With a local lunch loop, there’s no way to bite off more than you can chew on a mountain bike. “Not everyone wants to do an epic ride like Monarch Crest,” Blaine Rainey, manager of Bicycle Outfitters in Grand Junction, Colorado, told GrindTV. “Not everyone is fit as a fiddle. Not everyone wants to just go out and crush themselves.”
A growing number of “lunch loops” around the country are providing a welcomed mix of shorter connecting trails that locals can ride right from town during a long lunch, or visiting riders can explore to sample local terrain. Even just an add on while passing through on the way to more multi-day or adventurous backcountry rides, or gear up for riding at higher altitudes.
While they hold great potential for the quick bailout, sunrise ride or bonus nightcap, that doesn’t mean lunch loops are always easy, technically speaking. Grand Junction’s established lunch loops (Tabegauche) just southwest of Main Street on the edge of the Colorado National Monument has some seriously steep and rocky sections that will challenge any rider.
“The trails are about 95 percent rideable, but there are some short sections that will hurt you,” Rainey says. Heed the black-diamond terrain markers, because you will be off your bike. Oh, and, the red-colored trails. “Those are there because it’s a trail of blood,” Rainey jokes. “You have to know what you’re doing, but we do have a nice Level-one trauma hospital right here in Grand Junction.”
Seriously, newbies may want to sample upper Curt’s Lane, Time Machine, Ali Ali’s and Miramonte Rim for a more tame introduction to lunch loops.
While more and more riders are sampling Grand Junction’s lunch loops during a trip to nearby Fruita (or on the way to Moab), Rainey, who moved to town five years ago, says Grand Junction is now its own riding destination. It has everything from quicker lunch loops to massive backcountry rides like Kokopelli Trail, Rabbit Valley and Fruita’s extensive system next door. “I’m a Front Range kid and GJ is where we used to stop to by beer on our way to ride Moab,” he says. “I don't feel that way anymore.”
Similar to the evolution in Grand Junction, lunch loops are popping up in more towns, especially across the West, giving riders a new way to explore terrain that the locals ride regularly. Colorado is crushing the micro-ride scene with expanded trails such as Steamboat’s Emerald Mountain, near the ski jumping hill above town, whic is now a maze of looping trails; Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, near bigger iconic rides in Crested Butte; loops in Phil’s World outside the unexplored town of Cortez; Salida's S-Mountain options on the Arkansas Hill Trail System, just east of town; among others.
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Many lunch loops are located on BLM land and offer both hour-long rides as well as access to more remote terrain, such as these “backyard to backcountry” top 20, representing town-convenient riding from Virginia to Oregon. More are popping up in national recreation areas and even state parks.
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For a more rural version of the lunch-loop set, say a picnic circuit, Rainey points to a stellar new effort at Goblin Valley State Park in middle-of-nowhere Utah. “It might take you a few hours to walk around the whole place, but then you’re twiddling your thumbs, so they added a nice little place to go mountain biking,” he says. The Wild Horse Mountain Biking Trail System is just seven miles of trails, ranging from a .14-mile connector to a 1.65-mile stretch — but sometimes shorter is sweeter.
Clearly these snack-size rides are offering a taste of different places — perhaps just enough to know if you want to come back for the whole enchilada.
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