So you wanna go mountain biking!
Cooler weather in the low desert region of Arizona marks one of my favorite occasions of the year: the beginning of mountain biking season in Phoenix! Our regional parks are amazing biking destinations and offer great opportunities for beginner and intermediate bikers. Here are some of the basics to get you started.
First, you'll need a bike you can take offroad. I'm going to use the term mountain bike, but new to the scene are gravel bikes that work for our dry desert trails. Mostly anywhere I say mountain bike you can insert gravel bike. If you aren't involved in bike culture already the terminology can be overwhelming. You've got your hard tails, your soft tails, your fat bikes, your 29-ers, your dropper post...your, well, that's actually mostly all I know. The easiest way to get over this is to go to a local bike shop like Landis or Bike Barn and let them take care of you. My first real mountain bike was a hard tail 29er, meaning the wheels have a 29" diameter and there's no rear suspension. A soft tail would have rear suspension. A fat bike, or fattie, has wide tires--some wide enough to enable snow biking. My current bike is an intermediate fat bike with a dropper post (meaning there's a switch on the handlebar to lower and raise the seat) and I love that set up.
The initial investment isn't exactly cheap, with a tolerable bike of a good brand coming in around $500. A "nice" bike will run for a thousand or two. But the good news is that after you've got a bike there's not a lot more to buy. And if your skills start to outgrow the bike's set-up you can upgrade components rather than buying a brand new bike. And aside from the bike the only other thing you really need to get started riding is a helmet. Well, a helmet and self healing tires, because nothing will deflate your spirit like a deflated tire from a cactus spine. Of course, like any hobby there are countless ways to keep spending money for fun or comfort. It might be a rooftop rack or a Camelbak hydration pack or a bike computer...you can easily convince yourself that these are needs, but none of them are actually requirements.
Ok, so you've got a bike and a helmet and are ready to go. Hopefully you've actually ridden a bike before and the only novelty here is the mountain biking aspect. Before you hit the single track, here are a few things to know:
- Uphill riders have the right of way, just like hiking.
- Hikers and horses also have the right of way. Most will let you pass, but share the trail and be careful and respectful.
- When you're passing someone head on stay to the right, just like driving.
- Announce yourself to hikers, horse riders, and slower bikers.
- Half the fun is going fast, but on shared trails make sure you're in control and can stop if someone or something appears around the next bend.
- It's a good idea to have a small frame pump and an extra tube (if you're not riding tubeless) in case of a flat. Also, know how to change a tube.
- Wear a helmet! You might also wear other protective gear like knee and elbow pads, but the need for that is kind of an inverse bell curve.
- As with any other activity in Arizona, take plenty of water.
- Apache Wash at roughly 36th St and Carefree Highway has several beginner-friendly trails.
- Browns Ranch at roughly Alma School Rd (110th-ish st) and Dynamite has TONS of trails ranging from beginner to advanced. Park stewards regularly patrol the area, which is incredibly well signed and mapped.
- Papago Park at roughly McDowell Rd and 64th st is small, but has a beginner-friendly outer loop.
If you need to improve your skills, check out REI for skills classes. And if you need riding buddies Meetup.com is chock full of riding groups.
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