The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Biking

The National Parks Road Tour

See the country’s most iconic wildlife and mountains at five stunning national parks along this 600-mile route.

Packing List: Binoculars, Stetson, beer mug

Highlights: Burn off jet lag with a couple of fingers of Wyoming Whiskey on the deck at Bin22, then rest up in one of 132 rooms at the LEED-certified Hotel Terra, in Teton Village ($309).

Start your adventure north of town with a seven-mile run around Jenny Lake in the shadow of the jagged Tetons. Once in Yellowstone National Park, drive north past Yellowstone Lake and into Hayden Valley, prime viewing territory for buffalo, elk, and grizzly. Before leaving the park, stop for a 100-degree soak in the Gardner River, two miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs, then make for an oatmeal stout at 406 Brewing Company in downtown Bozeman.

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Break up the drive to Missoula by camping among the Missouri River’s braids at Missouri Headwaters State Park. Once you’re in town, stop and kayak or surf at Brennan’s Wave at the downtown Missoula Whitewater Park, grab a gin and tonic at Montgomery Distillery, then scarf down a Flathead cherry pie at Biga Pizza

In Whitefish, hike, run, or mountain-bike the 26-mile Whitefish Trail past alpine lakes and pine forests. Buy bear spray, then bisect Glacier National Park on Highway 2 until you reach the Walton Ranger Station. It’s a tough 16.8-mile hike to Lake Isabel, but once there you’re just about guaranteed solitude to take in the jagged cirque towering over the lake.

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Detour: Western Montana is home to 15 of our favorite craft breweries, including the recently opened Lolo Peak Brewing Company, ten miles southwest of Missoula, where you can get a Buffalo Trout golden ale 
and a locally sourced burger. Take a few extra days and see if you can hit them all.

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A Classic Road Trip from Utah to Arizona

Hit six classic national parks in a ten-day, 862-mile epic through the best canyons in the Southwest.

Packing List: Light hikers, mountain bike, extra camera memory cards 

Highlights: At the Grand Canyon, skip the crowded South Rim and drive to the 8,000-foot North Rim. Give yourself two nights and a full day to explore; be sure to hike seven miles down the North Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls.

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Once you cross into Utah, be on the lookout for the Thunder Mountain Trail, part of a 15-mile technical singletrack route with steep drops, tight switchbacks, and a 1,200-foot climb. At Mount Carmel Junction, head 24 miles west to Zion National Park, where the best way to escape ever present crowds is a three-day basic-canyoneering course ($550).

Head 80 miles to Bryce Canyon National Park and pitch a tent at 99-site North Campground ($15), which has a full-moon view of the eerie hoodoos. Fuel up with Pumpkin Jenchiladas at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, then hit the town of Torrey for the Saturday-morning Mesa farmers’ market for fresh peaches and apples before driving through Capitol Reef National Park’s canyons, domes, and arches. 


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Backcountry-camp in the Maze, the least accessible district of Canyonlands National Park ($30 permit), before driving on to Moab and its ever expanding network of mountain-biking trails—like Captain Ahab, a 4.3-mile rock-benched wonder accessible from the Amasa Back Trail. Hike to the Dead Horse Point State Park overlook to scout 5,819-foot Washer Woman Tower, a 5.10-plus traditional climb on the northern tip of Canyonlands. To explore Arches National Park, crash at Moab Under Canvas, a safari-style luxury camp complete with hot showers and made-to-order breakfast, ten miles north of town (from $89).

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A Superior Midwest Road Trip

Get your fill of Lake Superior views on this 550-mile, five-day tour through prime hiking and biking country.

Packing List: Sea kayak with spray skirt, 29er, flannel shirts

Highlights: Rest up for your tour with a waterfront suite at Duluth’s South Pier Inn (from $197). When you cross the Blatnik Bridge into Wisconsin, stop at Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior for a Derailed pizza and an India Pagan Ale.

In Bayfield, buy provisions—like smoked lake trout from Newago Fish Market—then launch your kayak (or take a full-day tour, $99) and explore the sea caves in 22-island Apostle Islands National Lake-shore.

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Once you reach Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, take a detour up 11-mile-long Black River Scenic Byway and hike to any of seven waterfalls before the road dead-ends at Lake Superior. Book a room at Eagle River Inn, near the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula (from $99), and sip Knob Creek bourbon with your smoked spare ribs on the lakeside deck at adjoining Fitzgerald’s Restaurant.

Then head to Copper Harbor, which has some of the country’s best singletrack—the trails top out at 900 feet and roll through dense forest. Take a bike and have at it (rentals from $26). Drive down the sandy beach side of the Keweenaw Peninsula to the town of Marquette. Run the half-mile stairway up Sugarloaf Mountain, six miles north of town, then head to Black Rocks and take the 15-foot plunge into Lake Superior.

Pitch a tent lakeside at Twelvemile Beach Campground ($16) in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and get to hiking, fishing, and paddling along the park’s 40 miles of shoreline and in adjoining million-acre Hiawatha National Forest.

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Southwestern Ghost Tour

Explore the biggest, starkest landscapes in the country on this 950-mile, ten-day adventure.

Packing list: Headlamps, plenty of water, Cormac McCarthy books on tape 

Highlights: Head 20 miles east from Las Cruces to hike around—or climb—1,800-foot Sugarloaf (a multipitch 5.6) in the Organ Mountains. Then drive northeast to the 275-square-mile gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument and camp under the stars at one of ten primitive sites ($3).

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Head southeast and explore the 119 known limestone caves of Carlsbad Caverns ($10) before driving on to Marathon, Texas, to splurge on a newly renovated room and a quail dinner at the Gage Hotel (from $109).

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From Lajitas, put in for a three-day guided paddle on the Rio Grande through the sheer 1,500-foot limestone walls of Santa Elena Canyon and Class IV Rock Slide Rapids ($475). Shuttle back to Lajitas and head west to Big Bend Ranch State Park to mountain-bike perhaps the most underutilized 238 miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails in the nation.

Time the trip through the town 
of Marfa to camp out at the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love, headlined last year by M. Ward (September 25–28), then bomb through Davis to the McDonald Observatory for a final look at the Southwestern sky ($12).

Detour: Peel off at Artesia and drive 41 miles north to Roswell, the extraterrestrial capital of the universe, to visit the International UFO Museum. 

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First Ride: Specialized S-Works Enduro 29

We’ve been waiting more than a year to ride the Enduro 29. The delay has been partly a question of availability and crossed signals. There was a bit of apathy, too, because since the bike’s launch, a whole slew of new long-travel 29ers (including the BMC, the Niner, and Intense) have hit the market—and our garage.

But the wait’s been instructive: while we’ve been anticipating the Enduro 29, we’ve ridden back-to-back editions of the Enduro 26. During the 2013 test, riders were keen on the small-wheeled iteration of the bike. But last January, during trials for the 2014 bikes, most testers shrugged it off in favor of the longer-travel 29ers, which seem to have come into their own this year with tighter geometries, quicker handling, and feathery weights. 

One reviewer—an ex-pro downhill racer and current bike shop owner—swore that he’d never again stock 26-inch wheels in his shop after he was repeatedly hung up by the Enduro 26’s small wheels in the rocky chunk on the trails around Tucson.

Such is the market right now. While long-travel 29ers were once considered ponderous and almost carnival-esque, they’re now gaining traction. (And, if the rumors are to believed, the Enduro 26 won’t be around much longer anyways as there are whispers of a tweener model in the works.) 

That’s all to say that by the time the S-Works Enduro 29 (E29) arrived last week, our expectations were exceptionally high. (Especially after watching footage of Matt Hunter carving the perfect turn aboard this very bike.) But then it’s a $9,250 bicycle, which should put the bar about as high as you can reach.

And after two rides, we’re not disappointed.

Though a bike with 155mm (6.1 inches) of travel out back and 160mm (6.3 inches) up front is almost by definition all about slamming the descents, what has struck us most so far is the E29’s climbing manners.

Thanks to exceedingly short chainstays for a bike this size, surprisingly nimble geometry (including excellent standover), and an almost unbelievable 27.4-pound total weight, this bike ascends with the directness and ease of an escalator. That might verge into hyperbole, but—no joke—the acceleration when you step on the pedal is comparable to bikes two inches smaller and three pounds lighter, and the steering is so agile and accurate that we’ve yet to even consider front-end drift, even on the steepest, loosest pitches. 

And of course the E29 absolutely shreds the downhill, too. That credit largely goes to the RockShox Pike fork, which balances firm and plush and long travel like nothing else currently on the market. 

The rear end, with the Cane Creek Double Barrel shock, has taken a bit more fiddling to get used to and still doesn’t feel quite dialed. But so far it’s energetic and bottomless-feeling in the big stuff and gives the bike an overall playfulness. As we’ve said before, if they’re built right, 29ers can be just as quick and agile as bikes with 26-inch wheels. (Anyone who doubts that should take one-after-the-other runs on the E29 and several 26ers.) We’ve done it now, and we were both quicker and happier on the 29er.

The big complaint is sure to be the stratospheric price tag on the S-Works E29 (though realistically it’s in the same ballpark as every other high-end bike on the market). But there’s no denying the expense, which gets you a SRAM XX1 drivetrain, carbon Traverse SL wheels, and Specialized’s Command dropper seat post. (A note about that post: Though it gets lots of flack for its high-speed return rate, we don’t really perceive that as a problem and actually prefer this post to most other brands, which break down often. The Specialized is the only dropper we’ve ever owned that hasn’t failed, and that’s after three years of hard use.)

Don’t get me wrong. The E29 isn’t a perfect bike. The XO brakes are mushy and squawky and will hopefully be replaced in 2015 by either the new SRAM Guide brakes or anything by Shimano. Likewise, the Butcher tires are the cheapest, lightest model and both got sidewall cuts in short order. We realize bike companies stock gossamer tires at retail to keep the showroom models feeling lightweight on the floor. But on a bike this meaty, we’d prefer a little extra heft if it meant we’d get some sidewall protection. These are little niggles, but, as noted, at this price we expect almost perfection. 

If you can’t justify almost $10,000 for a bike (and few can) the E29 comes in two additional specs: the Expert at $6,600 and the Comp at $3,500. Naturally, neither will be as light or spry as the S-Works version, but they will pack the same geometry, basic ride feel, and manners for much less capital.

And no matter which model you chose, judging by our rides so far, we’d be shocked if you didn’t ride away as a long-travel 29er convert.

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