They set out to find the perfect mountain biking trail, but ended up finding the way to a perfect life.
Jeremy Lee and his three longtime friends recently opened 87 Cyclery off the Beeline Highway, a full-service bike shop offering everything from repairs, to helmets, mountain bikes and beach cruisers.
But the men, most nearly Payson natives, didn’t see the path to a shop; they just knew they wanted to ride.
And while they knew the area had epic single-track trails, most tucked into the forest and unmarked, no one else seemed to know or care.
“When we go up to Sedona and meet other people and tell them we are from Payson we would get, ‘Too bad there are no trails over there,’” said Andy Cailliau, co-owner. “I think that between the four of us we saw the need for a true mountain bike shop and that the fact that our goal is to grow mountain biking community.”
As they watched bikers pass through Payson instead of making Rim Country their riding destination, they knew they had to do something. They wanted to share their favorite rides with others and maybe in turn help the town grow.
Lee remembered back in the ’90s when his father used to ride with a group of guys from Manzanita Cyclery. The shop was the hub for riders to meet and head off on trails together.
“That is what we wanted to model the shop after,” Lee said. “We felt like a serious bike shop was the missing link.”
Lee got together with Cailliau, Micah Utterback and Matt Sopeland. Each had ridden for years and Sopeland has even taken the win at Fire on the Rim Mountain Bike Race. For some of them, riding had brought them together.
The group decided if no one else was going to do it, they should open a bike shop. And not just a shop to sell bikes from, but to spread their love of Payson and riding.
“There are tons of good trails up here, but nobody knows about them,” said Cailliau. “These trails are just as good if not better than Sedona and Flagstaff.”
And Payson makes the perfect destination for Valley riders. You can hit a trail at 4 p.m., when it is still only 80 degrees, then eat dinner and be home 9 p.m., he added.
The men knew, however, that if the shop was to work, one of them would have to make it their full-time job. Utterback, Sopeland and Cailliau were already busy running businesses, so Lee volunteered to run the shop.
Lee moved to Payson when he was 2. He went to Payson High School and as soon as he could, moved away like so many others.
He traveled around for three years, spending a stint in Maui, but something called him back to Rim Country.
He’d gone out searching for the perfect place to ride, but realized it was right where he left it, in Payson.
He moved back in 2005. Cailliau says Lee came back to build a biking culture.
“Other shops have come and gone and that is part of problem,” he said. “We love riding. It is a passion of ours. We are all committed to Payson and no plans to leave; we all want to see our kids grow up here. This is where we want our roots to be.”
In early February, they opened 87 Cyclery and stocked it full of BMX, Cannondale, GT, Santa Cruz, Yeti, Electra cruisers and Bianchi bicycles.
Prices start at $300 and go up to $6,000.
And the group is offering free group rides every Wednesday. They usually meet at the end of Phoenix Street at 5 p.m. where the Boulders and 200 Trails both start. Boulders is good for beginners and kids and 200 is great for moderate to advanced riders looking for a challenge.
“We don’t want to leave anyone out,” Utterback said. “It is not a race.”
Cailliau, who started riding just 2.5 years ago, said it is amazing how fast you can progress from a beginner to a pretty good rider.
“Hey, we all started somewhere,” Lee said. “We encourage everyone to come out and try, even if they don’t have a bike we can get them on a loaner.”
For more information, call (928) 478-6203.
87 CYCLERY'S TOP TRAILS
Difficulty Level: Moderate-Advanced
Trail 200 is a local favorite. It is a five-mile, 100 percent single-track loop, featuring steep climbs and fast and technical descents winding in and out of giant boulders. From the center of town, the trailhead is reached in less than 10 minutes off East Phoenix Street.
Difficulty Level: Easy-Moderate
Boulders Trail is just a few hundred feet south of Trail 200. Described as one of the smoothest trails around, having only a few technical sections, and is ideal for someone new to mountain biking. The four-mile trail winds through pine trees, creek bottoms and past big boulders, ending near the bottom of Granite Dells Road. From there, you can complete the loop or hop on a different trail. If you’re looking for more of a workout, then take the four-mile climb back out on Granite Dells Road. The trail attracts a lot of hikers, dog walkers and occasionally horseback riders.
Difficulty Level: Moderate-Slightly Advanced
Some say Horton Creek Trail is one of the most beautiful mountain bike rides in all of Arizona with tall pine trees and a creek flowing next to the trail. The trail was revamped in early 2013, rerouting past all the rocky sections. It’s around a four-mile climb up to Horton Springs with 1,250 feet of elevation gain. From there, turn around and bomb back down the trail. The trail is well marked. On the weekends, especially during the spring and summer, the trail attracts a lot of hikers. The Horton Creek trailhead is located about 17 miles east of Payson.
Difficulty Level: Moderate-Advanced
If you like to climb and want spectacular views, then check out the 260 Trail, which offers a mix of technical and speedy sections. After several miles of riding, the trail climbs up the face of the Rim through a series of switchbacks. That makes for a gnarly descent. Many riders cross Christopher Creek and shuttle back to their vehicle instead of taking Highway 260. The trail is located about 23 miles east of Payson, just past Horton Creek.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
The Pine-Strawberry Trail runs four miles and goes through the final stage of the Fire on the Rim Mountain Bike Race. With a couple of technical sections in the beginning, the trail winds through ponderosa, oak and juniper trees. Rest halfway through and soak up the mountain views and the town of Pine below. Although, it seems like a downhill ride, be prepared to rack up elevation.