I’ve been asked what makes mountain biking in New Mexico special to me. For a brief question, I have a long and winding answer. My “love affair” (yes, my wife knows) with cycling began when I was given a sparkling blue Schwinn Stingray that I thought was the greatest gift of my young life. After a few weeks of toodling around with training wheels, I gradually became more confident. Then one day, with a patient father in an empty parking lot, I learned to pedal, steer and brake on two wheels. That blue bike radically expanded my childhood universe. I wasn’t limited by ploddingly slow foot travel or the whims of a parent with a car. I had my first taste of speed and freedom, so I explored.
I never lost my taste for the freedom a bicycle brings. I can’t deny that I’ve fallen prey to the temptations of the automobile. I’ve had many dalliances with the quiet speed of road cycling, and my town bike sees quite a few miles every year. But, oh the places you’ll go on a mountain bike! Not limited by pavement, a mountain bike can turn a thin dashed line on a map into a daylong or longer adventure.
A mountain bike gives us access. We New Mexicans are incredibly fortunate to live in a state with accessible public lands. From the city-owned Dale Ball and La Tierra Trails and trails on Santa Fe County Open Space, to the vast network of trails in the Santa Fe National Forest and the web of tracks on BLM land. These trails are a short jaunt from our collective front door. Riding from my home, I can be on three different trail systems in 25 to 35 minutes, and more options are a short drive away.
With such a wealth of trails nearby I can choose my route depending on weather, time and my mood. Do I want a quick and fun spin for an hour or so? Then I’ll head to the La Tierra Trails. La Tierra has a dense network of trails that wind through rolling terrain with plenty of beginner- and intermediate-friendly routes. The jump parks and technical trails like “Hustle and Flow” or “The Whoops” offer greater challenges for advanced riders.
If I’m looking for more altitude and rockier switchbacks the Dale Ball Trails have that in spades. The north and central sections of the Trails are suited to intermediate riders, while the south Dale Ball trails are more advanced. These trails give riders ample opportunity to develop their technical skills as they build their aerobic capacity. The La Piedra “lollipop” is the perfect loop for refining your riding skills with 20 switchback turns in less than a mile of trail. As with La Tierra, the Dale Ball trail signs have maps that make it easy to create a spur-of-the-moment ride of any length and difficulty.
The south Dale Ball trails connect to one of my favorite rides, the Atalaya Mountain and St. John’s trails. These intertwined trails start at the Wilderness Gate and St. John’s College trailheads and rise quickly into the National Forest. Starting at St. John’s trailhead, the trail rolls into and out of the arroyo before climbing with short, steep pitches toward the forest boundary. Above the powerline and boundary fence, St. John’s merges with the Atalaya trail before the climbing begins in earnest. Atalaya Mountain Trail is ever-changing, often eroding, steep and rugged with spectacular views to the west and south. Atalaya and St. John’s trails test me every time I ride with relentless checks of my skill and fitness.
On those occasions when I have more of the day to explore, I will head into the Santa Fe National Forest. The Winsor trail network (Winsor, Chamisa, Serpent, Borrego, Bear Wallow and others) is a treasure for trail lovers. You can start in Tesuque or points further up the mountain and climb along the usually babbling Big Tesuque creek all the way up to the Pecos Wilderness boundary at Raven’s Ridge. After climbing as far as time and my legs allow, I’ll turn around for a well-earned descent along the Winsor or create a figure-eight loop from connecting trails. The Winsor network is well-traveled, especially on weekends, so care and courtesy are required for all users of these trails. Fortunately, a ringing bell and “Hello” work well as a friendly greeting for every hiker and biker I’ve met.
While trails in New Mexico are relatively quiet, especially compared to Colorado or Utah, there are days I seek more solitude. On busy holidays and clear-blue weekend days I’ll venture farther afield to Apache Canyon or the Caja del Rio. These trails are rugged, more remote and lightly traveled. I make sure to double-check my bike’s tires, brakes and chain, and to bring plenty of food and water before venturing into the quieter peaks and valleys of the forest. It is wise to bring and know how to use either a compass and trail map or GPS before exploring public lands where trails are less traveled and trail signs can go missing. But the views and adventure are great rewards for pedaling a few miles farther.
We enjoy a wealth of trails on the public lands surrounding our homes. But these riches are like scattered jewels, mostly disconnected from one another. There is a long-term project to link the separate trails around Santa Fe. The Grand Unified Santa Fe Trails Organization (GUSTO) is working with land managers, communities and trail users to connect trails for non-motorized trail users. This volunteer collaboration is steadily working toward building a unified, sustainable trail system in and around the Santa Fe metropolitan area. Imagine being able to hike, bike, run or ride a horse completely around the city of Santa Fe!
I love mountain biking for more reasons than I can count. I cycle to make my heart light and my legs strong. I ride to challenge my body and clear my mind. I pedal to reach further within and travel farther without. I bike to find solitude and meet with friends. My mountain bike takes me out into the world and then brings me back home.
Mountain bikers in New Mexico know about Santa Fe’s treasure trove of trails. But very few people outside of New Mexico know. So we’re throwing a party and inviting cyclists from across America to come ride our roads and trails! The Outside Bike & Brew Festival, May 18-21, is a great way to showcase to the world the incredible riding we have in New Mexico and then enjoy a brew afterward. With rides like the Tour de Brewer, Tour de Brunch, the Caja del Rio Gravel Grinder, the Glow Ride and the Santa Fe Century, there are options for any cyclist.
Headquartered in the Santa Fe Railyard Park, Outside Bike & Brew will have a Saturday-night beer garden and concert, a Friday-night Hand Crafted Bike & Beer show, bike movies, women’s mountain bike mini-clinics, an outdoor vendor expo, bicycle demos and guided rides with the Santa Fe Fat Tire Society. Foodies can check out our two Tours de Brewer, Tour de Brunch, Velo y Vino ride, and local restaurant beer dinners. For New Mexicans, we will have a discounted Local’s Pass for sale at the Whole Foods in Santa Fe. So, air up the tires, lube the chain and ride on over to the Railyard for Outside Bike & Brew.
Story by Tim Fowler