Moab - Mountain biking mecca?

Moab vista

Moab in Utah is often cited as a 'must visit' destination for mountain bikers. Moab's roots lie in the Uranium-mining days of the fifties, but recent days have seen Moab re-invent itself as an outdoor-sports destination for those who like their vacations action-packed. So what has Moab got to offer the mountain biker? Moab didn't get famous for nothing; the scenery is breathtaking and there are some real riding gems that you simply must tick off your list. Here are, in my opinion, the pick of the crop:

Slickrock trailhead


Probably the most famous mountain bike trail in the world is Moab's Slickrock. Atop a huge sandstone plateau only a mile or so out of town, the Slickrock Trail winds for 12 miles around an alien-landscape of Navajo sandstone which offers immense traction on incredibly steep gradients that you wouldn't normally consider 'rideable'. Trust in your tyres and you will find yourself successfully heaving up crazy inclines with your weight so far forward you're kissing your front tyre. Down the other side, hang your ass off the back and grab a handful of front brake. Yes, I said front brake! It may be a little counter-intuitive, but again trust in your tyres and you'll be down smoothly, under control and in one piece.

Slickrock landscape

Unfortunately, Slickrock is so well known it isn't just the enthusiast bikers who you'll find out on the trail. You wouldn't believe the variety of helmetless folks you'll find out there on heavy supermarket clunkers, sheparding the kids around in stifling heat with one water bottle between four. Slickrock exposes you to a hostile and dangerous environment, and riding the trail demands respect, preparation, appropriate equipment and a good level of bike-handling skills and fitness. Slickrock really is in a desert. The best times of year to ride are Spring and Fall, although you can ride virtually all year round if you can get up way early and be done before the heat of the day. Summer temperatures will commonly be up over 100 degrees by 9am - go figure. There is very little shade to be had once you're out there and the bare rock reflects the heat of the sun like a huge pizza oven. Whenever you are riding, you should take a minimum of 4 liters of water with you. A Camelback or similar plus bottle(s) is the way to go. Remember, people have died on Slickrock - it is not an amusement park! You'll also need spare tubes, a good tool kit, food, first aid kit and sun block. A chain tool is essential; you wouldn't believe the number of chains that suddenly give up when presented with the forces necessary to get up the mega gradients.

Solo rider on Slickrock

The trail is marked by white paint marks on the rock itself. Keep an eye out for the trail ahead of you and beware of 'comb' shapes; these mark areas of danger and frequently appear before a rather large drop which you'd best avoid! If you're not the most confident biker, you can still sample the flavor of Slickrock by trying the Practice Loop. It is the exact same type (and difficulty) of terrain as the main trail but at 2 miles it keeps you a lot closer to the trailhead and a potential walk-out if you need it. The full trail will take most people 2.5 to 4 hours. Yes, 4 hours for a 12 mile trail! Remember, this is riding like nothing else on earth. The relentless ups and downs are physically demanding, and the accumulative altitude gain soon adds up. It is, however, immense fun! Sweeping gradients, numerous 'challenges', crazy cambers, steep drops, sand pits, it's got the lot. Take your time near the beginning to adapt to the surface and away you go on the ride of your life!

Coming soon - Porcupine Rim