With hundreds of miles of trails in 1.5 million acres of national forest, there are always new mountain biking routes to discover in the Taos area. But pedaling blindly into the forest isn’t always the best way to do it. Joining a cycling club or team is the easiest way to tap the combined knowledge of other local riders or find someone to guide you safely through the trees. If you prefer pavement to dirt, a club ride offers companionship, motivation and increased visibility, the latter of which is always a good thing in Taos.
Ex-professional mountain biker Susie Fiore wanted everyone to have access to those benefits, so in 2007, she and her husband, Sean Cassily, started Team FITaos, a combined cycling club and competitive racing team open to everyone. Since 1996, Fiore and Cassily have spent much of their time in the summer running the popular Field Institute of Taos environmental education camps for kids. Some of those kids were the first members of the team.
“I had been racing on the pro mountain bike circuit and didn’t see any inclusive teams out there. The kids in our environmental education summer programs were really curious about the biking and racing, so it seemed like a good idea,” says Fiore. “The focus is an inclusive, all ages, all abilities team with a strong mentorship component.”
At Team Fitaos’ monthly summer Ski Valley Road time trials, it’s normal to see riders as young as eight and as old as 70 sharing the road with some of the fastest riders from New Mexico. Macky Franklin, now a professional mountain biker who races internationally, and Lewis Gaffney, the 2014 division two collegiate cyclocross national champion, started their racing careers with Fiore and Team FITaos and still show up for club events.
The camaraderie of Team FITaos isn’t just on the road or trail. The Ski Valley time trials always finish with a free slice at Pizaños and prizes for all riders.
From spring through fall, the number of weekly organized rides varies, but there is always at least one mountain and one road ride per week. There are separate rides and programs for juniors. A women’s mountain bike group that formed last year has rides at least every other week.
When the snow melts and mud dries, Fiore prefers making looping combinations on Mondragon, South Boundary and Jaracita, or riding the challenging climbs of the trails at Northside at Taos Ski Valley, a fee-based network of trails on 1,200 acres of private land that includes 12,163-foot Frazer Mountain.
“I love riding at Northside because you climb your brains out and are never disappointed in the least by the incredible high alpine views at over 12,000 feet,” says Fiore. Although she prefers the dirt, she likes the climb up the Ski Valley Road and the ride from Tres Piedras to Hopewell Lake. Still, she’s always up for riding anywhere with members or potential members of Team FITaos.
Team FITaos has its annual sign-up party to kick off the riding season on Wednesday, April 2 at 5:30. The location is still to be determined. Updated information on Team FITaos, the sign-up party, and the Field Institute of Taos’ dozen or so summer outdoor adventure and exploration programs for kids can be found at fitaos.org.