I have seen bike love in many forms. When I was 27, I became the president of a small company called Merlin. I’d just graduated from business school and put everything I learned to work. I had to order titanium in the same quantities as Boeing, six months in advance. To do this I had to raise private capital and create a board of directors who were committed to cycling.
At the time, Merlin made arguably the best bikes int he world and for about five years we simply could not keep up with the orders. People sent us photos of the Merlin logo tattooed on various parts of their bodies. While I was flattered by their devotion, I have to admit the photos were kind of frightening.
I briefly dated a professional tennis player. We were at a party once and two men in their fifties found out I was the president of Merlin. They walked over, got down on their knees and bowed before me. My date was not impressed – what was I thinking, dating a tennis player?
After half a decade at Merlin I was ready for a new challenge, and Saucony, the shoe company, offered to buy the company. Hoping I had left it in good hands, I moved to Moab to run Western Spirit Cycling. My focus was no longer the bike itself, but where to ride it.
We run multi-day trips in the national park and forests. Many riders return year after year and so the pressure is on us to always find new places to explore. The trips range from fun and cruisey to five days above 10,000ft, and we have a very wide range of people, from core cyclists who have all the skills and fitness to those who really only ride once a year with us.
About half bring their own bikes. Sometimes when they arrive before a trip, the mechanic shakes his head. These bikes have been loved too much. We do worry that the bike won’t make it through the week, but we don’t want to tell the customer. So we just throw another spare on the support truck and hope for the best. The price of the bike has nothing to do with how much a person loves their ride.
When riders arrive they are usually a bit pale and nervous, wondering what they have got themselves into. When they return, they are glowing and it is not just the dirt or the sunburn. The trip has given them at the chance to reconnect with themselves, the planet and the bike.
And then we came up with the idea of Outerbike, a demo event for consumers. The bike manufacturers all build their new models for the autumn trade show in Las Vegas, but the public are not allowed to attend, and while you occasionally find a demo truck at a trailhead ro at big races, there really isn’t anywhere you can test out bikes on real trails. So when the Bar M trails were built in Moab – a classic stacked loop system with 10 to 15 miles of beginner, intermediate and expert trails, all from one starting point – we knew it was perfect for Outerbike.
At the first Outerbike in 2010, several hundred people showed up. At the second this autumn, it was over the top. It was 40°C and raining but by 7:30am there was a line to get into the demo area, which didn’t open util 9am. I was a bit worried that folks would be grumpy about waiting but when we opened the gates, they ran to the booths hooting and hollering. It was bike love in the form of 800 people charging through the desert in the rain.
I wonder what form it will turn up in next.