Moab Mountain Biking
As soon as spring blooms in here in Utah, we are blessed (see: cursed) with some volatile weather (as if we don’t get enough of that over the winter). Rain and snow scatter our 70-degree days rendering our trail conditions in Salt Lake City unpredictable. In order to combat our wet-trail blues, my wife, Martina, and I decided to escape for awhile. For us, the closest and easiest way to do that is a road trip to the mountain biking mecca of Moab.
Usually the weather is much warmer and drier there, which is one of the many reasons it’s such an appealing destination. However, the weather in Moab can be iffy too. Checking weather forecasts is a critical part of trip planning because riding slickrock is more than just menacing when it’s wet and flash floods are possible. On Mother’s Day weekend, a storm rolled through Grand County that ranked as the sixth rainiest two-day period in the last 35 years! Summer can be incredibly hot, so plan to ride early and hydrate often if visiting in July or August.
We are lucky enough to just be a 3.5-hour drive away from this famous section of Utah desert, and Moab is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities you will find in the West. Being that so much of the tourism is centered on cycling, the infrastructure in Moab is amazing. There’s an abundance of well-marked trails and plenty of maps and other resources for bikers, including a very welcoming attitude from the locals. There’s something for every level of rider in Moab, whether you’re keen to give the new Klonzo Trails a go or itching to do The Whole Enchilada.
After a quick breakfast at The Love Muffin Cafe it was time to ride. For our first ride, we decided to hit up the Moab Brand Trails (also called the Bar M Trails), a really great trail system about eight miles north of town. This trail system is known for its variety, clear markings, and easy access. There are long stretches of doubletrack peppered with some rocks and tight turns that keep it interesting enough. Trails are assigned difficulty ratings like ski trails. Green for beginners to Black Diamond for experts, and are determined based on grunt, technical, and fear factors. For intermediate to advanced riders, there are several different trails ranging from green blue combos, all the way into your double black diamond rides—like Portal Trail, which necessitates full body armor and a strong confidence about where you’re going when you die. Warning signs read, “Dismount Now! Walk bikes along cliff edge. Three riders have died here. Save your life. Keep this route.”
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 sandstone ridges and sweeping turns that beg to be ridden fast. After a quick loop on the Lazy-EZ you get spit out at the main trailhead where you can pick up the North 40. The North 40 is an intermediate to advanced trail, as it does have some technical features that could give beginner riders some trouble. This trail offers a little bit of everything that makes mountain biking in Moab so great. Taking the trail counterclockwise, it starts with some winding singletrack that snakes through the desert offering amazing views of red canyon walls and massive rock features. The fast, flowy singletrack eventually gives way to large expanses of slickrock 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 ridgelines you snake your way back to the trailhead once again.
An important thing to remember in the desert is how fragile the environment can be. Many articles on Moab seem to forget to talk about Cryptobiotic Soil: a living soil containing bacteria and algae that desert life relies upon for survival. This special top crust is nutrient packed, it 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 the beautiful areas we want to preserve. Stay on trail, even if the views off trail are tempting.
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’s massive. One burrito could easily feed a few people, or one very calorie-starved cyclist. Combine that with a margarita that’s mixed and made in house and you have yourself a winner.
A little sore from the aforementioned biking, we decided on a slower start the next day and headed to ride at Moab’s Anonymous Park. This public park is amazing! It’s not often that you can find jumps, a pump track, and a BMX track all in one place. And the best part is that it’s legal because the property was donated to Moab anonymously for such a purpose. Riding here will make you want to bring a very playful bike along. A tight pump track and steep jumps can make many bikes feel more than a little unwieldy. Even on a responsive bike you may have a hard time weaving through the tight turns of the expertly crafted pump track. If you’re feeling a little run down from long rides or just want to relax a little, take some time to explore the town. Moab is not very big, so walking from end to end is only a 20-minute endeavor. Check out some of the bike shops too. They’re full of great people who are super passionate about the sport. On our first trip to Moab we stopped at Poison Spider Bicycles on the north side of town where we were promptly greeted with enthusiasm as well as maps and fantastic local insight. The shop and its employees have a lot of character, and it’s truly a Moab gem.
No bike trip to Moab would 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 slickrock, that does not necessarily make it part of the Slickrock Trail. The actual Slickrock Trail consists of riding almost entirely on and over the sandstone dunes for which the trail is named.
Riding on this terrain is unlike anything most riders have ever experienced. The trail itself has a roughly two-mile practice loop that allows riders to get a feel for the sandstone before making the 10.5-mile commitment. It takes awhile to get used to riding on the terrain, but once you do it is a blast. The backside of every sandstone 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 makes Slickrock so challenging is how intense the climbing can be. Though the downhills are swoopy and fun, for every descent you make, there is a challenging uphill battle to follow. Slickrock terrain, despite its name, is grippy when it’s dry, and enables you to lean into every corner and still have perfect traction. The overall feel and experience of this trail is amazing and something everything hardcore cyclist needs to experience.
Our final day in Moab we awoke feeling energized, but a bit sore from a couple near crashes and 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 on the Klondike Bluffs Trails.
Klondike Bluff Road is roughly 17 miles north of Moab and three miles down that dirt road is the southern trailhead. The trails here are as equally diverse as the Moab Brand Trails with rides encompassing all skill levels. The trails offer picturesque views into Arches National Park, and on some of the trails in the area you can even find fossilized dinosaur tracks. Small loops like Jurassic to Baby Steps make for a quick ride if you have to get back on the road quickly. From the trailhead Jurassic starts a little bit down a doubletrack road. It’s just over three miles of fast singletrack without too much climbing. At the end of Jurassic, hop on a short connecter trail over to Baby Steps, a mostly singletrack ride with elements of technical slickrock to keep you on your toes. If you want more fast singletrack back to the car, hit up the Dinoflow Trail. Both of which would bring you just a bit north of where you started your Jurassic adventure.
We finished our trip with 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 find prime trails was a huge success.