Words and Photos by Danielle Baker
When I arrived to the Outerbike site to help set up at sunrise on Friday morning, there were already eager riders waiting in line, a full two hours before the gates would open. This event is to middle-age men what Miley Bieber is to pre-teens or Neal Diamond impersonators to lonely women in Vegas. They are groupies, fans, enthusiasts and bike nerds. Every fall, the fine folks at Western Spirit build a bike industry version of Burning Man in the desert just outside of Moab, and mountain bikers from all over make the pilgrimage to ride the newest, best and weirdest bikes on the market.
This year's first day came after a windstorm that damaged tents and threatened to drop a house on the Wicked Witch of the East. The Outerbike crew rallied, along with the exhibitors, to open only a few minutes late as damages were assessed and fixed. When the gates did open almost 1,000 eager participants ran to secure the bikes they wanted to test. “Eye of the Tiger” played from one of the booths and all etiquette was lost, dropped water bottles abandoned and clipless shoes made it sound like we were being invaded by an army of Fred Astaire clones. Elbows were out and hip checks encouraged as lines formed in front of every bike booth, except the for the unicycles.
As the weather fluctuated on Friday from sunshine to hail, riders looked for ways to keep warm. The crew dished up fresh, hot brownies and bacon, while the obliging people of the bike booths supplied some soul-warming liquids. By Saturday, however, I had realized that wool kept me warmer than whiskey and provided less of a headache to wrangle in the morning. The weather created a necessary layering technique that had me sporting not one, but two puffy jackets. Luckily I was not alone in choosing function over fashion. Cross-country riding is not the sexiest of sports and with all the focus on the geeky side of bike technology and its advancements, all hope for fashion has been lost. The crowd at Outerbike looks like a page torn out of a Vice Don't collective, with everything from saggy spandex to sperm-head helmets. Everywhere I looked were men adjusting their leg warmers like hairy burlesque stars pulling on nylons. Luckily there were some clothing companies on-hand, doing their best to place baggy shorts where needed and visors where there were none.
Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit and creator of Outerbike, and her team have built a holy grail for bike enthusiasts to access all the bikes they have been dreaming about, and supplied it in a location full of trails that are an international destination all on their own. While the event offers a plethora of head tube angles and wheel sizes to try out, it goes beyond that. When you get past the chatter of tire width and carbon frames, you find a group of people who are passionate about riding bikes and value those who actually make our industry run, the consumer. They have created an industry event for the average rider, the folks who don't belabor the free shirts and swag that clog their dresser drawers, people who ride without sponsorships.
Outerbike is a labor of love and dedication, put on by a team of people who want to fuel your passion for riding. They embrace each participant like a family member, in a way that brings everyone in on the joke and gives everyone a place to belong, a clubhouse. Outerbike is about riding, as much as it is about building a riding community. There is as much to gain there off the bike as there is on it.