Mountain biking is a unique combination of communing with nature and experiencing the adrenaline rush of riding down a rocky mountain trail as quickly and skillfully as …
Mountain biking is a unique combination of communing with nature and experiencing the adrenaline rush of riding down a rocky mountain trail as quickly and skillfully as possible. "Biking on the trails is a way to get into some of the most beautiful and remote areas with minimal impact. It fills the soul and soothes the spirit," says Carl Colonius, head of the Enchanted Circle Trails Association. Taos mountain bikers agree that freedom, a feeling of adventure and the ability to travel long distances to see lots of our beautiful lands are things to love about riding on the trails.
In comparison with other Western states, the trails of Taos are much more lightly traveled. Colonius says there is a constant ironic joke with folks who are visiting from other areas: "Hey, sorry about the crowds." He explains "When you're riding in Colorado or Utah, you have to get up really early to get a clean ride. In Taos, eat your breakfast. It's fine, no rush."
David Shaha of Taos Cyclery agrees. He says that the great riding we have here is still not widely known. "When I go out, I never see big groups of people and we have miles and miles of trail that are almost hidden," he says.
What makes Taos special - and efforts to improve
All the public lands around Taos provide great places for riders of all different levels to get out biking. "We've got fantastic mountain bike assets," says Colonius. "Really, some of the best cross-country riding anywhere in the country." But there are some things that could improve the mountain biking experience here. "There are no purpose-built mountain bike trails that are official and on public lands," he explains. "There are trails at Northside and Angel Fire, but all of our other trails are hiking trails that people ride bikes on." Better signage and online trails database with current conditions would also improve the experience.
The Enchanted Circle Trails Association is trying to help improve the cycling experience here. The organization was formed in 2016 as an outgrowth of a multiyear effort to identify the community's priorities for trails. Over the course of several years, more than 300 people attended meetings and gave input on ways to create new trails while respecting agricultural uses, cultural history and the need to protect watersheds.
The trails association is currently focused on producing brochures for different trails users and a map-oriented website that will help people find the trails. The organization is also working with the representatives of local public lands and reaching out to engage Taos governments to create new trails and links. "The Carson National Forest and Bureau of Land Management have been very engaged with our efforts to create good riding experiences," says Colonius.
Top places to ride
Although there is still lots of snow at high altitudes, lower elevation trails near the Río Grande are great places to ride now. Shari Heier of Gearing Up Bike Shop helps visitors and locals find rides that are appropriate for their level of skills. She recommends the West Rim Trail near the Río Grande Gorge Bridge for those who are just starting out. Rift Valley at Taos Valley Overlook, south of town, is another good choice for trails that are reasonably clear of obstructions and on flat and rolling terrain. Horsethief Mesa Loop in Arroyo Hondo is an intermediate ride with a combination of single and double track on the east side of the Río Grande. For more advanced riders, Devisadero and the Talpa Traverse in Taos Canyon can be ridden now.
As the snow melts in May and June, the South Boundary Trail and Lost Lake in Red River will become passable for experienced riders. Up near the Taos Ski Valley, Northside is another popular choice. "We got a ton of snow this year. We plan to have our trails open starting in mid-June," says owner and vice president Kerrie Pattison. "We will be clearing our new Goldcamp Trail so people can get out there. Some of the lower trails like the Bull-of-the-Woods Pasture will be open earlier." There are trail updates on the Northside website, along with announcements of volunteer workday opportunities.
Be aware that areas of the Carson National Forest that are designated as wilderness are not open for mountain biking.
The Taos Ski Valley got approval from the Carson National Forest to construct 15 miles of new trails, says John Kelly, director of operations at Taos Ski Valley. "We will start construction as soon as the snow melts and work on construction through the fall," says Kelly. The goal is to have some of the trail opened by September, as a preview of the official opening in 2020. The ski valley is working with Gravity Logic out of Whistler, B.C., in Canada to design the trails. "Gravity Logic creates 'flow' trails that provide mountain biking experiences for riders at different levels," says Kelly.
Two new trends in mountain biking are gravel riding and bike packing, according to Heier. Gravel riding, also known as gravel grinding or adventure riding, is the use of dirt roads to put together loops, often involving forest roads. The bikes use knobby tires like mountain bikes but have drop bars like road bikes.
Bike packing allows cyclists to carry camping gear with specialized packs that hang on the triangle of the bike frame, as well as the front and back of the bike, making it more streamlined than traditional panniers off the bike side. "Cyclists can carry all their gear for camping. It's another way to enjoy the great outdoors in a group or solo," says Heier. Trips like the Chama Charmer, connecting Cumbres Pass just over the Colorado border to Ojo Caliente, mostly along the Continental Divide Trail, are becoming popular among riders.
The cycling community is also excited about the Río Grande Trail that will run from the Colorado border in the north all the way to Mexico. The Río Grande Trail Commission is overseeing the planning and scoping for this planned 500-mile trail, which will connect up existing trails along the Río Grande like Wild Rivers and Orilla Verde.
Biking for all ages
Mountain biking is a great way for families to spend time together and for kids to get engaged in healthy outdoor activities. The Field Institute of Taos (FITaos) has organized a high school mountain bike team that is now in its fourth year and also oversees after-school programs and bike trips for kids. Team FITaos invites cyclists of all ages and abilities to join them for fun events that encourage healthy habits and provides support and instruction on road and trail safety.
This coming Saturday (April 28) from noon to 4 p.m., FITaos will hold its annual spring bike swap that includes bike-related equipment for trading and swapping. The event benefits the high school mountain bike team.
If you've been interested in mountain biking, the bike swap and upcoming volunteer activities provide a way to try it out and learn about safely getting started riding trails in nature.
From Shari Heier at Gearing Up Bike Shop
- If you have a bike that may need some work, bring it into a local bike shop for a spring tuneup;
- Find a friend or a group to ride with; ask at the bike shops about cycling groups;
- Watch for skills clinics that will help you learn some of the finer points of riding single-track and also about trailside repairs - like fixing a flat, so you don't get stranded;
- Get out there and try it.
Help map the Taos Valley Overlook area - the Enchanted Circle Trails Association (ECTA) is coordinating community volunteers to confirm routes in order to update signage. Contact Bianca at ECTA to volunteer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trail maintenance training - also coordinated by ECTA: learn about trail maintenance and construction techniques on June 8-9. Visit ECTA Facebook page for more information.
Enchanted Circle Trails Association - visit them at enchantedcircletrails.org or find them on Facebook.
Taos Cyclery is located at 1103 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Call (575) 758-5551 or visit taoscyclery.com.
Gearing Up Bike Shop is located at 616 Paseo del Pueblo Sur. Call (575) 751-0365 or visit gearingupbikes.com.
Northside is a fee-based recreation area near Taos Ski Valley. Visit ridenorthside.com.
For details on the rides, along with maps and pictures, visit the Mountain Bike Project website at mtbproject.com.
Bike packing information: bikepacking.com.
Taos Mountain Bike Association - the local chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association is focused on creating, enhancing and protecting riding opportunities in Northern New Mexico. The organization just held their Spring Fling meeting and are welcoming new members to their organization. Find them at taosmtb.org and on Facebook.
FITaos - for more information, visit fitaos.org.
(SIDEBAR and BOX)
Mountain biking has its own vocabulary, most of which is heard locally. Here are a few examples:
Alert and well-balanced position you ride in when you approach, or ride on, rough terrain. It is characterized by bent knees, rear above the saddle, elbows slightly bent and a raised head
When you run out of energy
A hop that you incorporate into your riding technique so you can clear obstacles such as logs without stopping
The dragging and jamming of your chain that occurs in sloppy conditions, or when little burs occur on your chain rings that cause the chain to bunch up
A perfect ride through a tough section
An off-road race that involves riders having to dismount and run over obstacles, carrying their bikes
When everything on your bike is running smoothly, you are said to be "dialed in"
Two trails that run parallel to each other (also called tractor trail or Jeep trail)
A type of racing held mostly on ski slopes - fastest rider to the bottom wins
Dropping in a steep single track when other riders are around
A bike that has both front and rear suspension
A crash that involves going over the handlebars of your bike
Extreme technical sections - characterized by very rough, rooty, slippery or rocky sections
The lowest gear available on a bike; designed for steep uphill climbing, but extremely easy to pedal in on flat ground
A long uphill climb
A very difficult climb, requiring use of the granny gear
The all-terrain tires that are used on mountain bikes
The desirable path or strategy to take on a tricky trail section
This refers to a section of trail covered with big rocks
Negotiating trails with a higher-than-usual level of expertise
A narrow mountain bike trail that must be ridden single file
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