Destination Utah: gravel and mountain biking unlike anywhere else – Part 1

by Anne-Marije Rook

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 of Destination Utah, I will reminisce about tackling hundreds of its deserts roads by gravel bike. In Part 2, I’ll take you to Moab on mountain bikes.

Destination Utah: on gravel bikes

This past fall I took the road less travelled to the annual Interbike Expo in Las Vegas. When presented with the option between a 2.5 hour plane ride into Vegas or a three-day adventure on bikes, the choice, of course, was simple. Bikes it was!

I was fortunate enough to be part of Clement’s first ever Beehive Ride. Created as an opportunity for brands to get their new and pre-production gear in the hands of journalists ahead of America’s biggest industry get-together, the Beehive Ride took a small group of us cycling journalists across 200 miles of Utah’s rough but jaw-dropping beautiful terrain.

The ride was a brainchild of Clement’s Donn Kellogg, who had driven from his Colorado home to Interbike in years past. As miles and miles of grey asphalt disappeared below the tyres of his pickup truck, country music blasted on the radio and visions of adventuring across the unpaved red desert roads sparked in his head.

With a new gravel wheel to launch, this fall was the perfect time to make the ride a reality, and we were in for a major treat.

The riding

From desolate red desert roads to high altitude, aspen-lined single track, the scenery was truly incredible.

The route, set by Raleigh-Clement’s pro cyclocrosser Jamey Driscoll, started at The Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, Colorado, and visited a different national park every day. It covered a daily average of 112 kilometres (70 miles) with 1524 meters (5000ft) of climbing, and the terrain ranged from chip-sealed roads to relentless gravel washboards to single track.

Combined with the heat, the riding was challenging but absolutely rewarding. As miles and miles of empty desert stretched before us and red sandstones towered above us, we felt a bit like pioneers venturing through untouched country.

This feeling was confirmed again in the afternoon when we’d upload our data to Strava and would find a shocking lack of segments.
From wading through a river to twisty switchbacks up canyons and wicked fast, bumpy descends, this route had everything an adventurous spirit would enjoy. “Wow”s were uttered every kilometre along the way and our cameras and phones were never far from reach.

Meredith Miller takes in the aspen trees. Photo by Anne-Marije Rook.

Day One: Grand Junction, Colorado to the historic Dewey Bridge in Utah
Day Two: Green River, Utah, to Boulder, Utah, via the Capitol Reef National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Day Three: Hatch, Utah, through Zion National Park and into Springdale, Utah.

This part of Utah is pure desert and you can travel dozens of kilometres before coming across another person let along a town. As such, support vehicles with water and food are absolutely critical on this route, so if you’re thinking of doing this ride, arrange to have a SAG wagon or sign up for a guiding and logistics company like Western Spirit.

The gear

On an adventure like this gear is crucial. A gravel specific bike is highly recommended, as are ways to carry plenty of water and food, extra tubes and flat fixing necessities, loads of sunscreen and layered clothing. Again, as I mentioned above, having a support vehicle is key.

Over the course of our three-day adventure, we chased one another up twisty climbs, powered through washboards and bombed down steep, rocky descents. As such, we pushed every bit of gear to its limits. If something was going to fail, it would have been on this unforgiving terrain.

This made the Beehive Ride a perfect testing ground for Clement’s first wheelset –the aluminium Ushuaia – with Clement’s MSO tubeless tyres, and Eddy Merckx Cycles’ new carbon gravel bike, the Strasbourg71.

Eddy Merckx Cycles’ Strasbourg 71