Cycling Through the Seasons
Cycling Through the Seasons
Carol Godwin, Cycle Mania AZ
The White Mountains AZ is the place to be for year-round outdoor fun from hiking to horseback riding, skiing to water sports and gravel biking to mountain biking, with every season offering new adventures. Cycling is a year-round life-long activity suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. Knowing where and what to ride is a first step towards a new fitness lifestyle for yourself and loved ones. Cycling improves your cardiovascular health, burns calories, strengthens muscles which support joints and is very low impact activity. Cycling increases core strength, improves spatial stability and is vital for keeping you active, flexible and fit as you age. Cycling is great for mental health and increases positivity and self-esteem.
What to ride
When choosing a bike, think about where you see yourself riding towards the middle of your journey. If you have any interest in riding the local trails you hike, a mountain bike is best for you. Remember that what you see on You-Tube with Red Bull riders barreling down steep rocky slopes and narrowly avoiding cliff edges is not what average mountain bikers are doing. Most social mountain bikers are safely, and in a controlled manner, riding through the woods or across meadows on developed trails at a reasonable pace. Mountain biking is an activity safely enjoyed by kids of all ages. If you can hike it at a normal walking pace, you can ride it, and if you can’t ride it, you can hike-a-bike around it!
MTBs come in two basic varieties: hardtail and full-suspension. The hardtail is generally cheaper than a full-suspension and has a suspension fork. Hardtails are usually lighter and faster than full-suspension bikes but take a little more skill to handle technical sections. Full-suspension bikes have a suspension fork as well as a rear shock. These bikes are built to keep both wheels on the trail surface and provide a smoother and more stable ride over rough sections. White Mountain trails are generally more suitable to full-suspension bikes for most riders. Talk to your local bike shop professionals about which style of bike, including MTB e-bikes, best fits your riding plans.
If you are convinced that you are never going to ride trails, but exploring gravel roads sounds fun, a gravel bike is probably the bike for you. If you plan to stay on paved bike paths or streets, a cruiser bike may be the best fit. Talk to your local bike shop professionals about which bike, including e-bikes, best fits your cycling plans.
Where to ride.
In Spring, the snow is melting, and higher elevation trails are often either still snow-packed or slick with mud. Please stay off wet trails as trail maintenance is done by local volunteers working hard to keep the trails ridable all season. Early season users can cause long-lasting damage to wet trails, so cyclists can head for some of the endless miles of forest roads using gravel bikes. Gravel biking in the White Mountains is a spectacular and exhilarating experience and is well worth a try. Little used Forest Service roads create a spiderweb of accessibility to areas seldom seen by those in vehicles. Take a fishing rod to remote streams or cruise for hours, turning onto whatever side roads or game trails attract your attention. Gravel biking is a safer alternative to road biking for many cyclists and provides the ability to pedal for miles, exploring with minimal traffic interaction.
Early season mountain bikers can take advantage of early-drying trails in Snowflake/Taylor AZ. Snowflake has provided substantial financial support and dedicated locals have volunteered their expertise developing some of the premier trails in the White Mountains. Snowflake Secret Trails wind through gorgeous scenic high desert vistas and incredible sandstone outcroppings. You will find yourself challenged on some of the more technical sections and then thrilled with sweeping descents. The Snowflake trails and associated bike park have something for every rider from beginner to advanced and are beginning to host recognized race events.
The next trails to dry out in the White Mountains are the ShowLow Secret Trails within the Buena Vista trail complex. The Show Low Secret trails are the location for the majority of the Cyclemaniac Saturday group rides and are maintained by the Save the Buena Vista Foundation (stbvf.com). These trails begin by following a smooth sandy section and quickly climbing into beautiful pine/juniper mix. The trails wind around bluffs, provide short technical sections over and through interesting trail features and are just plain fun for anyone with a bit of experience who can pedal 10+ miles.
Panorama trail has enough rocks to make it ridable before other trails completely dry but both also has lower meadow sections that can remain muddy so use caution and watch for trail reports before riding too early in the year. The upper sections of Panorama is more suited for full suspension bikes because of the frequent more technical rocky portions, and has both great climbs and fun descents winding through rock gardens as well as fast and flowy sections through the pines. Panorama connects to the Timber Mesa trail, which has quite a bit more rocky technical sections for the more adventurous rider. Timber Mesa crosses the road and connects to the Ice Cave trail leading past beautiful Scotts Reservoir and finally to the “Ice cave”.
The Land of Pioneers trail becomes ridable in late spring. As its name suggests, Land of Pioneers trail passes by remains of pioneer settlements including cabins and fields from the late 1800’s and is a great reminder that we are just temporary visitors in this spectacular place we call home. Land of Pioneers ascends Ecks Mountain in a moderately challenging climb and then descends with great downhill sections. Land of Pioneers passes by several year-round tanks and is a great place to bring a snack so that you can stop and enjoy wildlife. Land of Pioneers connects to Los Burros by way of the Four Springs connector, a rugged and fairly challenging section of trail.
The last major trail system to dry is the Los Burros complex of trails. Los Burros is an attraction for mountain bikers of all levels and draws cyclists, campers, equestrians and hikers from all over the southwest and beyond. This trail winds through pines, across aspen-lined meadows and up and across gorgeous sections of high elevation forest. Los Burros has sections of trail suitable for beginners as well as sections challenging to advanced riders. Los Burros campground provides some of the best camping in the A-S Forest and after monsoons begin, becomes a breath-taking panorama of flora from tall grasses with wildflowers to impenetrable swaths of ferns and hosts a spectacular variety of fungi from slime molds to enormous mushrooms. In fall, you will be able to ride through a jaw-dropping display of swirling golden aspen leaves which will make you want to keep riding these trails until the first snow flurries.
Snowy winter in the White Mountains calls for fat bikes. Forest roads provide superior gravel riding until the snow falls, and then they invite a fat-biker to explore for miles through pristine snowfalls.
Cycling through the seasons in the White Mountains never gets old and you can ride the same trails while having totally different experiences in completely different seasons. Get out there and love your White Mountains!