OFF-ROAD CYCLISTS Riding trails of advocacy

By JAMIE VERWYS

Tucson is known for its active bicycling community. With annual events like the Tour De Tucson and a multitude of bicycle shops, it’s clear the city appreciates its wheels.

Beyond the urban pavement, Mount Lemmon offers a paradise of trails for the sport of mountain biking.

Avid cyclist Art Alcantara calls the mountain an unbeatable locale, not only in Tucson but the entire western United States.

“Mount Lemmon is a great place for a lot of reasons,” he said. “It offers a level of technicality and skill that you won’t find in most places.”

Mountain bikers gathered at Mount Lemmon’s Gordon Hirabayashi campground on Nov. 16 to celebrate Tucson Off-Road Cyclists and Activists’ second year.

Alcantara formed TORCA in 2013 with a mission to improve Tucson’s off-road biking community. The group regularly performs maintenance on trails.

“The mountain bike community is growing, so as the sport grows the more people use trails,” he said. “They don’t fix themselves. We are out fixing the trails once a month, sometimes more.”

Alcantara believes that creating awareness of mountain biking can benefit the entire city.

“This is an emerging mountain bike destination, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of hoopla around it,” he said. “It helps retailers, hotels and it’s good for the economy. We know there is an economic impact.”

The group hosts a Mount Lemmon trail day each month to repair and improve riding trails. Membership fees and grants pay for the expenses.

During the Nov. 16 celebration, for the first time, the group invited bike manufacturers to an event. Representatives of Specialized, Ibis, Devinci, Niner Bikes and Pivot brought a fleet of high-quality mountain bikes.

Club secretary Tara Alcantara was happy to provide an opportunity for supporters to test-drive some of the best bikes available.

“When you buy a mountain bike, you don’t often get to ride it before you buy it,” she said.

“Bikes are literally upwards of $6,000. To be able to ride a bike before you buy it is invaluable.”

Pg16-Two bicyclists

Tim Walsh, left, and a fellow cyclist ride during a TORCA celebration on Mount Lemmon. (Jamie Verwys/Aztec Press)

Tara Alcantara said TORCA hopes to bring more riders to Tucson.

“I love the fact that we can bring other mountain bikers together,” she said. “TORCA’s main objective is to bring mountain biking in Tucson to the forefront on a national level.”

Bike enthusiast Andrew Keller has volunteered at TORCA events. He believes the group is doing crucial work to improve Tucson’s off-road community.

“I do get a little frustrated because there’s a lot of work to be done,” he said. “I feel because of some of the accolades we have been given as a bike town, people get complacent. There’s a lot of work to be done as far as advocacy.”

He praised TORCA for working with the forest service, particularly on Mount Lemmon.

“It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort,” Keller said. “They have done a great job developing a relationship there, which is priceless.”

Mountain bikers must fight for their right to ride, Keller said.

“We have to be extra careful, extra courteous, more so than hikers and equestrians,” he said.

“If we are seen damaging the trail in any way, we will get 10 times the repercussions of another trail user,” he added.

Art Alcantara said he is thankful for mountain biking.

“It offers a level of excitement that keeps things interesting and stimulating,” he said. “I can be in the woods, playing, staying fit. It’s a fantastic sport and it’s really given me a lot.”

To learn more about TORCA, visit torca.org.

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