FARMINGTON – Mountain bikers will line up for the 38th annual Road Apple Rally on Saturday in Farmington, but the first race was held between horses and bikers in 1981 – a challenge to see if four hooves or two wheels were best.
While it’s now a bike-only competition, it is that original race that explains how the rally got its unique name.
“If the horses were in front of the bikers, the bikers would run over what the horses left behind,” said Andy Decker, one of the city’s rally organizers. “It was originally people on horses racing people on bikes.”
Now considered the longest continually held mountain bike race in the country, this year’s registered riders hail from as far away as Taos, Albuquerque and Clovis, New Mexico; and Phoenix, according to Leslie Mueller, the city’s recreation manager.
Starting at Lions Wilderness Park, racers can compete in a 15-mile short track or a single 30-mile track loop. While small portions use a paved road, the majority of both tracks traverse across Bureau of Land Management property.
Dale Davis, owner of 505 Cycles, competed in the rally for many years until 2014. He is now one of the sponsors of the rally, including supporting a couple of team members from his shop.
Davis, who spoke with The Durango Herald via phone while attending the New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference, said the city of Farmington is pushing hard to promote the outdoor industry, and the rally is “one piece of the puzzle.”
“Outdoor recreation is becoming huge and the city is trying to drive tourism and economic development, including bringing in manufacturers of outdoor recreation equipment,” Davis said.
While registered riders can enjoy a pasta dinner Friday evening and some live music, Davis said there are hopes to expand the rally into an all-weekend event in the near future. He encouraged people to check out the rally, even those new to the sport.
“Farmington has pretty unique terrain,” he said. “It opens the mountain biking world to people of all skill sets.”
The 30-mile loop is a point of pride for the city, said Natalie Spruell, assistant director with the Farmington City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department. Most long courses have multiple loops, where bikers tour the same terrain multiple times, but the city has maintained a single loop since the race’s creation, she said.
“It’s a bit of a throwback to the original cross-country format which favored longer loops,” said Todd Wells of Durango. Wells, who retired from a 20-year professional racing career in 2017, said with “so many great riders in the area, we have a pretty competitive race.”
Wells has found the course – with a low elevation gain but a lot of sand – has a distinctive feel from many of the races in Colorado. “There’s a lot of whoops on the trail,” he said. “It’s about the most fun you can have doing a mountain bike race.”