Two-Wheel Territory: The Tops in Mountain Biking

Utah's Red Rock Canyon Country
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Mountain biking may have been invented in California, but it has reached its zenith in Moab, the glitzified epicenter of southern Utah's outdoor recreation scene. The town swarms with bikers, bike shops, and bike outfitters. And no wonder. The landscape around Moab is way beyond verbal description. Words like "stupefying," "surreal," and "otherworldly" only hint at the scenic wonders of the surrounding area, which includes Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. And there is no better vehicle to explore it than the mountain bike: quiet, muscle-powered, wind-in-the-face, yet quick and agile over terrain that would stop a 4WD vehicle cold.
The unique "slickrock" that covers much of the area is ideal for riding—smoothly contoured and, despite its name, just gritty enough in texture to provide excellent traction. There's also a network of old prospector's roads in Canyonlands National Park that seem designed by God for long-distance mountain bike excursions. The White Rim Trail is the best known, but more advanced riders may prefer the Flint Trail, a steep, rutted remnant of a road that leads to the Maze, a sandstone labyrinth of canyons in the remotest corner of the park that Edward Abbey called "closer to anything else in the 48 United States to being genuine terra incognita."

Practically Speaking
Spring and fall are the ideal times to visit Canyonlands. Summers are brutally hot, and require large reserves of water.
Take along your own bike if possible. You'll probably save money and won't have to adjust to new wheels. Most airlines charge around $50 each way to transport a bicycle, and you must pack it securely into a box yourself. If you don't want to hassle with transporting your own, rentals are widely available in Moab for $20 to $40 a day. (The top price is for a fancy Trek Y-22 dual suspension job.) There are plenty of trails for independent day-riding around Moab. Room reservations are advisable in Moab during the peak seasons of May-June and September-October. Prices are typical of popular resort areas, ranging from $35-$150 per night for a double room.
Multi-day excursions are difficult on your own because of the necessity to carry all your camping gear, food, and water—lots of water. A number of outfitters offer vehicle-supported multi-day mountain-bike trips along the Trail of the Ancients, White Rim Trail, Kokopelli Trail, and in the Maze District. Prices typically run $100-$150 per day.


David Noland is a full-time professional freelance writer specializing in adventure travel, sports, and science. His book, Travels Along the Edge , published in 1997 by Vintage Books, is now in its fourth printing.

Published: 30 Nov 1999 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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