One’s an old uranium-mining town. Another rests smack dab in the middle of oil and gas country.
From unlikely blue-collar roots, two of the planet’s premier mountain biking destinations took form.
In 1983, the Groffs — father John and sons Bill and Robin — sought a new business opportunity in the wake of the uranium bust in tiny Moab, Utah.
In the spring of 1995, Troy Rarick and Rondo Buecheler saw potential in little Fruita, Colo., launching a business venture that would help reshape the high-desert hamlet’s future.
A dozen years apart, both groups chose to open bike shops. And both shops were at the forefront of mountain biking movements that vaulted each municipality to international prominence.
Mountain bikes were very much in their infancy when the Groffs opened Rim Cyclery in 1983.
Bill’s son, Kelby, manages the shop these days. He was 10 years old when his grandfather, father and uncle got the chain turning on Rim Cyclery, Moab’s first bike shop.
“Oh yeah, I mean, when we started there was no such thing as mountain bikes 30 years ago,” Kelby said from within the walls of the iconic shop, which sits inconspicuously about a block off Main Street.
While mountain bikes had yet to be mass-produced, innovative cyclists had long been slapping fat tires on their steeds by the time the Groffs set up shop, long before mountain biking evolved into a booming industry.
“People were customizing their cruisers with bigger tires,” Kelby said. “When people started production of mountain bikes, within a year of being open, we were like, ‘Oh, yeah, we know places where you can ride that.’ We went up to the slickrock, and history was made.”
These days, bike shops, gear shops and guiding outfits peddling outdoor adventures of all flavors line Main Street, and mountain bikers line the hundreds of miles of trail in the Moab area.
Outdoor recreation and the tourist traffic it lures has replaced mining as the industry that drives Moab.
“We started seeing mountain bike companies spring up, and then more river companies,” said Marian DeLay, executive director of Moab Area Travel Council. “Some river companies have been here for 50 years, but we started seeing more and more of them come here.”
From the motorized crowd with their jeeps, dirt bikes and ATVs to the mountain bikers and rafters, Moab’s tie to tourism kept growing.
“It’s just been a steady uphill climb ever since,” DeLay said.
Grand County, which is predominantly public land managed by state or federal agencies, entertains big, big numbers of recreation enthusiasts these days.
According to the National Park Service, 1,070,577 visits were made to Arches National Park in 2012, with an additional 452,952 visits for Canyonlands National Park.
A report put together by the Bureau of Land Management with data tabulated from Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2012, estimated a total of 1,827,678 visits for its 77 Moab field office sites. That factors in visitors partaking in recreation activities of all types.
Moab’s array of outdoors offerings and festivals keeps the area’s 1,858 hotel rooms, 48 bed and breakfast rooms, 312 condos, 1,230 privately operated campsites or cabins and more than 750 federally designated campsites — numbers provided by the Moab Area Travel Council — hot commodities.
LEGIONS OF RIDERS
Rarick recalls being recruited to manage a shop in Moab when the chance to open up shop in Fruita surfaced.
“I was just thinking, ‘This has got so much potential here,'” he said. “That’s kind of what started it all. We started building trails, and we did the fat tire festival. That’s how we let people know we have awesome biking in Fruita. Now, it’s iconic all over the world.”
Eighteen Fruita Fat Tire Festivals later, and Fruita is every bit the mountain biking destination Rarick and fellow mountain biking enthusiasts envisioned. People visit from all corners of the globe to ride Fruita.
That lever pull produced a jackpot.
With a lot of help, of course.
The Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association and the Grand Valley’s legions of adventure-craving mountain bikers — luminaries such as Rarick and behind-the-scenes contributors alike — helped shape the first-rate trail systems that grace the area.
Relationships with federal agencies like the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service were cultivated, and old cow trails grew into the beloved singletrack that draws so many to western Colorado for two-wheeled adventure.
“Trail building began on public land without involving the BLM,” Scott Winans, president of the mountain bike trail association, said. “We just started riding cow trails, and making trails and formalizing them, and then that all came to a head as the BLM kind of got caught behind the eight-ball and said, ‘Wait a minute. You can’t just do that.’
“But it’s already there, and there’s already all this use, so there was a big period of time where that all got reconciled in public forums and, through those beginnings and those years of the mid-’90s to present, mountain biking as an industry and just as a sport has grown dramatically.”
OTHER HOT SPOTS
With Fruita and Moab as examples, other areas are attempting to cash in on the mountain biking phenomenon.
And Rarick is often involved in this process.
Although he sold the downtown Fruita shop to George Gatseos and Ross Schnell a few years ago, Rarick still advocates for the Over the Edge brand. The company has since set up shop in Hurricane, Utah, Sedona, Ariz., and Melrose, South Australia. He’s always scouting the globe for spots with mountain biking potential.
“We continue to try to duplicate what happened in Fruita in other spots,” Rarick said.
But it all started with that roll of the dice nearly two decades ago.
“A lot of people don’t understand the fact that Troy and Rondo bought a decrepit building,” said Landon Monholland, Over The Edge Fruita’s present-day manager. “That took a lot of risk. Now, everyone thinks, ‘We’ll make our own mecca,’ but they took a big risk.”
Mecca status is what Fruita and Moab have achieved. Fittingly, the dueling mountain biking destinations are linked by the 142-mile Kokopelli’s Trail, which stretches all the way from Loma to Moab.
They once stood side by side as tiny communities with blue-collar cores. These days, they stand side by side as giants atop the mountain biking world.