Visit fat-tire heaven

Fruita, Colorado, is the nation's other mountain-biking epicenter. Its de facto ambassador gives us an insider's tour of the town he put on the map
Gretchen Reynolds

If you build it, and "it" is a network of mountain-bike trails in the remotest red rock country of western Colorado, will anybody actually come?

Troy Rarick asked himself this question in 1994 as he stood on Aspen Avenue in Fruita, Colorado, en route to a new job as a bike-shop manager in Moab, Utah, the country's most popular mountain-biking destination.

As he looked around at the otherworldly beauty of his home terrain, an idea struck: Fruita could out-Moab Moab. He abruptly changed course, opened a bike shop in downtown Fruita, and began to build trails throughout the surrounding foothills and high, craggy, striated cliffs. In the process, he transformed the landscapes of Fruita and the sport of mountain biking.

Today, Fruita is a must-ride destination for knobbyists. The local joke is if you ask an insider where to find the best riding in Moab, he'll tell you it's in Fruita.

Q&A: SUNSET ASKED RARICK FOR HIS ULTIMATE INSIDER PICKS

Q. Who is the ideal rider for Fruita's terrain?

A. Experienced, but not maniacal, according to Rarick. "Our average rider is mid-30s to early 40s. We don't attract riders who live out of their cars and bomb down the trails."

Q. Where would you send beginners?

A. Rustler's Loop, a gentle 3-mile introduction to slick-rock riding near the Colorado River. "You see families here, young kids. The sunset views are amazing. And we've put a series of signs along this trail that gives tips on riding technique, ecology, and trail etiquette. If you get tired, just stop and pretend to be really closely reading that sign."

 

 

Q. Best teeth-rattler?

A. Mary's Loop and Horse-thief Bench, an 11-mile set of trails that begins by snaking along the rim of the river, but then plummets vertiginously to the canyon floor. "Walking your bike on the descent is normal." [Editor's note: Rarick doesn't.] "Once you're down, the ride is pretty easy" and the views of river-cut rock formations and candy cane-colored cliffs "could stop your heart."

Q. Best recovery meal?

A. Stinky Deluxe Pizza at the Hot Tomato Café ( $$; closed Sun?Mon; 201 E. Aspen Ave.; 970/858-1117). "Enough fuel to get you through any ride and enough garlic to keep the critters away."

Q. Best recovery beverage?

A. Sipping Colorado vintages in the tasting room at the Colorado Wine Room (closed Mon; tasting fee varies; 455 Kokopelli Blvd.; 877/858-6330). "Great even for beer guys, like me."

Q. Best place to take the kids when they tire of biking?

A. The Dinosaur Journey museum ($7, $4 ages 3-12; 550 Jurassic Ct.; 970/858-7282) has a robotic T-Rex and touchable dinosaur bones. 'Nuff said.

Q. The ride that epitomizes Fruita?

A. The Edge Loop. "It was the first trail we built and I'd say, with all modesty, it's still the greatest single-day ride in the country." Thirty miles of backroads and single-track that swoop up and down mesas. "From the highest points, you can see from the La Sal Mountains to the San Juans to heaven."

 

 
GETTING THERE

The nearest airport is in Grand Junction, 5 miles east on I-70; you'll need a rental car to get to Fruita.

BIKE RENTALS

Visit Troy Rarick's downtown bike shop, Over the Edge Sports (rentals from $45, including helmet; 202 E. Aspen Ave.; 970/858-7220).

WHERE TO STAY

Stonehaven Inn (4 units from $85, including breakfast; 800/303-0898) features huge breakfasts, a hot tub, and bike storage.

IF YOU GO IN APRIL

The 13th Annual Fat Tire Festival is April 24-27, 2008 ( fruitamountainbike.com). Daily group rides plus an expo with bikes, food, and gear for sale. Some events require an advance festival pass ($25 before noon Apr 21, $30 after); most are free.

Or consider Fruita's other signature event, the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival (May 16-17, 2008; free; 970/858-0360), celebrating the life of a local chicken who, in 1945, survived for 18 months after being beheaded. Buy Chicken Noodle Soap, enter a Peep-eating contest, or join the Run Like a Headless Chicken 5K ($17 registration).