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Wild ride results in new attitude about dirt bikers

The following is an article that appeared in the Fort Collins Coloradoan Online in May 2004. The writer had referred to OHV riders as "rednecks" in an earlier editorial in the printed newspaper. A local rider, Jeff Deeney of the Northern Colorado Trail Riders, invited the reporter to go riding with his crew for a day. His turnaround on his earlier statement was quite dramatic. Following is Blumhardt's follow-up article which appeared both in printed and online editions of the paper.

By Miles Blumhardt

Map of Colorado

As part of the better-than-thou non-motorized outdoor group, the chances of me ever sitting on the seat of a dirt bike were as slim as manufacturers silencing these popular polluters.

Then Jeff Deeney of the Northern Colorado Trail Riders took me to task in an editorial for referring to OHVers (that's off- highway vehicles) as rednecks in a Xplore story. Well, I couldn't let him get away with that, so I decided to call him out and, gulp, see if he could prove to me that OHVers weren't rednecks.

"Like other responsible outdoor users, dirt bikers like Deeney know their relationship with the U.S. Forest Service is key to the future of the sport."

Pulling up to the meadow just south of Larimer County Road 162 west of Red Feather Lakes and along the Green Ridge Trail, I felt a bit like Custer on the crest of his last stand.

There was the enemy, a semi-circle of motor homes, pickups, dirt bikes and ATVs, with weekend warriors on Yamahas, Hondas and Kawasakis whining this way and racing that way. It was a hiker's hell.

These were the rednecks I made fun of for getting off on making noise in the backcountry and calling it a legitimate outdoor activity. Sure, I drive a pickup, but that was where the common ground between me, a non-motorized proponent, and these motorheads started and ended, or so I thought.

Not knowing Jeff Deeney from Al Gore, I introduced myself to a guy dressed in an outfit as loud as any road cyclist and quizzically looking at his Gas Gas dirt bike and asked for Deeney, my contact from the Northern Colorado Trail Riders who was to take me riding.

I was half prepared for a 9mm ratchet to the forehead, but relaxed when the befuddled mechanic introduced himself as Don Lorenzen, a Loveland dentist, marathon runner, mountain biker and dirt biker, who claimed I interviewed him for a running story years ago. We swapped a few stories, then I questioned how a guy that seemed on my side could make friends with the enemy.

"Dirt riding supplemented my running and mountain biking," the fit 52-year-old Lorenzen said. "Plus, it was something I could do with my kids. When my oldest son was out doing his hairbrained things, it was one of the few things that I found we could do together, that kept us connected. He grew up to be a pastor."

OK, I wasn't expecting this. The man was a dirt biker. How could he be an understanding father?

"But doesn't the noise bother you, especially if you are up in the mountains trying to enjoy the backcountry," I pressed him.

"Nothing makes me madder than some squirrel without a spark arrestor," said Lorenzen, referring to the device that interferes with somewhat quieting the four-stroke or two-cycle bike engines. "But you get boneheads and jerks in every activity. Those people hurt all of us."

As we finished our talk, up walked Deeney, a Fort Collins rider who in an editorial called me a racist for referring to OHVers as rednecks. Behind him rode up who I would later find out were his kids Tara, 12, and Colton, 9. They were joined by Victor Johnson and his sons Kyle, 12, and Josh, 10.

Like Lorenzen, I soon discovered Deeney and Johnson might be dirt bikers, but they aren't dirt heads. Deeney is a mechanical engineer for Hewlett-Packard Company, a climber, backpacker and cyclist. Johnson is a configuration software manager for CoCreate. Chris Mueller, a Geographic Information Systems specialist for Jackson County and mountain biker turned dirt biker, rode up a little later. Sizing them up, I figured all three could whip me at the board game Cranium.

Deeney had my gear ready, including helmet, shoulder pads, chest protector, elbow pads, kneepads, shin protectors, steel-toed boots and suit. It was then I began to grasp the seriousness of this sport. I skipped the shoulder pads, chest protector, shin guards and boots, but it didn't take long to realize I might have made a mistake.

After a pre-ride talk focusing on each rider stopping at every intersection until the next rider approached to keep our group on the same trail, we headed off on the Green Ridge Trail. My first and only dirt biking experience was 30 years ago when I rode one of those Shriner-sized bikes around for a couple hours. However, I was starting to feel a little frisky after grasping the clutch, brakes and throttle and decided to catch me some air on this borrowed Honda XR 250R. I caught a lot more air than I intended but somehow landed fine, save for my head snapping back in whiplash-like fashion.

But then things went south.

Rounding a corner of the jeep road in third gear, I saw Deeney and Mueller waiting for me. Not once but twice my peace sign fingers attempted to pull on the front brake lever only to slip off and leave me palming the throttle. Out of control and with the likely two options either plowing over my new dirt biking buddies or taking the bike over the edge of the trail, the dirt biking gods guided me between the two riders until I finally braked to a jerking halt 20 feet down the trail.

"I wasn't worried about the bike so much because bikes can be fixed," Deeney assured an embarrassed me. "It's harder to fix bodies. Maybe, you should slow it down some until you get more comfortable."

I heeded the advice but still nearly took out Kyle with a spasmatic start before we turned off the jeep road and headed down some singletrack on the Killpecker Trail. Great, all I needed is nowhere to go when I get out of control. Luckily, enough mountain biking skills apply to singletrack dirt biking and I eased my way down without loss of life or tree limb.

However, I was sweating bullets and I could feel the tension leave my arms and shoulders once off the singletrack and into a meadow.

"People who claim dirt bikers do it because they are lazy don't know the half of it," Victor said. "Dirt biking is an exercise in profuse sweating. You have all this equipment on, your tools, food, water and navigational equipment weigh another 55 pounds and then you're wrestling a machine that weighs 225 to 265 pounds."

Once in the meadow just north of Middle Bald Mountain we took a break to drink from Camelbacks and look at the beautiful Mummy Range to the south. I couldn't help but think of how irritated I would have been to be hiking or biking the Killpecker only to find a group of dirt bikers. Then I remembered what Mueller said just before we headed out on our ride:

"I don't get philosophical or political about it; if I pass someone, I pull in the clutch so I don't roost 'em," he said, noting roosting means revving the engine and spitting up dirt. "If you are courteous to other users, they'll usually be OK with whatever you're doing."

Deeney said singletrack trails for dirt bikers are hard to come by, with only 20 miles open along the northern Front Range. He would like to see the Forest Service open more. After experiencing singletrack, the draw is obvious and though as a hiker I would be against sharing the trail, I couldn't blame Deeney for pushing for more.

We saw no wildlife, save for a deer Deeney said he saw as we started our ride, which didn't surprise me given the noise of the bikes. Even diehard dirt bikers admit noise and blue smoke trails left by two-cycle engines are the sports' biggest annoyances.

"We push for quiet pipes," said Deeney, 44, who has been dirt biking since he was 10 and owns five bikes worth about $10,000 total. "After-market mufflers are a no-no and there are less and less two-stroke engines and that means less blue smoke."

Like other responsible outdoor users, dirt bikers like Deeney know their relationship with the U.S. Forest Service is key to the future of the sport. Deeney has secured $40,000 to be spent over the next four years on rerouting trails away from sensitive areas, rebuilding bridges and clearing trails in the Roosevelt National Forest. The club also holds trail clean-up days and educates its members on proper riding techniques and etiquette and regulations.

"If someone's mind is made up about what we do, then we're not going to change it," Deeney said. "But we do this to enjoy the outdoors just like everybody else out here."

Despite our pre-ride talk about following each other, we somehow lost a guy named Roger, who was on his second ride, shortly after our rest in the meadow. Deeney sent Johnson and Mueller back to find him while Deeney, Kyle, Josh and I headed back to camp. Kyle partially buried his bike in a mud hole and Josh had a difficult time motoring his little 80cc bike up a couple steep hills but we made it back.

Johnson and Mueller found Roger, who then proceeded to dump his bike in the same mud hole as Kyle did and had to have a pickup haul it out. I went the day without tipping my borrowed bike and only received a minor injury: a shaving of the skin on my knee after scraping it while trying to start the bike.

"As somebody once said: 'A good day of riding is any day that doesn't end in a helicopter ride,' " Deeney said.

Sitting in camp after the ride, there was no question I had a blast. There also was no question in my mind that dirt biking and those who prefer non-motorized activities will coexist like water and gas. I might not take up the offer to ride with the guys, but I will be more tolerant of responsible riders like Deeney and his group because we have more in common than I would have ever thought.

The bottom line for any recreationist is pretty simple: don't be a jacka$$.

ATVs on trail

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Updated March 15, 2007

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