A new 4,700ft descent has opened in Richfield, Utah, so they started a shuttle company to service it

The road to the top of the epic Spinal Tap shuttle run is long and rough, but Richfield Bike Shuttle can get you there easily.
Richfield bike shuttle loading up at sunrise.
Photo courtesy Richfield Bike Shuttle

In the world of mountain bike shuttle runs, a few iconic names seem like they will always reign supreme — The Whole Enchilada, the Monarch Crest Trail, the Downieville Downhill… you get the picture. It’s rare for an epic shuttle run of a similar scale to be constructed, but it does happen — for example, the Palisade Plunge is arguably the most famous epic shuttle constructed in recent history. While it’s possible but rare for a new epic shuttle run to be built from scratch, it’s almost even rarer for a brand-new shuttle company to spring from nowhere to service that epic descent.

That’s exactly what’s happening in Richfield, Utah.

Mountain biking Spinal Tap
Photo: Greg Heil

The birth of Spinal Tap

The city of Richfield has been investing heavily in its mountain bike trail system, and one of the biggest investments has been the Spinal Tap trail. The top-to-bottom Spinal Tap trail, also known as “The Full Epidural,” was just finished three years ago. The stats speak for themselves: over 18 miles of singletrack, with a mere 450 feet of climbing and over 4,700 feet of descending.

While some “shuttle runs” are actually point-to-point cross-country rides, Spinal Tap is a died-in-the-wool enduro shuttle. The trail character changes dramatically from top to bottom: it begins high in the aspens and meadows at almost 9,700 feet and then drops into a rocky, arid desert landscape reminiscent of Moab. The trail character changes too, with flowy alpine singletrack up high, endless rollers, berms, and jumps in the middle, and rocky slabs, drops, and chunder down low. The diversity is superb, with the professionally built jumps and berms in the mid-section lend it a character that is distinct from old-school classics like the Whole Enchilada.

In late November, I briefly passed through Richfield and had a chance to ride Spinal Tap myself. Even though I could only ride the lower half of the trail at that time of year, I came away incredibly impressed and yearning to ride the entire thing.

Since we were passing through quickly during the work week, my wife shuttled me up the long dirt road in our converted camper van. While the road was passable in a two-wheel-drive vehicle, it’s long and washboarded, with plenty of small stones embedded in the road surface. It’s a long drive up the mountain just to reach the halfway point. I would have no desire to drive my own vehicle all the way to the top, much less both directions.

Karlie Fitzgerald and Adam Parslow pose in front of their shuttle van.
Photo courtesy Richfield Bike Shuttle

Enter Richfield Bike Shuttle

The need for a bike shuttle company was obvious to any mountain biker who had self-shuttled the trail, so Karlie Fitzgerald and Adam Parslow decided to meet that need. Even though the couple lives in Sandy, UT, Parslow grew up in the Monroe/Richfield area, and they continued to visit family in the area. With this inside view into the growth of mountain biking in Richfield, they saw a significant opportunity to meet a need, so they founded Richfield Bike Shuttle in 2023.

But if you’re starting a mountain bike shuttle company from scratch with no existing business to support it, where the hell do you even start?

For starters, you need a shuttle vehicle. Fitzgerald and Parslow chose a white Chevy Express that they hoped would stand the test of time. “We’ve had really good luck with our van,” said Parslow. “It’s not pretty, but it has been very reliable.”

After purchasing the vehicle, the racks to haul the bikes are the next biggest expense. While a few companies do fabricate racks for shuttle vehicles, including one in nearby Moab, for a scrappy start-up, those costs seemed prohibitive. Due to the rough dirt road that comprises 100% of the shuttle drive, they also felt that they had different needs for their rack than most companies.

“Initially, we wanted to do something like you see on most racks […] the crank arm holder, you slide your crank into there,” said Parslow. “It’s a rough road. And I just got really concerned about damaging people’s bikes, like crank arms or something like that. So, we ended up going with Thule trays on top of the platform that I built. That’s worked out really well, just because we don’t worry about any damage to bikes or contact between bikes.”

Ultimately, Parslow and Fitzgerald decided to fabricate the base rack themselves and mount a series of Thule trays to the platform. They also have a VelociRAX hanging rack attached to the hitch. While purchasing a bunch of trays was a higher investment cost, they believe this cost will be worth it in the long term.

All told, Richfield Bike Shuttle can transport 13 bikes and 11 passengers at max capacity.

Shuttle van in the aspens.
Photo courtesy Richfield Bike Shuttle

Hidden expenses and modern technology

One expense that Parslow and Fitzgerald didn’t fully anticipate was the cost of insurance required by the Forest Service. In their first year, they spent $4,000 to insure their company, but for 2024 they found a better insurance company to work with that only charged $2,750, as they agreed to only insure Richfield Bike Shuttle for the 6-month shuttle season.

Web development and software also ended up costing dramatically more than anticipated.

“Between our mileage tracker for vehicles, and accounting software and web hosting, and advertising costs like that […] I bet we were spending like $300 or $400 a month through the height of the season on software and web hosting and stuff like that, that we just didn’t anticipate,” said Parslow.

While their costs for web hosting and software seem steep when seats in their shuttle van sell for $30 a head, their investment in modern technology seems to be paying off. As someone who’s ridden mountain bike shuttles all around the world, I find a lack of information and clarity when trying to book a shuttle to be infuriating. When riders have to pick up the phone and call someone to get information about when and where a shuttle departs from, or even whether or not the shuttle is running, it’s often a barrier that can deter prospective clients.

Richfield Bike Shuttle, on the other hand, boasts a sleek, modern website with easy online booking. They were remarkably forward-thinking in their software choices and even the choice of their company name. “For SEO, we were like, oh, ‘Richfield Bike Shuttle.’ People are going to Google search [it],” said Parslow.

“Yep, and we were right!” quipped Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald’s work on social media has also been exemplary, and their Instagram account has garnered a respectable following. During my travels, I’ve found that it’s often difficult to know if a shuttle company is currently running shuttles or what the current trail conditions are. Fitzgerald keeps riders well informed using their social media accounts.

Friendly competition

Unbeknownst to Fitzgerald and Parslow, another shuttle company named “Ride Richfield” was started at the same time. Neither group knew the other had the exact same idea.

“Had we known there was another shuttle that had such a similar name starting at the same time, we would have chosen something else [for a company name],” said Parslow. But for now, it seems like there’s plenty of business to go around for the two fledgling companies.

Mountain bikers at the top of Spinal Tap
Photo courtesy Richfield Bike Shuttle

Forest Service permitting is the major barrier to growth.

Parslow was a river guide for a few years in Moab, and so he was fairly familiar with the permitting process with government agencies. He applied for permits as early as possible and secured permission to shuttle Spinal Tap in the first year — 2023 — that the USFS issued shuttle permits.

Ultimately it wasn’t too difficult for Richfield Bike Shuttle to secure their permits, although “the Fish Lake Forest Service District hasn’t dealt with that kind of operation until now,” said Parslow. “Their permitting process was geared towards outfitters, like hunting operations, that type of thing. So I think it’s been kind of a growing experience for them.”

“They were pretty easy to work with,” said Fitzgerald. While the original paperwork didn’t really make sense for a shuttle company, the district has “adjusted stuff for this year, which has been nice.”

One massive boon for Richfield Bike Shuttle is that the entire Spinal Tap trail is located on USFS land, meaning they only have to work with one land manager. The Whole Enchilada, for example, begins on USFS land and then transitions to BLM, requiring permits from two different land management agencies.

Unfortunately, the permitting process is causing worries for Parslow and Fitzgerald. While they would like to invest in expanding the company — the next most logical move is buying a second shuttle vehicle — they’re hesitant to invest additional capital because the permits from the Forest Service aren’t guaranteed.

“The first year, they gave us a one-year permit — basically a trial,” said Parslow. While Parslow and Fitzgerald understood that the first year would only be a single-year permit, “they kind of drug their feet a little bit renewing permits. And it was a one-year permit again for this year. It’s like, well, you guys want the bike shuttles. We know that the community wants the bike shuttles because it cuts down on the traffic. It’s bringing people in to spend money in the area. But it’s kind of hard to invest more into the shuttle when […] you’ve only limited it to one year.

“Yeah, that’s kind of what’s holding us up a little bit right now. I mean, we’re constantly looking for opportunities to grow. Like an additional shuttle. We’ve actually started piecing together bike rack equipment for another shuttle already. It’s just taking that vehicle expense and like jumping in with it, where you’re limited to that one-year permit.”

Happy mountain bikers.
Photo courtesy Richfield Bike Shuttle

Book your Spinal Tap shuttle now!

While the lack of a long-term permit with the USFS is causing some worries for the company, Richfield Bike Shuttle is still turning a solid business at the beginning of this season as they wait for the upper reaches of the trail to finally melt out.

They currently offer an evening shuttle on Friday, three shuttles per day on Saturdays, and two shuttles per day on Sunday. It is possible that during the heat of the summer, they’ll eliminate the afternoon shuttle on Saturday, but with a bottom elevation of about 5,400 feet, the temperatures, even at the base of the trail are rarely brutally hot during the summer. While nearby St. George and Moab sizzle during mid-summer, Richfield offers a delightful getaway from the desert heat. And be sure to pack a warm layer for the top of the ride — at 9,700 feet, it’s always crisp and cool in the morning.

After riding half of the Full Epidural, I’m personally itching to get back to Richfield to ride this epic trail in its entirety, along with the connected Pahvant Trail System. Richfield is on the rise, and Richfield Bike Shuttle is there to serve the demand from mountain bikers like you and me.