The Mountain Bike Life

Winter can be hard for cyclists, and in Utah, where we have 8 to 9 months of it, it can get tiring. While many riders have ways to ride almost year round, if you live in a mountain town, or some where up north, riding your trails year round is just not possible. Yes, there is the fat bike revolution that seems to be taking the cycling world by storm, however, something about it is just not quite the same. A lot of us have alternative sport outlets such as skiing, snowboarding, or snow shoeing. While being a skier myself, there is just something that I always miss about the sound of tires tearing through fresh dirt, and the feel of sunshine on my arms and legs. In order to combat our winter blues, my wife Martina and I decided that we had to escape the winter for a while. For us the closest and easiest way to do that is a road trip to the mountain biking mecca of Moab.

Welcome to Moab, Grand County, Utah. The adventure begins. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

We are lucky enough to just be a three and a half hour drive away (if traffic is good) from this famous section of Utah desert. Combine that with cheap off-season hotel rates, and this makes for a very convenient winter get away. Moab is one of the most bicycle friendly cities you will find in the South West. Being that so much of the tourism is centered around cycling (both on road and off) the infrastructure here is amazing.

Martina flying down a perfect example of Moab single track.

There are lots of clearly marked trails, tons of maps every where you go, and a very welcoming attitude throughout the town. As an added bonus there are tons of bike friendly and pet friendly hotels. So you can even bring your furry friends along with you, but remember while the town welcomes them, the National Parks do not, so you’ll have to skip hiking in Arches with them. The hotel we stayed at has a bike wash up front, some others even have a mini self service repair shop as well.

Our first morning waking up we knew riding bikes was the number one thing on the agenda. After a quick breakfast at The Love Muffin Cafe it was ride time. For our first ride we decided to hit up the Moab brand trails. This is a really great trail system about 8 miles north of town. What makes this trail system so nice is the variety, the clear marked trails, and easy access. The Moab Brand trails, or Bar M trails as I have heard them called, really do offer something for every rider.

Trying to stay composed on one of the rougher patches of trail in the Moab brand trails. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

For beginners just getting started they have long stretches of double track with some rocks and turns thrown in that still keep it interesting enough. For your more intermediate riders there are several different trails ranging from green blue combos, all the way into your double black diamond rides.
 
 A good warm up ride is the Lazy-EZ loop. While the name can be deceiving, this is a very fun trail. The trail is moderately technical with some sand stone ridges and sweeping s turns, however, it begs to be ridden fast. Very fast. After a quick loop on the Lazy-EZ you get spit back out right at the main trail head where you can pick up the North 40.

Prime Moab single track. Flowy trails through burly rock gardens. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

The North 40 is an intermediate to advanced trail, as it does have some technical features that could give beginner riders some troubles. This trail offers a little bit of everything that makes Moab mountain biking so great. Taking the trail counter clockwise, the trail starts with some winding single track that snakes through the desert offering amazing views of red canyon walls and massive rock features.

The sweeping single track of the North 40. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

The fast flowy single track eventually gives way to large expanses of slick rock where you have to follow the painted lines so you do not lose your way. After hopping from rock to rock and riding down some exposed ridge lines you snake your way back to the trail head once again.

Martina riding down sand stone ledges that can easily buck you off if you are not careful.

After a good ride we decided it would be best to hike around in Arches National Park. The national parks in southern Utah really are a very unique thing to see. Most of the trails in the national parks do not allow bicycles, however, they are well worth the time and the energy to see some unique and beautiful formations.

Martina and I at the South Window Arch in Arches National Park 

An important thing to touch on while in any park or just in the desert in general is how fragile the environment can be. This is something it seems numerous websites featuring Moab mountain biking seem to forget. Cryptobiotic soil is a living soil containing bacteria and algae that the desert life relies upon for survival.

Cryptobiotic soil may not look like much more than black dirt, however, the entire desert ecostystem depends on it. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

This special top crust is nutrient packed, is what aids the dirt in retaining water, and is one of the only reasons any plant life can exist in the region. Plant life is very important in preventing trails and natural features from eroding away. This dirt is very fragile and if you wander off marked trails it is very easy to damage this beautiful area that we want to preserve. Please remember to stay on trail, even if the views off trail are tempting.

Signs will warn you of the importance of staying on trail. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

Another key thing to remember is to only use dry trails, this is especially critical in the desert where the dirt can essentially turn into wet cement with just one rainfall. Ryan had a good write up earlier outlining why we Don’t Ride Muddy Trails.

Balanced Rock, one of the many amazing formations found in Arches. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

After a long day of riding, hiking, or any other other number of out door activities, the town of Moab offers a wide variety of “apres adventure” food and drink selections. While you will not find much in the way of gourmet eats or some sort of culinary revolution (there are a few fancy spots in town, but you have to be willing to shovel out some extra money for them), the food here is plentiful and packed full of energy. After riding the Moab Brand trails, we visited Miguel’s Baja Grill for dinner. Miguel’s is home of the M.O.A.B., the mother of all burritos. They are not kidding, it is massive. One burrito could easily feed a few people, or one very calorie starved cyclist. Combine that with a margarita that is mixed and made in house and you have yourself a winner. It was the perfect way for us to wrap up a day of sunshine and riding.

The Mother Of All Burritos. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

A little sore from all the aforementioned biking and hiking, we decided to have a nice slow start to the new day. We enjoyed a late breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe, followed by a riding session at Moab’s Anonymous Park. Public parks like this are an amazing thing. Not often is it that you can find amazing jumps, a pump track and a BMX track all in one place. And the best part is, that it is all legal as the land was donated to the city of Moab for such a purpose.

A morning session on the small jump line at Anonymous Park. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

Riding here definitely made me wish I had brought a much more playful bike with me. A tight pump track and steep jumps make most any cross country 29er feel more than a little unwieldy. Even on a 26 inch Yeti, Martina had a hard time weaving through the tight turns of the expertly crafted pump track.

Martina riding the Anonymous Park pump track

If you are feeling a little run down from long rides or just want to relax a little, take some time to explore the town. Moab itself is not a very big town and walking from end to end is only a 15 to 20 minute endeavor. There are lots of small locally owned and run shops and businesses that offer something a little different from your standard tourist attractions. The bike shops here are full of great people that are super passionate about the sport. Our first trip to Moab together a while back we stopped in the Poison Spider bike shop on the north side of town where we were promptly greeted with enthusiasm as well as a whole slew of maps and fantastic local incite. The shop, and it’s employees have a lot of character, and it’s definitely one of the bike shop gems of Moab.

Jailhouse Cafe, one of the many charismatic original Moab old town buildings. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

Of course any trip to Moab would not be complete without a ride on the infamous Slickrock Trail, so waking up the next day we knew what our mission was. The name of the trail can be a tad confusing because while a lot of trails contain elements of the sandstone known as slick rock, that does not necessarily mean it is part of the Slickrock trail. The actual Slickrock trail is composed almost entirely of riding on and over these sandstone dunes for which the trail is named.

One of the many high speed Slickrock descents. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte)

Like Jeff pointed out in his post, Riding Slickrock: A First Timers Guide, riding on this terrain is unlike anything most riders have ever experienced before. The trail itself has a roughly two mile practice loop that allows for riders to get a feel for the sandstone before making the 10.5 mile commitment. It takes while to get used to riding on the terrain, however, once you do it is a blast. The back side of every sand stone slab feels like a concrete pump track with little ledges and rock drops thrown in on either side of the trail. One of the things that does make slick rock so challenging is how intense the climbing can be. Though the downhills are swoopy and fun, for every decent you make, there is a challenging uphill battle to follow.

Martina ripping down the white line.

Slickrock, despite it’s name, is grippy, and you have the ability to lean into every corner and still have perfect traction. The over all feel and experience of that trail is amazing and something everything hardcore cyclist needs to experience.

The climbs on Slickrock can be pretty brutal, but the view is always a nice reward.

Our final day in Moab we awoke feeling energized but a bit sore from a couple near crashes as well as lots of quad busting climbs. We took a relaxed start to the day and decided to session some of our favorite little bits of trail as we headed out of town and back to reality.

Overlooking the Fiery Furnace and the La Sal mountains. (Photo Credit: Martina Platte

We finished up our trip with one more go at the Moab brand trails on our way north. We topped that off with quick post ride beers, the La Sal mountains to our backs, and some beautiful red rock in front of us. It was obvious that our mission to escape winter was a huge success.

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