Store manager of Santa Fe’s REI and founding member of the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society Bob Ward recounts the tale of one summer day back in 2010 when a confrontation between a mountain biker and hiker came to blows on the high ridgetop trails of Atalaya Mountain.
“That was really bad publicity,” Ward explains as he remembers an article in the daily newspaper about the altercation. It just so happened that around that time the, also known as IMBA, was in town offering workshops on trail building, trail maintenance and organizing mountain bike advocacy clubs. Ward, who was sitting in on one of the lectures hosted in his store, recalls thinking, “God, we could really use a mountain bike club right now after what just happened.”
Inspired by the idea of starting a local advocacy group, Ward explains what he did next: “I shot emails to everybody that I knew that mountain biked and asked them to shoot out emails to other folks. I was hoping to get 15 or 20 people to show up. I set up about 20 chairs, but people just kept coming and coming, and next thing we know, we just about filled up the community room.”
The Santa Fe Fat Tire Society has grown into a membership of 221 enthusiasts. The organization focuses on three different aspects of mountain biking: trail building and maintenance, organizing group rides and other events and finally, mountain bike advocacy.
"God, we could really use a mountain bike club right now"
“We’re into building, we’re into riding, we’re also into saving trails,” explains current club president Pat Brown.
The issues confronted in mountain bike advocacy are pretty straightforward: Other organizations and advocacy groups don’t want bikes on certain trails and the mountain bikers are fighting back for their right to shred up a little dirt on their two-wheeled mounts. Anytime fast-moving mountain bikers come face to face with slower-moving traffic, like horseback riders and hikers, it is a recipe for differing opinions about who and what belongs on the trails. However, pushback from pedestrians isn’t the only issue facing mountain biking in Santa Fe.
The mountains surrounding our little high-desert getaway include vast expanses of land designated as wilderness, which basically puts it off-limits to permanent structures, motorized vehicles and, you guessed it, mountain biking.
“Right now we’re working with the [New Mexico] Wilderness Alliance who is bringing in another 154,000 acres around the Pecos Wilderness,” says Brown, speaking about the Fat Tire Society’s efforts to keep mountain bikes in action on some of Santa Fe’s premiere trails that could fall under the new wilderness boundary.
Among efforts by the Fat Tire Society to protect access to trails, they have also turned their sights on establishing Santa Fe as a global hub for mountain biking. In 2012, they had a supporting role when the city played host to the IMBA World Summit conference.
“There’s an awful lot of mountain biking, or I should say people on bikes in this town,” Brown explains as he leans against his car in a dusty parking lot that serves one of the Dale Ball trailheads. As Brown discusses the growing buzz of mountain biking in Santa Fe, his fellow advocates and riding partners tinker with gear and strap on helmets in preparation for the club’s weekly Tuesday night rides.
The IMBA boasts a special designation given to cities with an especially high standard of mountain biking. As of today, Park City, Utah, is the only town in the world to earn a gold star. Santa Fe finds itself as one of just 10 cities to earn the silver star rating, along with towns in Italy, Canada and New Zealand.
“The biggest goal of the club right now, and I think the city would share this, is to get that gold designation,” Ward explains. His vision may be close at hand as an ever booming tourism industry already provides the crucial amenities, like world-class restaurants and lodging, necessary to establish Santa Fe as an outdoor travel mecca. Both he and Brown emphasize their club’s focus on bringing the trails up to snuff in order to clench that gold-star rating.
As the late afternoon sun bakes the red gravel surrounding the Dale Ball trailhead, Brown and his fellow riders crank down on their pedals and kick up fine clouds of dirt behind their tires. The group of a dozen or so men and women perched on top of their contraptions climb up through the shrubby piñon-covered hills, already breathing hard with the effort. Around them, tucked away in the mountains, forests and desert lowlands stretch miles upon miles of trails that they, along with advocates from around the globe, will fight to keep open to mountain bikers.
RIDER’S EYE VIEW
properly celebrate Santa Fe’s budding mountain bike community we
decided to ask local riders for their perspectives on some of the area’s
finest trails. From the high peak ridgelines to the sweltering desert
beauty, here’s what these dirt-slingers have to say about your hometown
Local mountain bike advocate and avid rider Courtney
Janak’s endorsement of eastside Dale Ball Trail system comes with a
skull and crossbones.
have a love-hate relationship with these trails, which thread around in
the foothills of the Sangres and offer beautiful views looking into
town from the ridgelines… It’s a great place to learn stuff and get
better at climbing, technical riding, switchbacks, going over rocks,
etc. Sometimes it feels like every ride is a
nerve-wracking near miss with cacti or rocks, a balancing act along
narrow ledges or around sharp switchbacks, a lungbusting climb up an
endless rocky hill…Every ride seems to have at least one person
christening the trail with their blood!”
This Santa Fe local just won the 24- Hour Singlespeed
National Championship, and she can regularly be spotted bombing local
hills and rocketing up switchbacks so steep the rest of us slowpokes
would have to double over and crawl on our hands and knees just to keep
from tumbling backward. If you do catch a glimpse of her, it’s probably
because she has just passed you and left you eating her dust. One of her
faves is the Galisteo Basin Preserve, an area located 15 miles south of
Santa Fe just past Eldorado on US 84/285.
the sheer variety—cliffs, steeps, chunk, long climbs, arroyos, gravel
grinding, dirt, sand, meadows—I love G-Basin. It’s a great trail system
to gain some skills without the crowds. When I ride at dawn or dusk, I
keep my eyes up to the tree canopies and search for bobcats and mountain
lions. It is quintessential New Mexico.”
then turns her sights on La Tierra Trails system, which boasts more
than 25 miles of trails and even includes numerous jumps and obstacles
specifically catered to mountain bikers.
love La Tierra’s easy access and the ability to ride nearly every day
of the year due to its lower altitude. If you want to work on your jumps
or your flow skills, the Trashpit on the northeast side has got you
covered. I’m not much on flips, but the system is so vast for an urban
trail that I can gain over 3,000 vertical feet in 30 miles without
repeating a single inch.”
Access La Tierra Trails off NM 599 near Camino de los Montoyas.
Santa Fe Fat Tire Society club president Pat Brown is not alone
in considering the Windsor National Recreational Trail, aka The Winsor
for short, one of the premier attractions to mountain bikers in the
“It’s what I
would consider one of the more epic trails in Santa Fe. It’s about a
nine mile climb up, nine-mile descent,” Brown explains.
The Winsor winds its way from Tesuque up to the Santa Fe Ski Basin through forested canyons and hillsides.
of the trail’s allures is the opportunity for riders to splash their
tires in shallow creek beds as they swoop down about 3,400 feet of
approximately 19 water crossings across the Tesuque creek— an
opportunity to get your feet wet, your dog wet and your bike wet and on
rare occasions, your whole body wet when you fall into it,” Brown says
with a chuckle.
Manager for Rob and Charlie’s bike shop and veteran cycling
advocate Stephen Newhall is the self-proclaimed expert on mountain
biking in Santa Fe’s best kept outdoor secret, the Caja del Rio.
mostly old, funky, ranch double track. We’re just starting to build
some single track out there,” explains Newhall as he leans over the
glass counter at the shop.
goes on to explain that while the lower altitude, and therefore warmer
climate, makes exploring this desert wilderness a toasty prospect in
summertime, it offers great off-season riding. “It’s fall, winter,
spring riding,” Newhall explains.
local, two-wheeled trailblazer really emphasizes Caja Del Rio’s sheer
enormity. “It goes from Diablo Canyon all the way down to old La
Bajada…There’s something to challenge anyone, and there’s enough miles
to challenge even an ultramarathon type of rider,” Newhall says as he
describes the dirt-saturated oasis as miles upon miles of trails with
some tough, technical sections hidden in the mix.