Pit Stop on the Way to Interbike: Horsethief Bench Trail, Fruita, CO

Since my recent relocation to Salida, Colorado, I decided that driving to Interbike this year would be just as easy as driving to the Front Range to hop a plane, get a taxi, etc. And, it would also prove to be a lot more fun…

The region between Salida and Las Vegas basically includes all of Western Colorado, Utah, and some of Arizona. Yep, there’s a whole lot of fun to be had there!

At first I was just going to hit Gooseberry Mesa on the drive back (thanks to Jeff’s suggestion), but then I decided to throw in a trail on the way out, too. Horsethief Bench in Fruita is renowned as one of the best trails in the nation, and has been a bullet point on my to-do list for years. Finally, the perfect chance to check it off the list!

Mary's

I rolled up to the trailhead, unloaded my bike, put on my gear, slathered on copious amounts of SPF 50 sun screen, and set out to hit the trail. After a short fireroad climb and descent, I hit the rocky doubletrack climb, and knew that something was seriously wrong. My rear brake was way too tight on the disc, so tight that I could hardly pedal!

After a long walk back to the truck, I drove back in to Fruita and swung by Over the Edge Sports. 10 minutes and $10 later, I was ready to roll, with both brakes in full working condition.

The Jamis Dakar taking in the view of the river from Mary's.

By the time I got back out to the trailhead, I had spent a lot of time running back and forth, and the sun was getting high in the sky and the temperatures were rising. Still, I was determined to shred Horsethief Bench, so I carried on regardless.

I am so glad I did, too. The views from Mary’s Loop were just incredible! Riding along the rim of that slickrock cliff was an amazing experience, and was about to get better as I prepared to drop in to Horsethief Bench.

Droppin in to Horsethief Bench. Photo: mcreel.

Many people have written about how gnarly the drop-in to Horsethief is, and I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of it as well. Well, the only thing I can add is that the pictures just don’t do it justice. All of the obstacles are WAY larger in real life, and it’s hard to believe that someone actually chose to put a trail there. When you have to scramble (use your hands) to climb back up a trail, you know that, really, you shouldn’t be riding a bike on it.

Since it was my first time here and I was riding solo, I decided to play it safe and walk most of the initial descent. Still, on my walk down, I noticed a rideable line over every feature… the trick would be hitting each very small window, and threading all of the windows together into one descent. So yeah, I passed on most of it.

By the time I made it to Horsethief Bench proper, the sun was blazing down. While air temperatures were only supposed to reach about 80, I underestimated the intensity of the direct desert sun. So, I decided to knock out my ride as quickly as possible, and head back to the car.

Beautiful rock formations. Photo: tcbroncs.

In short, while I enjoyed my time riding Horsethief Bench, I thought it was kind of overrated. With so many people proclaiming that this was one of the best trails in the nation, I had high expectations–and they weren’t met.

It may be that Horsethief Bench has fallen prey to its own popularity. From my perspective, it looks like this trail has been loved to death. Smooth sections of singletrack were no longer trails on the desert floor, and were instead more like trenches in the sand. The slickrock obviously was unaffected by traffic, but almost every dirt descent or climb was blown out and looked like it needed repair. Technical areas that weren’t on the edge of the cliff most often were very badly braided, with unintended alternate lines going every which way, making the trail hard to follow.

While perhaps not “great,” this is indeed still a good ride. The techy sections were super challenging and entertaining, the flowy sections were easy-yet-fun, and the views are fantastic! Still, I thought that overall it just didn’t live up to all of the hype that I have heard over the years. I guess that’s the thing about hype: it always sounds better on paper.

Who knows, maybe it’s just me. Maybe desert mountain biking just isn’t my thing. If you love riding rocky, sandy desert trails, I still recommend that you give Horsethief Bench a shot. And if you don’t like it, there’s always one of the dozens of other trails in the Fruita area!

For a trail that actually does live up to the hype, stay tuned for my impending ride report from the McKenzie River Trail!

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