In Biketopia, you don’t have to drive anywhere apparently. There’s a trail at the back of the house we’re staying in. That trail leads to all the other trails, over 100 miles of them. That trail also leads to the coffee shop. It goes to town, where there’s ice cream, food trucks, a couple restaurants, a general store, and a bike shop. There’s another bike shop, on trail, over the hill from town in the other direction. There is no direction you can point where there is not a killer stretch of dirt to ride.
I spent the weekend in Biketopia. In 2-and-a-half-days I rode all the miles I was capable of riding and didn’t get to half of what’s there. There are some runs that are harder than others. They’re all marked. Most tough stuff also has a bailout option. To say it’s rider-friendly is an absurd understatement. I rode green trails that were sublimely fast with big, smooth banked turns and optional jumps. I rode blue trails that flowed like water over the hillside. I rode blacks that had me shouting line beta over my shoulder for the rider behind me, a fat smile on my face, and I rode double blacks that honed my nerves and cleansed my mind of anything but the few feet in front of my wheel.
I ate good food, drank good coffee, laughed with friends, and contemplated a better way of living life.
No one polices the trails there, but the positive ethic is strong. Riders yield to each other. Everyone says hello. Everything has been designed and planned to maximize the riding and minimize the trouble. “Ride with Gratitude,” they say.
The house we rented has a ride-out basement. There are bike racks there, and a repair stand with tools. There’s a hose just outside, so you can clean off your bike and your horrible, dirty, sweaty self. There’s a fire pit too, with Adirondack chairs around it. It is not the only house set up like this in this notch of a valley.
East Burke, VT isn’t a big place, at least not in the way we tend to think of places as big or small. It’s a sidecar on the town of Burke, itself not a teeming metropolis. The whole shebang of East Burke is arrayed against the verge of two-lane Route 114, and the permanent population is 69, according to the 2020 census. To get groceries you have to drive down to Lyndonville, another place you haven’t heard of.
But East Burke is the home of Kingdom Trails, or the Kingdom Trails Association (KTA), which is the closest thing I’ve seen to an actual working Biketopia. Downieville, CA or Fruita, CO, or a few other places might also fit this description, but I haven’t been to those places (yet), and this is New England. The feat of bringing together property owners, conservationists, trail designers, businesses, etc. is extra, extra here, where many property lines predate the founding of the nation and finding enough people cool enough to pull it off requires constant vigilance, communication and diplomacy.
East Burke has a legacy of skiing and snowmobiling trails, so there was some outfrastructure (I made that word up) in place, but KT has become far, far more than a few trails strung together. It’s a place that has completely reorganized itself around mountain biking, and in fact, it feels like a mistake to think about the place as a glorious anomaly. This is what anyplace might look like with a different eye on urban/suburban/exurban planning. It’s what a future with much less auto traffic could look like. Sure, there would be things to work out in any zip code who dared tried to remake themselves in East Burke’s image, but I can tell you, the result is sublime.