Moab – Trail Riding

A Little History on Moab
moab brand map
I had never ridden this trail, thought it would be a great idea

I have spent a great deal of time in Moab since the day. When I was younger and discovering the growing sport of mountain biking us two 14 year old boys took a trip to Southern Utah to discover the place. It wasn’t a busy place and it had been marked on the map as a mountain biking town, among mountain bikers… I was too young to know what was really going on. I road the Slick Rock Trail and then Amasa Back on that trip. Back then Slick Rock wasn’t the hit that is today. Amasa Back was just a jeep road.

How things have changed. Town is now a mecca and cannot be overlooked by any serious mountain biker. (As you define a serious mountain biker you will also find a serious spending habit on livable Mercedes vans and an affinity for cheap beer – a subject for future discussion). For me, it is reminiscent and nostalgic. I cannot leave the place behind because I have spent so much time here. The riding is all time, every time.

North 40 Mountain Bike Trail - Moab, Utah
From here the loop just gets exciting

The trails have grown and for those of you who don’t know, this means actual single track and not jeep roads and motorcycle routes. There are bike only trails! And it all started with the Sovereign Trail between Dalton Wells and Willow Springs roads. But out that way, there has always be someone else digging in the ground for treasure.

Moab has a long history as a mining town, which interests me for many reasons. Anyone can see this but most don’t appreciate what it is or what has been going on there. Check out this article in HCN, High Country News. This is why there are so many jeep roads and motorcycle routes. And that is how all this started. For some great history on the mining in the Moab area, Raye C. Ringholz wrote a comprehensive book on what happened called, Uranium Frenzy: Boom and Bust on the Colorado Plateau.

Trail Riding in the Moab

Moab mountain biking has a very specific feel and it’s a unique experience, which is why, I assume, the place has grown in use to unsustainable numbers of visitors. Be careful when you visit the place or you’ll be waiting in line wherever you go.

North 40 Mountain Bike Trail - Moab, Utah
The spectacular view from any point on the North 40 trail is simply stunning.

The actual riding is mostly technical. If trails were music, then Moab is mostly a Smashing Pumpkins album, specifically, Siamese Dream. Cherub Rock seems to make the cut… The trails are extremely rocky and have some pretty extreme maneuvers but that’s part of the uniqueness here. Your mind picks up something left by time and you never lose the thread, meaning you’ll always be back to ride another day.

My last visit was 1 and 1/2 years ago. I live 4 hours away. My excuses are many, kind of like why there’s dirty dishes in the sink. My last ride on the iconic Whole Enchilada was two years ago. One of the reasons, a very valid one, is that the town experiences way too many visitors these days. These are the days that Edward Abbey described in his prophetic prose about the region. If you don’t know about Ed Abbey, leave this page and go find out.

It wasn’t a place that was ever supposed to become a mecca for mountain biking. But let’s face it, mining towns always find a way to thrive. Look at the mining towns of the west, especially the hard rock mine towns of the Rocky Mountains, they became ski resorts!

I’ve started to stay north of town in my recent years of riding here. It’s easier for me to avoid town. Which I hate doing because I love town, or the ghost of it. Emotionally, it’s easier to spend as little time there as possible. I’ve counted on trails like the Brand network, Sovereign, and Dead Horse Point area to become my go-to tracks.

North 40 Trail
North 40 Mountain Bike Trail - Moab, Utah
The sun was setting and this was not a moment to let slip by

I discovered that someone had built a new one out on the Moab Brand network called North 40. This is a spectacular trail and offers the kind of riding that can only be found in the deserts of Utah, uniquely in the Arches and Canyonlands proximity.

The last 14 years Moab has been expanding its trail system. And it is gorgeous. The Brand Trails hadn’t always offered challenging rides but now things are different. This North 40 trail has flow and punchy climbs, it has technical moves that will kick you right off your bike, appropriately. Riding a fat bike made things less challenging and I enjoyed a good deal of continued momentum.

I remember a specific section where I was rallying through, little bits of desert dirt flying out from the sides of my huge tires, and I emerged from behind some rocks. There, on the trail, two people were listening and watching as my huge tires rolled into their memories. I charged past them on a mission to maintain rhythm, chased by a romantic dream of a desert I used to know.

The sun was setting, in more ways than one on that ride. I love Moab, I love the desert. The time in my life where the deserts here play a critical role in my well being is coming to an end. It’s a place to enjoy and defend and will always be special. I don’t cherish my new memories of the place the way I cherish the old ones. All my experiences are great but something about the old Moab holds on; it persists, it drowns out the voices of the present.

Maybe it’s just me, a lost rider still on a trail that has gone away. One day, though, forty or fifty years from now you’ll find me as a pile of bones on a rock over-looking a deep canyon, next to a burned-out fat bike.

Mountain Bike Suspension Data

Give me more data!!

There’s a lot out there about dialing in your bike. Road bikes have power meters, which is a truly recent development as it used to be available only in certain training facilities in certain places in the US and Europe. It wasn’t a machine you wanted to be hooked up to. Heart rate and pedal cadence weren’t enough.

On the mountain bike front not only was power a curiosity, suspension became an obsession and I don’t really know how to reconcile it. A few companies made a cycling app for smartphones that could sense movement through its built-in accelerometers, record that data, and deliver feedback to the rider. A Vancouver, BC based company named Bike-Setup is an example. Not sure it was super successful…

Now, the huge division of SRAM, Quarq, has released a little unit called ShockWiz. While I’m going to use this in the shop to help people figure out their mountain bike suspension, it seems a little silly to consider having one of these as a permanent fixture on your bike.

Quarq Shockwiz
You’re about to see this on all the bikes. It’s about $400 and pairs with a smartphone to deliver a heap of data that should be useful

This little tool isn’t obtrusive at all. Part of why I don’t like remote lockout units for my rear shock (super useful) is the gaudy extra cable making a rats-nest out of the front of my bike. So… This does a bit more than that. It records and analyzes everything about your suspension. But still.

How much data do you need?

Let’s jump back a few years, like 14. Back in 2003 the most advanced thing on a bike was Specialized’s brain. The brain is a simple concept that wasn’t new at the time. While the patent moved around a little bit in kind of a controversial way, it was a pretty smart method to get the rear end to lock-out, on its own, based on trail feedback. It was a mechanical-hydraulic system that Specialized has continued to refine and implement. No extra cable at the front end. Just an extra tube connected to the rear shock. It didn’t deliver any data. And it still doesn’t. It has a job, to make you ride faster and win races. Others probably don’t agree but this bike has a lot of podiums..

Specialized Brain on the Epic
Brain cutaway, reveals the inertia valve. Truly uncomplicated and delivers immediate results

Riding a bike used to be a feeling. This bike was something of a unique feeling. I could adjust it to my preference. I didn’t have a computer telling me the bike was vibrating me off the pedals. For some reason, and I’m unsure how I was able to tell with out my phone informing me, I could remain stable in motion while the bike took a beating.

I’m not a Luddite. I’m not a being from one of Kurt Vonnegut’s many planets. I love data. But when it comes to riding my bike I don’t get to do it enough. Bikes these days ride so well. I simply ride my bike and enjoy myself in the times that I can afford to go. My GPS shows me where I rode. It’s cool. But unnecessary. In fact, I’m unsure why I use it.

This is all that damn GPS does for me…. But I feel lost without it.

I wasn’t sure if I could ride with out knowing ride time, absolute global location, or vertical mapping. One day I forgot to bring my GPS unit and nearly had a heart attack. So I carefully mounted my bike and started turning the pedals over. All of a sudden I was riding and enjoying it and reveling in the fact that I could ride without the ball-and-chain of data acquisition! I could ride without it!


CyclingWeekly put out this article, I enjoyed it. It’s about data. Just like this post. I agree with them that if you’re trying to achieve some kind of speed or fitness goal, win a world cup down hill time, then yes, you’re a professional that needs this career changing data. Most of us? Most of us should go back to why we love this sport, our roots so to speak, and start simply enjoying our rides.


ShockWiz shows all sorts of stuff

ShockWiz is actively collecting pretty relevant data about your mountain bike suspension. It reports metrics based on your riding preferences selected in the tech. It interacts with you by making suggestions on using volume reducing tokens, air preload, ramp, rebound and compression settings. Hell, you may find yourself wanting a better fork or shock based on what it tells you.

It seems that even still, the data that you need is coming from your heart. Are you having a good time? Is your bike broken? That’s good data.

Data is useful though it doesn’t pedal for you

So you’re telling me that your FTP is 400? That’s great. FTP is functional threshold power or the highest average power you put into the pedals for an hour while cycling. When a guy comes in and wants to talk FTP I try to get away from him. Unless he’s gaunt and 138 at 5’9″, he’s no contender for anything. When Jan Ullrich won gold at the 2000 Olympics he simply won. He was the fastest man of the day. What was his heart rate? Possibly recorded. What was his power at the finish line? Doesn’t matter. He won. He beat the other guys. He was faster. No one needs data acquisition to know it. When it got close he just pedaled harder.

But if someone needs data like their job depends on it, it’s a cat like that. As for this ShockWiz thing, it’s gaining traction and I’ll be putting on bikes for tuning purposes. As I’m unsure how folks ride their bikes, this will help me to not be blind while configuring air pressures and valving shim compression.

For everyday riding? I’m not going to stop anyone from decorating their bike with these bits of tech. There is a growing mountain bike market and people need to know how their machines are working under all conditions, every time, always and forever. The new breed of cyclist has arrived and I’m unsure if they’ve made the same startling discovery that I have, that I can go ride and still have a good time without data.

Thunder Mountain Trail

The Thunder Mountain Trail is a bit out of the way, and it’s ok

I haven’t ridden this trail as much as I should have. I grew up in Utah skiing and riding bikes. It makes sense that I should know all the trails here. But last fall was the first time I’d ridden Thunder Mountain in the Bryce Canyon area.

Zach cruising up the Bryce Canyon bike path looking for a certain Thunder Mountain Trailhead

The trail parallels Red Canyon which one generally has to pass through if headed to Bryce Canyon from Interstate 15. The only other route is to come from Escalante, Utah. Anyhow, this ride is totally sweet and worth a mission send. That being noted, Zach and I packed up right quick after work and made the 4 hour drive south from the Wasatch mountains.

Traffic southbound I-15 was light as we zoomed through the darkness with our rigs fastened to the back of the trusty automobile. With only one stop for stretching we made camp in less than 4 hours. It was 31 degrees farenheit… the night got colder but we slept in the relative comfort of winter sleeping bags.

Trail starts out in the red dirt and pine trees, iconic terrain of this part of the world

Morning time brought seriously cold air and we slept until about 9AM with our warm hats covering our eyes so they wouldn’t turn into ice balls.. Morning also brought a warm fire, coffee, and a cowboy breakfast. After all morning routines handled, we were ready to ride and hit the road. After a quick ride up the Bryce Canyon bike trail to the top of Red Canyon, we took a right on a Forest Road and through an equestrian campsite. The Thunder Mountain trail starts at the end of this road but is somehow called Coyote Hollow, so heads up.

Previous Year, Riding through hoodoos with my wife and friends

The trail quickly becomes your favorite trail. Whoever dug it had a vision. While I believe that it was initially a horse trail, and it shows in places, it’s a fantastic bike trail also. Rounding every punchy climb with a ridgeline, the hoodoos and red valleys come into view against the deep blue hue of a U2-esque desert sky.

It’s too fun of a trail to miss, you have to ride it. Or not. I’m completely fine with no one but a few riding this place. It is after all largely out of the way. If you’re headed to a major bike mecca, forget about heading here. There’s no bike shop that I can find.. So you’re on your own.

The trail sweeps up and down ridge-lines for the first 4 miles or so. Each turn brilliantly formed, off-camber straight-aways, rocky non-sense, some loose dirts; all for your riding pleasure. And every time you look up you see this kind of crap:

Karen riding up the ridge; just beautiful views, forever

Last year I rode Thunder mountain for a birthday party with my wife and friends. Yes, my wife has that SE grin that all of us mountain bikers know is absolutely contagious.

Zach surrendering to a photo op

Zach and I made less time for pictures. You could literally spend the whole day getting the best action shots in your portfolio on Thunder Mountain if you weren’t interested in maintaining the thrilling flow of two wheels down this remarkable trail.

We broke riding at the mid-trail horse camp. It has a little vista there while you eat a well earned date roll. The only thing that would have been better would have been to camp there. Bike packing is a serious possibility, even though the trail is really, really short.

After the horse camp the trail climbs and descends flowing down ridge-lines and through hoodoos all over. The descending here gets a little more rowdy. We dropped tire pressure because we are just that cool. As the trail descends there are two sections of tight switchbacks. This is usually where you’ll see the best crashes.

Crystal descending, happier than any other moment in her life

As the trail winds around and through some drainages, there’s a short climb which leads to a 1.4 mile straight-away descent back to the Red Canyon highway and bike path. We let gravity guide us back, using our huge tires to make up for not using brakes. Oh yes, we rode this trail on 27.5+ and 26 Fat hardtails.

Mountain Biking Vernal

Got up this morning with one thing in mind, “I need to ride my bike.” With household approval to take off for the next 30 hours I packed up kissed my lady and again I was off to adventure, much like my bike packing adventure.

The drive from Heber to Vernal in Utah is only 2 hours and on the way out along US Highway 40 I can watch Utah change back into what it mostly is. Good fortune has allotted that I live in a tourist driven area where folks come to take advantage of a largely unmined landscape. By this I mean, none of this:

oil derricks
All along highway 40 you see these things on the horizon

Yes, Utah is a lot of oil and gas drilling. I guess there’s money in it. While it’s not east Texas, it seems like oil is the name of the game out here.

The drive out was dreary until the clouds started to break apart. Then for hours on end there were some cool opportunities for amazing contrast shots. The ground was lit, being reds and yellows, it contrasted heavily against the deep gray clouds of the northern skies.

Around sunset, the contrasts between earth and sky were amazing
What happens when you want the picture but the clouds keep the sun in

The Riding:

What leads someone to consider mountain biking Vernal, Utah, you ask? Well this:

While these aren’t all the trails, I covered a few of them and they are stellar

McCoy Flats has always been spoken of as the riding in the Vernal area. There are plenty of other fantastic places to ride; however, this is simply off the highway on the way into town arriving from the rest of Utah.

It’s some of the best desert riding single-track around. When you go to Moab, the rock is nearly stiflingly awesome and there’s usually a lot of double track as many of the existing trails are mine road remnants. After some time on it you’re ready for dirt again, single-track dirt. The trails at McCoy Flats are full spectrum: easy to technically challenging. There is dirt here, not so much sand. Talk about refreshing desert riding!

While all seems ride-able, there are few obstacles that trick the eye. I got temporarily hung up on some of these. But oh such great riding. My new favorite line is called “Fire Sale” which branches off of “Retail Sale”. Ride it from West to East. It takes up all the available real estate on two hills.

A few of these trails are directional. It makes for a nice consistency. You can’t ride up certain rock drops. Also, you won’t find yourself riding up a skid. All the trails are well marked and circumnavigate the parking area. This added convenience is nice for a pit stop, snacks, and refreshments.

This is why folks pack their bike and head to Vernal.

Department Store Bikes (part 2)

Ok.. In this post I want to discuss how a bike is built properly. I’m going to keep it as simple as I can so it can be a short post, hoping to not further bore you with my ranting.

derailleur bolt barely threaded into derailleur hanger

Here’s a classic move, components installed half-ass and adjusted to work in a half-ass position. In this picture you see that the derailleur bolt is only a couple threads installed into the derailleur hanger, or where it mounts to the frame of the bicycle. I wish I had pictures now to show what the results of this kind of installation looked like. Anyhow, poor shifting is the least of your concerns. Once the derailleur becomes detached it can dangle from the chain and end up in the spokes of your spinning wheel, bringing the wheel to an immediate stop.

If you’re not ready for the rear wheel to abruptly stop spinning then you’ll have to compensate for the bikes abrupt deceleration by flying over the bars in one of many different crash scenarios.

Check all your bolts. All the time.

In this next example, we have a new bike from Walmart discount stores. On top of it being new it is a full suspension bike. This typically means that the rear assembly of the frame is bolted together housed in bearings and shims. If even one of these bolts isn’t properly fastened and seated to torque the bike could spontaneously self-destruct:

Proper assembly of bikes is critical to your safety. Don’t underestimate the value of a well built bike and a well assembled bike. If you’re going to get a department store bike then at least pay a local bike shop to snoop through it and make it safer to ride. Note: “safer” not “safe”.