Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
As you probably already know, I'm sick of winter. Many friends are chasing snow this weekend—the Santa Fe backcountry should be glorious from the big dump earlier this week, and one buddy of mine flew to Rogers Pass in Canada for a week of powder—but all I can dream of are dry trails and sizzling pavement.
I've been sneaking away deeper into the southwest all winter for bike tests, races, and a simple break from bundled-up riding. And nothing feels finer than hot winter sun on pale winter legs (with apologies to your riding buddies). During the Outside Magazine test trip, we had a bunch of guys down from Utah and Wyoming, and I've never seen people so ecstatic about riding. On their last day, when I told them we were done after four laps, they insisted on squeezing in two more before dark. "This is the last time we're going to ride outside for months," one said desperately.
So with Spring Break upon us, I present you four spots where you can spin your legs—minus the trainer.
Tucson, Arizona Outside takes our annual bike test here each year for two reasons. For one, the volume and variety of riding—both mountain and road—is staggering. From the zippy BMX-style urban course at Fantasy Island to three monster road climbs (Mt. Lemmon, Kitt Peak, and Mt. Graham) within striking distance of town, Tucson will satisfy every cyclist. More importantly, it's almost always comfy enough for shorts and jerseys. (Nevermind the locals who bundle up even when its in the 60s.) Shop Fairwheel Bikes is very friendly, stocked with the latest, and has the best wrenches in town. Stay Centrally located to most riding as well as lots of good eats, the 50s-chic Arizona Inn is our favorite. Must Ride Up to 26 miles long with 5,400 feet of elevation gain, the Mt. Lemmon hill climb can't be missed.
Las Cruces, New Mexico It doesn't have Tucson's diversity (nor it's iconic saguaros), but this southern New Mexico town is loaded with mountain biking for desert lovers. Trails range from fast hardscrabble rippers to loose, rubbly tire-shredders. The local riding population is avid but small, so you're not likely to see many others on the trails. The corollary, of course, is that many of the trails aren't terribly well burned in, so bring your sense of adventure for the many spur trails and two-track junctions. Shop There are two well-stocked LBSs in town, and the local mountain bike club, Rim Rattlers, has a good selection of local rides. Eat One of the highlights of the location is all the great Mexican food, and El Comedor (575-524-7002) has arguably the best. Must Ride The Horny Toad Hustle racecourse. Period.
Sedona, Arizona This funky little new age town might just be the best-kept secret in mountain biking. Singletrack swerves and wends all over the dusty cactus-scapes and sandstone benches in and around town, so much so that it's easy to get lost. And since the Forest Service is bike-friendly, new loops are going in all the time. Many of the trails have a certain sameness to them (short punchy climbs and descents peppered with ledges and steps)—fortuantely, it's an entertaining style. This town is poised to blow up on the MTB scene. Shop Pop into Over The Edge Sports Sedona, the newest shop in town, for friendly ride beta and top-notch service. Stay Though it's close enough to walk to restaurants, Amara Resort and Spa is in a quiet spot on the river with cozy rooms and a hot tub and pool for post-ride refreshment. Must Ride There are too many great rides to count, but the techy climb over Highline has a bit of everything, including balancy obstacles on the up, slickrock midway down, and sandy chutes to escape.
St. George, Utah This desert oasis is not far from Zion National Park—which is to say, it's tough to get to from nearly everywhere. But if you make the journey, you'll be rewarded with monumental landscapes and endless mountain biking possibilities, from fast flowy singletrack through high-plains scrub to helter-skelter boulder-balancing in flame-red rock gardens. The town hosts what's arguably the most clever endurance race out there, the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow, which is held the weekend of the switch to daylight savings in the fall so you get an extra hour of racing for your entry fee. Eat It's a little ways from St. George, but Café Adobe, in nearby Hatch, Utah, is said to have some of the best burgers on the planet. Shop Between Bicycles Unlimited and Red Rock BIcycle Company, you'll not want for brands or selection. Must Ride Pick your poison: Barrel Roll offers six miles of gentle riding through the sage and barrel cactus, while Gooseberry dishes up healthy servings of ledges, bowls, and other slickrock obstacles. UtahMountainBiking.com keeps a handy online guide to rides.