Destination Utah: gravel and mountain biking unlike anywhere else – Part 2
Our Rides to Remember series highlights two-wheeled adventures that when you look back will always stand out as more than just another day on the bike – they are the ones you’ll never forget. The ride could be an event that is so innovative it is locked into your ride calendar every year, a gorgeous route to discover when visiting somewhere new, an iconic ride with historical significance or a completely different style of challenge on the bike.
Monika Sattler wrote about her Alp d’Huez ride in July, Anne-Marije Rook reported about a 100-mile gravel race she conquered in Idaho in September, and in this issue she talks about Idaho’s neighboring state, Utah. We hope that sharing these rides will inspire you to add them to your Rides To-Do list.
The start of the year always fills me with excitement as I wonder where my bike will take me this year. I have found that whenever you bring a bike when you travel, you’ll see incredible things and meet wonderful people. If there’s one place I would like to return to in 2017, it’s the state of Utah.
Wedged between Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming, Utah is a western state known for its vast expanses of desert, the Great Salt Lake and the fact that it’s home to the Mormon Church. Between Park City and Moab, it’s also home to some of the best (mountain) biking in the world.
I had been to and through Utah a few times before but never with a bike in tow. I remedied that last year with two separate trips to the “Beehive State” during which I covered hundreds of kilometres on single track, gravel and paved roads.
I was completely awestruck by the State’s beauty, its welcoming cycling community and quality of trails. If you’re looking for a riding destination, Utah is highly recommended.
In Part 1 I reminisced about taking the long way to Interbike across the roads less travelled. And now, here is Part 2, in which I’m taking you to Moab, which has some of the best mountain biking in the world.
Destination Utah: on mountain bikes
Is there anything more fun than a bike vacation? I can’t think of a better way to spend a few days off. And I’m not talking about a trip surrounding a event or race, or going to training camp, I mean going for sole purpose of having fun, experiencing a new place and enjoying good food and drinks with great people.
My trip to Moab was just that, and Moab is the perfect place for it.
Moab offers some of the most iconic trails in the country, if not the world. From the highly technical slickrock to mesa tops to wild flower-lined flowy trails, there’s a huge amount of trails with plenty of variety to accommodate riders of all skill levels.
Additionally, Moab has a wonderful cycling community, good post-ride brews and food options and unique off-the-bike activities. After all, you cannot come to Moab and not visit Arches National Park, which is home to more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches.
So whether you’re hoping to improve your technical skills, go sightseeing or challenge yourself on terrain unlike anything you’ve ridden, Moab is a must-visit for all knobby-tire lovers.
I don’t think it’s possible to oversell or over-hype Moab. As I mentioned above, the trail network is huge, diverse and offers something for every skill level. Additionally, if you’ve never seen red-rock canyons or sand stone before, you’re going to be absolutely floored by the scenery. And what better way to see it than on two wheels!
With that said, those with intermediate to advanced mountainbike skills will get the most out of a trip to Moab, as it gets technical pretty quickly and even after five days of riding, I had only scratched the surface of trails (and off my skin).
The vast majority of riding and racing I do is on the road, and as such, I was definitely the token ‘roadie’ on my trip. And when the very first ride of the trip was a four-hour venture on black diamond trails, I knew I’d be facing some fears, losing some skin and testing my limits. But while the bumps and bruises fade, the newly acquired skills and memories do not.
The best way to familiarize yourself with Moab’s expansive trail network is to head into one of the great bike shops and ask a local. Many of the long trails require a shuttle or a car drop –which most shops organize for a reasonable fee– so it’s necessary to plan ahead. Additionally, this part of Utah is desert, and so the heat and lack of water on the exposed, sunbaked trails are serious concerns unless precautions are taken. Be prepared for early morning starts as you’ll want to be pool-side or in a temperature-controlled environment before high noon, especially during the months of June through August.
With dozens of trails to choose from and only five days to ride them, we decided to ride the some of Moab’s most famous trails like Porcupine Rim, Slickrock, the Whole Enchilada steal and, of course, Captain Aham.
Porcupine was recommended by just about everyone, and a trip to Moab wouldn’t be complete without riding it. It’s one long, mostly downhill trail that will take you several hours (depending on the number of photo stops, feature workshopping or flat fixing is required). But it has it all: fast singletrack, huge drops and stunning clif-side views over the canyon lands. Cross-country and enduro riders will equally enjoy this trail.
Probably the single biggest reason why riders from all over the world come to Moab is this 12-miles of rocky trail. Unlike the name suggests, in dry conditions the slickrock is surprisingly grippy, allowing you to ride up and down these humongous slabs of smooth rock at very steep angles. It’s unlike anything I have ever ridden before and freeriders will love the natural drop-ins, banks and half pipes.
We rode it late one day, after having explored Arches National Park by car and foot. It was absolutely, jaw-droppingly stunning to watch the sun set on the rocks and we could not stop taking photos. However, it was also a huge mistake. The 12 mile-loop and the ride to and from the trail took longer than anticipated and we ran not only out of day light, but also out of water. Dehydration and physical activity don’t mix well and we had some stressful moments. Let our mistake be your advice: factor in a good 2 hours (for riding and stopping) and enough water to complete this loop.
The Whole Enchilada
The Whole Enchilada starts above 10,000 feet, which means it’s snow covered for most of the year with a small window to ride the whole 32 miles of trail only in the fall.
You’ll shuttle up to the La Sal Mountains and descend and descend and descend some more. Along the way, you’ll watch the scenery change from lush green and wildflowers to sandstone, and complete the famed Burro Pass, Hazzard Trail, Kokopelli Trail, UPS and Porcupine Rim trails along the way until you hit the Colorado River. It’s an all-day adventure so be sure to fuel up for the ride, and bring lots of sunscreen as well.
A trail for those who like to put their skills and gear to the test, Captain Ahab is a purpose-built trail that “All mountain” riders will love. It’s all technical, rocky singletrack with the potential for lots of speed and air. But not to worry, for those fellow roadies masquerading as mountain bikers, everything’s roll-able and/or walkable.
Ride it yourself:
Chile Pepper Bike Shop
If you’re looking for new gear, bike rentals or trail suggestions, you have to stop by Chile Pepper and say “hi” to Tracy. Woman-run and owned, this shop is an absolute gem with great products and one of the most extensive lines of women’s apparel I have seen anywhere.
“We get a lot of ladies, who have been coming to Moab for 10 or 15 years, who come [by my shop] because they know they can get the latest stuff on the market that they can’t try on or get anywhere else. They’ll literally wait to shop for their season’s gear until they come here,” said Reed. “Our shops is known to carry this amount of gear for ladies, and so I feel like what our sales are in the women’s department versus the men’s stuff it’s pretty even.”
A passionate mountain biker originally from Missouri, Reed visited Utah in the 1990s and decided she didn’t want to be anywhere else and moved to Moab in 1999. Together with her husband she bought Chile Pepper Bike Shop in 2006, and has run it ever since.
Ten years later, you’ll find a passionate and knowledgeable staff, good coffee, quality rental bikes, and a selection of gear and apparel that you won’t find in most bike shops.
Here’s what to bring if you’re headed to Moab, as recommended by bike shop owner Tracy Reed:
– Mtb helmet
– Full finger gloves
– Long sleeve jersey
– Baggy shorts
– Chamois undershorts
– Hydration pack that can hold at least 3 litres of water
– Knee, shin, elbow pads
“I don’t care if it’s a hundred degrees or it’s five degrees always wear full finger gloves,” said Reed. “We’re only talking a little bit of extra fabric on your fingers but if you come off the bike here, you’re going to lose some finger tips. And I always ride with knee and shin guards. It’s not a necessity but once again, you are riding on rock.”
Being the only “roadie” in the group, I went with the ‘better safe than sorry’ philosophy and wore G-Form knee and elbow pads. They’re thin, stretchy and breathable, and while they appear minimalist, they function well when you need them.
Reed also suggested a mountain bike specific helmet with more coverage than a road helmet, longer shorts and a thin but long sleeve jersey.
“I always wear full sleeves because it keeps the sun off your skin,” she said.
And speaking of sun and heat. Reed warned to not ride in the heat of the day and to bring a hydration pack with a minimum of 3 litres of water.
Utah is an interesting state when it comes to post-ride brews due to its strict alcohol laws. All retail of alcohol as well as the alcohol content (3.2 percent alcohol by volume) is controlled and limited by the state. Liquor. beer and wine with a higher than 3.2 percent ABV can be purchased in State Liquor Stores only, with the exception of some microbreweries and wineries.
Moab has two of such microbreweries –Eddie McStiff’s and Moab Brewery– where full-strength beer can be purchased as long as it’s bottled or canned.
Most days we rolled off the trail, into town and straight to Moab Brewery where the post-ride brews and grub was thoroughly satisfying. The menu offered gluten-friendly and vegetarian options, too.
For a good burger, stop by Moab’s oldest restaurant, Milt’s Stop & Eat. Opened in the 1950s, Milt’s serves local grass-fed beef and buffalo burgers as well as old fashioned malts.
Moab is the gateway to all sorts of adventurous outdoor activities. From river rafting to jeep tours to world-class rock climbing, there are plenty of off-the-bike things to do in Moab. But if there’s one thing you have to do while in Moab is to go for a drive and/or hike through the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
If you enjoyed Destination Utah – Part 2, be sure to check out Part 1 in which I reminisce about taking the long way to Interbike across the roads less travelled.