Tamales and trails: A culture-rich cycling tour through Albuquerque

by Courtney Knott

photography by Tory Powers


Words by Courtney Knott | Photos by Tory Powers

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As a New Mexican who wandered away from The Land of Enchantment long before I started my descent into the depths of cycling, I was looking forward to exploring my native state on two wheels. And, as a cyclist? Extra excited to experience the hype that so many I’ve met over the years have shared.

Most notably known for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, green chile, and its ever-growing position in the movie and TV production industry (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), Albuquerque is New Mexico’s most populous city. But, do not worry – the Duke City is quaint, easily navigable, and seemingly immune to the downfalls of large urban areas (traffic, and such).

That’s no surprise when you consider New Mexico ranks fifth in the US for land area, but 46th for population density. 

Located in the north-central part of the state and serviced by the Albuquerque International Sunport, the city is split north to south by the Rio Grande River, and framed on the east and west by the Sandia-Manzano mountain range and the West Mesa and Petroglyph National Monument, respectively. 

My riding partner and true New Mexican, Robbie Douangpanya, brought so much rich history to life as we rolled across the city searching for the best routes to ride, and restaurants to replenish in. If it is safe to assume the friendliness of a city’s people is directly correlated to the quality of life, then New Mexico must be at the top of both lists!

Just a short distance from our Old Town hotel is the Paseo del Bosque Trail. This 16-mile (26 km) paved multi-use trail (with no street intersections!) is a fun, flat route that provides easy access to the ABQ BioPark System (Zoo, Aquarium, Botanical Garden and Tingley Beach), but is also a connector to countless rides throughout the city. Its ease of access and use allowed us to park our four-wheels and rely on our two.

Bonus: Parallel to the paved path are miles and miles of flowy dirt trail and singletrack that will have you grinning from ear to ear (even on 25s and clinchers!)

Day 1 – Tramway, La Luz, The Fingers

We had our sights set on tackling some elevation in the foothills on the east side of town. After a delicious breakfast at Bike In Coffee at Old Town Farm – a bike-centric coffee hang nestled under a lush canopy of greenery (complete with burritos, a bike repair station and bathrooms) – we pedaled to and through Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, a charming town with farming roots displayed in the form of wineries and green chile plots dotting the roadside.

Once on Tramway Road (NM 556), the wide shoulder and striking view of the Sandias made the steady, gentle climb an enjoyable warm-up for what was to come.

Forest Rd 333 provides the first chance of a lil’ added spice with a nearly 1,000 ft (300 m) climb in 2 miles (3.2 km) to the La Luz trailhead!

Tack on a climb to La Cueva picnic ground and The Fingers (a route that winds up and down quiet, rolling neighborhood streets; definitely download to your head unit) and you’ve got yourself a proper climbing day! Although you may complete a full loop, I would recommend retracing your strokes for an out-and-back.

There was only one right option for lunch after a climbing day: Duran’s Central Pharmacy on historic Route 66. This iconic spot claims to serve ‘the best authentic New Mexican food on the planet’ and I challenge you to find anyone who disagrees.

Day 2 – Petroglyphs 

The West Mesa and Petroglyph National Monument serve as the western geologic border of the city, and that is where we were headed next. Once again, we jumped on the Paseo del Bosque Trail from our hotel and headed north to Alameda Open Space.

From here, you can work your way towards Boca Negra Canyon via bike trails up the West Mesa, float across the rolling terrain of the Unser Bike Lanes, and descend Atrisco Hill before a flat finish. The petroglyphs carved into the basalt are proof of the powerful presence of Native Americans long before European settlers arrived. This legacy, along with the influence of early Spanish and Mexican settlers, can be seen in every fabric of the city’s being, from architecture to cuisine.

We hit the Sawmill Market for lunch on the way back to our hotel. This artisanal food hall was a perfect place to go for three different appetites: those of two hungry cyclists and of our trusty (also hungry) photographer. But when it came to dessert, our appetites became one. Behold! Neko Neko.

Despite the overwhelming number of choices for this Japanese-style froyo, the young lady working helped us curate the most perfect combinations in the most positive customer service experience I’ve had in my life!

Day 3 – Sandia Crest

Definitely the most epic road climb in the state, and possibly in the entire southwest US? Sandia Crest! But first, the Downtown Growers’ Market!

In true local fashion, Robbie bee-lined straight for a butter croissant from Blue Door Pâtisserie (also located in Sawmill Market) and we came out the other side with … salsa! Six jars between the three of us. When in Rome …

Back to the riding. You have multiple options for start points, depending on how big you want to go. Gain 3,800 ft (1,160 m) in just under 13.5 miles (21.8 km) – starting at the bottom of Sandia Crest Road – or 5,880 ft (1,790 m) in 58 miles (93 km) – starting at Tramway and Central. Either way you will find yourself ascending through changing vegetation zones as you make your way to the sky.

The peak of Sandia lies at a whopping 10,640 ft (3,240 m) and provides breathtaking views of the city below and beyond. What makes for a painful ascent almost always guarantees an uber-fun descent, and this is no exception.

To bring this all full circle; my excitement to explore cycling in Albuquerque was anything but a let down, and I had high expectations! 10/10 New Mexicans (and non-New Mexicans) would recommend. And the Last Supper? Tamales the size of our heads, of course.

See you in ABQ!

What you need to know

Please note: In mid-May 2022, the U.S. Forest Service closed several national forests in New Mexico due to dry conditions. Before heading out, always check the latest information at fs.usda.gov.

Suggested restaurants and breweries 

● Sawmill Market – Large food hall near Historic Old Town with large outdoor seating area.

● Bike In Coffee at Old Town Farm – Located off the Paseo del Bosque bike trail, this scenic spot is accessible only by bike and offers brunch/lunch, coffee, entertainment.

● El Pinto – Large New Mexican food restaurant located on North 4th Street. The Tramway Bike Trail connects to North 4th Street.

● 505 Central Food Hall – Located in Downtown Albuquerque. 

● Church Street Café – Located in a centuries-old adobe building in Historic Old Town.

● County Line – Accessible by bike from the bike path along Tramway Boulevard, situated in the foothills just minutes from the base of the Sandia Peak Tram. 

● Kickstand Café – Bicycle café that serves breakfast and lunch and sells/rents e-bikes, located near the Paseo del Bosque trail. 

● Tractor Brewing – All three ABQ locations feature dog-friendly patios and more than a dozen craft beers on tap ranging from ales and pilsners to porters, stouts, and lagers. 

● Rio Bravo Brewing Company – Cool off with an award-winning local brew while you listen to a band in the biergarten or play cornhole, ping pong, or a board game.

● Steel Bender Brewyard – Directly accessible from the bike/walking/equestrian path that parallels 2nd Street, Steel Bender offers a full lunch and dinner menu, covered patio, and wide selection of craft beers and ciders.

Local bike tours, guides and shops 

● Routes Bicycle Tours & Rentals – A large selection of mountain bikes, road bikes, and bike racks for cars available for rent. Also offers bike build services when folks travel with their own bicycles. 

● Heritage Inspirations – Offers e-bike tours of Albuquerque neighborhoods.

● Free-to-Roam Ebiking – Offers bike tours and rentals. 

Suggested “must-do” activities in Albuquerque 

● Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway – The longest aerial tram in North America.

● Electric Playhouse – Immersive games plus food and drink.

● Hot Air Ballooning – Balloon rides are available in Albuquerque year-round, and this year the city will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (October 1-9, 2022). 

● Historic Old Town Neighborhood, including museums in the area. 

● ABQ BioPark system, including the BioPark Zoo, Aquarium, Botanical Garden and Tingley Beach. 

● Rio Grande Nature Center – Easily accessible from the Paseo del Bosque trail.

● Indian Pueblo Cultural Center – Learn about the 19 Native American pueblos of New Mexico, see traditional dance performances, dine at the Indian Pueblo Kitchen. 

● National Hispanic Cultural Center – Art museum plus one of the largest frescos in North America (the 4,000 square foot Mundos de Mestizaje, located inside the Torreon). 

Suggested places to stay

● Los Poblanos Historic Inn – Located on a historic farm, the property features lavender fields, organic gardens, and a wellness spa. The inn provides bicycles so that guests can explore nearby areas, including the vineyards at Casa Rodena Winery and the Paseo del Bosque bike path. Guided bike tours are also available. 

● El Vado – Located on Historic Route 66, the outdoor patio is surrounded by a tap room, food pods, live entertainment on weekend evenings,

● Painted Lady Bed & Brew – Instead of breakfast, this B&B specializes in local craft beers. It is located on the grounds of a 19th-century former brothel and saloon. 

● Hotel Chaco – Inspired by and named after Chaco Culture National Historical Park, this serene, art-filled hotel is the perfect spot to unwind after a day of riding.

● Hotel Parq Central – Originally built in the 1920s as a hospital to serve employees of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, the décor of this luxurious hotel pays homage to its past with the Apothecary Lounge, a rooftop bar that specializes in Prohibition-era cocktails.

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