MOAB, Utah – When Western Spirit Cycling owner Ashley Korenblat got the idea, she didn’t know it would become an institution.
It seemed simple. Round up as many mountain bike manufacturers as she could in the Utah desert, then invite the pedaling masses to come out for new bikes, a little rambunctious festival behavior, and beer – lots of it.
Meet Outerbike. In its fifth year, its wheels are turning. In fact, three Outerbikes – spring and fall for Moab, and one next summer in British Columbia – are already in the works for 2015.
Last weekend, over 1,000 people from all over the place showed up to ride next year’s bikes on the incomparable trails of Moab. When the demos began, at the gates it was like a running of the bulls.
“People start lining up at 7 a.m.,” she said. “The gates don’t open until 9.”
Korenblat, a former pro racer, previous International Mountain Bike Association president and current trail advocate, is well versed in introducing people to mountain biking culture.
“You know, we can be kind of cliquey in the bike industry,” Korenblat said. “A big part of what we’re doing here is saying, ‘Hey, everyone’s invited, everyone’s welcome – if you know a lot about bikes that’s great, if you don’t know a lot about bikes, that’s great’ – so we’re working hard to invite everyone.”
The demo format is easy: Pay the $162 entry fee and demo as many things as you can in three days. The 30 miles of Moab’s Brand trails accessible a few feet away from the event perimeter were good for all skill levels, and shuttle vans loaded with bikes and riders left in waves for world-class riding.
While over 100 companies set up attendees with everything from bikes to backpacks to apparel to wheels, there were instructional clinics on bike packing, suspension tuning, trail riding and more.
Famed athletes were turning screws and rubbing elbows with people who came from far and wide. Durango was well-represented, with Osprey Packs, Durango Bike Co. and a slew of mountain bike enthusiasts.
Daniel Rodriguez, an engineer from Puerto Rico living in Seattle, was trading temperate rain forests for desert moonscape.
“We heard really good things about it, and we wanted to try different types of riding on the new bikes,” Rodriguez said. “What else can you ask for?”
With 1,000 extra people during an already busy tourist season, campsites and hotels were crammed. On the fringes, more than a few people slept in their cars or under the stars.
Josh Klute and David Rau sacked out in the sand near the event.
“We spent the first night in (the desert) and then decided to crash in the parking lot,” Klute, an EMT from Colorado Springs, said. “It was a great night. Nice and clear.”
Kim Churchill came from Michigan to find a bike and then get lost. She said she was impressed with the good vibes, but should have trained a little more.
“The great attitude that people have out here, everyone’s in a good mood,” she said. “I’ve just got sea level lungs.”
It’s not only the bikes that are new. Moab’s local trail advocacy group, Grand County Trail Mix, has built 50 new miles of trails in the last five years. And there’s more on the way. (Trail Mix recently helped Durango construct its progressive Snakecharmer Trail in Horse Gulch.)
Trail coordinator Scott Escott said it’s a streamlined but tough process to negotiate with land agencies, work with a small budget and coordinate volunteers. He called the actual building of a trail the last step.
“You’re on page 499 of a 500-page book and that’s when you’re building the trail. No one has much of an idea of how much goes into it,” Escott said.
Korenblat said maintaining a good relationship with land agencies and gas and oil companies is vital for the future of Moab’s recreational tourism economy, which is exactly what Outerbike is.
“The trails don’t have protection,” Korenblat said about a current natural resouce boom in the area. “Right now, the oil company that we’re working with is a great corporate citizen, but if it was some other company, they might say, ‘Sorry, the law favors us, get out of our way.’”
“Nobody’s aware,” she added. “You’ve got all of these businesses investing in a recreational economy with the assumption that the recreation assets are going to be there.”
Meanwhile, a growing line for the shuttles stretched through the parking lot, this time heading to Captain Ahab, a Trail Mix masterpiece on Moab’s Amasa Back in Kane Creek Canyon. The loading area was like a desert space station – people decked in riding gear, crawling into machines with exotic eyewear, helmets, elbow and knee pads, sitting next to someone from the other side of the planet, their bikes floating up to waiting hands on the roof as pilots prepared for takeoff and headed out into another world.
“I don’t know why,” Korenblat said, “but everyone is like, ‘This is the greatest weekend ever.’”