Two lazy down-hillers take on Moab…

Jun 29, 2010
by Tyler Maine  
Source: Kat Popma

This past spring my husband and I made the impromptu decision to take a coveted week off of work and road trip to Utah. Neither of us had been there before, but we had heard enough stories to peak our interest about little place called Moab, a desert town a few hours south of Salt Lake City. What makes Moab such an amazing destination is its terrain. The distinctive red rock is recognizable in countless well-known mountain bike photos. Set in between two National Parks, the town is surrounded by bright red, iron-rich sandstone carved into smooth, intricate shapes by the sometimes ferocious winds. The rock, like a fine-grain sandpaper, provides unbelievable traction and gives tires, feet and finger-tips an uncanny ability to climb (and descend) otherwise treacherous rock faces. Whole story inside,

The one downfall we had heard about Moab was that it's mainly for cross-country riders on light cross-country bikes. We ride 8-inch travel downhill bikes (I ride a Devinci Wilson and my husband rides a Yeti ASX) and shuttle the majority of our rides. I wouldn’t say we’re lazy. I’ll ride my DH bike up if I know there’s a great downhill to be had. But if I have the choice between shuttling up for five runs or busting my butt for an hour for a single run well, it’s a no-brainer. In the end we said screw it, and packed up our DH bikes. We did however invest in a pair of XC lids.


It took us about 20hrs to reach Moab from our home in the Fraser Valley. We arrived at noon on Sunday and jumped right into our riding gear. The most well-known trail in Moab is called Slickrock. It's an all-day epic ride across slick-rock (that fine-grain sandpaper I was talking about) which is spray painted with white dotted lines and arrows. As there is no dirt and no trees to help mark a trail, the dotted lines are essential for not losing your way or riding off of cliffs (a very serious possibility). We didn’t have time to do Slickrock in its entirety, so we took off on the practice loop. What a wake-up call! The loop wasn’t even an hour long and I was ready to throw my big bike off a precipice and walk home. The long wheel-base and dual crown forks on my bike did not allow me to make the tight turns and abrupt hill climbs that appeared frequently on the trail. Ryan, with his frustratingly calm demeanor, was having no trouble on his heavier sprung set up and suggested that I rent a bike for the rest of the week, if it would stop my whining. This triggered one complex or another of mine and I reached deep within to leave him behind in the dust the rest of ride!

Whether it was to restore our relationship with a little fun or if it was just Ryan being a redneck, he told me after our ride that we couldn’t go to Moab and not go wheeling. On the way to Slickrock there’s a mini 4x4 route appropriately named “Baby Lion’s Back”. (Google “Lion’s Back”.) Ryan just had to test it out. I got out on the pretense of being the “photographer” although I’m sure Ryan knew I was just plain old chicken! In our stock Toyota, we headed up and over the back. The rock was so sticky that our tires chirped their way up the steep climbs that I could barely get up on all fours!



With me in a bit better of a mood, we went the local bike shops and chatted with every rider we could about which trails to ride and whether or not it would be worth it to rent an XC bike for the week. Most people chuckled when they heard I took a DH bike on Slickrock, it's one of the most technically challenging XC trails in terms of climbing (not in terms of general riding). We ended up buying a map and highlighting various trail suggestions for the rest of the week.


At the top of everyone’s list was Porcupine Rim trail. It’s THE downhill trail of Moab*. For $20 per person you can take a shuttle to various drop-off points on the trail. In the late summer/fall you can go right up into alpine meadows of the La Sal mountains for the most scenic downhill trail you could ever imagine (or so I’ve heard). Being May, the upper drop-offs were still under snow. From where we were dropped we took close to 4 hours to get back to town (taking our time and stopping for breaks and pictures). The trail was a combination flowy single-track, narrow 4x4 roads and surprisingly technical descents that would give “Goat’s Gully” a run for its money. It was amazing!







Ryan was done by the time we got back, but I was itching for more flow. We compromised. On the map there was a trail called Gemini Bridges that was both a bike trail and 4x4 trail. It had various warnings for wheelers and bikers about technical descents and had the same trail difficulty rating as Slickrock. Having seen a 4x4 “technical descent” I thought it might be fun. It was. Well, I should say that my mother would have loved it. There was great geography and views, the actual bridges were amazing, but Ryan ended up following me ride down a gravel/dirt road for close to two hours. Not exactly my definition of technical descent, especially compared to Slickrock’s technical ascents.

Day three and our goal was Portal Trail. Described as death-defying, Portal Trail apparently follows a narrow trail hundreds of feet above the highway and river below. I was told that there are mandatory walks as people have literally fallen to their deaths trying to ride the whole thing. After the “technical” Gemini Bridges, I was feeling confident. However, to get to Portal Trail you have to ride up Poison Spider Mesa, another bike/4x4 trail. It was surprisingly fun. It’s a combination of road and slickrock with some technical climbing.

We passed a group of semi-elderly jeepers going up. At first I thought it was so cute that Grandma and Grandpa were still being active together in a low-impact sport like 4x4ing. Then I saw what they were climbing… Their jeeps were almost flipping over backwards and sideways as they climbed four-foot high vertical rock ledges. Grandpa was driving with his tucked-in polo shirt and wrap around sunglasses and Granny was in the passenger seat with holding the little pocket pooch and giving Grandpa detailed instructions.


I’m not sure the best way to make our longest story short, so here it is. We passed the Jeepers, rode another 3 hours, met back up with the Jeepers (odd since we were all traveling to the same location), realized we were lost and out of water (the kind Jeepers gave us extra water bottles), rode another hour before giving up on Portal trail, turned back, ran into one of the Jeepers who had lost a wheel, helped fix it for an hour and finally, sun-burned and dehydrated, returned to our truck after seven hours. Our happy ending- the broken down jeeper, Frank, invited us over to his campground for beers afterwards. Turned out Frank’s “campground” was a chromed out Greyhound with matching chrome trailer for his $70G Jeep all sitting on top of a landscaped RV pad. Ironically, he gave us Costco brand beer… I thought it was a good lesson in smart money management.




We spent most of our week riding our mountain bikes, but also found time to visit Arches National Park for a day. By the end of the week we were exhausted. On any given day we spent 5-7 hours biking or hiking in the 35 degree Celsius desert heat. Shade was limited to sparse bushes. Our only reprieve from the heat was the same wind that had carved the rock into the arches, bridges and rolling knolls around us. Sunburned and saddle-sore, we shuttle loving down-hillers were ready to head home. A quick stop at Mt. St. Helens made our trip complete.

*We’ve found out since then that there are apparently lots more downhill trails in Moab. We hit the Sovereign trail system, which was awesome but still more of a cross-country ride. Where the others are, I don’t know…




Ryan and Kat's recommendations for DH'ers itching to hit Moab:

Ideal Bike: A 4-6inch light dual suspension. Don’t bring a hard tail. The rock is unforgiving on the rear end!

Helmet: Cross-country helmet. Even for Porcupine Rim it wasn’t necessary to have a full-face in my humble opinion. All the trails make you “pay to play”.

Gear: The most important piece of gear was a hydration pack. I filled my 2L bladder and brought an extra bottle with electrolyte drink crystals. On our 7 hour epic, even that was gone. I brought knee-pads, but didn’t wear them at all. The only armor I wore was a helmet and light gloves.

Where to stay: We stayed at Slickrock Campground and rented a cheap cabin. It was basically just a bed in a shed with a communal washroom. However, it did have a pool and a hot tub. Both of which we used everyday. There are lots of campgrounds with this option. We liked the confidence of being able to lock our bikes up in a cabin if we went out instead of in the back of our truck or beside our tent.



Vehicle: You don’t need a 4x4 to access any of the trails, but bringing one sure was fun! There are shuttles available from at least two of the local shops.

Trails: Alright, we can’t give the best advice here, but we did learn from our mistakes…

Slickrock: If you’re an XC buff or even an all-mountain junkie, don’t miss Slickrock. The landscape was beautiful. If I had been on a smaller bike, I would have really enjoyed it.

Porcupine Rim (and above): Don’t miss. I don’t care who you are. Don’t miss this one! If you’re on a 4inch bike you may have to walk two 15-20 foot sections. That’s it though. Do it.

Poison Spider Mesa to Portal: Take a map (and if you’re like us, a GPS). I still want to hit Portal, just to see it. However, it can be easy to head off track with this one as a number of 4x4 tracks are marked with the same dotted lines as the mountain bike tracks. Most people find their way. The ride up Poison Spider is a huff, but even on our DH bikes we enjoyed it (the first four hours at least).

Sovereign Trail System: Great all-mountain/XC. The climbs are gradual and are very flowy.

Gemini Bridges: Just drive out to see the bridges between rides.

-The Popmas


50 Comments

  • 5 0
 That was an awesome INFO PACKED write-up!!! I really want to hit up Moab some time soon and info like this from a DH oriented perspective and bike recommendations is very useful.
  • 2 1
 ?? There was a lot of information about what not to do. Trails not to ride, bikes not to bring - the author is refreshingly honest about this and she did a fine job telling you what not to ride. There isn't a lot of information about trails that are fun from a downhillers' perspective - like Megalodon, or the Notch, or UPS, or LPS, or Rockstacker. Basically - what Jerome said
  • 4 1
 And you missed the Amasa back trail and the downhill that connect to Jacobs ladder tsk, tsk tsk. Kidding aside, Poison spider is indeed a challenge not to get lost. Happy you found your way back. Next time see if you can drive a bit further to Fruita Colorado, better beer and great riding
  • 7 0
 too bad the upper trail was covered in snow, there is actually real downhilling up there. Next time go from Burro pass down the Whole Enchilada, at the top there is no slickrock just luscious green meadows with aspen groves. the trails are mostly downhill from there
  • 1 0
 and btw - nice writeup and good pictures! There are shop shuttles for the trails that are unfortunately now covered with snow. Poison Spider runs a shuttle - so does Chile Pepper. Can't remember the price but the shop websites have the information. Saves you a lot of driving particularly if you have just the one car
  • 1 0
 awsome just got back from moab 3 days ago
  • 1 0
 I just got back from Moab and hit Hazard County down SIX times in just over a week!! 5600' of RIPPING!! New Enduro = perfect Moab bike- I was jumping INTO gnarly rock sections before realizing I was on my xc bike!! Fruita and Grand Junction are also good (see the boys at Grassroots cycle!!). I broke a deraileur in Fruita, and Over The Edge still charged me 25 cents for a cable end after I bought a freakin X9?!!!
  • 3 0
 hey thanks for the article my wife and I and another couple are going to moab this weekend. My buddy and I downhill we heard about porcupine and am super stoked. how much were the bike rentals? cause we'd like to ride slickrock.
  • 5 1
 Fun area. Was in Moab in March. What do you mean don't take a HT? I was on my Chromag Stylus and couldn't figure out why any one would a DS. Now Harden the F@$& Up!
  • 1 1
 ahaha! That made me laugh. I saw more than one person riding Slickrock on single speed hardtails. They could whip my ass too.
  • 2 0
 Good write up, definately look into it more next time. Amasa back is essential and whole enchilada too. There is also BLM land about ten miles north of moab on 191 where camping is FREE, if you like it dirtbag style. not surprised you got laughed at for taking a DH bike to moab. Unless you're shuttling, an all mtn bike and good handling skills will be plenty. if you're coming from the east side of the states there is no excuse to pass-up Fuita, as others mentioned.
  • 2 0
 I'd have stuck more to the western side of Utah near Brian Head. Much much more DH riding in some very remote areas. 16 mile downhills and no people! And, its waaaay less hot than Moab - The peak sits at 11300 feet and most the trails end near 6000. There are lots of 'unkown' DH trails that are truley epic in my opinion there.
  • 2 0
 Hm. Sounds like writer should have done some research before showing up. FYI, Gemini Bridges trail is butter smooth because scuzzy Utah politicians let the oil industry grind it flat. Lovely that they wrecked the best example of multi-use trail success in the state.
  • 4 0
 Fantastic article. Lots of great tips for first timers. Hope to make a trip there one day myself.
  • 1 0
 We did moab in late april but took dirtbikes instead.Rode all the trails you talked about except porquipine and then some.The dirtbikes covered alot more ground so was kinda glad we took them and not our pedal bikes.Beautiful place but a long drive.We ended our trip by heading the 10 hours to vegas 4 a couple of days and then home.
  • 1 0
 we go up to moab for a week every year not to bike but to go wheelin in the jeeps. i always watch the riders on our trail coming down the technical lock descent and drops, but they are all on xc bike, lots of peddling. if only i can find a way to strap my dh bike to the jeep (and not get smashed) to get a ride up to the top. moab is a great place! we stay at slickrock campground as well
  • 1 0
 You guys left out some important ones, Moab used to have a lift accessed downhill park, which is now mainly a 4x4 area called Moab Rim, which makes for a sick hike-a-bike run as the chairlift is long gone. What about the second most famous freeride spot in moab? Bartlett Wash, pretty much a natural skatepark with the legendary Mushroom Drop. Seems like a far drive to miss all of that.
  • 1 0
 Thanks for the awesome write-up!! My gf and I are in Moab right now and getting a little impatient with finding some crazy DH. Slickrock was yesterday, and yes it was fun and pretty cool views, but nothing in the sence of "OH HOOOLLLLYYYY SH*T!". Your write up made us chuckle so thanks for that. Porcupine Rim today!!
  • 4 0
 Great article! Moab is the place to be. Such great trails and scenery.
  • 1 0
 Moab is definitely a must do riding experience but I still think that the trails are better in Fruita. I agree with the statement about the beer also. Try the Rockslide Brewery. Smile Back to Moab... Don't shuck away from climbing from the parking lot up to the top of Porcupine Rim. It's a grinder over maybe 5 miles but well worth it. I did it on a 7" 35lb bike without too much trouble. The rock gardens are best at full tilt as it's much easier. There are very few sections that are unridable except one pretty huge drop that would have been a deal breaker for anyone we were riding with. If you ride freeride in BC, etc you should be able to drop it without worries. It might be a 25ft to flat with a pretty sharp turn after the landing. I didn't see any ride around alternates. We passed our bikes down and balanced under ledges...

A.
  • 1 0
 25' drop to flat on Porcupine?!!! Hmmmmmmm..............really?!!
  • 1 0
 I think he's talking about the last rollable drop into the creek on the lower Porc singletrack about 500 yds before you get to the road. It's rideable but not as a drop to flat unless you like dropping to uphill loose boulders.
  • 2 0
 There was a guy from BC that dropped it. Ok maybe not 25ft but easily 20. I don't believe it was 500yds from the road nor an uphill landing. There's sort of a small rock lip and then you drop right off. The part we passed our bikes down required balancing on a ledge holding on to an outcropped rock above our heads with one hand while we passed our bikes down to someone halfway down. As I recall it was right at the bottom of the DH section before the singletrack following the edge of the cliff along the creek? I should have taken a pic. Sorry.

A.
  • 1 0
 Cool! I'll have to look for it next time.
  • 1 0
 There's a 5' to flat off a boulder towards the end, and then the creekbed crossing- which you can rock roll (followed a local) or you can ride some gnarly stair steps down it- but the true crux is trials riding up the other side!!!
  • 2 0
 This was no 5 footer. It felt like about half way down sort of at the end of the first DH section. I know the rollable 5' and steps you're talking about. Those are the ones that if you stack it at the bottom you can roll over the edge. Smile I think... If I go back I will take a pic of it. A friend of mine is going in a month or so - I'll see if he can take a shot. The key is that to the far left of the drop, you need to walk along a very narrow ledge with one hand holding the rock above you. Then you pass your bikes down the cliff. It looked like 20ft to me... I'm 6'1" and there's no way I was standing eye level or anywhere near when I got down it.
  • 1 0
 Were going in august on our way home from cali. Only a few days aviable so it's slick rock day one and porcupine day two. I'm sure I will have to be dragged away on day three.
  • 2 0
 Drive down Negro Bill Canyon, theres camping there along the river. IMO Moab is over hyped for downhill and technical, its just a big f'in rock.
  • 2 0
 Great write up and trip! Utah is amazing. There are a lot of other places than Moab to ride. For most Moab is the 'gateway' ride.
  • 2 0
 wich trail should i go on because im going to colorado for the pro grt, but were going to stop at moab on the the way up?and im on an 8'' travel dh bike.and is all dh
  • 1 0
 Probably the Whole Enchilada shuttle. Contact bike shops for that
  • 2 0
 Sweet! I think i'm gonna take my fiancé there on our honey moon. She doesn't know what shes getting herself into.Wink
  • 2 0
 Lol, Squatters full suspension pale ale
  • 1 0
 almost as good as their polygamy porter!
  • 1 0
 haha i love their slogan "Why have just one?"
  • 1 0
 bring some home for the wives!
  • 2 0
 This is why doing a little trail research ahead of time is a good idea...
  • 1 0
 now this was a nice story to fill up my day @ work tup
  • 1 0
 u forgot to do the moab downhill track???
  • 1 0
 the third last picture should get pod lol
  • 1 0
 they totally just copied my exact trip i did to moab on spring break!
  • 1 0
 weres the closest bike park
  • 1 0
 Kinda off topic, how does your husband like the asx? I just built mine up.
  • 1 0
 I'd love to do that.
  • 1 0
 going this fall! stoked!
  • 1 0
 great write up
  • 1 1
 amazing spoot
  • 1 2
 Whole enchilda for riz! Best all mnt DH ride in North America!
  • 1 2
 nice part of this trip is Devinci Wilson!!

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