Bold Lines, with a Daring Verticality

Escaping the artistes and poseurs on the singletrack of San Miguel

    Photo: Corbis

Off-road is an adjective not usually associated with the artists' colony of San Miguel de Allende, on the mile-high Bajío plateau 180 miles northwest of Mexico City. Colonial, cobblestoned, and charming are the modifiers typically used to describe this expatriate oasis, with New Agey and tequila-drenched gaining fast. Indeed, few seasonal pilgrims ever get to know San Miguel's surrounding countryside: 800 miles of singletrack and dirt roads, all surrounded by wildflowers and cornfields, goats and burros, friendly campesinos and their unfriendly dogs. Which explains why, when most of my fellow Americans are at art openings sipping cheap wine and trading gossip, I'm here under the shade of a towering mesquite, perched over the bars of my Cannondale to catch a quick breath.

After 10 years of pedaling in the area, I've zeroed in on three rides that rank with the best I've found anywhere. Take my word for it—or better yet, stop by Bici Burro bike shop (011-52-415-21526) and talk to owner Beto Martinez, who will gladly provide you with detailed directions or serve as your guide ($20 per day to rent a recent-vintage front-suspension bike, $30 per person for guide and bike rental).
San Luis Rey-Jardin Botánico Loop
Distance: 7.5 miles. Time: 60 to 90 minutes. Difficulty: moderate. Water: one bottle.

San Luis Rey is a growing suburb off the road to the nearby town of Dolores Hidalgo. The roads here are muy feo, very ugly, with lots of rocks and ruts. But as you climb through San Luis Rey and up along the old Querétaro road, you get a rare, uncluttered view of the valley beyond town.

Pedaling southeast past San Miguel to the mesa above San Luis Rey is an increasingly difficult 40-minute climb. On top, mercifully, the singletrack levels out. There's a ranch that raises fighting bulls to the left. Stay to the right and circle toward the 370-acre Jardín Botánico, Mexico's largest botanical garden and home to thousands of rare cacti and succulents. There are dozens of paths here, but the lower trails are most dramatic, skirting the edge of a huge gorge and eventually dropping you back into town.

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