The Man Behind Singletrack Maps

Inner Map Cyclist

As mountain bikers, some of us are blessed with an inner map. You know these people. Like the character Darryl from "The Walking Dead" series, it's almost as if they are tracking an animal instead of the trail. They look towards the sun, grab some dirt, let it drift mysteriously in the wind and suddenly declare, "That way." For the rest of us, "that way" could be any way. And then there are those of us who, (like myself) can be considered "map-challenged". I look at most maps and it may as well be written in Cantonese (which I don't read or speak). I start turning it round and round, holding it up towards the mountains (which are everywhere) and just nod as if it means more than gibberish. That's most maps.

Thankfully not Singletrack Maps. For seasoned trail veterans as well as dirt newbies, Singletrack Maps are a staple. The first time I saw one was when a group of my friends and I were on the verge of being very, very lost. One of my friends pulled it out and I thought, "oh no. Here comes the Cantonese". Imagine my delight when I glanced it it and found it pleasing to my map-challenged eyes!

By the seven degrees of Golden cyclists I found out that one of my close friends knew the creator of these maps (she was wearing the shirt). "Oh, Farid! Yes! He's an old friend (well, he's not old, but you know." And soon thereafter I got an interview with Farid Tabaian: the man behind the map.

Farid and his big brother Jafar
camping near Aspen as kids.

[303 Cycling:] Farid, were you always interested in maps?
Farid: Absolutely. I've always had a love of geography. I was definitely that kid in the car navigating with the map on road trips. I kind of discovered my love of cartography in high-school. I pursued that at college (CU Boulder) in 1999 and was fortunate enough to have a great mentor--Jim Robb. Jim was the director of the cartography lab (or "cart lab" for short) and he really inspired me to go into that field. I got my Bachelors degree in 2003.

[303 Cycling:] What did you do after college? I'm guessing you stayed in your chosen field.
Farid: I did. I made large wall maps of US power-grid/transition lines for about 6-7 years. It was a very corporate style job, M-F/9-5. It was super fun and cool. But I kind of wanted more free time to um...ride my bike. Living here in CO with the access we have, life is too short.

[303 Cycling:] Indeed. So How did you make the segue from the corporate world to your own business?
Farid: In 2009 I kind of just jumped off the diving board. (Laughing) Quitting your day job will force you to do that. My first map was of Durango. It grew out of a frustration of in-town trails--using multiple maps trying to get around. I created the map, financed the printing, crossed my fingers, introduced myself to store owners and started selling maps. It was shocking actually. I had never done any sales in my life. It was all very grassroots. The thing about my trail maps that so many stores liked, is that they are smaller. They are designed to fit in a jersey pocket, shorts pocket, or the side of your CamelBak. They are water-proof, tear-proof, fold proof and as I like to say, "FOOL PROOF".

Photo: Lauren Bock, Blackhawk Pass.

[303 Cycling:] I would especially agree with that last part. What map came next?
Farid: After Durango I started looking at the areas that were in need. I didn't want to just copy someone else. Especially for areas that were already done. There are some really good maps out there so I focused solely on areas that were in need. Number two was Buffalo Creek. There just wasn't anything good existing. [Editor's note: this was the map I referenced earlier in the article--the one that saved our lives. Okay, maybe it didn't save our lives, but it got us back to camp quickly so we could eat and not unleash cycling-hunger-fury on each other.]

Then I did Golden, Phil's World (Cortez), which is great. It's just smooooooth, with some great "whoopty-doo's". Next was Hartman Rocks (Gunnison). And then I guess...the rest.

[303 Cycling:] On average, how long does one map take from start to finish?
Farid: From start to finish anywhere from 4-6 months.
1. I GPS all the trails and collect info. on trail alignment, noting difficulty, which direction is the best way to ride it, etc. Mostly taking notes and photographs.
2. Then I’ll use info. that’s available from Federal Agencies to compile the rest. Background, rivers, etc.
3. I bring it all home, sit down and create the maps.

Farid's insanely tidy work-space.

[303 Cycling:] Is your desk just insane? Maps, protractors and sticky notes everywhere? Like The Nutty Professor's lab only...Nutty Maps?
Farid:'m pretty meticulous and organized. It helps with the process.
[303 Cycling:] (sighing) Hmmm. Well, to each his own.

[303 Cycling:] We've seen some of your work with the 2014 Pro Challenge. How did that come about?
Farid: Yes, I've been lucky to map this year's Pro Challenge. Several people helped spread the word to them about my work. Chris Grealish-- he was very helpful in spreading the word. I've been making the maps for his events for about 10 years. Deirdre Moynihan is another. Chandler Smith with Ride the Rockies and Pedal the Plains as well. The Pro Challenge people got wind of my work and reached out to me back in the Fall of 2013.

[303 Cycling:] It's easy to see why they'd want you. Your maps practically shout "Colorado". Are you a native?
Farid: I am. I grew up in Boulder. Went to school there, lived there off and on. I've lived in Durango, and a bit all over. Most recently I was in Crested Butte for the winter. Now I am in Salida. It's my home base...just as a few days ago, in fact. [Editor's note: Farid resides in Salida with his girlfriend, (of course she’s a mountain biker as well). He says, "She is the navigator now. She can definitely hold her own with the mapping."]

[303 Cycling:] What's been your favorite project?
Farid: If you've ever been to
Wheat Ridge Cyclery, there’s a really, really large map of CO that I did for them on the wall. It’s about 5 feet by 6 ft. I like that one a lot.

[303 Cycling:] So you do contract work like that too?
Farid: I'm primarily trail maps, but would be available for specialized contract work.

[303 Cycling:] Is there anything else that you'd like our audience to know about Singletrack Maps?
Farid:There is one thing I'd like to make clear: Singletrack Maps is "Corporation free". By that I mean I currently only allow locally owned shops to sell my maps.

Photo:Jafar Tabaian
Farid mapping trail in the La Plata Mountains

*So the next time you pull out your Singletrack Map, you can think of Farid. He's probably out there on his bike, creating his next map. A huge 'thank-you' to my friend, Michelle L. (who made the introduction). And of course, thanks to Farid for the interview and for making a map for all of us (even the map-challenged).

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