Photo & Words: Tory Powers
Riders: Courtney Knott & Teddy Jaramillo
In mid-May 2022, the U.S. Forest Service closed several national forests in New Mexico due to dry conditions. Before heading out, always check the latest information at fs.usda.gov.
The sky is filled with hot air balloons and the burritos are filled with hot green chile, right? Yes, but Albuquerque is so much more. Albuquerque has a rich history of iconic events, food, and culture. It’s a place where diverse cultures are reflected in the art and architecture and vast landscapes invite you to get outdoors. And while Albuquerque is a major city, it somehow doesn’t feel crowded at all. We never managed to get stuck in traffic, never really waited in a line - it was wonderful.
When you’re not watching the balloons in the sky, look for film crews around town. Albuquerque is a major production hub for the movie and TV industry, with notable media shot here such as the latest season of “Stranger Things," the film “No Country for Old Men” and of course, the “Breaking Bad” series and “Better Call Saul.” A number of tour companies offer guided tours of local film spots, including a cycling tour that visits familiar “Breaking Bad” locations by bike.
Albuquerque is turning into a hotspot for the outdoor industry as well with trails for mountain biking popping up all over the place. With over 600 miles across over 400 trails, you’ll likely never run out of new terrain to ride. If you’re looking to come down to New Mexico in general for mountain biking, Albuquerque is the perfect place to stay while you check out the area. There are countless trails not only in town, but also within a short drive. On our shortlist for Albuquerque and the surrounding areas were the Sandia foothills, Oak Flats in Tijeras, and White Mesa just outside of Bernalillo. Some other honorable mentions are the extensive Mariposa Fat Bike trail network as well as the Sandia Mountain trails.
Also, the food here was so good that I’m giving it its own section at the bottom of the article. If you need some recommendations, or want to know where you can get green chile on your gyro, check out my recommendations near the end of this article.
Up first was the Sandia Foothills. This area is comprised of a handful of different trailheads all along the Tramway road on the east side of town. Most of these trails meander and connect to one another, which makes it feel like it’s all just one big riding area. We checked out the South Foothills which has over 21 miles of primarily cross-country riding and 42 trails. This whole zone was incredibly unique with its short, punchy climbs on loose dirt and different terrain at each turn. With each trail averaging just half a mile, there are nearly endless combinations of rides you can do here. The six different trailheads allow you to mix it up even further.
The riding here was fast, flowy, and occasionally pretty technical. The loose gravel over hardpack keeps you on your toes since traction is at an all time low in the rocky bits. Wide tires are your friends here.
We primarily rode trail 365 and its offshoots, but this is the perfect place to leave your phone and Trailforks in your pocket and see where you end up, because you’re bound to have a blast no matter which direction you head in.
The desert ecosystem in the foothills made me feel like a true cowboy. The different types of cholla cactus, beautiful peaks, and views of town were a spectacular combination. Sandia Foothills - South mountain biking trails
Were you missing the hard pack and tree cover like I was? Then you’ll enjoy taking a break from the hot sun over in Tijeras, just a short 20 minute drive from downtown Albuquerque. Tijeras is a tiny town just off the scenic byway to Santa Fe. Tijeras has about 80 miles over 46 different trails. However, this area has mixed usage. You can expect to see everything from hikers to ATVs here, but we only ran into one local on a normal weekday afternoon.
This zone is best suited to a short travel bike as the trails aren’t nearly as technical. That’s not to say there aren’t any rocks here, though. There are a handful of tricky one-off rock gardens to keep you things interesting.
The thick shrubs were a really nice change coming from the high desert we had experienced the day before. Tijeras felt a lot more like Colorado with the type of terrain. It was just really interesting to me to be able to find a shift this drastic by driving just a mere 20 minutes from the Sandia Foothills.
We did one of the more popular rides here - Otero Canyon to West Ridge. Riding this clockwise as we did is probably the best direction as the climbs were more sporadic and technical which allowed the descending to be flowy and consistent. Once you reach the top of West Ridge, you’re greeted with a new perspective of the south side of the Sandias as you poke out of the thick shrubbery.
An evening ride here like we did was perfect to watch the fading light touch the mountains. Otero/David Canyon mountain biking trails
On our final day of riding, we took a bit of a longer drive northwest to Bernalillo, a small town just off I-25. Another 15-20 minutes up the road from Bernalillo is one of the most unique zones I’ve been to in a long time. White Mesa (AKA White Ridge) is a geological masterpiece, with sulfur deposits, pointy ridgelines, and multicolored dirt.
This particular area is just 9 miles, but was by far my favorite location to ride while we were here. We checked out Dragon’s Back, the local favorite, as well as Central Spine.
Exposure makes this riding feel a bit tougher than your average blue trail. The brittle salt-like dirt and vast landscapes gave the impression of an otherworldly experience. At times you’re battling off-camber singletrack, and at others you’re flowing through rolling hills along a true spine.
Every direction you look is extremely picturesque and mesmerizing. The Sandias to the east, rolling hills and monumental formations to your right - more of this, please.White Ridge Trail System mountain biking trails
Now, onto the real reason you’re here, right? The food.Sawmill -
Food hall-style small restaurants fill the modern warehouse at Sawmill. All of the food here was top notch. We ate at XO Waffle (my personal favorite), Hawt Pizza Co., Kulantro, Neko Neko for multiple fun soft serve treats (get the melon chocolate, trust me), Paleta Project for a popsicle, and Tulipani Pasta. If you don’t know what you want, you want Sawmill. Duran’s -
A small traditional New Mexican eatery in the back of a gift shop/pharmacy. Duran’s has the legendary Duran’s green chile which was to die for. Be wary though, the green chile down here has a kick. The stuffed sopapillas were the must have here.Modern General -
A fun LA style spot that is great for breakfast/brunch. Coming from a food/service background myself, it was really cool to see that this restaurant was specifically a “no tip” restaurant as the workers here are paid a much higher wage than your typical restaurant. Slice Parlor / Marble Brewery -
Marble was a great brewery that’s been expanding like crazy. With multiple locations in New Mexico as well as growth out of state, you know you can get a great post-ride beer here. Right next door is Slice Parlor where you can get a cheap slice of pizza, because what’s better than pizza AND beer?Whole Hog Cafe -
Holy moly, the brisket and mac and cheese here - wow! Take a one block walk over to Whole Hog from Slice Parlor or Marble Brewery to grab some amazing southern style barbeque. Naruto Ramen -
Were you looking for a bowl of ramen that’s bigger than your head? Me too. We found it. Naruto is right off Central near the UNM campus which is typically where you’ll find the best bang for your buck, near a bunch of poor college kids, right? $12 gets you the deluxe ramen in an environment that makes you feel like you really just stepped into Japan. Gyros Mediterranean -
Remember how I mentioned you can get green chile on your gyro? This is the spot. I was too nervous to do it, though, so I can’t tell you if that part of it is good. The rest? All time. We got mediterranean salads here and they definitely fit the bill. Blake’s Lotaburger -
It would be a crime if we came here and didn’t eat Blake’s, a local staple. We can’t always be craving salads, so when you aren’t, take a trip to Blake’s for a solid burger and even better seasoned fries. Range Cafe -
If you're looking for amazing baked goods and breakfast in a stylistic location that lots of famous folks have dined at, make a stop at Range Cafe in Bernalillo after riding at White Ridge.
I had only ever driven through Albuquerque on my way to other riding destinations, or been in proximity while heading to Angel Fire. I wish I had known of the diverse cycling Albuquerque had to offer before now. From what I heard around town, the cycling is growing each year and there is a ton of terrain that has yet to be utilized down there. I already plan on making it back down in the fall when the weather is perfect and the events are starting to pick up. When you’re here, make sure to check out the amazing riding, and the even better food.Albuquerque mountain biking trails
Suggested Restaurants/Breweries:Bike In Coffee at Old Town Farm
and Kickstand Café
both cater to cyclists and are located adjacent to the popular Paseo del Bosque trail.
Breweries: Marble Brewery
, Steel Bender Brewyard
, and Tractor Brewing CompanyFarm & Table
– located on a permaculture farm, this restaurant sources local meat, produce and dairy for its menuSandia Crest House
– great views, a casual spot with an outdoor deck for cyclists to grab a snack after riding their bike along the Crest trails, open only late spring through early fall
Local Bike Tours/Guides/Shops:Routes Bicycle Tours & Rentals
- a large selection of Mountain Bikes, Elite Road Bikes, and bike racks for cars available for rent. Also offers bike build services when folks travel with their own bicycles.MST Adventures
– offers private mountain biking skills clinics and guided toursHeritage Inspirations
– offers e-bike tours of Albuquerque neighborhoodsFree-to-Roam Ebiking
– Offers bike tours and rentals
Suggested “Must-Do” Activities in Albuquerque:Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway
– the longest aerial tram in North AmericaElectric Playhouse
– immersive games plus food and drinkHot Air Ballooning
– balloon rides are available in Albuquerque year-round, and this year the city will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (Oct. 1-9, 2022)Historic Old Town Neighborhood
, including museums in the areaABQ BioPark system
, including the BioPark Zoo, Aquarium, Botanical Garden and Tingley Beach
Rio Grande Nature Center – easily accessible from the Paseo del Bosque trailIndian Pueblo Cultural Center
– learn about the 19 Native American pueblos of New Mexico, see traditional dance performances, dine at the Indian Pueblo KitchenNational Hispanic Cultural Center
– art museum plus one of the largest frescos in North America (the 4,000 square foot Mundos de Mestizaje, located inside the Torreon)
Suggested Places to Stay:Bottger Mansion of Old Town
– this B&B has all the character of a historic home, offers huge breakfasts perfect for carb-loading, and is convenient to shopping and dining.Hotel Andaluz
– a LEED Gold-certified hotel, the historic property is recognized not only for its sustainability efforts but also for its rooftop lounge, in-house tapas bar, and Spanish-inspired décor.Nativo Lodge
– many of the guest rooms here feature murals individually painted by contemporary Native American artists, making each stay unique.Los Poblanos Historic Inn
– located on a historic farm, the property features lavender fields, organic gardens and a wellness spa. The inn provides bicycles
so that guests can explore nearby areas, including the vineyards at Casa Rondena Winery and the Paseo del Bosque bike path. Guided bike tours are also available.El Vado Motel
– located on Historic Route 66, the outdoor patio is surrounded by a tap room, food pods, live entertainment on weekend eveningsPainted Lady Bed & Brew
– instead of breakfast, this B&B specializes in local craft beers. It is located on the grounds of a 19th-century former brothel and saloon.