Friday, July 30, 2010

Cycling community takes charge in Hailey

New trails and new creations in the valley’s biggest town

Express Staff Writer

Bruce Kremer amongst his vintage bike creations in the alley next to the Wicked Spud on Main Street. Photo by David N. Seelig

Map of New Croy
Creek Biking Trails

Two years ago an industrious beaver built a home at the mouth of Lamb's Gulch in Croy Canyon west of Hailey. The sizeable dam that resulted flooded out a dirt road that had led up the canyon for generations.

Not long ago the beaver dam would have been destroyed in favor of public driving access, but things have changed in Hailey. The dam and the beaver family were left where they were. Now, a single-track biking and hiking trail runs around the pond, leading to a challenging series of trails, bridges and switchbacks popular with mountain bikers.

Birds, insects and spotted frogs now live at the mouth of Lamb's Gulch, maybe providing sustenance for the infamous rattlesnake population in the area.

Some of the excellent trails uphill of the pond were built illegally by a phantom trail-builder several years ago. Other trails were built legally by BLM officials and local volunteers. This spring about 18 single track trails opened in Croy Canyon in time to meet the needs of a burgeoning and eclectic cycling community in the south valley.

Of 13 bike shops in the Wood River Valley, only four are in Hailey, but you wouldn't know that by the look of Main Street on a Friday afternoon or at a concert in Hop Porter Park, where it's common to see cruisers, mountain and road bikes stacked five deep.

This town rides, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Former pro mogul skier Chip Deffe opened Sun Summit South bike shop at the south end of Main Street in 1993 after working on bikes for fifteen years in Ketchum. Today he serves a loyal clientele, often fiddling with bikes worth more than the cars that drive by his shop.

"The mechanics on expensive bikes are basically the same as those on a $150 Walmart bike," he says, which is what most people were riding in Hailey when he opened his shop. If they had a decent mountain bike, there wouldn't have been many places to ride it in Hailey.

"There was no single track in or around Hailey when I got here," Deffe recalls. "Only dirt roads in Colorado Gulch, Democrat and Quigley canyons."

Many years ago Deffe tried to organize a mountain bike race on a dirt road through former mining areas in Hattie's Gulch, Croy Canyon. He was told he needed to pay for an archeological survey.

"This was on a road that had been driven on for a hundred years," Deffe says. The "snail's pace" at which BLM and Forest Service officials take to develop trails here is a constant frustration to him.

"It took 12 years to develop the new trails in Croy Canyon," Deffe says. "In the same period of time Fruita, Colorado built 350 miles of single track. I just don't think local government officials realize the kind of economic impact the cycling community can bring to the valley."

Sturtos mechanic Greg Thomson says shoulder season riding in and around Hailey makes the town of particular interest to multi-sport enthusiasts.

< "In the spring you can ski (Baldy) and then ride in Hailey on the same day," Thomson says. "And riding Carbonate is a great way to get fit."

The trail up Carbonate Mountain, across the Big Wood River west of town, was begun by the aforementioned phantom trail builder about ten years ago. It was later finished and maintained with permission from a benevolent private landowner.

The trail's steep and challenging switchbacks bring a rider to one of the best views of the Wood River Valley and surrounding mountains. Carbonate trail can be reached in minutes from most anywhere in Hailey and completed in less than an hour by most riders.

Sturtos, on Main Street, offers the only rental bikes in town and sells beach cruisers to locals and tourists. Jim Santa leads "no drop" road rides from the shop on Monday nights, meaning the "peleton" only moves as fast as the slowest rider.

"This is where the working man lives," says Thomson. "You can get here at 6 p.m. and still get a ride in."

The road riders head north or south along Broadford Road toward Bellevue.

As Hailey bikers reach south, Bellevue is moving its trail system north. The City Council recently expressed support for an initiative led by the Wood River Bike Coalition to connect the Toe of the Hill Trail in east Hailey with Bellevue to the south.

Former bike racer and mechanic Billy Olson opened the Powerhouse bike shop and gourmet pub on Main Street in Hailey last year, bringing new enthusiasm to the cycling community in Hailey.

The Powerhouse quickly became a gathering place for cyclists from the north and south valley looking for a tune-up, a beer, or a burger. They also gather at the bar to watch Tour de France videos and downhill mountain-biking stunts.

Olson established the Hailey 4th of July Criterium Bike Race, as well as the burning log mountain bike pull and the world championship one-handed hot dog race up Carbonate (you have to eat the dog when you get to the top of the course to stay in the running).

Down the street one block from the Powerhouse, some intriguing two-wheeled creations began showing up in the alley next to the Wicked Spud. Artist Bruce Kremer spent a year assembling what he calls "rat rod" bikes from vintage bike parts. No two are alike.

In addition to deep patinas, Kremer's bikes sport shrunken heads, checkered flags and playing cards clothes-pinned into spokes. One has a marine compass mounted on the handlebars for navigation.

"I don't call it art, but I do call it creative," Kremer says of his collection. Young kids drop by regularly to chat with him and to admire what may be the cheapest rides in town. Kremer sells them for between $100 and $300.

"I was just going to restore a Schwinn Stingray for myself, but once you get started on something, it sometimes just moves forward," he said. "I just jumble the parts around to create a balance. It's primarily for the aesthetic."

Some of Kremer's creations are inspired by post WWII hot rods, made by mechanics who had returned from the war. Others are constructed with parts from the 1930s, with upside down handlebars to look like the board track racers of that era.

"Turning your handle bars upside down is the first thing a kid would have done back then to look stylish," Kremer says.

Style, exercise, speed and adventure; the reasons to ride in the south valley are growing.

"Hailey is a vibrant community," says Deffe, who has seen the cycling community in Hailey evolve for 17 years. "It's like Ketchum was when I came here in 1978. Young people hanging around. Lots of music. And it is showing no signs of slowing down. I have been two weeks out on bike tunes since March." As for the rattlesnakes, times have also changed. An old timer came in to Defe's shop many years ago and said snake dens in Quigley and Croy Canyons were bombed by locals.

"He said it was raining snakes in Hailey," Deffe said.

Today, riders and hikers give the snakes wide berth when they are dispersing from their dens in early summer.

Tony Evans:

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