As an avid mountain biker -- is there any other kind? -- and beer lover, I was a guaranteed sucker for Bike & Brew America: Rocky Mountain Region (Brewers Publications, $16.95), the first in a series of six books proposed as a joint effort of the Association of Brewers (headquartered in Boulder, by the way) and VeloPress, publisher of the well-respected Velo magazine. Bike & Brew was written by Todd Mercer, also a self-proclaimed avid mountain biker as well as a mountain-biking journalist (what is that, and how do I get in on it?), a "beer enthusiast" and a homebrewer.
Not to worry: Mercer doesn't propose that biking and beer drinking be done in unison; instead, he points to the already well-established connection between riding hard and drinking heartily afterward. This is something that any avid biker, hiker, climber, runner, shot-putter or football-watching couch potato is already aware of -- there's just something about pushing the body to its limits that makes a cold brewski the first thing that occurs to the brain the second the activity stops.
In the case of some folks, of course, a cold brewski is the first thing that occurs to the brain the second they wake up. But to stay healthy, they really should bike before having a beer. Whether they need this book to make that happen, however, is a matter of opinion. And if you're asking for mine, I'd say that the information contained in Bike & Brew is not a whole lot more than what you'll find in the plethora of trail guides and microbrewery guides already out there, since the trails and brewpubs Mercer lists are among the more popular in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Mercer focuses on one main trail near each city or major town in these states, offering difficulty ratings, mileages and trail notes (the only maps show the proximity of the trail to the brewpub; contacts for trail maps are given), and then profiles a nearby brewpub, describing its atmosphere and beers and listing pint prices (gee, that won't date these books much). Often, Mercer suggests one or two additional trails and brewpubs in the area, with minimal info on each.
Not about a Restaurant
Blessedly, Mercer doesn't feel the need to explain every foot of the trails the way some guides do ("At mile 1.675, you'll see a big rock. At mile 1.72, the trail winds to the left..."), and for those who bike in the areas he discusses, it's a major relief that he gives away absolutely nothing that locals would want to keep a secret. Some of the "overheard" quotes he includes are fun -- "Never trust a local who tells you the ride is a loop and mostly downhill," muttered one group while lost in the woods on a loop ride that was supposed to be "mostly downhill" -- and some are a little tired, such as Boulder biker/beer drinker Roger Knight saying, "Things get kinda weird when I start ordering the Java Porters." Du-u-ude.
I found Bike & Brew right before a three-day biking trip to Grand Junction, which provided the perfect opportunity to give it a test run. There are many bike trails in the Grand Valley, including some great ones near Fruita and Loma; the trail Mercer suggests, the part of the Kokopelli Trail that comprises Mary's Loop, Lion's Loop and Troybuilt (a 26-mile single-track out-and-back that is definitely not mostly downhill) is one of the area's most popular routes. Mercer doesn't mention dropping down from Mary's to do the Horsethief Bench loop, some of the sweetest single-track imaginable, but he does talk about 18 Road, an area against the Bookcliffs that offers a mix of fun and gnarly rides. (A few years ago, an alleged friend took me on the Edge Loop, a notorious advanced ride, when I was just starting out as a biker.) Not surprisingly, the Rockslide Restaurant & Brewery (401 Main Street in Grand Junction) is his brewpub of choice; it's also the only one within a reasonable driving distance.
Actually, it's a great brewpub, with the sweet, cloudy Kokopelli Cream Ale standing hops and shoulders above the two brews that Mercer mentions, the Cold Shivers Pale Ale and Big Bear Stout, although the latter is creamy and has a nice molasses flavor. And Mercer doesn't even talk about the food, so I will: The pasta dishes are excellent (the enormous portions are perfect for carbo-loading); the salads are big and come with great dressings (personal faves: the blue cheese and the ginger-soy vinaigrette); and there's no dessert in the Grand Valley better suited to the post-ride appetite than the Rockslide Puffs, two giant profiteroles stuffed with a full scoop of ice cream and then drizzled with chocolate sauce and decorated with blobs of whipped cream. Did someone say naptime?
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Mercer also doesn't mention the healthful aspect of beer, a beverage once pooh-poohed as empty calories for casual drinkers and pot-belly-makers for the perpetually inebriated. But then, the beverage's healthier effects are being downplayed by the beermakers themselves for fear that hyping them might be misconstrued. In 1999, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ruled that beer- and winemakers could mention potential health benefits on labels that encouraged drinkers to consult their doctors or the federal government's dietary guidelines for more information; so far, though, few have taken the BATF up on its offer. The prevailing reasoning is neatly summed up by an official statement from the Association of Brewers, which reads, in part, "Any attempt to simplify the message about the potential positive health effects of beer will be used by anti-alcohol forces to further defame the beer industry."
In fact, beer may have the same effect on the heart as wine does, and medical studies (whether well-founded or not) abound that claim the brew has a natural affinity to athletic endeavors. Two Italian sports doctors claim a liter of beer a day increases performance, concentration and muscle reaction, for example; an American cardiologist says beer is the ideal fluid replacement after long-distance events; a French doctor says he's proven that beer increases lung capacity and enhances the ability to process oxygen. In addition, the minerals in beer supposedly have a favorable impact on nerves and muscle strength: The iron and copper help blood production, the phosphorus enhances metabolism, the magnesium strengthens the heart muscle. More claims: Malt-related "phenolic substances" intercept free radicals; carbon dioxide promotes salivation and helps the stomach digest and the intestines do what they do; moderate beer consumption has been linked with raising levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the good kind); and the fiber, carbohydrate and protein content make beer almost a food substitute. Shoot, we should just live on the stuff.
If that's not enough to inspire the consumption of a few Railyard Ales at Wynkoop Brewing Company (1634 18th Street), the brewpub Mercer offers up in the Denver section as a companion for the Matthews-Winters Park bike trail off I-70, maybe the author's comment on the Wynkoop's LoDo location will drive you to drink. The moniker, he advises helpfully, is "pronounced LOW-DOE by those in the KNOW."
Du-u-ude. Things just get weirder, don't they?