport. Many of the protesting riders claim that they were able to ride the Drop-In before the recent changes. Or enjoyed the challenge of attempting it and were hoping that someday they'd be able to ride the section successfully.
"Why do those in charge of the trails -- or those who act like they're in charge -- think that making a trail smoother and easier is a benefit to the sport of mountain biking?" asked a local rider who is races at the top level of the sport. "Many of us cut our teeth on the trail features that are now being dumbed down or obliterated by the powers that be. Or even just by guys or gals who are too are too ignorant to realize that, for many people, tough sections live at the heart of mountain biking -- and that with some practice they might very well begin riding and enjoying most of those features, too."
The BLM responded: "Those hard core riders who are whimpering about us making the trails easier can just go out in the desert where no one can find them and make their own damn trails." said another BLM employee, who asked not to be identified. "Of course, if we do find them, we'll shut them down and issue citations. We can't have trails running across land that might be opened up for oil and gas exploration in the near future."
Though the Drop-In is now paved, it is still an uncomfortably steep climb for many riders. Officials hope to have funding to complete next summer's project: an escalator to bring riders back up to the top of the mesa.
Steep, rutted, and strewn with boulders, the original trail was un-rideable by anyone who matters.
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