by Marc Peruzzi
When the Mountain team conceived this special recovery issue, the idea was to safely promote in-state and regional tourism in an age of COVID-19. We wanted to prove to the world that responsible people acting responsibly could safely travel, recreate outdoors on bikes, eat and drink in fresh air, and distance themselves from others doing the same. The goal was to promote a phase one return to mountain travel and tourism. We would use the latest science to make the case and adhere strictly to all public health guidelines. The issue would be one package of responsible service journalism.
We did our part. And from what we can tell, most travelers are doing their part as well. But what we weren’t prepared for was huge swaths of the country saying to hell with simple asks like wearing masks, washing up, and staying out of spittle range. Nor were we clairvoyant enough to predict that many of those same folks would drive to the high country.
The good news: The economy in mountain towns appears to be in recovery mode—indoor businesses and concerts sadly excepted. The bad news is that our reporting about safe regional tourism is more important than ever. Here’s the short version: We can have some semblance of economic activity and public health, but only if we all do our part. If you’re heading to the mountains, go with family or a tight group of three or four friends that take little things like global pandemics seriously. Don’t travel if you’re sick or think you have been exposed. Eat your food under a shade tree or the stars. Drink cold snacks by the fire. Gas your legs and lungs on the mountain bike, knowing that health, family, friends, and enough income for room and board is all we really need in life. And while you’re out, try to remember that those basic needs are all that everyone else wants in life too. Don’t take life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness away from them by laziness or some misconstrued notion of freedom. If you know your history, freedom only came when we all worked together. That’s what “out of many, one” means. That fight isn’t over for many of our brothers and sisters. But if we simply care about one another, the COVID fight might soon be.
photograph | Kelly Gorham
Overview: As mountain biking destinations go, Missoula isn’t one. It’s not that we (I live here) don’t see Sprinter vans with out-of-state plates at the Rattlesnake Trailhead, but for some reason, Missoula isn’t on the Crested Butte, Fruita, Park City, Ketchum, Bend circuit. That’s both weird and cool. Weird because Missoula has some of the rippingest lower elevation Rocky Mountain riding you’ll find anywhere, with new trail growing each year. Cool because Missoulians like the trails uncrowded. “People come to Missoula to visit friends or catch concerts,” says Ben Horan, Executive Director of MTB Missoula. “They bring their bikes and ride when they’re here.” My take? That’s a good play actually—in normal times Missoula is a live music and float trip kind of place for visitors. But with the concert scene shuttered, why not take advantage of Missoula’s historic XC track, epic backcountry tours, rollicking gravel offerings, and newly built DH and flow shredding? Here’s how to do exactly that.
Day One: In keeping with the theme of this package, you should crush the big ride on day one when the legs are fresh. In MSLA, that would be Sheep Mountain—a “long live long rides” beast of a climb that nets you 4,200 feet of vertical and three downhill options. Park at the Main Rattlesnake Trailhead, but turn around and climb the Woods Gulch/Sheep Mountain Trail. If you’re continuously grinding uphill on a ridge through huckleberry bushes and flowering bear grass you’re on the right path. Take note: The climbing is stout. You’ll be on the rivet or walking for a few sections. If you’re getting crushed, soldier on to the Blue Point Overlook turnoff, snack while taking in the view, and then (descent option one) rip what you climbed until you connect with Sheep Mountain Cutoff to Three Larches to Sidewinder (upper) to Sound of Music. That’s the biggest singletrack descent in town and an eminently worthy ride. Option 2: Keep climbing Sheep until you hit the vaguely marked 1513 trail. 1513 is my preferred Sheep descent as it steeply skirts a cliff band—and deletes the toilsome circumnavigation of Sheep’s summit. But there’s pride in topping out too. Pack a lunch for the 360 degree views on Sheep’s summit, but don’t linger if storms are brewing. Again, the descending on the East Fork trail borders on the rowdy. You’ll want a full dropper post, meaty tires, and maybe some lightweight pads for all three descents. Later, head to Wally & Buck on Front Street for gourmet burgers and outdoor seating.
Day Two: You might be gassed from yesterday. After grabbing coffee and avocado toast at Black Coffee Roasting Company, here are two recovery rides. Option 1: Gravel to forgotten singletrack. From the university, ride out the Kim Williams trail to Redneck Alley (between the shooting range and the railroad tracks) to the dirt on Deer Creek Road. Once you gain the first hill, bang a right at the green gate and climb 1,500 feet (easy to spin) on Deer Creek Sneak. That’lll spit you out at the Pattee Canyon recreation area where just a bit more climbing nets you some of the most fun you can have on a gravel bike. We’re talking the type of buttery smooth singletrack that hardly anyone rides on today’s ultra-capable mountain bikes. Finish with a road descent of Pattee Canyon back to town. Option 2: Freeriding Marshall—a ghost ski area that’s become a ride center onto itself. Using Trailforks as your guide, ride up the old Forest Service grade and then drop into Hello Kitty—machine-built flow with a progressive jump line—before lapping back up for the expert rated collegiate DH course Bjorn Again. If that freaks out anyone in your party—there’s a skills test up top—send them down Moose, a damn fun hand- built XC trail. Everything reconnects for regroups. Soft pedal the climbs and hammer the descents and it’s like lift-served riding, but good for you. Later, pick up growlers from Big Sky Brewing and sandwiches from Tagliare Delicatessen and head to the Clark Fork to find a fishing hole.
Day Three: Tour of the Snake. Start by fueling up at Cafe Dolce on Brooks Street. They claim the nicest outdoor dining in town and serve up clean and healthy food for cyclists. Then either ride (please) or drive back to the Main Rattlesnake Trailhead for some sustained climbs and rollicking descents on MSLA’s legacy system. This figure eight route gets you the best of it: Start by climbing Sawmill to the Snowbowl Overlook on Stuart Peak Trail, descend the back side to a hairpin left-hander onto the Wallman climb, top out again and descend Wallman to the Main Corridor you rode out on day one, and climb up Curry Gulch, navigating until you hit the Fenceline descent. Rip that serpentine track all the way out Ewok.
|How to Support Missoula Trails> Like every trail advocacy club in the country, MTB Missoula lost out on its spring and early summer race events. But although those ripping local XC and Enduro throw downs are a hoot for western Montanans and club supporters, they were never much for fundraising. There just aren’t enough people in Montana for bike races to drive big money. But while the racing stopped, the riding did not. As with trails nationally, mountain biking in Missoula is booming in the COVID times. If you’re riding Missoula for more than a few days, or if you’re flush with cash and just want to help out, consider donating to MTB Missoula online. Or better yet, says the nonprofit’s Executive Director Ben Horan: “Go online and make a mental note of MTB Missoula’s partners and support those businesses whether you live here or are just passing through. They’re more important to our operation than any one donation.”
|Stay Safe> After a successful early lockdown, Montana saw COVID cases spike not long after bars went to 50 percent capacity. But as this issue went to press the state still boasted some of the best metrics in the U.S., with only 54 active hospitalizations and 43 total deaths. The rate at which new positive cases were discovered—as a percentage of total tests—was hovering between 1 and 2.5 percent. But a clear disdain for mask use among many Montanans and substantial growth of infections with young people had public health officials increasingly concerned. By mid-July, Missoula had implemented a mandatory indoor mask requirement. “The demos in Montana and Missoula have been pretty clear for months,” said Cindy Farr, Missoula’s COVID-19 Incident Commander, “20- to 29-year olds are getting it the most. They aren’t taking it as seriously. It’s that 20-something kid in the grocery store calling people in masks sheeple.” Bottom line: Don’t travel to Missoula if you’re ill or fear that you’ve been exposed. Choose rough camping over resort style hotels. And wear masks at busy trailheads and downtown.
|The Rider> Donovan Power runs the Missoula Freestyle ski team and honed his bike skills in Whistler as a young ski coach in the summer sessions back in the day. At 6’4” and 230 pounds he’s viking sized, works out with meatheads in that crossover fitness style, and is a local mountain manimal on skis or bikes; strength he puts to work as one of MTB Missoula’s all-time top volunteers. He rides DH and flow trails half the time and classic backcountry track the rest.
|The Bike> “I ride a 2019 Scott Ransom 900 Tuned 29er. It’s 170mm of travel in the front and back, with a shorter travel (120mm) lockout for dirt on the way up or a full lockout if you have to pound pavement to get to the trail. Before that I’d ridden a 27.5 plus tired bike and the longer wheelbase of the Ransom took a little bit to get used to. But it’s simply faster. It rolls over smaller obstacles easier, and it carries more speed into and out of corners than any bike I’ve ridden. It’s for sure seen its share of trailside weeds as I learn to start my turns earlier. I’ve unwittingly set numerous new personal bests (Strava!) on downhills without trying. In many cases these were descents that I’d hammered as fast as possible in the past. The Ransom also climbs as well as any bike I’ve ridden and I really appreciate the longer cockpit for comfort. It rips DH trails, murders technical descents in the high country, or rolls at ludicrous speeds down smooth singletrack.”
|The Rider> Joe Chalmers took up mountain biking late (his mid 20s) but still went on to break a few legs as a pro-level recreational XC racer in Montana and Washington. A bona fide cannibal in the Eddy Merckx sense of the word, he’s a freakishly strong human, has an encyclopedic mind for Tour de France trivia, and rips everything—fast—on bargain basement gear. He splits his riding up as follows: 65 percent XC/Trail, 35 percent gnar.
|The Bike> It only weighs 24.9 pounds with a full-length dropper post, fat tires, and 120mm of front and rear suspension. That’s the new Cannondale Scalpel SE—depending on how you look at it, it’s either a super capable XC bike, or a super fast trail bike. We’re dubbing it the “Schralpel.” For the historic XC-fast trail in Missoula’s Rattlesnake and Blue Mountain networks, it’s probably the perfect bike: Just plush enough for the roots and rocks that can bottom out the suspension and shred the tires of a 100mm XC race bike, but quick enough from the gun to sprint over rollovers and light enough to take the edge off sustained 2,000-foot climbs. “Because it’s so light,” says Chalmers, who tested the bike for much of July, “you can whip it into corners like it’s a 27.5, but as a 29er it rolls faster over all types of trail. This bike is so fast I can hang with my Strava chasing wife on the climbs again.”
|The Rider> Marc Peruzzi, editor of Mountain, has ridden mountain bikes since 1987, tested bikes since 1999, and occasionally still scores an expert XC podium in his age class. He only recently learned how to jump a mountain bike during the COVID downtimes. His airs have gone from barely discernible to slightly discernible. He splits his ride time up as follows: 40 percent XC/Trail; 35 percent technical trail/enduro; 25 percent gravel/forgotten singletrack.
|The Bike> “I own three bikes that get heavy use, an updated 2013 Scott Spark (The Whip), a tricked out Yeti SB 4.5 (see Pike upgrade story this issue), and a 2018 carbon Niner RLT 9 RDO gravel bike (which, as bikes go, is my favorite of all time). That quiver lets me ride almost everything Missoula has to offer. For this issue, Niner sent me their full squish MCR 9 RDO to test. That’s right, it’s a full suspension gravel bike, which is an odd beast. There are certain routes, though, that are too tame on the Whip, but too harsh on the fully rigid Niner. I wanted to see if the MCR made that terrain fun. It did, to a point. There’s only about 50 millimeters of suspension on the MCR, with a similar dearth of travel up front, but that was more than enough to plush out some of the boniest doubletrack rides, made short sections of steep, rocky, and rooty singletrack manageable thanks to increased traction when braking, and probably even let the MCR (it stands for Magic Carpet Ride) corner a bit more seamlessly in the berms. But, and this is less about the bike and more about the spec, the 40mm tires that came stock are the big limiting factor in the type of terrain I steered the MCR to. Because it’s decidedly not a Dirty Kanza race bike, or even a mixed-surfaces rig if those surfaces include much smooth dirt and pavement, the MCR needs 50mm width or wider rubber on it to find its niche—at least that’s true for me. But if you’re looking for comfort over the zip of the RLT 9 RDO, then the MCR might be for you. As adventure bikes go, and here I’m talking about big backcountry rides on the worst roads, it’s a winner.
photograph | Steve Lloyd
Overview: Park City was once a sleepy ski town in summer, with not much to eat beyond the Friday night prime rib special and not much to ride beyond a handful of legacy trails. That was Park City in the 1980s. Today, this enclave above the heat of Salt Lake City, but beneath the extreme thin air of Colorado, is a cyclist’s dream town. Decades worth of trail work has taken the singletrack mileage from the low double digits to—once the latest network off the new 9K trail is built out—close to 400 miles. It’s become such a vibrant mountain bike destination that the big initiatives now include directional climbs and descents to better separate users and allow riders to safely maintain their speed. A natural separation of users is also happening, with runners and hikers finding their favorite spots and bikers gravitating to their own lairs. Best of all? With most of the riding happening between 7,000 and 9,000 feet, you can ride all summer without suffering in the heat. Naturally, Mountain once staged a bike test in Park City. And we’re looking forward to getting back to ride the big descents off the famed Wasatch Crest Trail soon. If you haven’t yet ridden this part of Utah, here’s a quick user’s manual.
Day One: Anytime you see an International Mountain Bicycling Association “Epic” rating on a route, you should make a point of riding it. Park City has two such legacy trails in the Mid Mountain and Wasatch Crest routes. To ride the latter, start on the Armstrong climb and work your way to Mid Mountain to Pinecone finishing the uphilling on the non-barfy side of Puke Hill. It’s a serious effort at elevation, but there are upsides: “It’s a nice shady, nine-mile climb,” says Lora Smith, Development & Resource Director with Mountain Trails Foundation, the nonprofit that’s made riding in Park City what it is today. “The last part is kind of pitchy bitchy with a 13 percent grade, but you can chat with friends for the rest beneath aspens and evergreens.”
Once you crest the Crest, you’ll find yourself riding the ridge just above the treeline on a roller-coaster contour with big views. Beware of the Dragon’s Back feature. It’s a rough fin of rock on a spine with more exposure than you might want without scouting it first. The natural flow descent out Ridge Connector to Mid Mountain to Holly’s dumps you in Canyons Resort. That’s where you’ll find the Red Tail Grill, a taphouse style pub with fat burgers heaped with onion rings. There’s a big deck, so spread out.
Day Two: Recovery doesn’t have to be dull. And with three lift-served mountain bike options in town, Park City has you covered. If riding downhill at speed isn’t your thing, but you don’t yet have the lungs for climbing at this altitude, Park City Mountain runs a chairlift that lets you access gentle rides up high in the cool air and wildflowers. To get schooled in lift-served riding head to the new Woodward at Park City bike park where novice freeriders can take lessons and progress over three levels of trails. But if you’re already comfortable on intermediate level flow trails, head directly to Deer Valley Resort. There, too, the flow trails are built with progression in mind. Holy Roller is 4.2 miles long, but you can keep your wheels on the ground if you want. Tidal Wave features some bigger hits, but is rideable for strong intermediates accustomed to big berms. And Tsunami is a big hit series of chutes with gaps and wooden structures. The network was designed and built by Gravity Logic out of Whistler, and—as with Deer Valley in winter—it’s lovingly groomed. Later, pick up fish tacos at El Chubasco, one of a handful of killer Mexican street fare grab-and-gos in town.
Day Three: Begin the morning with to-go coffee from Park City Coffee Roasters and a burrito from Albertos (they’re both Mountain Trails Foundation partners) which has a sit-down breakfast service outdoors and a drive-through window if you want to picnic. Want to keep the riding local so you can get back on the road? Try this easy to navigate zone that pops right up on the Mountain Trails interactive map online. For a seven mile outing, start on the Armstrong Trail climb again, but this time connect to H.A.M. and Spiro. Add another three miles onto the ride by tacking on the CMG (Crescent Mine Grade) downhill. “The cool thing about CMG is that while the first part is a straight shot, rocky, and fast, when you get to the bottom it turns spin-cycle fun,” says Smith.
|Stay Safe> As mountain towns go, Park City was quick and far-reaching in its mandatory mask requirement. Except for those with medical conditions or those actively eating and drinking in a restaurant, it applies to everyone over the age of two. The goal is to keep Park City in the “low risk” category. Utah has a threat dial similar to what you’d see in forest fire season. It ranges from Green (New Normal) to Red (High Risk). Don’t travel if you’re sick or feel that you’ve been exposed. Outdoors, public health professionals are asking recreationists to maintain six feet of spacing beyond members of their own party and to avoid congregating at trailheads.
|How to Support Park City Trails> The Mountain Trails Foundation employs five to six full-time staffers including professional trail designers and builders. That’s how the work—including the new 9K trail and future network—gets done. The lockdown forced the nonprofit to cancel some fundraisers and in-person racing, but the community is stepping up, says Smith. “We’re seeing more donations than we’ve ever seen before. And much of that is being driven by small donations: $15 here, and $20 there. Trail recreation is the only thing that’s safe anymore. People want to give back.” The best way to do that for out-of-towners? Click on the “donate” button on mountaintrails.org. A $50 contribution nets you a year’s worth of goodwill—and a sweet T-shirt. The more you pay, the nicer the schwag you get.
|The Rider> Lora Smith is the Development & Resource Director for the Mountain Trails Foundation. When she’s not raising money to help MTF build, maintain, and protect Park City’s IMBA Gold trail system, Lora is out “inspecting” the trails. She primarily rides XC with some techy, finesse-y stuff thrown in for fun.
|The Bike> “I ride a 2015 Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper EVO 29er. The EVO features more suspension travel and a more relaxed geometry than the standard Stumpjumper—the extra travel is welcome when I want to ride some of the town’s old-school and more technical trails. Because it’s an S-Works model, it’s light enough for long days in the saddle. I like a lighter cross country bike, it fits my style and is suited to the majority of the trails that I like best; smoother flow singletrack, and heart-in-the-throat steep climbs.”
photograph | Grant Wieler
Overview: Every mountain biker on the East Coast has heard of East Burke Vermont’s Kingdom Trails. For good reason. In notoriously bony New England, that network offered flow trails 20 years before flow trails were a thing. The Kingdom is still worth the trip, but Vermont riding boomed in the last decade, and you should expand your singletrack horizons. You’ll find killer riding from the Massachusetts border to the Canada line, but for a more condensed itinerary check out these three days well spent up north.
Day One: Perry Hill and the Little River, Waterbury
You’ll want fresh legs for this day, so hit it first. The heritage trails at Perry Hill are classic New England tech, thick with babyhead rocks, off-camber roots, and greasy (but chickenwired) bridges. There’s only 10 miles of riding in this forest, but if you do the full pull and ride every descent and climb in a hub and spoke manner, you’ll tally more than 3,000 feet of climbing over 17 miles. Trust us, we’ve ridden it, you’ll be pleasantly gassed after even 12 miles of old-timey rock hopping and stump jumping thrashing. Whatever you do, don’t miss the fresh “historical preservation” work just wrapped up by acclaimed trail builder Knight Ide on Joe’s. That track features artisanally laid out rock rollovers and new masonry work, but the standout feature is a rocky chute lined by dramatic moss-covered rock walls.
After lunch from the Prohibition Pig Brewery—call in a to-go order for Cuban sandies—head to Little River State Park for chill flow trail recovery riding. If you add the Waterbury chapter (WATA) to your VMBA subscription, you get free entrance to the park. Plan ahead and you’ll already have a campsite booked.
Day Two: Jay
This zone near the Vermont Border doesn’t get the same interstate traffic, but it’s a gem that’s getting polished all the time by the local Grateful Treads mountain bike club (it’s a VMBA chapter). An entire new network is going in behind the Jay Country Store: Pop in for a breakfast burrito and then head to The Jay Cloud Cyclery (it’s named for the storm systems that seem to dump snow on Jay Peak and Jay Peak alone in winter) and ask for shop owner Ethan Dull’s advice for a tour. The new stuff wasn’t even on the Trailforks app (a must for your phone) at the time of this writing, but we hear that 1,000 vertical foot drops on technical track are currently getting unveiled.
Later, hit the relaxed machine-built flow trails by the Jay Community Recreation Center. A quick glance at TrailHUB.org will get you the live trail conditions. That night, stay at Jay Peak Resort, and if it’s open during Covid, partake in the Jay Peak Pump House indoor waterpark—or hot tub with your party at a condo. Want to keep the party going? Jay Peak Resort is offering month-long vacation rental deals to encourage summer relocations to VT.
Day Three: Lift-Served
Two options here, depending on your drive plans. Option one: Head to Sugarbush in the Mad River Valley. If the lift is turning, your VMBA voucher gets you a free day of lift-served shredding. Burn a few hot laps that way, and then plug standout trails Plum Line and Pusherman into your GPS and ride from the top of the bike park to the valley floor. Just be prepared to work a little bit. You’ll drop 3,400 feet in elevation, but there’s a thousand foot grunt midway that makes you earn it. Need to drive farther south? The Killington Bike Park has the most comprehensive gravity assisted riding in the state. Scarecrow to Steel Panther to the Ramshead Base area offers a 2,000 foot sustained descent.
|Stay Safe> At press time, Vermont was operating on a complex—but easy to follow online—Covid protocol that allowed residents of counties in driving distance to Vermont to avoid the two week quarantine. The metrics aren’t something you want to calculate. Head here for the latest: https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/restart/cross-state-travel. As Vermont finds success with socially distanced tourism it will expand the list of greenlit counties. But drive-to is largely a go. By late June, 6.5 million people were cleared to travel. Masks are recommended but not required, [but you should wear one. —ed.] and expect restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity for some time. “Our first wave of effort was about marketing to Vermonters,” says Vermont Tourism’s Communications Director Nate Formalarie. “We needed to support local businesses, but the goal with all of this is to get back open. Vermont has an extremely important tourism economy. We need safe tourism, and mountain biking is some of the safest.”
|How to Support Vermont Riding> We wrote about VMBA, Vermont’s unique and wildly innovative trail advocacy organization in 2019 (see Socialized Mountain Biking on mountainonline.com). Here’s a refresher on how it works, VMBA acts as an umbrella nonprofit to 29 chapters scattered around the state. Your membership supports each chapter with actual dollars for trail building and maintenance, helps with VMBA’s statewide and local fundraising, and drives bike advocacy. Cooler still? By adding on chapters to your membership, you channel 100 percent of that extra coin and love directly to the trails you ride the most. Visit VMBA.org/join/ for the latest super affordable rates.
|The Rider> Alex Showerman is an outdoor industry PR and communications specialist and the Vice President of WATA, the Waterbury Area Trail Alliance. His riding breaks down as follows: 70 percent handbuilt/technical, 25 percent flow, 5 percent lift-served—plus a ton of gravel in the shoulder seasons and during rainy spells.
|The Bike> “I ride a 2017 Devinci Troy with 27.5-inch wheels,” says Showerman. “It’s 150mm of travel in the front, and 140mm in the back with super short chainstays which makes for a nimble and playful ride in tight sections. But it’s plenty capable when things get rowdy. Devinci’s DW link split pivot suspension is plush, and it’s easy to get all the travel on big terrain. I can chase—and hang with—my friends riding Santa Cruz V10 downhill bikes around Killington Bike Park on it no problem. I’ve upgraded it with Vermont wheel builder Jerry Chabot’s NEXT Hucks. Carbon wheels are a must in Vermont as the roots and rocks are not kind to wheels. The Hucks are extra rugged. The Devinci frame is made five hours north in Québec, and the wheels are built just down the road. I joke it’s a locally sourced bike, and I love it.”
photograph | Josh Kelley
Overview: Last year Mountain staged its bike test at Bend. This year the pandemic had other plans, but someday soon we’ll be back. In Bend, the season is long. The dirt morphs from tacky spring loam to cushiony high summer moon dust. And ride options range from local heritage hot laps, purpose-built flow and jump lines adjacent to town, epic backcountry jaunts, to shuttle assist descents. All that and now MT. Bachelor is upping its lift-served game. The new Red Line reportedly competes with Whistler’s A-Line for flow and deep berms. Bend’s diversity—plus the chill town and volcano views—is the draw. It’s like Fruita, Steamboat, and Whistler all wrapped into one locale.
Day One: On Mrazek you’ll ascend the longest continuous uphill from town on a single trail (13 miles and 2,700 feet of ups). Hang a left near the top and you’ll hit the Farewell descent—high-speed until you hit the lower switchbacks—and then connect to South Fork, Swede Ridge Loop, Sector 16, the Whoops, and Ben’s Trail back to town. (Use bendtrails.org or Trailforks for all your navigation needs.) Option two: Plan your big ride for after August 15th when the elk calving closures end, and you can add on the North Fork – Flagline Loop (another 10 miles round trip) to this big day. Later, do as the Mountain crew does and order too much Mexican street fare at one of El Sancho’s many locations, shacks, and carts.
Day Two: Book a shuttle with Cog Wild and ride Tiddlywinks to Tyler’s Traverse via the Kiwa Butte connector. Tiddlywinks is heritage backcountry riding, Tyler’s is modern backcountry flow with bermed corners and jumps. Even with the shuttle it’s still a big day on the bike. But you can always add on to rides in Bend. When you’re done, head to Spork for a sit-down meal on the outdoor patio—wear masks when you aren’t eating. Expect global cuisine—but affordable—from chef-owner Jeff Hunt.
Day Three: Rent big hit bikes if you don’t have them and ride the lift at MT. Bachelor. Red Line is the big draw, but you can burn a day up there easily. If you want more downhilling (on your personal bikes) cross the street from the resort and connect Dutchman’s Flagline to Whoops. Before heading out of town, stop into the new brewery and brasserie Monkless Belgian Ales.
|Stay Safe> At press time, even with high occupancy in peak season, Bend was showing low hospitalization rates and zero COVID deaths, but to make sure it stayed that way, a new mask mandate had gone into effect inside all businesses, and outdoors in places where people gather—you don’t have to ride in one. There are teeth behind the mandate, it’s a Class 3 misdemeanor to ignore it, but the hope is that nobody needs to enforce that commonsense play. A full 65 percent of Bend’s visitors are from in-state, but no matter where you come from you shouldn’t travel if you feel sick or think you’ve been exposed. Our tip? Van camping with family is the best play, followed by motel style lodging where you drive to your own door and avoid the lobby. “The behavior of the folks camping in and around Bend has been incredible during these COVID days,” says Visit Bend’s Kevney Dugan. “They’re weekend warriors riding bikes, social distancing, and picking up after themselves.”
Bend prides itself on its low conflict network of multi-use trails. Remember that you’re sharing that system with the rest of the public that owns it—and check your speed and yield when approaching other parties. Etiquette is even more important during these times.
|How to Support Bend Trails> COTA, the Central Oregon Trail Alliance, includes six chapters and oversees many hundreds of miles of trails over thousands of acres. Like every trail advocacy group in mountain biking, COTA exists to build new trails and repair and improve old ones, tapping into volunteers and seasoned professional trail builders to do so. But the COVID restrictions have taken trail work away from COTA. On Oregon public lands, trail crews were temporarily banned in the righteous name of public health. But the list of projects isn’t shrinking, and at press time, COTA was itching to get back to work. “We missed out on our big Trail Love spring and fall editions, says COTA’s communications director Kelly Burke. “Those are 125-volunteer sessions each, and we won’t make up for them this year, but we have a four-phase plan to get small crews working safely as soon as we can.” Feel like pitching in? Check COTAMTB.com for membership and contribution opportunities. The hard costs aren’t going away during the lockdown. “Some people are stepping up, but others aren’t because they can’t afford to,” says Burke. “We can’t wait to get back out there.”
|The Rider> David Marchi owns Crow’s Feet Commons in Bend. He’s also a mountain guide, backcountry skier, cyclist, Deadhead, and all-around Mountain magazine type. He shredded with us last summer and built up and tore down more than a dozen test bikes. Today, he splits his riding equally between fat tire gravel (2.3” 27.5 tires) and backcountry epics on a mix of all mountain and XC trails—plus jump lines.
|The Bikes> MTB: “My Kona Big Honzo Carbon is built with a 140mm RockShox Pike Ultimate and instead of going with the stock 27.5 tires, the frame has clearance to run a 29 x 2.6 in the rear and a 29 x 2.8 in the front. I love the Honzo because it has a long reach and slack headtube angle for descending while maintaining a steep enough seat angle for climbing. As a hardtail, it’s extremely efficient climbing, but descends like a banshee. The big rubber eases the hardtail harshness and offers tons of traction. A 170mm dropper lets me get low for descending. The Project 321 hubs are built here in Bend. There’s a reason why the Honzo has a cult following. It’s the perfect descending hardtail.”
Gravel: “I ride gravel with a fair bit of singletrack on my Open WI.DE. It’s tricked out with TRP Hylex Brakes, a modified SRAM AXS drivetrain, and Cane Creek eeWings titanium cranks with a Rotor 46t oval chainring. The tires are 27.5 x 2.3. It’s the perfect Bend drop bar bike. We have a lot of tame riding in Bend. The running joke is the local trail stewards (Central Oregon Trail Alliance) ‘rake the forest’ like Trump’s Sweden reference. I love mixing it up on adventure rides on gravel, tarmac, and singletrack. And as a larger guy (205 pounds) running voluminous tires means less flats, better traction, more stability, and tighter handling. It’s by far the favorite bike in my quiver. And at 17lbs, it feels like it floats on all surfaces.”
photograph | Dave Cox
Overview: New Mexico doesn’t get the cycling attention it deserves. That’s especially true of Santa Fe, which sits at 7,000 feet, is always cool in the morning, and offers from-town access to public lands, quiet roads, and singletrack that climbs and descends through multiple ecosystems. The legacy multi-use trails have always been a draw regionally for XC and trail riders, but the recent addition of the Glorieta Camps zone just east of town has spawned an enduro scene that most states can’t touch outside of lift-served resorts. Meanwhile, new trails are in the works for Nambe, and beyond Mount Atalaya in the nearby Pecos Ranger District. Between rides, plan on eating northern New Mexico style comfort food (green and red chile, posole stew, and deeply flavored carne adovada) chased by iced drinks and Mexican lagers. Eddy Merckx once said “Eat less, ride more.” (Ed’s note: The second Merckx reference in one issue!) In New Mexico, it’s a ride more, eat more culture.
Day One: Towers to Tesuque. If you have the lungs and the legs for it, then this monster day on the bike gets you the best heritage single and doubletrack riding in town. Think 5,000 vertical feet up, and 5,000 vertical feet down on trails perfectly suited to longer travel XC bikes and lightweight trail machines. There are about a half dozen variations, but begin by dropping a car (with racks) in nearby Tesuque, and then returning to Santa Fe and connecting to the Dale Ball network before linking to the Chamisa Trail via dirt and a short section of pavement—you can avoid that if you want to extend the ride. Once you’re on the Winsor, the climbing settles in and you’ll be seeing red by the time you gain Aspen Vista and eventually top out at the radio towers and then Lake Peak at 12,409 feet. Eat something while you look out over the desert from the tail of the Rockies. Then descend Raven’s Ridge trail—footpath singletrack with some rocks to keep you honest—before reconnecting with the Winsor for a sustained plummet. Want more challenge and less people? Rip the Rio En Medio before looping back to the Winsor, where improvements have happened. There used to be 12 water crossings down low, but now—thanks to bridge work—there are only five. (Your drivetrain can thank the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society with a donation.) Stay on that track until you come out at your car and the Tesuque Village Market.
You should time all this to avoid the monsoons up high, but still hit the market in time for pork ranchero enchiladas.
Day Two: Flow to Enduro. New Mexico can be a strange place—mostly for good reasons. Where else would you find a dedicated flow and enduro thrash network on the lands of a Bible Camp? That’s the deal at the newly renamed Glorieta Camps network—home to a Yeti Big Mountain Enduro—where one trail with a public right-of-way provides access to a slew of modern gravity trails on a mix of public and private lands. The network was designed by the Jagged Axe trail crew out of Texas. “Ride Broken Arrow first,” says Mountain contributor Nick Heil. “You can progressively ramp up your game on Chile Dog before heading to the super sweet flow trail Holy Molé as a ‘finisher.’ You’ll be tired, but it’s pure fun, nothing sketchy. Because you’re basically riding laps out of the Camps, you can add or delete as energy and ambition dictates.” Later, head to the Cowgirl Cafe for a mix of New Mexican and western fare on the nicest patio in town.
Day Three: Dale Ball Atalaya Sampler. Atalaya is a foothill sized mountain just to the east of town. It’s always held some legacy track with moderately technical sections (rest in peace Andrew Tilin; and thanks for riding Atalaya with me my first week in town—the editor). Now you can tie Atalaya into the exceedingly well marked Dale Ball network and crank out as many laps as you feel like. From the Atalaya Trail, ride the ridge and with the watershed on your right continue to Dale Ball via the Junction Trails/Picacho Peak (all trails on MTBProject.com). From there, stay to the northeast and head toward the Sierra Del Norte Trailhead. Stay on the numbered trails which are more technical and offer some of the most rollicking riding in the 26-mile Dale Ball network.
|Stay Safe> As of July 19, New Mexico was requiring all travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days and mandating mask usage in public. And that mask use includes outdoor exercise. (Our take on that is you need a mask with you in case you approach others.) At press time, all indoor dining was prohibited. The state is acting strictly in accordance with CDC guidelines for a reason: New Mexico is rich with at-risk populations on the reservations and pueblos. It doesn’t hurt that the governor’s background is in healthcare. Also, science (not science denial, although that plays in Roswell) is a key driver of the New Mexican economy. Keep your eye on the state guidelines, and when they loosen, head over in a responsible manner, ordering food to go if you can’t distance, and favoring campgrounds, motels, and isolated rental units over crowded hotels. “We know that people both in and out-of-state are feeling the itch to travel,” says Axie Navas, New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Director (and a Mountain ski tester). “Our beautiful, vast outdoor recreation places are conducive to avoiding crowds. And we want to welcome these tourists back with open arms eventually. But right now, the priority is to slow the spread of Covid-19 so we don’t overwhelm rural health care systems.”
|How to Support Santa Fe Trails> If you’re riding the Glorieta Camps from public lands, or crossing a bridge on the Winsor, or just pushing your front tire into a tight berm that was a blown out corner two weeks ago, you have the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society to thank. It’s a small club and IMBA chapter that largely relies on membership for its limited budget. Just $39 gets you an annual membership. While you’re in town, go online and check out the club’s official partners—mostly bike shops—and support those who support trails. The club is looking forward to better days when the crews can get back out in the piñon and aspens opening new trails. “It’s an all-volunteer type of club,” says Mike Chapman, owner of The Broken Spoke shop and an SFFTS board member. “On a big day we get 20 people out building trail. But our outreach could be better. There are a lot of people that want to contribute but don’t know how.”
|The Rider> Axie Navas is New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Czar, a former editor at Outside magazine, and a longtime Mountain ski tester. From her home near Santa Fe, she rides a mix of desert tech and high-alpine flow. She loves the lung-busting climbs around the city, some of which start at 7,000 feet and end well above tree line.
|The Bike> Riding the Alchemy Nine7Five is like having a flashback to tooling around the block on your first wheeled vehicle—a Big Wheel trike. Parents bought them because they felt the massive front wheel and the smaller hoops in the back made them stable. This Alchemy hybrid with its 29-inch wheel up front and 27.5-inch wheel in back—affectionately termed a mullet, or Joe Dirt—starts with Alchemy’s Arktos 29er frame and the Sine Suspension designed by bike guru David Earle, but here the rear linkage is adjusted to better accommodate the 27.5-inch rear wheel. The result is a bike with a slightly lower bottom bracket and a whippy rear end like a 27.5, but also the fast rolling properties of a 29er for monster trucking over rock and roots. It’s plenty nimble for the tight piñon and juniper forests of northern New Mexico. It’s a bike itching to go fast, up or down. Business in front, party in the back.
|The Rider> Nick Heil is a freelance writer in Santa Fe. His MTB allocation looks like this: 60 percent trail rides; 35 percent laps at local enduro track; 5 percent lift-served bike park.
|The Bike> I started riding my Canyon Strive CF 9.0 in summer 2019, after spending years on a shorter travel XC/trail whip. It’s been a life-altering upgrade. While on paper it’s a big bike—150mm rear suspension and a 160mm RockShox Lyrik fork, with 29-inch wheels on an XL frame—it’s ideal for the riding I like to do around my home mountain town of Santa Fe. From laps at the nearby Big Mountain Enduro series course in Glorieta, to 5,000-vertical-foot high-country adventures where the Strive is a comfy and capable climber, it’s my one-bike quiver. That versatility is thanks in part to Canyon’s clever Shapeshifter suspension, which adjusts geometry on the fly. But the Strive is most at home on descents, eating big chunks like appetizers, railing serpentine berms, and soaring smoothly down jump lines. Initially I thought it might be long-travel overkill, but it’s now my daily driver—and I’ve never had more fun on a bike.
|The Rider> Mountain bike tester Dave Stanton is a branding and content Creative Director currently on the squad at Talweg Creative in Santa Fe. Gravity riding used to be his main dish, but living at the base of the Winsor Trail (and getting older) has led him to earn his berms.
|The Bike> “Hopping on the new Santa Cruz 5010 with its 27.5-inch hoops was like going back to the fun park of my 26-inch Nomad days—but with significant upgrades in stability and finesse. The complete refresh for 2021 brings the all-terrain capabilities of the 5010 up to speed with the rest of the Santa Cruz line. Coming off my super capable enduro bike, carving up smooth lines at Galisteo felt fun again. Popping the lips on Tap Out—a local intermediate jump line at the La Tierra ‘Trash Pits’ —felt like a fresh pow day.“
photograph | Dave Cox
Overview: Home to the Breck Epic six-day mountain bike stage race and the 20-year-old Firecracker 50, Breckenridge (9,000 feet) is ringed with monster climbs, heritage descents on the Colorado Trail, massive circumnavigations, and whoop-it-up purpose-built directional flow and enduro track. The network of trails can be confusing to non-locals, but the refinement of MTBProject (get the app) and Garmin wayfinding have opened up the riding to day-trippers from the Front Range and beyond. You’ll need to be prepared to climb a few thousand feet at altitude on the easiest rides, but once you make it past the first few miles from town you won’t be braking for crowds on the descents. There’s a natural separation of users in Breck that trumps much of the state.
Day One: Map out a trail bike tour of the West Ridge Loop which features some of the best riding Breck has to offer. Begin at the Reiling Dredge Trailhead (the drainage was dredged in the mining days) on Tiger Road. From there
you’ll ride Middle Fork before climbing to West Ridge. As with everything in Breck, which features more intersections than most networks, it’s easy to add on mileage, vertical, and time. The descent hits a rooty and rocky section of the Colorado Trail that is so blisteringly fast in the trees that Breck Epic founder Mike McCormack calls it Jedi riding. Finish on the Colorado Trail to the Dredge or reroute yourself to Blair Witch.
Once you’ve pulled off your shoes and dunked your head in a creek, make haste to Rita’s Specialty Margs and Taco Bar. Outdoor dining is available, but you can take it to-go too. If it isn’t crowded, sit outside and sip a fresh squeezed marg like it’s 2019.
Day Two: In most places our day two itinerary would be a bit more chill, but “you can’t be tired in Breck if you want to ride,” says Sydney Truitt, Mountain mag bike test director and co-owner of Breck Cycling Lab & Service. This two hour loop that Sydney loves features a few thousand feet of climbing. Start in Carter Park and climb Moonstone to Barney Ford, hopping on the doubletrack (less than a mile on this entire route) Sallie Barber. Keep climbing to Nightmare on Baldy and then navigate Pinball Alley to Baker’s Tanks to the Aspen Alley Descent. If you’ve ridden the Firecracker 50, this is part of that course—backwards. Add on the Blue River Trail and you’ll exit at the Ice Rink. In normal times you can shower there for a few bucks. Call ahead this year.
You’ll be hungry now. Head over to Angel’s Hollow for more outdoor dining. It’s a ski-town casual type of place with damn fine fish sandwiches, burgers, and pork carnitas. Let the kids eat chicken strips and fries—it’s vacation.
Day Three: Time to ride some natural flow. That would be the Flume zone. To get there roll up Wellington Road and hop on Gold Run Road and make your way to Slalom (this is easy with the app running). Descend Slalom and keep straight onto Upper Flume. Take it fall line all the way to the trailhead. It sounds short, because unlike everything else in Breck it only involves two main trails, but it’s a nice length morning ride before you head out. Wrap it up early enough and you can grab breakfast at the Columbine Cafe—still more outdoor seating!
|Stay Safe> Breckenridge already battled COVID once at the end of ski season. Don’t make them battle it again by refusing to wear a mask. They’re required in Breck, and any business can legally refuse you service if you start screaming about your constitutional right to infect grandma. At press time, restaurants were still operating at reduced capacity. But it’s Breckenrdige in the summer—sit outside or take the food to-go and sit by a pond or a river. One cool plus? Part of Main Street is closed to vehicular traffic. Mountain’s take is that it should become permanent. That, and more people are spending their days out in Colorado’s natural splendor. “We want people outside,” says Scott Reid, Director of Recreation for the town of Breckenridge. “It’s healthier in the short-term, and hopefully it will inspire outdoor recreation in the long-term.”
|How to Support Breck Trails> Mountain bike trail advocacy is a mixed bag across the country, but nowhere is that more true than in Breckenridge. Here, the National Forest manages 80 percent of the terrain outside of town, but if you’ve been paying attention for the past 20 years, our National Forests are all woefully underfunded and can’t dole out cash to buff singletrack. Luckily, the town of Breckenridge values trails enough to do something about that. And you can help too. The taxes you pay when you buy goods and services in Breckenridge help fund five full-time open space specialists who constantly rebuild blown out corners, buck up downed trees, and work with Scott Reid, Breck’s Director of Recreation, and governmental land managers to build new trails. Farther outside of town, nonprofit trail organizations like SCoMBA (Summit County Mountain Bike Alliance) and the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District pitch in. Consider donating your time or cash to these nonprofits. Or buy some schwag in town to keep the flow flowing.
|The Rider> Sydney Truitt owns Breck Cycling Lab & Service in Breckenridge with her husband Nick and two young babies who are almost twins, but not quite. She holds a pro XC license and loves to give people the right tips to change their riding experience. She looks petite and mild, but she hauls. Her riding breaks down as follows: 50 percent XC trail; 30 percent purpose-built flow; 20 percent technical heritage trail.
|The Bike> “I ride a custom 2020 Yeti SB100 build. Up front there’s the new 2021 RockShox SID Ultimate 120mm with a SRAM XX1 Eagle mechanical drivetrain and Shimano’s XT 2 piston brakes—because at my weight, four pistons might send me flying. The cockpit features an Ergon SM Women’s saddle, Shimano’s PRO carbon handlebar, and Syncros Silverton 1.0 carbon wheels with our shop favorite Continental Mountain King tires in 2.3 front and rear. For style with the black and blue theme: Chris King DropSet 3 headset in Matte Jet, KS Lev CI carbon dropper post, and Ergon GE1 grips in Midsummer Blue. We were going for light and fast in building this bike and it worked. I’ve ridden, raced, and tested a ton of bikes and the SB100 is my favorite bike I’ve ever ridden. We have steep climbs, moments of rocks and roots, and some of the best descents in Colorado, and the bike flies on it all.”