Early Season Rides and Tuning Tips
By Sean Zimmerman-Wall
The winter of 2011-2012 hits the record books as one of Utah’s lowest recorded snow years. A sad year for skiers, but it’s a great one for avid cyclists who can get an early jump on their season. As we complete the transition to spring, trails throughout the state are quickly coming into form, a stark contrast from last year. The low elevation trails are providing tacky turning conditions and, by the end of the month, we may even be riding the Crest. Ready to experience the thrill of spinning circles through the hills? Check out these great Utah mountain biking trails.
Logan and the surrounding canyons offer terrific singletrack and stunning views in every direction. A classic ride for the in-shape intermediate is the Jardine Juniper trail. With just over 11 total miles, this out-n-back provides plenty of opportunities to test your low gears as it climbs up nearly 2,000 vertical feet. At the top of the trail, riders can take their photo with Utah’s oldest tree. The 3,200-year-old Jardine Juniper spreads its gnarled branches skyward and gives a look into the past. The descent is a bit harrowing, so use caution, especially as you negotiate loose rock on the switchbacks.
Cycling the myriad trails of Park City and Salt Lake City is easy, and the commute time is minimal. Early season favorites are Glenwild and Flying Dog loops. The trail is characterized by sagebrush and small aspen groves as it winds around the foothills, and moderate climbs and open-air straightaways provide cardiovascular excitement. These loops are ideal after-work rides, and locals are usually happy to share their knowledge of the countless subsidiary trails dotting the landscape.
On the southern end of the valley, the new and improved Corner Canyon trails will keep beginner-intermediates occupied, and the relatively short loops (about three miles) are good for building leg strength and refining bike handling skills.
Before you know it, you’ll be ready for The Crest. Accessing the Crest usually involves rallying up Big Cottonwood to Guardsman’s Pass and beginning the ride from the ridge. In most years, this trail isn’t ridable until July, but I have a feeling that won’t be the case this year.
World-renown for its mountain biking, Moab is an amazing place to ride, and the heavy trail traffic proves it. However, if you time it right, you and your friends can enjoy hundreds of miles of red rock and desert-style riding all to yourselves. Riding early mornings at the beginning of summer is your best bet. Advanced-intermediate riders will fall in love with the Porcupine Rim trail and its sweeping panoramas of majestic landscapes. Link up with the Coyote Shuttle for a quick ride to the top of the trail, then descend all the way to Highway 128 on the mighty Colorado. The descent from the rim’s rocky ledges provides entertaining twists and turns, but can also be punishing on the rig, so be sure to bring extra parts/tools between your group members.
Far from the crowds of Moab, riders who log the extra mileage to get to Bryce will be treated to a nearly endless expanse of trails. Riding through the canyons and washes is otherworldly and provides a keen sense of solitude. The Thunder Mountain and Casto Canyon trails are stunning and cater to the advanced-intermediate. Casto Canyon is an improved ATV trail, but the multiple creek crossings give riders an added challenge. Thunder Mountain is composed of technical single track and several tightly switchbacked sections. For the truly hearty, this route can be done as a grueling out-n-back with difficult hill climbing, but most opt for the shuttle option and ride it from the top down.
St. George is the last stop on the journey through the state, and the riding here can be terrific year-round. Classics like Gooseberry and Hurricane Rim allow riders to test themselves, and their bikes, in a gorgeous setting. Both trails deliver sensational singletrack and moderate stretches of strenuous climbing. No matter where you go in Utah, cycling adventures abound. Before you go, ensure your bike is properly tuned to get the most out of your experience.
Bike Tuning Tips
1. A clean bike is a happy bike. Cleaning your rig between rides is the best way to start good maintenance habits. It can also be surprisingly Zen-like. Using low-pressure water (or just a wet rag) is preferred to avoid blowing out necessary grease and lubricants from bearings and moving parts.
2. Lubricate and Inflate. Keeping the drivetrain well lubricated is critical to longevity and buttery shifting. T-9 and Rock and Roll are both trusted chain lubes that should be standard in your toolbox. Keeping tabs on your tire pressure is also crucial and will prolong the life of your tires and tubes. A pump with a gauge is recommend for dialing in your favorite pressure for each type of terrain you encounter.
3. Brakes! Unless you ride a fixie, having a good set of stoppers is of utmost importance. Disc brakes are the most efficient style and require little maintenance. Make sure to check your pads after riding in overly wet or gritty conditions, as the surfaces can collect nasty debris and eventually scar your rotors.
4. Suspension and Steering. Some of us just love punishment. I know, because I’m one of them. My hard-tail hurts on long descents, but it’s simple and reliable. Keeping either a hard-tail or dual suspension bike in good working order means paying attention to seals and air pressure. If you have goopy fluid oozing from your stanchions, it’s time for an overhaul.
This can be done on your own with the proper tools and know-how, but I recommend researching the complexity of your shocks beforehand. Most front and rear suspension systems also have an air chamber, and dialing in the proper PSI is important for ride quality and longevity.
The steering set-up is pretty rudimentary, and ensuring everything is nice and tight is simple. Grab the front brake lever and rock the bike back and forth. If you notice a significant amount of play (not related to your suspension) than it’s probably a loose headset. Tightening the top cap and stem bolts is the best place to start. Be certain you don’t overtorque the bolts or strip the screws.
5. Wheels. Lift up the front or rear tire and watch it spin. If it wobbles, it’s in need of a true. Getting good at this usually takes some practice. Inspect all the spokes for proper tension and make sure none are bent or broken. Unless you have a truing stand and a keen eye, this is best left to the pros.
If you aren’t the mechanical type, visit a local bike shop for a solid tune and additional tips. The staff at MillCreek Bicycles is knowledgeable and will get your bike in top shape for the coming season. Their turnaround is quick, and they carry virtually every accessory for the trails and trials ahead. For more info on rides around the state, check out utahmountainbiking.com.
The mountainous parts of the world hold a special significance for Sean. From the slopes of Snowbird, to the peaks of Patagonia, you will find him exploring and enjoying life.