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Mountain bike mecca, Fruita, Colorado, celebrated the 16th edition of the famed Fat Tire Festival this past weekend.
Sponsored by New Belgium Brewery, Shimano, and US Bank, the event included the 18 Hours of Fruita endurance race, a three-day bike expo, the historic “Clunker Crit” race and plenty of singletrack to go around.
Bike manufacturers such as Yeti, Santa Cruz, Specialized, Giant, Trek, Orbea, and Pivot were on hand, providing demo bikes to festival-goers to test out on Fruita’s famed singletrack. While the weather was less-than-perfect, with winds, occasional snow and rain, the festival itself carried on a tradition that festival founder Troy Rarick described as “part of what Fruita is.”
In the winter of 1995 Rarick opened Over the Edge bike shop in downtown Fruita. While he was trying to get the shop up and running, he and about eight buddies were simultaneously building the trails that riders from all over the world now know as the 18 road and Kokopelli trail systems. They were dedicated to making Fruita a mountain bike destination, like its neighbor two hours to the west, Moab, Utah.
The Fat Tire Festival itself was originally designed to simply get the word out about the trails in Fruita.
“We just wanted people to come ride here; we needed tire tracks,” said Rarick. “We were having a blast building stuff, but it needed to get ridden.”
Over the years, the festival has grown and evolved, however.
“As the event grew, it became more and more organized, with scheduled events, and planning, until about year ten, when we had a week-long music festival and we introduced the 18 Hours of Fruita that year,” Rarick said.
But the vibe of the festival gradually began to conflict somewhat with Rarick’s vision.
“After about ten years, we realized it needed to be reinvented,” he said. “So we dialed it back a bit to where now we just throw parties; we keep the Clunker Crit, because that’s been a key part of it. But other than that, we just let people go ride and give them stuff to do when they’re not riding like the expo during the day and the bands at night.”
The formula seems to be paying off. Despite the weather this year, there were well over 1,000 mountain bikers on hand.
The tiny town of Fruita, nestled in the high desert on Colorado’s Western slope, has a population of about 13,000, and according to the latest estimates, mountain bikers contribute about $25 million annually to the economy — that’s approximately 15 percent of the the annual budget for the entire Mesa County.
That’s a statistic that Rarick is proud of.
“What’s made this event special, is that it’s followed a trend in mountain biking; when we opened in 1995, everybody raced; if you were a mountain biker, you raced, period. And that’s cool, it is what it is,” Rarick said. “But the sport has changed now, and Fruita has been a big part of that. We didn’t want racing to be the theme of our event. Here, you ride because you love to ride. Mountain biking has become such a beautiful sport because it’s about your own personal experience. it’s not about beating your buddies. Fruita embodies that.”