Local Flavors: The Complete Guide to Riding in Tucson, Arizona

Sep 12, 2018
by Brice Shirbach  




I don't know about you, but I'm not sure of too many times in my life when 7,000 vertical feet of prominence was staring me in the face. It's massive. It's so tall, that even 30 miles from the mountaintop in downtown Tucson, I can't quite make out the summit of Mount Lemmon because of the rows of jagged ridges that stand between the highest point in the Santa Catalina mountains and the 5 feet, 11 inches of me on a sidewalk. That might be as much a function of the mass of the mountain as its height. Regardless, for a little perspective, it's got nearly 2,000 vertical feet on Whistler. It ain't small. It's often called a "Sky Island", which refers to the massive temperature swing on the mountain compared to Tucson and the surrounding Sonoran Desert at its base, with a 30-40 degree difference at the 9,157 foot tall summit. It is also a nod to the varying landscapes that populate the slopes of the enormous mountain. Saguaro cacti dominate the landscape surrounding Tucson, as well as the desert floor along the base of Mount Lemmon, with many 30-40 foot tall specimens visible right up to roughly 4,000 feet in altitude. By the time you reach the summit a vertical mile after your last glimpse of the iconic cactus, the surrounding landscape is comprised of oaks, aspens, and maples, with amazing dirt, roots, and rocks throughout the summit trails. The Santa Catalina Ranger District is well aware of all of this, and is also keenly aware of Lemmon's real value to visitors and locals alike, as staffers no doubt must have their heads on swivels in order to properly manage such a breathtaking piece of land. There are a lot of people who represent a lot of special interest groups who want a lot from this mountain, and while it's without question one of America's most impressive places to ride a bike, equally impressive is the work being done by the area's mountain bike advocates to ensure riders have a prominent seat at the table when it comes to the care and exploration of Mount Lemmon.

I had my reservations in the weeks leading up to this trip. Southern Arizona in August is a tricky proposition. It's a "dry heat" they said. Well, so is the heat coming out of my oven, but that blast of hot air to the face whenever I open the door to it still hurts. Watching the thermometer while driving southwest across New Mexico from Amarillo was oddly suspenseful, as the oh-so-slow increase in temps was occasionally interrupted by sudden upward trends of altitude on the highway, or by an occasional downburst of rain that frequents this part of the country during monsoon season. Still the temperatures climbed, and once I crossed over the state line in Arizona, I would not see a daytime high below 100 degrees Fahrenheit until I was in the Great Lakes region of the midwest 8 days later. The thermometer on my dash might have held my attention for a few moments initially, but as interstate 10 continued its western traverse of the American southwest, something else would eventually catch my eye and hold my attention for the entirety of my trip to Tucson.




My initial glimpse of Mount Lemmon would prove to be one of the only opportunities I would have to see the summit of the mountain other than the moments I would eventually spend at the actual top of it. I know I already waxed a touch poetic about how impressive the highest peak in the Santa Catalina range is, but it's hard to overstate. I've been hearing about Mount Lemmon from friends for years, people whose opinion I trust a great deal, and all I have ever heard were really, really good things. I have also always kind of lumped riding in the desert southwest together in one red rocked, cactus-filled, bone dry amalgamation of sorts in my head, and as unfair as that may be, truth be told I've kind of been writing this place off for a while. I would quickly learn the error of my ways, and that first glimpse of Lemmon would prove quite a shock to the system.

Brice Shirbach // Local Flavors
Age: 36
Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA
Industry affiliations: Pivot Cycles, Maxxis Tires, Stans No Tubes, Kali Protectives, MRP, Julbo, Deity Components, EVOC, Shimano, 9point8, Topeak
Instagram: @bricycles
Favorite Trail Mount Lemmon: Aspen Draw
Riding Style: Whatever's Clever


Being 50 miles north of the Mexican-American border affects far more than the daytime highs. Tucson draws an immense inspiration from our neighbors to the south, from the architecture, the art, and of course the amazing food. For 7 days, I ate nothing for dinner but tacos save for one night when I went with pizza, and for 7 days my pallet was buzzing. Tucson is one of those places that truly feels like another world, whether it's the city itself, the landscape, the wildlife, or the riding. The area is loaded with trails, with several networks in and around town, many of those geared for beginner to intermediate riders, and managed by 1 of the 2 regional advocacy groups, the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists. Those trails see usage pick up considerably once daytime temps stop hurting, and have proven to be quite the winter training commodity for many professional bicycle riders, for both those who play on the mountain and those who play in the road. But it's August, it's really hot at 2,300 feet, and I can't stop staring at that big, beautiful, and vast mountain.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
4th Avenue in downtown Tucson is a cool and eclectic oasis in the oftentimes harsh and unforgiving Sonoran Desert.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Eats, shopping, tattoos, coffee, art and culture are served up in a vibrant package in downtown Tucson.
Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Tucson's close proximity to Mexico is one of its greatest assets.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Southern Arizona is very easy on the eyes.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Tucson is a massive sprawl of nearly 1,000,000 souls throughout its metropolitan area, but above town on the slopes of Mount Lemmon, you really are a world away.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
The Sonoran Desert is famous for its wildlife, which means you will almost certainly spot something interesting and/or venomous while out for a ride.
It also means you might see something right outside of your hotel door.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
The desert might prove a challenging environment for many forms of life...
Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
...but those that thrive here do so beautifully.

Mount Lemmon is not only the ceiling of the Santa Catalina mountains, it also holds 26 miles of some of the American southwest's finest trails. TORCA, or Tucson Off Road Cyclists and Activists, is the group who have taken responsibility of these trails, and the progress they've made is without a doubt one of the most clear cut examples I can remember of the value mountain bikers bring to communities as trail stewards.

"And when TORCA first started," Tara is telling me one our way to a downed tree on Aspen Draw, a stunning and technical downhill that trail drops 1,200 feet from the summit over the course of 2 deciduous, rooty, and evergreen miles. "That was sort of our first mission was to restore the relationship with hikers and bikers on the mountain."

Tara Alcantara is the president of TORCA, and is also co-owner of Homegrown MTB Tours alongside her husband and the previous TORCA president Art. Tara is describing the history of conflict between hikers and riders on Mount Lemmon, with Aspen Draw at the center of it. The summit of Mount Lemmon is, for obvious reasons, quite a draw in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, particularly during the sweltering months of the summer. Aspen Draw in particular begin just below the University of Arizona observatory and ends in the quaint village of Summer Haven, where multi-use and multi-directional traffic is commonplace, particularly during weekends. Tara and the rest of TORCA knew early on that they would need to be hands on in the efforts to mitigate trail conflict between user groups.

"We did some kind of education," she continued. "And community outreach to try and get mountain bikers to follow the rules. We would spend a day up here at the top of the mountain talking to bikers and hikers as they were getting ready to drop into the trail. We were educating them on who has the right of way. It was important for us to let hikers know that this is a multi-use trail, because a lot of them don't expect to see bikes coming down the trail. On the other hand, we made sure that mountain bikers were being respectful to the fact that not only are there a lot of hikers on this trail, but this trail is tight. It is hard to hear and see, so you usually don't see someone coming up the trail until you're right on them. It can be a recipe for disaster."

The trail work day came at the end of my week in town, and this anecdote from Tara only confirmed what I had come to appreciate about this collective: they were fully dedicated to doing whatever it took to advocate for mountain biking respectfully and responsibly, while never losing sight of their sensibilities as riders who liked to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Further to the point, it seems that while trail user conflict has gone down considerably, the trail is still in danger of closing do to another unfortunate set of circumstances that is a bit more out of their control.

"The Mexican Spotted Owl," Tara tells me while we wait our turn on the cross cut saw. "Is an endangered species and pretty much drives every decision the forest service makes regarding this mountain. Under the endangered species act, the forest service would have the right to limit use on this trail. There are definitely some exceptions and stipulations on what that would look like, but there's a very real chance that mountain bikers could lose this trail. Of course, TORCA's going to fight to keep the trail, but we're going to need to be ready for a couple of different options. Fortunately, I met with a wildlife biologist and he was able to show me several other areas up here that we might be able to build on."

In that moment, unbeknownst to Tara, a whole lot of insight into this community's approach to stewardship had been revealed. Aspen Draw is a world-class trail, and it would be an absolute shame if it were to go away. Necessary perhaps, but a shame nonetheless. Of course, TORCA is going to work to keep it open, but the key here is that while many of us might panic and let our frustrations get in the way of problem solving, Tara and the rest of the crew here are prepared put in the work required to grow. Grow their trails, grow their value to the Forest Service, and grow their presence among community members on and off of the bike.

I've often felt that mountain bike advocates not only have to educate land managers on how mountain bikers are generally some of the planet's greatest stewards of the forest, but also have to fight the stigma among mountain bikers who might worry that the riding sensibilities of their local mountain bike association might not align with their own. A large chunk of my professional existence is spent discussing big picture implications with various mountain bike communities and the advocates who are helping shape them. For whatever reason, it seems that those among us who are dedicated to the cultivation of strong communities and access to land are often perceived as a bit out of touch as riders. I know that's often very far from the reality of a situation, and TORCA would prove to be a shining example of the symbiosis of rad riding and mountain bike advocacy. There is nothing on Mount Lemmon for beginners. That is in part due to the fact that there hasn't been a single new trail on the mountain for nearly 20 years, which means that everything available to ride down is decidedly un-purpose built. The resulting ride is often fast, loose, jarring, technical, and riddled with consequence. It's a style of trail that breeds fast, strong, and fit riders. You might wonder, "Well, if they're not building new trails, what in the hell are they doing on that mountain?"

"Well, we start by being good stewards out on the mountain." Tara tells me. "The forest service doesn't get to come up here very often. A lot of them work at a desk at the ranger station, so we do our best to be a good partner to them and that's what we've spent the last 6 years doing. Number 1, we're trying to show the forest service that we are not going anywhere. Number 2, we are going to put in the hard work that a lot of other people don't want to do. You don't see other advocacy groups up doing this kind of stuff. We bring a lot of value to the forest service with upwards of 2,000 volunteer hours per year. We've been through numerous rangers just in the 6 years of TORCA's existence, and so far we've been able kind of wedge ourselves in enough so that we have a seat at the table."

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
A ridgeline rip down Bug Springs provides riders with some classic Mount Lemmon tech and views.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Even in the heart of summer, late afternoon conditions are very comfortable just a couple of thousand feet above Tucson.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
TORCA President Tara Alcantara is a beast on two wheels, and proudly bangs the advocacy drum for riders on Mount Lemmon.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
While Lemmon might serve as the centerpiece for riding in the Tucson region, there are plenty of opportunities off of the mountain as well. 50 Year Trail is a very popular winter riding spot.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Prison Camp is a local favorite, as it contains a mix of high speeds, punchy pedaling, and loads of rock gardens.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Prison Camp parallels the Santa Catalina, or Mount Lemmon highway, making it an easy and fun rinse-and-repeat shuttle option.
Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
TORCA board members Duncan Caldwell and Phillip Breuer pick their way down some slabs on the 50 Year trail.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Tara dives down some off camber bedrock on Prison Camp.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Stefanie McDaniel on a tear down not only my personal favorite trail on Mount Lemmon, but one of the single best trails I've ever ridden anywhere: Aspen Draw.

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Aspen Draw starts at the 9,100 foot tall summit, and descends 1,200 feet for 2.5 miles among aspens, maples, and oaks. Head here for a real sense of what a "sky island" can be in the desert.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
No need to pack a snack on Aspen Draw, wild raspberries are aplenty.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Stewardship and advocacy aren't as sexy a subject on Pinkbike as shredding and trail building, but it is without question as equally important to embrace.

I asked Tara what she felt the next step was for TORCA on Lemmon.

"Now comes the asks." she replied immediately. "This is where the rubber meets the road. We have a huge challenge ahead of us. In order to even consider building a new trail, having mountain bike only trails, we need to do the work. We need to GPS it all. We need to tell them how we're gonna fund it and we need to go out and write those grants to fund. We need to put proposals together, timelines. We need to pay for the environmental studies that are gonna need to be done. It's a big project. I've been at this for 6 years. I've been a part of it since the beginning. It could be 20 years before all of it's fully realized."

I then mentioned to her that in 20 years, she might not want to ride everything that they're looking to add to the mountain. She thought about it for a moment, then shrugged and nodded in acknowledgment. TORCA is in it for the long game, which is about as pure a form of advocacy as you'll find anywhere.

TORCA's very story was born out of a desire to be more actionable on Mount Lemmon from two people who were admittedly on opposite sides of the mountain bike spectrum. Both Art Alcantara and Vernie Aikens were members of the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists association for several years, but both decided to take a break and think about their own ambitions for the Tucson region and Mount Lemmon specifically.

"I think Vern was probably more of a cross country guy," Art tells me over dinner after a full day of riding on Mount Lemmon. "I was more of a downhill guy, but we saw that we had a common ground and that more needed to be done as it relates to trails. We both had a lot of love for the mountain itself."

Vernie picked it up. "We just didn't feel like we had the backing and the support there," he continued. "We took a break for a little while - about a year - and on a trip back from Angel Fire we discussed it for ten hours and came to the conclusion that we wanted to give it a go. We thought we could do it better; do it the way we thought it should be done."

"We just wanted to take an active approach," Art explains. "And we decided that early on that if you wanted to be a board member you had milestones that you had to meet. You had to be present at 75% of the meetings. We do one a month. You had to lead either a trail work day or a group ride once a year. That was the only pre-qualification to be a board member. We wanted to ensure that anybody who came on board was of the same mindset, and that we all held each other accountable to that."

Art and Vernie left SDMB when it had only 12 members in total. They both admit that the other trail association in town has stepped up its efforts considerably in the time since then, both in terms of trail building down near the city and fundraising. But TORCA came from a need to be more proactive, and to cement the area mountain bikers as an asset to Tucson. That starts with trail work. I had my questions about what trail building entails on a mountain comprised primarily of decomposed granite. Higher up on the mountain, it can mean clearing the trails of fallen trees and mitigating erosion. Down low it can mean pruning, re-routes, and simply sweeping the trail of debris. In the desert, everything seems to have spikes - including the wildlife, so even the simplest of tasks can have its risks. Both Vernie and Art began riding on Mount Lemmon back in 2005, and while no new trails have technically been built in the time since then, they have certainly worked to re-open preexisting trails and adhere themselves as primary caretakers of the mountain. It's hard to quantify the role of these people on this mountain, but Lemmon is massive and their efforts are no less so.

I could, in fact, spend a lot of time gushing on and on about the rubber-to-dirt experience of riding on Mount Lemmon, and how a single mountain may very well contain 2 or 3 of my 10 favorite trails ever. I can very easily gush over how Tucson has single handedly changed my perception of mountain biking in the American Southwest. Hell, if I could just get someone to pay me for it, I'd write a dining guide for mountain bike destinations, and give Tucson 12 out of 10 stars. Those are all viable subjects that might elicit some strong responses and reactions from readers, and they're things I'm happy to talk about if you ever feel compelled to ask me. But I cannot pretend that the most profoundly affecting dynamic that I experienced personally was anything other than the sense of ownership and responsibilities TORCA has taken over their roles Mount Lemmon. I don't mean for that to be in an audacious sense either. It's not that they feel like they "own" the trails or the mountain per se, but there is a strong sense of pride in the reputation TORCA has developed as stewards of the mountain, and ultimately as assets to the Forest Service who have learned to lean on Tara, Art, Vernie, and the rest of the 200+ member strong collective.

We spend a lot of time patting exceptional athletes and trail builders on the back for what they do, and for the record I'm all for it. While advocacy might lack the sex appeal of other dynamics in mountain biking, the reality is that our sport's unsung heroes are the ones attending board meetings, and filling out 501c3 forms, and are often the ones answering to the questions and demands of various other trail user groups. A peak behind the curtain of a prolific mountain bike association reveals responsibilities and duties that, quite frankly, kind of suck, especially when considering that it's done on a volunteer basis. Advocacy and stewardship is very hard work but it's not without its rewards, and TORCA's recognition of that is leading to some exciting developments.

"We've gotten nothing in the way of new trails in 6 years," Art tells me as the remains of our meals are being swept away by staff at Risky Business restaurant following the afternoon of shuttles on the Prison Camp trail. "But we just got to see the vision. You asked us earlier what drives us. It's our vision of Mount Lemmon. I think we see what it can be. Now, I think the challenge is is passing the baton and encouraging younger people to step up. You know, we're all in our late 30's and in our early 40's and we're beat up, we're tired, and so we have to engage the younger folks and hopefully pass on the baton so that they can see it through. We've laid the groundwork. Now it's just a matter of pulling it through."

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Your bike is going to groan a bit on Mount Lemmon. Once you accept that, you can dive right in.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
The city of Tucson looms in the distance well below La Milagrosa trail.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
La Milagrosa is a trail that should be on every advanced riders' bucket list.

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The light shines a bit differently in the desert.

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Tara and Art lead a train of TORCA members in a race against an incoming monsoon.

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Juan Del Castillo navigates the bottom of Incinerator Ridge.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
The terrain here is both brutal and beautiful.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
There's nothing purpose built on Mount Lemmon, which is exactly what I love so much about it.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Mountain biking in the American Southwest: I finally get it. Thank you, Tucson.

Images from Local Flavors Tucson AZ
Click here to check out the full gallery of images from my trip to Tucson.


Presented by Visit Tucson

Local Knowledge


Bike Shops: There are several bikes shops throughout Tucson. The folks at Arizona Cyclist were especially helpful to me all week. My hotel was right next to Sabino Cycles, which is just a few miles from the Mount Lemmon highway. Honestly, you're never more than a stone's throw from a quality local bike shop.

Favorite Eats: Where to begin? There wasn't a meal I didn't absolutely love. My favorite spot for breakfast and coffee was at Le Buzz. Great coffee, tasty pastries, and their oatmeal (yes, oatmeal) was a great way to start each morning there. You're 50 miles north of the Mexican border, so guess what? The Mexican food here is as good as it gets north of that ill-advised wall. Have at it. I had pizza one night at Bear Canyon Pizza, and it was also really good, as was their beer and wine selection. The guacamole at Taco Giro is proper.

Area Digs: There are no shortages of lodging options here. If you're visiting during the summer months, you'll obviously want to make sure the AC is reliable. I stayed at the Comfort Suites at Sabino Canyon. It was affordable, had great internet, was bike friendly, and just a few minutes from the Mount Lemmon Highway.

Local Mountain Bike Club: There are two primary associations in town: TORCA and SDMB. They have divided and conquered the region, and both are doing great work for Tucson and Mount Lemmon. TORCA organizes an annual festival on Mount Lemmon called Pachanga. This year it'll be held from October 19-21, and is a great opportunity to check out all trails high and low on the mountain!

Brice's Key Tips:
1: Tucson is absolutely a year-round riding destination. Don't be afraid of it in the summer. When it's hot in town, it'll be considerably cooler up on the mountain. Case in point: When it was 108 degrees in town, it was 70 degrees at the summit on the day I rode Aspen Draw. During the winter months, the summit trails might actually be snowed it, but the trails down low are going to be full tilt.
2: Bike choice: There is enough terrain here for all bikes. You can bring the DH rig down Aspen Draw, and most of Mount Lemmon can be ridden on a mid to long travel trail bike. Roadies love it here too, and you'll pass scores of them making the 27 mile, 7,000 vertical foot climb as you drive up Lemmon to ride trail.
3: Mount Lemmon is massive, and there are several true backcountry opportunities on the mountain. Consider using Homegrown MTB as a shuttle or guide service if you've never been. Tara, Art and the rest of the team will make your trip that much better for it. They even offer bike rentals.

Tucson mountain biking trails

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64 Comments

  • + 12
 Riders are huge trail advocates and workers across the nation. I've yet to see a horse group go out and do trail maintenance... Some hikers do, most don't.

I'm curious. When TORCA and others stop maintaining the trail due to Owl Issues, when do the complaints start? Hmm?

Wait for hikers to discover 'bike' only trails, complain, get access, then do nothing to maintain.

/salt
  • + 4
 We have seen equestrians do some trail maintenance here, although rarely. however, considering their version of trail maintenance is a technique we call the "lop and drop" we aren't clamoring for them to do more work.
  • + 3
 @groghunter: friggin hate lop n drop.
  • + 3
 Art and Tara are awesome and what they are doing for MTB in the area is awesome! First met them after doing a full Lemmon Drop and while we were waiting for our buddies to fetch the shuttle vehicle (takes a good solid hour+) they gave us beer and chatted about the area till the sun went down...
  • + 9
 Thank you, @briceshirbach these kinds of articles are needed and necessary. Our tribe needs to know that what we all absorb online is the tip of the iceberg. The meat of what we love to do is the result of desk jockeys and nerds convincing the powers that be that we deserve a place at the table and in the landscape.
  • + 10
 Awesome article Brice. You delivered!! Can't wait to have you back for a little CDO action!
  • + 9
 There's nothing purpose built on Mt Lemmon...but it takes 20 f***ing years to get permission from the govt to put it there.
And people wonder why there are "illegal" trails
  • + 17
 Welcome to the process man. You wanna bitch about or get involved? You riding or burning in illegal trails doesn't help the cause. Look at the big picture or you will lose more.
  • + 7
 The illegal trails don't seem to be "purpose built" either and are well below the quality of nearly everything else on the mountain. Space is real limited up top. Burning in crap lines through places that could host good trail someday is not contributing anything. It deprives the community of resources and makes life harder for the folks who can actually do the work well and in a way that does provide lasting benefit to the community.

I'm not wholly against the diy ethic but this little chunk of trees floating in the sky isn't the place for it.
  • + 5
 Get active, participate, and get after it. Be a torch.
  • - 9
flag scary1 (Sep 12, 2018 at 14:39) (Below Threshold)
 @suvlako: I'd rather bitch about it. If I wanted to get involved in politics I'd run for office.
Also, I've never knowingly ridden an illegal trail. I ride the same shit I've ridden for 20 years
  • + 8
 Brice is the real deal and so is Tucson. Thanks for coming out and shredding the Lemmon Amigo!
  • + 4
 I have ridden in several world class mtb destinations and Tucson is truly unique. There's a wide variety of trails from XC to DH, there's a lot here for every kind of rider. The Mt. Lemmon trails have some of the best downhill trails I've ridden and the TORCA guys keep these trails in great shape all year round. Tucson mtb trails are underrated.
  • + 6
 Hardly a "complete guide." There was more about TORCA than there was about the trails. There's a lot more to Mt Lemmon than was covered here, not to mention the other areas.
  • + 20
 Thanks for checking it out! If you’ve ever read Local Flavors or East Boubd & Down before, you know these aren’t really “ride guides”. I’m not sure why the powers that be have elected to brand this series as such. As you pointed out, it’s much more about community and advocacy first, riding a very second. There are loads of great trails everywhere, and loads of trail exposés as well. I like to focus on the people behind these places and the impact mountain biking has on the world around us. Cheers!
  • + 5
 @briceshirbach: Thanks for the great review. You nailed it. I was out there this March and rode with Homegrown for two days. Riding was awesome. Tara, Art, Phil and the team at Homegrown definitely made the whole adventure fun and a must-do-again trip in my book. Must.Go.Back.
  • + 4
 Did Tucson last xmas. Coming from minus 30 degrees in Southern Ontario to 6 C to 28 C was a welcome change. Trails were varied and all in great condition. We rented Hightowers from Action ride shop in Phoenix and baller American Sized pickup truck and an AirBNB for 30% less then an all inclusive !
  • + 4
 Time on Mt Lemmon is time well spent - but being guided by someone on Tara's crew helps make sure your time is even better spent. In addition to maybe preventing you from losing 5 or 6 thousand feet of elevation on the wrong trail and winding up in the backcountry, they're also equipped to save you from the embarrassment of mispronouncing "saguaro". They'll even follow up with witty and memorable insight like "I came to Tucson, but I left my G's in Wisconsin."

That trail is a wild ride - "may well contain 2 or 3 of my 10 favourite trails ever" - ditto.
  • + 3
 Great read Brice and a great series. Thanks for that. I rode Lemmon last fall and Tara was kind enough to help me with info and ride help for a shuttle down the south side of the mtn on some of the bad ass trails described here. I quickly learned not to stray off trail even a little, because everything has thorns. Big thorns that’ll rip your clothes, your skin, and your tires. TORCA is a model on how to keep us on the trails.

Philly for life, in the spirit of Johnny Mutone, original Philly MTB roots.
  • + 2
 Spend a lot of the winter in the area, and there is sooooo much more dirt to explore. Tucson has embraced the cycling culture on road and trail, but with all the normal access challenges. The local shops and riders do a great job of sharing the Arizona experience. Arizona is the place to be November through March, not brave enough to try riding in June through September. It conjures images of the old saying "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun". SPF??
  • + 3
 We go out at night or very, very early in the morning during the summer months. It's nothing like the great weather we get in the winter, but it works.

That, or drive to Flagstaff Smile
  • + 2
 Love Tuscon! Tons of great trails within a short drive of town. Food is spectacular. Didn't get a chance to do Mt. Lemmon but hit up the Sweetwater and Tucson Mountain Bike trails. One lesson I learned the hard way: BEWARE THE JUMPING CHOLLA!!!
  • + 2
 Great article highlighting what goes behind building great trails...hard work. Kudos to TORCA and the Alcantara’s For their efforts. We all benefit when we work together. I’ll head down from The PHX this fall to check it out. Also, GREAT tack sharp photos. Superb article.
  • + 5
 Brice, really enjoy your work but why on Earth would you go there in August and not winter?
  • + 4
 Hahahahaha not my call, but honestly on the mountain it’s a different world.
  • + 2
 Glad you made it to Tucson and featured this amazing destination as a part of your content series. I rolled into town solo about 4 years back and reached out via a online MTB forum to see if I could get some trail beta. The Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists invited me to join them on a group Lemmon Drop ride and shuttled me up. Great group of people. Since then regarded my MTB existence as pre and post Mt Lemmon.
  • + 5
 Brice thanks for the words they were special. Got me a little misty eyed even once. Vernie Aikins TORCA VP
  • + 2
 This really makes me want to go to Tucson! I've been to the city before, visited Saguaro NP, but wasn't a mountain biker yet. Now I want to return to ride! Thank God for those who advocate for our sport. My goal is to get to a point where I have the time to do the same!
  • + 4
 I'm from Puerto Rico but work for two years in a bike shop in tucson and love riding ther big time can't wait to go back .
  • + 2
 Some terrific free camping in the area is a bonus to those living the dirtbag life. We spent nearly a month in Tuscon camping up Reddington road- great views and just a couple of minutes from the bottom of Lemmon.
  • + 4
 It’s cool to see a female represent the sport the way Tara has. Keep it up Tara and TORCA.
  • + 4
 The Old Pueblo is one of my favorite cities on the planet. Bear Down Arizona.
  • + 1
 Cool Guide. Tangent: If you're ever in Sierra Vista (1:15 Minutes South East- A stones throw from Mexico) there's some fun riding in the Huachuca mountains with two good bike shops (Sun n' Spokes and M&M). The kids from Buena High School were the Arizona NICA XC state champions last season.
  • + 3
 Sad to see Aspen Draw might be going away. It was one of my favorites growing up in the desert- a hour's drive and it was like riding in Colorado.
  • + 5
 More of these. Great to hear other advocates trails and tribulations.
  • + 5
 Dirty T!!!
  • + 4
 Thanks for the kind words Brice!
  • + 2
 My pleasure! See you guys in a few months!
  • + 1
 Hey Tucson people! I’m thinking about making a trip down in mid December. Are the trails high up still good to go? Any must do trails for more advanced/expert stuff? Thanks!
  • + 3
 Pretty much anything on Lemmon is going to be great for advanced/ expert riders. Bugs has to be the funnest trail I’ve ever done and you can’t beat miligrosa when it comes to the scenery and uniqueness of the trail. Incinerator green mountain and mili are the best expert trails. If it isn’t snowed in CDO is an incredible backcountry downhill ride, make sure to get out to 50 to do middle gate and cowboy for some cool features. We don’t have many signs on our trails so your best bet is to link up with some local riders
  • + 1
 There's a ski resort up top
  • + 7
 Hey there! Tucson is amazing for riding in December... most all the trails are open, even the higher elevation, alpine trails. Give us a shout at Home Grown MTB and we can give you the beta. CDO is a "must do" backcountry ride with thousands of feet of descending.
  • + 1
 Awesome! Thanks! @OTB-Raspberry:
  • + 1
 Thanks! Will do! @HGmtb:
  • + 3
 makes me want to crank up some meat puppets and head west, away from this hurricane
  • + 1
 Ahhh dude...best of luck with that! Hopefully you have somewhere safe to get to!
  • + 1
 @briceshirbach: i'm in asheville, we're just getting rain. maybe a lot of it
  • + 3
 But, you missed the canyon of gold on the back side...
  • + 2
 Wrong season unfortunately... Brice will just have to come back in the fall or spring.
  • + 1
 @HGmtb: I hit it in march one year... it was interested to say the least haha.
  • + 3
 Pachanga! Oct 19-21 Do It
  • + 3
 Please don't come here it's awful
  • + 2
 Bug Springs and Mila are legit. Love me some Mt. Lemmon. Nice right up!
  • + 2
 Would these trails be rideable in late September through late October?
  • + 4
 Yes they would. Late October thru November is pretty predictable(awesome) weather. DO NOT do CDO alone. Call HG as people get turned around and end up on the evening news ALL THE TIME!
  • + 2
 Where can I get some of this "face mustard"?
  • + 2
 Awesome write up guys, any plans for a Phoenix one?
  • + 1
 Would love to! South Mountain is really fun
  • + 2
 thx for the info!
  • + 1
 You should have added in a Starr Pass night ride.
  • + 1
 Agreed! Monsoons were prevalent and time was limited, so hopefully next time.
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