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Why The Rad Dirt Fest is Rad and the Gear that Helped Get the Job Done

Life Time’s The Rad Dirt Fest took place September 30, 2023, in Trinidad, Colo. And going into the third year of the event – and the newest addition to the Life Time Grand Prix – the town was overflowing with enthusiasm from more than a thousand of seemingly every type of rider, pros and amateurs alike from 46 states and nine countries.

I was a bit shocked when we rolled into downtown Trinidad to pick up my race packet the evening before this year’s Rad Dirt Fest. Downtown Trinidad was completely revitalized from the last time I had been through here many years ago on my way to ski Taos when I was living in Denver in the early-2000s. Usually these little towns go downhill, not up, and it was a welcomed surprise. It seemed as if all of the dispensaries had brought in a bit of money and life back to the area, and there were way more breweries and other renovated store fronts throughout the quaint, historic downtown.

I’d been meaning to come down and check these guys out since it first launched and now that we live in Colorado Springs, I had no excuse. We were optimistic for the weekend as it was only a two hour drive from our house and we had no trouble securing a cheap hotel room a month or so earlier, just about one downhill mile from the start. 

That night, I sought out the only restaurant I remembered from that trip years ago and was stoked to discover it was still open and hadn’t changed a bit – Rino’s, where you’ll eat authentic Italian food and be serenaded and swooned with Elvis and Neil Diamond classics by the staff during your meal. It’s really something else. All carbed up and ready to go the next morning, my stomach was filled with butterflies. I didn’t know if I would ever race in a group like this again after being taken out in a crash last year, but fortunately a few solid buddies stuck by me and kept encouraging me, so I was unofficially calling this my comeback race.

“I’m incredibly proud of the third annual The Rad Dirt Fest and it’s been a great collaboration between our team at Life Time and our dedicated community partners in Trinidad,” Michelle Duffy Smith, Senior Marketing Director at Life Time said.

“Together we’ve created an exceptional experience and also aided in positioning Trinidad as a promising new destination for outdoor recreation. Participants traveled from all over to this eclectic community and were rewarded with what is arguably one of the most beautiful courses in the country,” Smith continued. Adding that the addition of professional cyclists in the Life Time Grand Prix has elevated the event’s profile and, “we look forward to continuing this exciting journey of growth and adventure with Trinidad.” 

The Rad Dirt Fest presented by Wahoo was the sixth race in the 2023 Life Time Grand Prix series presented by Mazda. The Rad was chosen as the “wild card” event of the Life Time Grand Prix series this year; and the courses changed significantly from last year to this year.

It was also announced that The Rad will be part of the Life Time Grand Prix series again next year: 2024 will consist of seven of Life Time’s off-road races, three of which are cross-country mountain bike races and three of which are gravel: the Fuego XL at Sea Otter, Unbound Gravel, Crusher in the Tushar, Leadville Trail 100 MTB, Chequamegon MTB Festival, The Rad Dirt Fest, and Big Sugar Gravel.

The series was capped off on Oct. 21 with the Life Time Big Sugar Gravel presented by Mazda in Bentonville and the final cycling event of the year was the Stages Cycling Austin Rattler MTB Nov. 4. 

In Trini-rad, the hardiest tackled the 112-mile Stubborn Delores course, featuring more than 10,400 feet of elevation gain; while the 68-mile Anteloop and the 47-mile Frijole course distances offer 6,500- and 4,200-feet of climbing respectively. All three courses were new for this year’s race and featured a mix of pristine and punchy gravel in what was essentially a lolly pop out and back. As the day went on the wind picked up and made for a challenging end of the race, not to mention some gnarly climbs through town to finish downtown at the expo, but we persevered with mostly smiles and high fives.

The course started with a lap around gorgeous Trinidad Lake State Park, where the lead men stayed in a large pack. At mile 46 the group started to break up with Lachlan Morton and Nathan Spratt about three minutes ahead of a large chase group that included Alexey Vermeulen, Alex Howes, Peter Stetina, Matt Beers and more. After 55 miles of gradual climbing, the course began to descend. At mile 65, Stetina, Vermeulen and Brendan Johnston led with Morton, Howes, Spratt and Eric Brunner not far behind. Going into the final sections, Stetina, Vermeulen and Johnson were all very close coming back into downtown Trinidad. After a pretty brutal climb on blacktop, Vermeulen and Stetina dropped Johnston. In the sporty descent in the last quarter mile, Vermeulen overtook Stetina for a sprint to the finish to win the men’s race. 

Coming out of the State Park the lead group of women included Crystal Anthony,  Alexis Skarda, Michaela Thompson, Whitney Allison and Lauren De Crescenzo. A number of chase groups had formed behind them. At the halfway point the lead group was charging up the rolling climbs led by De Crescenzo, Paige Onweller, Skarda and Anthony. After the long 20-mile climb section, at mile 64 De Crescenzo was leading with Skarda just 10-seconds back and Onweller, Anthony, Melisa Rollins and Heather Jackson all chasing. Coming off the lake trail, De Crescenzo had 30 seconds over Skarda and ultimately took the win by over two minutes following the finish circuit through the streets of Trinidad. This is De Crescenzo’s second win at The Rad Dirt Fest after winning the inaugural year in 2021.

The Gear that Got the Job Done

Thömus Sliker X

I might have shed a tear when I had to box this bike up and send it back as having the unique Sliker X in my stable helped me literally get back in the saddle, because it feels so stable, responsive, and trustworthy. And of course, if looking good is half the battle, then Thomus always has a good day. And the full carbon frame gives it a simultaneous barely-there and bombproof feel as it glides over any kind of bump in the proverbial or real-life road.

The Sliker X model is designed to be an “all-in-one” with road gearing (on the one I tested) and fairly slack geometry. That really instills confidence on long courses where the terrain and surface is bound to be dynamic. I would definitely consider this Swiss brand when making my next purchase.

Pearl Expedition Shoe [Men’s | Women’s]

I tried a bunch of shoes this past year but ultimately the Pearl Expedition shoe won out for fit while also checking all the other boxes. A state-of-the-art BOA Fit System with a L6E reel provides reliable quick-fit and fine adjustments through the midfoot while a typical Velcro strap provides independent adjustment at the forefoot. An integrated EVA insert at the heel provides vibration damping to reduce fatigue over rough roads. For whatever reason, the Expedition just fit my feet better than any bike shoe tested and has an ideal weight and design for aggressive gravel, even though they can also be used for XC MTB. Honestly, BOA makes all of these shoes so much better, and the systems keep improving as well.

Pearl Izumi gloves

I don’t know why but it seems like I have a pair of Pearl gloves for every conceivable type of weather. I’m glad I do, though, because gloves can make or break a ride no matter what the weather is up to. A terry cloth panel on the thumb is always a nice detail. For racing and for cold or wet weather the right glove is essential.

Sweet Protection Road helmet and Sunnies

I’m a long time fan of this brand dating back to my paddling days, and it’s great to be able to rely on them now for cycling as well. The Falconer Aero 2Vi gave me the peace of mind that I didn’t know I needed. It uses MIPS to reduce the risk of injury from rotational forces and prioritizes aerodynamics at the same time. Magnetic ventilation covers give the rider control over airflow through the helmet, which makes the Falconer versatile across conditions. The eyewear grippers make it a convenient, compatible package paired with high-quality sunnies like the Ronin RIG Reflect.

Swiftwick socks

I also really love Swiftwick cycling socks, even though there are many fantastic options out there, these are my go-to and have been for quite a while. My favorites for long rides and races are the ASPIRE Seven, a thin compression crew sock that won’t bulk up in your shoe but offers enough protection to keep the feet feeling powerful. The lightly compressive design of these socks supports the arches to stave off fatigue and give you more control over each pedal stroke. I am hoping they come out with a nine-inch gravel sock soon!


Velocio’s signature bib shorts and jersey are one of my all time favorites for pretty much any ride or race, and I’ve been digging their Merino collection for fall and winter rides. The shorts feature a sleek profile that you don’t have to worry about catching on your seat or getting in the way. Light compression makes a surprising difference with muscle recovery throughout the ride. The 5-panel design makes that compression possible without restricting movement. Seamless straps sit without digging in or chafing—a huge relief over a long ride. The jersey is no different. The same light compression as the shorts helps prevent grip fatigue along the arms, and the pockets are both more easily accessible and more secure than many I’ve tried. And there’s just a level of design and quality that I love.


The latest features of the new Vertical are amazing, including the mapping and longer battery life for long, long rides. But the “Pro” version of the Suunto 9 Peak is worth considering for cyclists as well because of the sleek, lower-profile fit. But no matter which model you decide on, the app is awesome.

Kane recovery shoes

Work hard, recover harder…so you can do it all again. Feet bear more of a burden on the bike than you might think, transmitting a lot of force through the soles into the pedals, which only becomes more pronounced as the terrain gets harder and the distance longer. Kane’s Revive Recovery Shoe works well on both the front and back end of big days like this. Nodes on the footbed trigger pressure points for enhanced blood flow, which has an engaging effect on the nervous system. The shape of the sole creates a rebound effect between the heel and toe to infuse more flow and stability into your stride. Dual density construction creates a cushioned footbed at the intersection between squishy and supportive. The fact that it’s made from renewable sugarcane only makes it an even better buy. Plus, people look at you and think you’re a super cool bike dork, and that’s important.

Drip Drop hydration

Many electrolyte drinks out there won’t do much in terms of preventing the cramping that tends to come along with all the repetitive motion of a long race, not to mention hydration. Drip Drop doesn’t try to be trendy and goes with ingredients that actually work and dissolve fully and quickly. This formula functions via an optimal sodium-to-glucose ratio that helps transmit fluids into your bloodstream faster and more effectively than plain water or electrolyte drinks that skimp on these components. Drip Drop powders contain 330mg of sodium alongside 7g of sugar to reach what many say is an ideal ratio. I always enjoy the options from the variety pack to fight flavor fatigue. 

Osmo hydration/fuel

Carbs are king. But it gets hard to keep them going down and staying down the longer you’re out there. Osmo Power Fuel solves that problem for me. It’s an easily dissolvable powder that goes into your bottle so the body has a harder time distinguishing between food and water and accepts the fuel more readily. It doesn’t taste like a straight sugar bomb either. The caffeinated version includes some extra “oomph”.

Pearl Merino Base Layer

These super soft Merino baselayers can handle any kind of weather, temperature, distance, effort level…you name it, especially in Colorado when a cool breeze is often accompanied by strong sun rays. It’s not a typical race oriented layering piece but it’s great for fall and winter riding nonetheless. This one combines Merino on the outer layer with just enough poly on the inner layer against the skin, which ensures you get polyester’s sweat wicking and merino’s temperature regulating and odor resistance all in one. It can go straight from the race to the afterparty or even the ski hill without that road-dork look.

(images courtesy of Life Time)

Definitely Wild is a column by EO Contributing Editor Aaron Bible. He has been writing for Elevation Outdoors and Blue Ridge Outdoors, among other outdoor publications, for more than two decades, covering cycling, skiing, gear, adventure travel and mountain life. The opinions expressed here are his own. Follow him on Instagram at @DefinitelyWild.

Read more from Definitely Wild:

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Parking Lot Camping is Back

Fly Fishing with Eleven Experiences

Coming Home with George Hincapie

Arapahoe Basin Saves the Ski Season

Touring in Tremblant

Shedhorn SkiMo

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