By Marc Peruzzi | Photos Dave Cox
In the same way that we prefer low-key National Forests to heavily regulated National Parks, we prefer quiet mountain towns to commercial mountain resorts. That’s the main reason our 2016 Bike Test landed in Carbondale, Colorado. (It’s in the Roaring Fork Valley between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.) It’s not a tourist sieve. It’s a community. In Carbondale, you can walk in—at 7:30 p.m.—to restaurants that serve regionally grown foods. The locals are happy to share the trails—except for that one lady with the little dog. And you don’t get the sense that everyone wearing fleece is fleecing you.
As with many towns you may have never heard of, here too there’s a local mountain bike club maintaining and expanding the 50 miles of trail rideable from town—call it 100 if you drive to the nearby towns of Glenwood Springs, El Jebel, and Basalt. What’s unique about Carbondale, though, is the readily accessible diversity of riding. The Red Hill zone, a few minutes east of downtown, offers a mix of technical climbs on jumbled red rock ledge—the most challenging of which we dubbed See-Red Hill—followed by rugged but fast loops with valley views up top and descents that bottom out a six-inch fork.
We split our test between Red Hill and the Prince Creek drainage, which unfolds into an easy to navigate maze of fast flowing XC track through a mix of scrub oak, loamy bottomland, sagebrush desert, and pulverized basalt. You can tap into both of these networks shortly after a coffee drink at Bonfire, or vaporizing a monster breakfast of McHuevos (like Huevos Rancheros but over taters) at the Village Smithy, which, again, is the type of downhome eatery you don’t get at resorts.
Powered by one such fueling, we took our test batch of gravel road (groad) bikes for a tour of the Dry Park circuit—one short section of the hundreds of miles of empty dirt that winds through the Roaring Fork. (We’re tired of riding supported centuries on frontage roads adjacent to the interstates, too.) It’s exactly Carbondale’s type of back road exploration that this new category of bikes was built for. And there’s a lot to be said for riding three or four abreast without worrying about a commuter clipping you. We finished that day with yet another feast—this time at Phat Thai for their “gringo interpretation” of traditional Southeast Asian fare.
But if we were traveling with our families, we easily could have hit up the dog park, or the brewpub (what?), or Avalanche Ranch Hot Springs, or the endless bike paths, or the taco shops, or any of the myriad of things you do in a town that’s not a T-shirt emporium and tchotchke shoppe strip mall. Stop over the next time you’re heading to Aspen or Fruita.
If you go: Stay at The Distillery Inn, half ultra-modern five-room self-service style inn, half craft distillery.
From our Early Summer 2016 issue.