Your Go-To Guide for Local Mountain Biking
By Jonathan Cracroft
It doesn’t get too much greener than this! Mountain biking is a clean, efficient and sustainable way to get around. Plus, exploring Utah’s cities, foothills, deserts and mountains by bike gives you a rush that fuels your muscles and your senses. Charging the trail, endorphins explode throughout your body, a powerful reminder that you’re alive!
If you already mountain bike, you know the feeling I’m describing. If you haven’t biked before, don’t worry. This story provides you with great information on mountain biking’s history, culture, equipment, trails and local shops.
HISTORY & CULTURE
In 1976 “Mountain Bicycling” first appeared in headlines as pioneers Gary Fisher, Charles Kelly, Tom Ritchey, Keith Bontrager, Charlie Cunningham, Joe Breeze and other bands of bicycle junkies participated in the first Repack Race in Marin County, California. This gave mountain biking the press it needed to gain widespread acceptance and understanding. These innovative thrill seekers hauled their balloon tire bikes up the hill in a pickup truck to the starting gates of their would-be racetrack. These pioneers were responsible for the development of a new cycling sport, one that would grow exponentially for years to come.
In the Nineties, mountain biking became a more recognized sport and continued to grow in popularity. In 1995, the first Extreme Games [X Games] featured downhill mountain biking as a core discipline. The first Olympic mountain biking event was held at the Atlanta Games in 1996.
Today in Utah, more and more cyclists are participating in local mountain bike race events. Hordes of cyclists gather in the mountains and deserts to pedal for first place and bragging rights. Overnight and endurance races like the 24 Hours of Moab bring together crowds who form entire tent cities. The culture is competitive, but equally supportive. Celebrations after races bring together bikers from all teams in a friendly environment. In fact, I’ve met some of my best friends at bike races.
Mountain biking with friends is a great way to enjoy the sport, and today’s cyclists continue to gather in packs like the pioneers of mountain biking once did. Just visit one of the Wasatch Crest trailheads any summer day and you’ll find the parking lots full of cars and trucks hauling bikers and gear to the trails.
Though popular in Utah, mountain biking has grown—in the last 20—years from an experiment to a mainstream sport throughout the world. According to the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), it’s estimated that there are now over 50 million mountain bikers in the United States alone. This industry accounts for nearly $26 billion annually in the United States. Just the trails in Moab bring an estimated $8.5 million per year from visitor dollars.
The passage of time and introduction of new technology have caused a sharp increase in the prices of biking equipment. In the 1980s, when major road bike manufactures began building mountain-specific bikes, like the Specialized Stumpjumper, you could get one for just $750. Today’s model will cost you nearly $8,000.
These technological advancements have changed the designs and engineering of our mountain machines, most notable being the introduction of front and rear suspension systems in the early 1990s. Today, advancements allow us to ride super lightweight mountain bikes stocked with carbon parts, hydraulic disc brakes, laser-cut chain rings and finely tuned derailleurs. These full suspension machines outperform anything prior by leaps and bounds.
The incorporation of full suspension gives riders many benefits. Traveling across bumpy trail surfaces with these new oil and/or air shocks provides a smooth ride and allows for a more consistent power output while pedaling. Trail vibrations are now absorbed by the shocks instead of our bodies, allowing us to ride longer distances more comfortably. Additionally, bike suspension has opened up a whole new window of riding styles and technicality, including: All Mountain, Trail Riding, Downhill, Freeride, XC, Northshore and more.
The most exciting new bicycle-related technology I’ve found comes from Google and their introduction of Bicycle Maps for commuting and mountain biking.
Google’s March blog post stated, “We wanted to include as much bike trail data as possible, provide efficient routes, allow riders to customize their trip, make use of bike lanes, calculate rider-friendly routes that avoid big hills and customize the look of the map for cycling to encourage folks to hop on their bikes. So that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
Plus, with cooperation from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, over 12,000 miles of trails have been added to Google’s maps. Check it out at maps.google.com.
SALT LAKE AREA TRAILS
In addition to the information on Google Maps, there are several other resources to help you find the right trail at the end of this story. Below are a few of my favorite trails around Salt Lake City.
Roller Coaster – My first mountain bike was given to me when I turned 10 years old. Consequently, my first trails rides were near our home in the foothills of Salt Lake. With Emigration Canyon only 10 minutes away, dozens of trails were mine to discover. One of my favorite short loops then, and even now, is the Roller Coaster, situated on the south-facing aspect at the mouth of the canyon. You can access it from the Bonneville Shoreline trail just across from the Hogle Zoo. Ride up the grueling ascent onto the benches near This Is The Place Monument, take a right turn to another long and loose hill climb up the single track to the top of the Roller Coaster. The hillside is carved out by canyon ravines, which create four major drops and four quick climbs, with just enough momentum in many cases to drive you to the peak of the next descent. A fantastic loop for those with limited time.
Dry Creek – The next section of the Bonneville Shoreline is perhaps the trail I’ve trained on the most. It’s located just east of the Jewish Community Center parking lot near the University Hospital and accesses some the quickest, finest single track in the area.
Bobsled – Grind up Dry Creek Canyon and up on top of the benches of the Avenues to access this trail. It’s named for its uniquely sculpted route, influenced by the canyon’s fast, tightly-banked turns. Many burms and mounds create a fun, dynamic ride. There’s also a number of vintage cars that have been added to the trail to offer dirt jumping options to those not shy of catching air.
Wasatch Crest – This trail starts near Brighton Ski Resort at Puke Hill, adequately named. Get past this lung burner then make your way onto the Park City ridgeline, cresting the top of The Canyons Ski Resort. This section of trail boasts the challenging Spine of the Wasatch. Once you get past the spine you can drop into Big Cottonwood Canyon via Mill D trail, or you can stay high and drop into Millcreek canyon towards Little Water trail. Both are spectacular! Drop into Big Cottonwood for some fantastic descents, meadows laced with Aspen and a couple creek crossings. Stay straight to access upper Millcreek Canyon’s Dog Lake, Big and Little Water trails and a fast downhill finish on the road, or jump back on trail at Elbow Fork and add on the Pipeline trail and Rattlesnake Gulch.
Little Cottonwood’s Temple Quarry – Start at the electronic sign at the bottom of Little Cottonwood and sift through the first section of loose granite sand and past the old hydro-power plant. From there you’ll discover some solid, dark-floored trail riding with a number of medium-steep pitches, creek crossings, bridges, pipeline crossing and a great ascent to the end of the line, which dead-ends at the old stone structure on the other side of the river.
There are dozens more epic rides in the area, too many to mention here. Check out Deer Valley, The Mid-mountain Trail, Solitude, Alexander Creek, Desolation Lake, Mueller Park, Butterfield Canyon, Corner Canyon, Yellow Fork and Albion Basin. For more trail information, visit these websites: utah.com/bike, utahmountainbiking.com, cyclingutah.com