By Vernon Felton
America is blessed with a ton of great places to ride a mountain bike, which is why it's always a struggle to find that perfect place each year in which to hang our helmets and produce our massive Bible of Bike Tests issue.
Bible of whuh?
No, not the book with the smitings and pillars of salt and ordinances against wearing polyester blends. The Bible of Bike Tests is our special gear-guide issue. Making this gear guide requires that we ship a year's worth of bikes and gear—plus 13 staffers—to a remote location and then actually ride the poop out of the coming year's product.
Which brings me back to the starting point: location, location, location. Every year we seek the best place to test all that stuff. The lucky locale needs to have great trails. What's more, it needs to have the right mix of trails. After all, we're not simply testing cross-country bikes or trail bikes or all-mountain bikes or downhill bikes. We're testing all of the above (as well as a veritable crap load of gear).
So, the ideal location must have great trails for each style of riding and that prerequisite right there greatly narrows down the list of potential Bible of Bike Tests sites.
This year, we picked Fruita, Colorado as ground zero for the Bible of Bike Tests.
Fruita is home to an amazing range of trails and a hell of a great riding community.
Our first order of business in Fruita was to test cross-country bikes and to make that happen, we headed out 18 Road, to the Bookcliffs trail system, just outside of town. The place is riddled with fun, swoopy trails including Joes Ridge, Prime Cut, Zippety Doo Daa, Frontside, Chutes and Laddders and Kessel Run. The terrain here is mostly of the buff and flowy variety, but there are some techy bits thrown into the mix as well.
The last time I rode the 18 Road trail system was about a decade ago. I was amazed to see how little it had changed. Given the sheer load of people who pound the trails here, that's nothing shy of a miracle. We arrived at about 10 in the morning on each of our XC testing forays and found the trailhead burbling with activity throughout the day. This place sees a lot of traffic, yet has held up remarkably well.
If you arrive in Fruita and are hoping to get your feet wet with some mellow riding before jumping into the more aggressive trails, this is a great place to start. The climbing is very gradual here and the downhills require minimal expertise (experienced riders can still get their ya-yas out by tackling those descents at high speeds).
This is BLM land and you don't need to buy a pass to park your car and get into the goods. There are also a few camping spots, but those spaces are of the first-come, first-served variety. There are no hook-ups or water, so you'll need to truck in the essentials from town. This is wide-open country, so bring some form of shade or risk burning to a crisp during the summer months.
It pays to get a trail map before you head out 18 Road. I suggest picking one up at Over the Edge Sports or Aspen Street Coffee (both are in downtown Fruita).
Looking for good eats? The Hot Tomato Café and Pizzeria (970-858-1117) makes killer pizzas, calzones, stromboli and salads. The Hot Tomato is on North Mulberry Street, a quick walk from downtown. We can attest to the tastiness of the Tomato. What's more, 93 percent of the 300-plus people who reviewed it on Urbanspoon dug it too. Did I mention that you’ll find New Belgium beer on tap at the Tomato? Enough said. Check it out.