Mountain Biking the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

I rarely ever get out to the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. It’s one of the newer bits of municipal open space in Phoenix, but it’s a bit far from me. Last time I was here, it was also shorter on mileage than I’d like.

In February of 2021, I went back for another look. This time, there were trails south of the major road that leads to the trailhead. I consulted Trailforks and formed a plan of attack with a goal of at least 20 miles.

Let’s walk through it to see what you need to know.

Busy at the Parking Lot

The mid-morning on a Sunday parking situation at the main Phoenix Sonoran Preserve trailhead is pretty brisk. So either go earlier or later, as the season’s weather allows.

The trailhead also has a decently equipped bathroom. I was full on water, so I didn’t bother checking the water fountain situation. Sorry!

As a reminder, I was rolling on a singlespeed hardtail with a 100mm suspension fork. That’s my kind of bike, and these trails are well-suited for it. There are a few super-steep trails that will favor a geared bike, and some chonk on the other side that will be better with a full-suspension bike.

Getting Started at the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

My ride plan required me to cross Dove Valley Road, which features vehicles regularly traveling at Talladega 500 qualifying speeds, or as close to them as they can get.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
The non-fun part of the ride.

Once I got across, I had to follow a dirt road south. And it’s here where you’ll run into a navigational challenge: You need to veer east of a fence about a mile into it so you can connect to the trails. This is currently not marked with a sign.

On to the Real Trails

I spotted more than a few branching bits of singletrack. I made a left onto Cactus Wren, which took me up a steady climb. The trail had an overall nice flow, and I soon had some nice views.

Cactus Wren eventually meets a trail called Great Horned Owl. If you continue south, it’s nice and rideable on any bike. Turn west, though, and this will get steep and rocky.

How steep? Think 300 feet in .2 miles steep.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
Signage could be a lot better, but it does have some, at least.

As you continue on Great Horned Owl, watch for a right turn. If you miss it, you’ll find that it’s barely even a trail anymore. You’ll push your bike up a steep, rubbly mess — about 200 feet in .2 miles.

Great Horned Owl will connect to Valle Vista, which is a stupid amount of fun. I stayed on it, eschewing Desert Tortoise (which I’ll check out next time) until I hit the Dixie Mountain Loop, where I turned left. I might go right next time, not sure.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
A rusted wreck just off the trail.

By the way, opting against the turn onto Desert Tortoise also resulted in a steep, loose, rocky climb. Not as bad as the others, but still tough.

Anyway, I stayed on Dixie Mountain Loop until it became Bobcat, which I took to the end near Dove Valley Road.

Headed Back Toward the Trailhead

I had plenty of options for the route back, including going back the same way I came. I was a bit rankled that my most-direct option was a green trail called Dixie Mountain Bypass. It’s a non-technical trail that climbs slightly heading back the way I wanted to go.

Let me pause with a recommendation for trail runners. This trail will make you very, very happy. It looks, at least to me, like trail running perfection. If you run it, let me know if I was right on this one.

Anyway, it was more fun than I expected from being a fairly straight green trail. You can get a singlespeed into a nice groove.

I soon wound up back at the beginning of the proper trails, where Cactus Wren got me started. I doubled back a little for more mileage, and wound up on the aforementioned steep climb that is Great Horned Owl.

Room to Improve for the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

Most importantly, I also found a singletrack route back toward the trailhead. This does not appear on the Trailforks site or app. I can only conclude that is because the people in charge of such things at the City of Phoenix are trying to prevent additions to the trail network.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

And I get it. You don’t want rogue trail builders doing stuff to mess things up. But most of the time, rogue trailbuilders get busy because they’re frustrated by inaction. I suspect that’s the case with the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. The south side of the trails are a gem, but the interconnections with the other parts of the network are abysmal.

It’s entirely possible, also, that they might get worse. Why? Developers. And 1,400 more red tile roofs. (If I learned anything from watching copious amounts of Scooby Do, it’s that developers are a scourge. Half a decade as a full-time news reporter reinforced what I learned from the crew of the Mystery Machine.)

I don’t see the addition of homes doing much to help trail connectivity here. Here’s a data point to support that: The unmarked trail I rode back to the road originally went under a bridge. That has since been blocked off my city signs choked with passive voice and bureaucratic prose warning that the area is closed and blah blah blah. That tells me that this wonderfully made and fun connector trail is probably an open secret. The city knows it exists, but it might cost them too much in resources and potential blowback to do anything with it.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve
The Man is at work.

Once I got back to the trailhead, I puttered around a bit to bump up my mileage and climbing. The Sidewinder was a nice climb that was entirely rideable on a singlespeed. I didn’t think much of the section of the Apache Wash Loop that I used. I was also less than impressed with the trail manners of some other users.

My totals came out to 24 miles with 1,600 feet of climbing.

Wrapping Up a Good Ride

I had a great time riding these trails. Now that I’m familiar with the lay of the land, I can get even more fun out of my next visit.

If you haven’t ridden at the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve yet, get out there. You’re certain to have fun. If you consider anything less than 25 miles too short, definitely put in some time on the Sidewinder after you’ve gotten your fill of what’s on the south side.

5 Important Types of Bike Accessories for New Cyclists

Bike Accessories You Need Today

At a Glance

Bike accessories can be just as important as the shiny new bike you’re buying. Here’s a quick breakdown of the categories we’ll cover. Keep scrolling for all the details!

–Stuff to Wear When You Ride
–Hydration Supplies and On-Bike Storage
–You Break It, You Fix It
–Electronics and Safety Gear
–Other Bike Accessories You Might Need

You’ve spent tons of time test riding bikes, asking questions, reading and generally obsessing over getting your first good bike. You’re ready to make your decision and you’re glad that’s all over.

Except it’s not.

There’s more to getting into cycling than just buying your bike. There’s a wealth of other stuff you need. And not just gear — knowledge, too.

Let’s talk about what bike accessories you need to be thinking about as you head to the bike shop ready to swipe that credit card.

Stuff to Wear When You Ride

I can’t even fathom getting on my bike with street clothes. Even for a short ride, I’m still wearing at a minimum:

Some sort of bike shorts, though I’ll often opt for casual baggy ones on short rides — I’m used to wearing something with a chamois (that’s the butt pad you see that separates stretchy shorts from bike shorts).

A chamois is the difference between bike shorts and stretchy pants.

A helmet — I don’t ride anywhere without one. It’s not just good for protecting you in a fall — it also keeps the sun off your head and protects you from branches, bees and all sorts of other stuff that can whack you. I’m serious about bees; you wouldn’t believe how many bees have donked off my helmet.
Gloves — Indispensable. One fall without them will convince you. Smart people won’t need that fall to convince them.
Eye protection — You probably have sunglasses. You’re good to go.

bike accessories
A good pair of sunglasses are necessary for riding.

These are some optional items:

A jersey — Not necessary. You can get by in a sweat-wicking t-shirt. A good jersey can be awesome, especially since many of them have pockets in the back that come in handy. If you decide to wear jerseys, get good ones.
Bike shoes — These are a must for people using clipless pedals. If you’re sticking with flats, I still advise avoiding shoes that are super-floppy. Something with a stiff sole works better. If you’re determined to use clipless pedals, buy good shoes. My Sidi shoes typically last 10 years. I seldom got more than a year out of other shoes. If you’re going to ride flats, I can’t offer any good advice.
Bike socks — I like them. They fit in my shoes better than my regular socks. But I could do without them in a bike apocalypse.

bike accessories
A stash of bike accessories in a serious cycling household. And this is just some of it! NOTE: The pink mini-miner’s helmet is not approved for cycling.

Hydration Supplies and On-Bike Storage

These two types of bike accessories go hand-in-hand, and I’ll show you what I mean.

On all of my rides, I carry water bottles filled with electrolyte mix. On certain mountain bike rides, I’ll also use a Camelbak — this is especially true of night rides when I might carry a spare battery.

I avoid the Camelbak since it’s a vector for sweat and weight. I suppose I could use a hydration pack for electrolytes, which I used to do — but I let it in my car with a little leftover electrolyte mix too many times and wound up with a gross science experiment in there. And it wasn’t fun to clean out.

The Camelbak helps when I know there’s no place to refill my bottles.

bike acceesories
My Lynskey Urbano sporting both a BeerBabe bag on the top tube and a Topeak saddlebag. Awesome, helpful products.

But I also need to carry stuff with me — food, tools, etc. That means I need some form of bike storage when I don’t use the Camelbak. My go-to method is a Topeak saddlebag. For really long rides, I’ll add a BeerBabe bag right behind my stem along the top tube. This bag is awesome for races when I want quick access to food without fooling around. It saves several minutes, for sure.

For bottles, I use insulated Camelbak bottles. I haven’t yet found the perfect water bottle cage. I break ‘em regularly.

You Break It, You Fix It

I carry a pretty solid arsenal of bike-fixing tools on every ride. I’ve saved myself a few times … and saved other people on more than a few occasions.

Here’s my complete loadout of my bike accessories for handling repairs:

One pump — Self-explanatory, right?
One Innovations in Cycling Bacon Strips kit — I roll with tubeless tires, so this is how I fix the bigger holes. I also love its built-in valve core remover, as well as the spare valves contained within.
One Stan’s Dart — Another method of fixing flats. Mostly for races since it’s the fastest way to fix them.
Multi-tool with allen wrenches, screwdrivers, etc.– I have multiple brands I’ve collected over the years.
Chainbreaker — I also carry a specific chain tool, even though many multitools include them. I find the dedicated type easier to use.
2 Pedro’s tire levers — If I need to use these, I’m having a bad day. If I don’t have them and need them, I’m going to have an even worse day.
1 Small bottle of Stan’s Sealant — Another potential ride saver for those who ride with tubeless tires.

No, not THAT kind of pump!

If your bike uses tubes instead of tubeless tires, you should always carry a patch kit.

It should go without saying that all of this stuff is useless if you don’t know how to use it. The good news: YouTube can demystify quite a bit of this for you. Spend some quality time checking out videos and practicing what you learn before you need to do it on the trail. Still stumped? Get advice from your local shop or other riders.

Electronics and Safety Gear

bike accessories
A bell, Cycliq Fly12 light/camera combo and GPS computer.

If you’d told me back in 1996 how much electronic shit would be on my bike in 2021, I wouldn’t have believed you. Here’s what I’ve got:

A GPS computer — Brilliant for tracking miles. Connect it to Strava for all sorts of great data about your progress, speed, calories burned. Hook it up to Trailforks for more fun. The possibilities are endless. I hate riding without it.
A Cycliq Fly12 light/camera combo — This is expensive, but invaluable for road rides. It actually makes drivers behave differently around me.
Tail Light — Also handy for riding in traffic. I don’t need it as much for the mountain bike unless I’m riding at night.
A bell — This sounds irredeemably dorky. But it’s super-handy for both road rides and mountain biking. It’s a friendlier way to warn people than shouting at them. It’s also a nice “how’s it going?” signal to other cyclists.

I also use a heart rate monitor. But that’s hardly necessary unless you’re training and racing.

Other Bike Accessories You Might Need

bike accessories

There’s a good chance you’ll need a rack for transporting your bike on your car. Great news: I have a nice little guide all about that.

You should also ride with food. I mentioned electrolytes earlier. The hotter your climate, the more important electrolytes are. Even if you’re a casual rider, why make life any harder than it needs to be?

As for actual food, experiment. See what carries well and feels good during a ride.