Though the use of internet group rides, such as MeetUp, have become increasingly popular over the past few years, I find that I rarely use them. Part of my trepidation lies in the awkward feeling you get when you show up and ride with people you just don’t know that well. Are you going to get dropped? Will you have to pedal with just one leg so they can keep up with you? What if they are all a bunch of nincompoops? Part of my reluctance, too, is convenience. Often group rides, particularly ones organized somewhat anonymously over the internet, are not when I want to ride or where I want to go.
Nevertheless, in late December a friend of mine, maddslacker, invited me to join a group ride organized over the internet by a local bike shop, which was set to meet up at Flying J ranch near Conifer, Colorado. It was advertised as a no-drop ride for fatbikes in deep snow, and seeing as most fat bike riders I’ve met are pretty easy to get along with, I figured giving this group a try was a safe bet. Situated about 33 miles west of downtown Denver, this trail, built mainly for beginners, had not been a very tantalizing summer time ride for me. However, Flying J seemed to be the perfect place to test my new Salsa Beargrease XX1, with a nice packed layer of snow on the ground.
Six people RSVP’d to show up and ride, but in the end there were only three of us. Ironically, none of them were from the shop that organized the event, and I discovered later that something came up. That’s ok though… that’s how it goes sometimes when things happen and people have to bail, so we pressed on.
So it was that my friend and I rode with another rider neither of us knew, a guy named Nick, who recently had a 9:Zero:7 built-up and blinged-out at a local bike shop. It was nice. After the customary kicking of the tires and checking out each other’s rides, then spending way too much time trying to decide what to wear on this beautiful, sunny, 32-degree day, we set off in the counter-clockwise direction on the Shadow Pine Loop. This section of trail is about 2.5 miles and is the only loop for bikes at this park.
According to the website, the “Flying J Ranch Park was the migration route known as the Ute Trail, which was used by Native Americans for centuries. Toll roads were later built nearby as early Euro-American prospectors and homesteaders needed a passageway through the foothills”. Comprising a mere 416 acres, I was surprised at how quickly we felt like we were in the deep woods not long after we started. We rode the loop both directions for a total of about 5.5 miles, and with only 587ft of climbing, I was also surprised at how much it felt like I was climbing.
For the most part, the trails were buff and smooth, with some long, gradual climbs and a few nice, tight switchbacks. There were a few rooty sections but very few rocky areas to negotiate, though I actually had to put my foot down in one place because I lost traction. Stupid snow 🙂 There was a creek crossing that was solid ice, which was sketchy but manageable if you chose the narrowest piece of ice possible. I almost busted it playing around on a wide section just for fun.
All in all, Flying J is an excellent scenic route for how short it was, and a great place to take a beginner mountain biker year-round to practice a few skills and build cardio. I will definitely go back.
FYI, there are rustic toilets at the trailhead, but no running potable water from what I could tell.
Maddslacker had to leave, but Nick and I agreed that riding less than six miles just didn’t seem satisfactory. It was certainly not enough to make use of the free time our wives had granted us on such a fine Saturday morning, so we resolved to drive to nearby Meyer Ranch and try the fatties out there too.
I had also heard from several people that Meyer Ranch was an easy trail, and kind of boring to seasoned riders, and had consequently avoided it thus far. I am really glad a I gave it a chance…
To be fair to all of the reviewers on Singletracks, which I actually read prior to going, I feel that they described this trail fairly accurately. It is a wide trail that narrows into nice singletrack the deeper you get into the network, and it has a fair amount of climbing. It’s certainly not easy… but rather a pleasant “intermediate.” However, toss a little of that white powdery stuff on top of the dirt and rocks, and you are in for a respectable workout.
Right out of the parking lot the first thing you do is start climbing… and you keep climbing until, well, you get tired or run out of trail. Nick, who had obviously eaten less cookies than I had over the past few years, took off. His bike was equipped with the uber-wide 4.8in Surly Bud/Lou tire combination, which seemed to give him considerably more traction than my measly 4.0in Husker Du Dillinger tires.
Situated on a mere 397 acres, this park feels huge. We started out on the Owl Perch Trail, and kept left at several intersections, staying on the Sunnyside loop until we reached The Old Ski Run trail. The latter is a lollipop-style trail that features a relatively steep climb and has a few nice technical sections filled with rocks and roots to play on. Apparently skiers used to practice here, and locals still use the park basin for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Bonus.
After about 800 feet of climbing over 3.6 miles, we hit a good turn around spot in the lollipop, and decided we could not wait any longer to rip downhill on our fatties utilizing the other sides of the loops we climbed up on.
Friends, if you have never had the pleasure of riding a bike like this in 4-6 inches of powder, at speeds up to 25 mph, sliding around corners, kicking up roosts of snow, and getting air with some sketchy landings, you are missing out! I don’t think you could have wiped the grin off of my face with a sledgehammer. It was, in essence, a hoot-and-a-half! I was so disappointed when we finally cleared the last bit of trail and ended in the parking lot.
Aside from the opportunity to just get out and ride, the best part was that I made a new friend and fatbike riding buddy. It turns out we had quite a few things in common (go figure), and I am sure we will ride again soon. That just goes to show you that sometimes it is worth it to take the plunge and ride with a group of people you would otherwise shy away from.