Mountain biking is an ever-growing industry, with an estimated 10 percent growth year over year, nationwide, according to some reports.
Some of that growth is happening in Claremore, thanks in large part to Oklahoma’s mountain biking association, Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship (OEF).
OEF member and Claremore Mountain Bike Trail Boss Rory Peterson has played a significant role in that growth, as he and close to 20 volunteers hand-built 12 and a half miles of mountain biking trails around Claremore Lake Park.
Working three-quarters of a mile at a time, the team of volunteers donated more than $200,000 worth of labor to turn unused city property into a known tourist destination. Why would they do all that work for free?
“As mountain bikers, we’re just passionate about wanting new trails,” Peterson said.
“We wanted more miles of trails, and the city was not going to pay for it,” he said. “All we needed was pickaxes, shovels, weed eaters and loppers and we got the trails built.”
Soft-surface, dirt trails are easy enough to measure and dig out with a team of 20 working on it for four years, apparently.
Peterson drew comparisons between Claremore and the nearby must-see, biking destination, Bentonville, Arkansas.
“If you got to Bentonville, they’ve got the Walton Family Foundation literally spending millions of dollars on trail development,” Peterson said. “They have hundreds of miles of these kinds of trails that are totally scenic. Within those trails they have beautiful wooden bridges and tunnels and crossings, so they really do it well.”
“We don’t have the fancy bridges, but what we do have is an incredible trail system that is getting great reviews from people all over the state and surrounding states,” he said.
Peterson highlighted one group from Wisconsin who were headed to Bentonville when trail conditions in Arkansas became too muddy.
“For them to be headed Bentonville and their other option is Claremore, that’s pretty impressive,” he said.
Biking has already proven to be an economic and tourism driver for Claremore.
In a recent City Council meeting, when the council approved an 11 acre purchase of land to further expand the bike trails, Councilor Justin Michael, owner of the Haberdashery, said he has seen a significant amount of business from people specifically visiting Claremore for mountain biking.
When OEF hosted their first annual Claremore race in March of this year, it was the second-most attended race in the state.
And it is crucial that Claremore support this growing market, Peterson said.
“The big things celebrated around here are the rodeo and downtown shopping,” he said. “We’ve done a great job reaching that culture, but what we’ve not done until now is reach people who are looking for an outdoor experience.”
This goes beyond bikers and includes people who want to walk trails and hike through woods, Peterson said. “People are desiring to be outside more.”
Quoting an economist he heard on a news broadcast, Peterson said, “More and more the next generation isn’t interested in buying things. They are looking for more experiences and adventures.”
“I think that’s completely true, and it’s not just the next generation,” Peterson said.
Peterson is 53, and the men in his riding group range in age from mid-20s to mid-50s.
The median age for the International Mountain Bike Association is in the 40s.
“I think people are just looking for a fun way to get fit without being stuck in a gym. We want to see something, do something, experience something,” Peterson said.
The average price for a mountain bike is $2,500 to $3,000.
“It’s kind of like golf, music, anything you do. Once you get into it you want the best equipment,” he said. “When you’re taking bikes down a really rocky, rugged trail, you don’t want your breaks to fail ... It takes some really good engineering to make a bike that is going to take the punishment that the trails we ride dish out.”
Like any sport or hobby, you can spend as little or as much as you want.
As previously reported, the group recently partnered with the Claremore Department of Parks and Recreation to encourage the city to purchase 11 acres of land to further expand bike trails near the lake.
When we built the last new section of trail last year, the city had 10 acres already. I cut the fence to get to that 10 acres and we built trail and had a race, then a rancher barbed wire across the trail and put a sign in saying please don’t cut any more fence, due to cows. We’d been in there riding and racing for three months. Peterson contacted the rancher and they worked out that the fence was at an old property line, and was not moved with the city acquired those original 10 acres. Peterson told Parks Director Joe Kays that if they were looking to re-do the fence line anyway, he would lie to acquire the adjacent 11 acres to further expand the bike trails.
The city offered the property owner the appraised value of the property and the council voted to purchase the land, as previously reported.
“I think they saw the value in bringing in tourist dollars and people coming and eating in restaurants. People have come to Claremore that haven’t been here in years said they are now here all the time because of the trails,” Peterson said.
OEF has more plans for the Claremore trails into the future, such as, expanding the trails west to connect to Claremore Lake Park, installing amenities like restrooms and water fountains, and widening bridges along the route so bikers are not forced to compete with vehicles for narrow space.
In the more distant future, Peterson said, they hope to get grants to hire professional trail builders to create jumps and burns to make the trails more interesting.