Tag Archives: mountain biking

Technical Riding in Phoenix or Gnarrr

View Irregular Link video by clicking HERE or viewing below

The riding in Phoenix is the reason I am a good technical rider. It was here that I learned to ride and honed my skills. I have since expanded my skills and learned to deal with forest  terrain, dirt jumps and real weather.  Still, every time I am in Phoenix for a while I feel the need to mostly avoid all the well traveled and smooth (by comparison) intermediate trail. It’s not that it’s too easy or that it lacks fun. A lot of trail 100 is fast and flowing. It’s just that the outcome is so certain due to so much practice. I can ride trail 100 on the darkest night without so much as a flash light because I know where every rock is. This is why I am drawn like a moth to the Gnarr. Here the trails don’t even have formal names, and narrow to things that look like goat paths. Sometimes they are seldom traveled old abandoned roads.

View video by clicking HERE or viewing below.

On some of the really steep stuff I just know that if I try it one more time on the next ride I may successfully ride over it with out any walking or even a dab (putting a foot down). Of course out here the stakes are high, exposure, jagged rocks and all manors of spiny plants are the consequence of failure.  I have at times experienced all of these consequences. Keeping both feet firmly planted and cranking on the pedals is the name of the game. Over the years the repeat it until you ride it strategy has panned out.  South Mountain is the Phoenix park most known for its technical challenges, but lurking down unnamed trails in humble Dreamy Draw park you will find just as much challenging terrain. It’s all there if you look for it. You have to venture off into the difficult stuff to stay sharp. Piestewa (formerly known as squaw peak) is where a lot of it also lurks. Local riders know certain trails well, like the irregular link, and the VOAZ loop because they offer up a lot the Gnarr. Here is a ridge I only just noticed and successfully rode on the first attempt because failure is no option here.

Ridge O doom – view by clicking HERE or seeing below

Mountain Bike Review: AZ Trail to Kentucky Camp

I have been hearing about the southern reaches of the Arizona Trail and how great they are from a lot of the people I have been riding with for some time. In particular everyone really seems to like the bit around Kentucky Camp. Since Sharon and I have been exploring southern Arizona, I finally got the chance to sample some of the trail for myself. We camped off of Gardner Canyon road and I went from the Gardner Canyon trailhead to just a little bit past Kentucky Camp.

Kentucky Camp old hotel

The Outside of the old Hotel/Mining head quarters

Kentucky Camp is a historic district that now includes a hotel. Much of the ambitious mining operation never actually came to bear, but the ghost town left behind is still well preserved.

This is the front room of the old hotel

Ok, now back to the real reason you’re here and why I am writing, the Arizona Trail (AZT). This segment of the AZT is not exactly technical, however its not even close  to all smooth and buffed beginner friendly single track. Some of it follows the old water line and flume from the mining times and some of it is on an old road. The rest is mostly bench cut single track with a switch back here and there.

The following clips show the highlights of the ride. Part 2 and Part 4 are my two favorite bits of the trail. It’s also worth noting that the scenery out here is awesome. The Santa Rita Mountains even had a dusting of snow.

Part 2

Part 4

Part 3

Tuscon Mountain Park -Brown Mountain Trail

While Sharon and I were camped in the Gilbert Ray campground in Tuscon Mountain Park near the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, I had a chance to ride in the area.  All reports of the riding in the area mention Brown Mountain as being a tough trail.  It was described as being steep, lots of tight switchbacks and loose baby head sized rocks.  I took this all in and thought it sounded like a great ride for me.  It totally was.  Excellent views and scenery.  I was not at all afraid of the steep switchbacks with ledges and loose rocks, the chain fruit cholla cactus on the flatter lower section of the loop on the other hand are terrifying.  This loop has a lot of climbing to keep your heart rate up.  I would call this loop classic Sonoran desert riding as the conditions change constantly and quickly without warning, ranging from fast, wide open, gently twisting smooth hard-pack to trail covered with loose rock and big ledges and steep.

Below is a video consisting of two clips spliced together that give a good feel of the Brown Mountain Trail.

Tucson’s Beyond Event – Trips for Kids

This weekend we were in Tucson for the first anniversary of the mass shooting, and had the opportunity to be part of a special community event, Beyond Tucson.  Beyond Tucson “commemorates the tragedy of January 8th, celebrates the spirit of togetherness we felt in the days and months afterward, and commits us to working together to build a stronger community through our actions every day.”  Last January 8th, Jared Lee Loughner shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, members of her staff, and several bystanders in the crowd at a public event.  Six people were killed, thirteen people were injured, and the community of Tucson was shaken by this violent attack.

Strangely enough, on the Beyond Tucson day, our morning actually started with us being awoken in our tent around 6:00 am to shouting and threats of violence right outside our tent. A family had parked in the tent site next to us in the middle of the night.  We had heard the car and loud talking about 3:00 am, but had managed to fall back asleep and hope for the best.  The voices turned from disgruntled to threatening and after the woman arguing with the man told him she would call the cops if she had a phone, we snuck out of our tent to call 911 on my cell phone.  We sat on a bench near the campground entrance watching the sunrise and waiting for some sign that it was safe to return to our tent.  An older man, visibly drunk, staggered by us muttering to himself.  I recognized his voice as being the same as our angry threatening neighbor, so after he walked out of the campground we walked back and started breakfast.  Soon, the police showed up and spoke to the woman in the car.  I presume she explained that the man had left on his own and after the police officer drove away she rolled up her sleeping bag and drove off.  We were relieved, but left with a lot of questions as to who these people were, if they were better off for our actions, and what options we had had to handle the situation.

After our stressful morning, we were grateful to head straight to the Fantasy Islands trails and meet up with Trips for Kids, who were hosting a mountain biking event as part of the community-wide Beyond Tucson event.  Through Beyond Tucson there were more than 30 events going on all over the metropolitan area, all designed to bring Tucsonans together in an active healthy way.  We saw firsthand how this sort of community building could reassure us about living in Tucson after having been concerned for our safety just hours before.  We had a wonderful afternoon sitting in the sun and introducing Tucsonans to mountain biking.

With so many events going on for kids all over the city, we did not have very many attendees.  Our first participants were actually two women who had come to check out the trails and realized that their hybrid bikes were not going to do well on the sand and wash crossings along this trail.  I loaned my bike to one of the women, and another volunteer led them on the Bunny Loop so they could try out mountain biking for the first time.  They came back grinnning from ear to ear and couldn’t wait to go out and buy some mountain bikes.  They may not have technically been kids, but they sure felt like kids again and were also looking forward to going biking with their grandchildren.

Right when those two women were finishing their loop we had a Hispanic family with several adults and one child show up at the trails.  I don’t know if they had heard this event was going on or just happened to come at the right time, but we were able to give them some helmets, loan bikes to two of the young adults, and then lead the whole group on a ride around the Bunny Loop.  It was another first time mountain bike experience for three of the riders (one 11 year old girl and two young adults).  I rode behind the young woman, Daniela and offered advice and encouragement.  It was so awesome to see her learning a few basic mountain biking techniques and start riding longer and longer stretches without having to stop or scream.  I was reminded of how far I have come in my own riding.

I didn’t think I was qualified to teach mountain biking, but now I realize that I am actually a valuable asset at this point since I am confident enough to teach the basics, but still new enough to remember what the challenges are for brand new riders.  It was one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences I have had in awhile and I can’t wait to have an opportunity like that again.

Mountain Bike Review: Pemberton Trail, McDowell Mountain Park

Before we left Phoenix, we had the opportunity to start the new year with a great mountain bike ride on the Pemberton Trail in McDowell Mountain Park.  A few weeks ago we were asked for advice on where a beginner-intermediate rider from out of town should ride.  When I asked Jay and his dad, Morgan, they both agreed that Pemberton Trail would be the best bet.  “Pemberton Trail?  Where’s that?  Why have I never ridden it?”  Well, it turns out that it’s about an hour out of Phoenix, but having heard about this trail I really wanted to check it out.

Pemberton is a great ride for a bicyclist like me.  It is a 15 mile loop, so it is a good workout with some variety.  However, except for a tiny pitch it is not technical, so it is a good confidence builder for a rider who is moving from beginner to intermediate.

Most people access the trail from the parking lot.  You can ride it in either direction, but either way you ride it you will start with an easy flowing section and then a long steady ascent.

This video clip shows the climb.  You are rewarded for climbing by getting better and better views of the mountains and being surrounded by more Saguaros.

My favorite part of the trail was the middle section where we got to pick up speed for some gentle wash crossings and rolling hills.  The video below shows a little section of the more flowing area of trail.

What goes up must come down.  In either direction you get to end the ride with a long steady descent.  I think the direction we chose was good because the trail was very smooth and wide and we could carry a lot of speed on the way down.

I did start to bonk on the ride about 3/4 of the way through.  We were riding in the early afternoon and it was unusually hot for January 1st.  There is no shade along this trail (like most in Phoenix) so I started to get dehydrated and low blood sugar.  Even with an easier trail it’s always important to remember to take care of yourself out there and bring plenty of water and snacks.  Luckily we had both and after sipping a gu in the shade of a creosote bush I was ready to finish the ride.

McDowell Mountain Park is a great biking destination.  They’ve been adding more trail lately and now they also have a pump track.  You could spend days exploring all the different trails available.

Better Trails Coverage – Now with VIDEO

I am happy to announce that I received a helmet mountable video camera for Christmas from my parents. This means that you can expect to see high definition videos like these instead of lame cell phone pictures only when I actually remember to take them. A huge improvement.

Sharon’s riding has progressed a lot. In this clip she rides confidently down a rubble strewn hill.

This one shows how Lost Arrow Trail rides now. After all the recent rain it now rides much better. As you can see it’s very fast flowing.

Both of these were shot with my new Go Pro HD Hero2 camera. It’s currently mounted to my helmet with the vented helmet mount which uses straps. I may yet figure out how to mount the more solid curved surface stick-on mount to my helmet for even less vibration. I am very impressed with how easy this thing is to use right out of the box, but I still have a lot to learn about this new camera, video technique and especially editing.

Lost Arrow Trail (Phoenix, AZ) Now Complete

Jay riding Lost Arrow

Since Sharon and I are staying in Phoenix for a little while, I took the time to contact Paul Paonessa, a city of Phoenix park ranger and friend.  I have known Paul for many years; he was my mentor for my Eagle Scout project.  Paul gave me the low down on some trail work happening very nearby in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  What a fun new trail segment!  Paul is very skilled at trail layout and design so it’s always great to learn more from the master.

Dan riding Lost Arrow

There is a small and dedicated team of volunteers who did the bulk of the work on this segment. I was able to quickly join their ranks and help bust out some trail.  The trail is called Lost Arrow because the original 1970’s master plan called for an archery range in the area, which never happened.

The trail twists and turns a lot, following the contours quite well with only one switch back in the segment. The segment is a little over a mile.  It has a couple wash crossings with one including some rock armoring.  I am looking forward to riding on the new trail again now that some much needed rain has had a chance to soak it.  This should make the trail tread much harder and make for some faster riding.

Building a Pump Track with COPMOBA in Montrose

Sharon at the pump track

A pump track is a short dirt track for bicycles that is designed to teach you how to use momentum and your whole body to propel yourself forward without pedaling.  Imagine how you can pump your legs on a swing to gain speed and you have the basic concept.  The Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA) got approval from the Montrose City Council to build a pump track and skills area at Cerise Park in October and now, after only three days of volunteer labor the track is a reality, open for riding this past weekend.   The track was even featured on the front page of the Montrose Daily Press, with two photos of Jay.

Sharon with the other volunteers building pump track

The track was built that fast because of community support.  The city lent their equipment and operators.  Donny, the owner of Cascade Bicycles and a former project manager in construction, directed the crews.  Bill Harris, a COPMOBA Board Member who literally wrote the book on mountain biking around Montrose, recruited the volunteers.  Rob Brethouwer, founder of the Montrose Area Bicycle Alliance brought the crew lunch.  Each day at its peak we had a crew of a dozen volunteers all of whom cared about making Montrose a town that had a lot to offer bicyclists.  Several of the volunteers were older and they were excited about bringing kids and grandkids down to the track.  This project got everyone excited because they saw it as a fun venue for all ages, a place where young kids could get a feel for mountain biking by pedaling over rollers and experienced racers could build up speed and just fly over the rollers and into the next turn.

Jay and other volunteers building pump track

This project was particularly fun because it offered a chance to learn new things and problem solve.  When we showed up on Tuesday morning there were only three other volunteers.  We started on the first berm and realized that the dirt was so dry that it would just slough off and couldn’t be compacted.  We had water, but our only delivery method was to transfer the water from the truck into buckets and then use a bucket with holes in the bottom to sprinkle the water over the dirt.  It was a strenuous and messy process.  The project leaders quickly started brainstorming and calling around to get the right tools and pretty soon we had a hose and a pump and could spray down the track.  None of us had ever built a pump track before, but together we figured it out and learned a great deal along the way.  I hope I get an opportunity to build another track and put those new skills to use!

How to start embracing new technology and stop having flat tires – Tubeless Tire Time

This is meant to be a long and informative post, the highlight of which is a recipe for tubeless tire sealant you can make yourself that is cheaper and much better performing than anything else out there.  There is also a video showing a very cheap and effective way to tape spokes and seal rims.

I was a holdout for inner tubes and tire liners for a long time.  Tubeless mountain bike tires have been around for awhile, but I was not all that attracted for 5 reasons.  Those reasons have since been addressed as I will explain below.

By the way I could not imagine running tubes again anytime soon.  I just keep them around for a back up in case of 1″ or larger cuts to the tire sidewalls and tread.

1. I have seen so many really nasty messy trail and road side failures with tubeless tires.  These failures fall into two categories, burps and tire separations. Bicycle tires consist of tread, sidewalls, and beads.  The beads are the hard, raised areas at the edges, these are captured by the hooked part of the rim and this is what holds bicycle tires onto the rims.  This set up is known as a clincher.  Burps and full tire separations are the common failures. What’s a burp?  This is when the tire bead momentarily looses contact with the rim hooks, causing some air leakage. A big one means total loss of air.  This usually happens at the worst possible time often with a spectacular wreck.  A full separation is when one or both tire beads totally unhook from the rim causing the entire tire to come off. I have seen this happen to a rider traveling on asphalt, at speed, around a corner.  It was ugly.

Reasons for the above failures:  The most important feature of a tubeless tire is the beads.  If they are too small, the wrong diameter, or the wrong shape, the tire will not stay mounted on the rim.  The rim also needs to have the correct diameter where the tire bead sits inside the hooks.  Some rims just won’t hold a tubeless tire well.  There is now a standard for tubeless called UST. There are some rims out there that are not UST listed, but do have the right specs.  The WTB laser disc trail is one such rim.  This is what I run.  So far I have also stuck with tires specifically labeled by the manufacture as tubeless compatible.

2. Early tubeless UST listed tires were heavy and very expensive.

Tubeless is now becoming more common that tubed tires.  Also, you can now get compatible tires with UST beads but otherwise ordinary construction.  A true full UST tire uses a butyl rubber liner like an inner tube and will hold air without sealant. Tubeless compatible means you need sealant to seal micro holes in the tire side walls and tread. The increased demand for tubeless has also caused the price to come down.

3. It’s really slow to swap out a tubeless tire.

I was very weary of this as I like to change tires for different conditions a lot. However, proper technique makes the process much cleaner and faster.  After swapping a few tires you will get much better at it.

4. Some early sealants and tires didn’t play nice and resulted in the tire being broken down by the chemicals in the sealants.

Tire companies are hip to this now and homemade sealant has very low or no ammonia.  WTB tires, which are some of my favorite, had this problem and they responded by making new tubeless compatible TCS tires. Like all tubeless compatible tires, these need sealant (see recipe at the bottom of this post).

5. Rim strips that leak, chunky rubber rim strips, and sealant drying out.

Commercially made kits from stans, DT swiss, Trek, WTB and dozens of others are really expensive, like 50 bucks expensive.  I laugh at them with 10 dollar Lowes shopping sprees.  Rim strips are the tape, corks, or rubber that seal off the spoke holes or protect an inner-tube from them.  Check out the video below for instructions on how to seal a rim with inexpensive tape.  I used the very same method with a few inexpensive substitutes from Lowes.

1″ wide gorilla tape in place of expensive caffe latex sealant

1/2″ wide strapping tape. – like packing tape but with fibers in it instead of the expensive stans tape that is exactly the same thing shown in the video below

3/8*3/16 foam weather stripping, same stuff in the video below

If you follow the recipe at the end your sealant does not dry out quickly, mine easily outlasted the tread of the tire.

Tested best recipe large batch 16oz parts because slime and latex mold builder come in 16oz sizes.

1 part Latex mold builder
1 part Slime tubeless
1 part cheap antifreeze (RV or other non-toxic glycol based solution, NOT- AMMONIA)
2 parts water


1 16 oz auto slime
1 16oz antifreeze (green, EG)
2 16oz water
1 16oz mold builder latex


New beta recipe no problems yet

3 16oz premixed RV antifreeze
1 16oz slime
1 16oz mold builder latex

North Fruita Desert, 18 Road Trail System, Fruita, CO

Fruita desert

North Fruita desert

On our way through Fruita, Colorado Sharon and I rode and camped in the North Fruita Desert right next to the 18 Road trail system.  This area is the smoothest and most flowing in the Grand Junction / Fruita region.  My top two favorites are Zippity Do Da and Chutes and Ladders to Edge Loop. Joe’s Ridge and Zippity Do Da both offer fast steep exposed trail that goes right down a ridge line.  It looks intimidating and sort of is because of the speed you can carry, but the trail tread is smooth and most of the turns are nice, wide, sweeping and a little banked.  This whole trail system could be easily ridden in two days or one super epic day.  One day for everything besides the Edge Loop and one day for the Edge Loop.  The area is not without a few tough climbs, Prime Cut to Chutes and Ladders offers up a tough climb with multiple short steep pitches and a switchback or two.  The speed and flow are what make the campground and parking areas fill up.  This is a very popular trail system, because of its fun for everyone factor.

Riding the whole Edge Loop is something I have in my sights, as I just have not got a chance to yet.

Sharon here, adding my two cents since I had the opportunity to ride this trail system as well.  Kessel Run is the only trail marked as beginner and it is a ton of fun.  You can ride it in both directions and it is just made for a fun rollercoaster ride.  Kids love this trail, which can be a bit hard on the ego, but also inspiring to watch a seven year old girl flying both up and down the trail (while guys with big heavy bikes get their friends to shuttle them up the road).  I am also really stoked about the new trail we helped work on, Down Uppity.  You can get to it from Vegetarian (an easy but pretty boring connector trail) and it is a smooth easy route.  It is only harder than Kessel Run in terms of being up on a rise with a bit of exposure at times, but it is every bit as flowing.