VIDEO: The Pivin Loop and Papago Park

The Pivin Loop at Papago Park has become unbelievably fun over the past few years. It didn’t even exist until a few years ago when the City of Phoenix decided to — without public input — plow the existing singletrack trails.

There was plenty of howling and gnashing of teeth (including myself). Some people wanted the trails restored to their original state. I thought that was a crappy option. I could see the use in the new trails, even if I didn’t like the method. The wide, smooth trails are perfect for runners and wheelchairs. I advocated for building new trails.

And sho’ ’nuff, someone did. It wasn’t the city, that’s for sure. Because these trails rock hard. They exceed the original trails in every single measure. More fun, more challenge — yet beginners like the dudes I met this weekend were undaunted and willing to try their luck (a few pointers from a certain rider helped them clean an obstacle that had stymied them).

The Pivin Loop at a Glance

Some guy on Strava mapped this loop out. I don’t think he actually built it. But he sure as hell staked his claim to history by IDing this 4-mile loop that encompasses all the good that Papago Park has to offer.

There are other new offshoots of the Pivin Loop. None have worn in as nicely, though. None can match the variety and ever-elusive and hard-to-define flow of the Pivin Loop. There are even a few little jumps scattered around to make things more fun.

In retrospect, I welcome the 5k and say good riddance to the old trails. The Pivin Loop thoroughly whoops their ass.

What Next?

I’d like the city to actually legitimize these trails. Someone did what they couldn’t — faster and inexpensively, to boot. And cities that have offroad trails need to figure out a way to tap these resources. Why not welcome them into the fold to use their expertise and time?

Bureaucracy has a place. But this isn’t rocket surgery. It’s just people having an idea about using the existing resources better.

Anyway, on to the video. Enjoy!

Rogue Trailbuilders at Work in Papago Park?


In the summer of 2016, the city of Phoenix caused an uproar by destroying an important mountain bike trail at Papago Park and turning most of the really fun spots into a 5k running path.

Look, this wasn’t the world’s greatest trail. But Papago Park is where many Phoenix area riders got hooked on riding. It’s where we took friends to show them the ropes. It’s where we hold silly-ass races for quick after-work fun. And it’s right in the middle of a major city – it’s hard to find an amenity like the Papago trails anywhere else -- just minutes from an international airport.

A bunch of mountain bikers want the city of Phoenix to destroy the 5k trail and restore it to singletrack. They come up with excuses about sustainability and public input and whatever. And I get it. But they’re also just pissed, and they’re more than a bit self-centered. Those associated with the Operation: Saving Papago are also way too pleased with themselves for forcing the issue onto a city meeting agenda (hint: City entities move really slowly, and you need to ride Papago That Is before deciding you really, really want Papago The Was). In their self-righteous fury, the group overlooks other solutions to the situation.

I’m glad that my former East Valley Tribune colleague Ray Stern dug into this and unraveled a pretty crappy situation. And I hope the city learns from its error.

On the plus side, it appears that someone with time and know-how built some new singletrack. And it’s flippin’ sweet if a bit rough around the edges. We’re talking about steep chutes, lots of twists and some opportunities to catch air.

I hadn’t ridden here since I first encountered the 5K trail that replaces the original Papago Park trail. It was absolutely pointless to do so. It’s just not fun riding. But I was pressed for time and determined to get some mileage. And I hoped against all reason that someone had been at work doing something to rectify the situation.

And these trails I found? I’m diggin’ them, as was every single other rider I talked to this weekend. I now like riding Papago better than I ever have before. The new trails remind me just a bit of Fantasy Island, minus all the silly decorations. Much of the new trails are part of the Strava info you see above, where it’s known collectively as “1/2 Vigilante.” It continues west, though, and it seems those bits aren’t on Strava.

You know what? I’m even more convinced that the best course is to let the other users have their trail. Adopt the new singletrack, and maybe even add more of it. Find the trailbuilders, and allow us to take them out for beer. Hell, name the trails after them!

Something tells me this is not the trails the city would’ve designed at Papago Park. They’re a little too fun and just don’t have that bureaucratic municipal stank. So get out there, ride these and make sure the city doesn’t feel comfortable trashing them like they did the old trails, OK?

Phoenix Destroys Some of the Nation’s Best Urban Mountain Biking

NOTE: See the updates at the end of the post.

Congratulations, Phoenix. You’ve officially destroyed one of the nation’s best urban mountain biking areas. And you managed to do it on the down-low.

By the time I started mountain biking in 1992, the Papago Park trails were the gathering place for local riders looking for a quick post-work or -class ride. Whether you were new to the sport or one of the fastest racers around, Papago Park was there for you. It was up to the task of being a venue for everything from 12-hour races (edit: I had a case of 12-hour brain when I wrote this … 12 Hours in the Papago stayed in the Tempe and Scottsdale portions of Papago) to ad-hoc races

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That feeling when bureaucrats destroy something awesome in your city.

No longer. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out:

  • Most of the trails on the Phoenix side have been bladed from the singletrack mountain bikers love so much to an eight-foot-wide (just my eyeballed estimate) superhighway. The surface is unpaved and covered in loose pebbles. The berms in the corners are also gone, so forget about sustaining any sort of speed into a corner. In places, there are even slabs of concrete, presumably for drainage.
  • There appears to be no motive.
    Phoenix destroys papago trails
    It’s mountain biking, Jim – but not as we know it.

    No existing trail user benefits from this destruction. My only guess is that this is some bizarre, mishandled effort to improve the area’s

    Phoenix destroys papago trails
    This concrete drainage will not hold up well – as Phoenix could’ve found out if they consulted IMBA or some real trail builders.

    wheelchair accessibility. I could support that – but why destroy the existing asset for the majority of users when a separate wheelchair-accessible trail network is an option? UPDATE: I’ve seen some talk in the Facebook group referenced in a few paragraphs that this might be a way to lure more 5k trail races to Papago.

  • Rumors of Starbucks and other silly money-grab theme parkization (my new word) of Papago Park have been around for quite awhile now. It seems the public heard about this for so long that they stopped believing it, and didn’t monitor the situation closely enough. Notice that the trail destruction happened during the summer months, when most cyclists switch to road biking or head up north to cooler climates. There’s also no news coverage, with this being the closest mention to the topic. There was no signage explaining anything or asking for input.
  • I’m to blame. But so are you. So is every single mountain biker who may have knownabout this, and didn’t expend all energy possible to organizing the people who use and love these trails. This speaks to a need for a far more organized and engaged cycling community. I’d also really like to know what the International Mountain Bicycling Association would say about the quality and sustainability of the new pseudotrails.
  • It’s not too late. Seriously. A Facebook group has formed to mitigate the damage. And imagine if enough of us stand together and demand that Phoenix build new mountain bike specific trails. The business case is there if you look to the progressive thinking of McDowell Mountain Regional Park, which turned itself into a regional draw for cyclists by expanding its trail network. Then-Supervisor Rand Hubbell put McDowell Mountain Regional Park on the national mountain biking map – maybe someone equally intelligent at the city of Phoenix could do the same. Step One: Go find the people who hand-built the Fantasy Island North Singletrack and get them to work their magic at Papago. The result would be even better than the current – sorry, make that former – trails.

Let’s see how Phoenix handles this, and how it explains the lack of public notice. I’d also like to see how they analyzed the trail user groups to figure out whether this would actually benefit anyone.

SOME UPDATES

Ray Stern from the Phoenix New Times is following this situation. Expect balanced, well-researched reporting from him. It’s what he does. And while it’s great to have bloggers and social media users squawking, it’s a huge benefit to haves someone with the time and resources to dig into city documents and present other sides of the story. Not to mention using those resources to right the situation.

Ray’s found that at least one off-road wheelchair user really digs the revamped trail. And some other disabled trail users do, too, judging from the social media conversations. Meanwhile, I think too many mountain bikers are howling “tear it out and make it the way it was” and polishing their pitchforks. I favor a solution that would create something unprecedented: A venue that includes a resource for off-road wheelchair users to have fun and maybe even compete (sign me up as a race volunteer and trailbuilder, already!) and integrates a purpose-built, mountain bike-specific singletrack network. Given FINS and its amazing trail design and execution, this is possible with a minimum of resources. The biggest challenge is finding the political will. And jeez, mountain bikers … stand with disabled trail users, FFS.

Sharp-Eyed Cyclist Wins Switch Vision Sunglasses Contest

It’s time to announce the winner of the Switch Vision / WanderingJustin.com Stoke Sunglasses giveaway -- read on!

Testing my H-Wall sunglasses at Papago Park.

More than a month ago, I asked WanderingJustin.com readers to tell me about the oddest thing they’ve ever found while hiking or biking. Tell me the best story, I said, and my buddies at Switch Vision will send you a pair of the awesome Switch Stoke sunglasses – just like the ones I wear.

Veteran BMX hero-turned-mountain biker Abel from Queen Creek., Ariz., could’ve won the sunglasses with both of his best trailside finds. The first item? During a ride at San Tan Mountain Regional Park, Abel found a brand-new – with tag! – Dallas Cowboys jersey. But that wasn’t his winning entry.

And I have to say, his winner does shock me. It handily beat such entries as a Bowie knife, a crescent wrench, a pair of Pearl Izumi gloves and a deer carcass.

Abel earned his pair of Switch Vision sunglasses by finding what he describes as a "a pair of what looked to be fetish homemade metal mesh underwear hanging on a bush" in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve near Squaw Peak.

"I passed the underwear and saw them hanging there and was like, ‘What the heck was that?!’ As a curious George I had to stop and investigate," Abel tells me. "Didn’t touch them though cause you never know where they have been. Got a good chuckle out of it and continued my ride."

A slick par of Switch Vision Stoke sunglasses in olive. But Abel showed some boldness and chose Demi Purple. (Photo courtesy of Switch Vision)

Shenanigans involving homemade chainmail chones seem much more likely to happen in Papago Park: Crazy things happen at Papago Park, the famous urban outdoor refuge plunked right in the middle of Phoenix. Just a few years ago, I railed around a corner on my Santa Cruz Superlight and nearly plowed into a bikini-clad model posing on a rock. The scene bewildered me – the photo assistants bouncing sunlight off her, the photographer issuing orders, the disdainful air of the model toward all around her.

But the Phoenix Mountain Preserve? Wow!

Let’s all salute Abel for his find, applaud him for his discretion in leaving the chainmail undies alone, and berate him for not taking a photo (I could’ve used the pattern to make my own).

Speaking of my friends at Switch Vision, they also sent me a pair of their H-WALL sunglasses. This a more sports-oriented, lightweight model than the Stoke glasses that I like so much. So far, I’ve had them out for quite a few mountain bike rides.

The report? The disappear on my face. I forget that they’re even there – except for all the sunlight they block and that nice polarized tint they add to my world. For some reason, their lenses seem to be more sweat-resistant than the lenses on my Stoke sunglasses. They definitely make me look faster -- which only leads to disappoint when people see that I’m not really that fast! But overall, I really like them. If you want a lighter-weight, Euro-fast-looking pair of sunglasses with that awesome Magnetic Lens Interchange System, they are likely perfect for you.

Surviving My First 12-Hour Solo Bike Race

Me headed out for another lap as the day wears on.

Saturday, I raced in the solo class of the Four Peaks "12 Hours in the Papago" mountain bike race.

Hang on – make the "Slowlow Class" -- as in slow speeds, and a low number of laps!

I was pretty excited about this race since it’s so close to Phoenix – and I think Papago Park is one of the best attractions around. The red sandstone buttes are close to Mill Avenue and a lot of other fun stuff. And having a 12-hour race so close to home took some of the logistical problems away.

There were many interesting things at play here: I hadn’t ridden my bike in three weeks, mostly because of fighting off some sort of plague that’s making the rounds here. This was the first weekend I’ve felt pretty much back to normal.

I pretty much treated this as training for the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo race next month. I experimented with intensity, food and drinks to see what would work to keep my legs from cramping and stave off dehydration.

Mission accomplished: A combo of V-8, coconut water, Cytomax, Pro Bars and the occasional "toaster pastry" helped me put in 8 laps and avoid Dead Freakin’ Last place by a large margin. I also dealt with the cold pre-dawn temperatures pretty well.

Something else: I avoided caffeine the entire week before the race. I hate waking up early, so I decided skipping caffeine would help me fall asleep faster each night. Worked perfectly.

These are lessons I’ll apply next month when my bud Harry and I hit Old Pueblo as the duo team Bone Resistance.

OK, so how did Red Rock do in running and organizing 12 Hours in the Papago? Pretty well. Here are some points that stuck with me: Continue reading

5 of the Best Places to Mountain Bike in Phoenix, Ariz.

EDITOR’S NOTE (May 1, 2012): This post is really old. I will publish an update soon. Subscribe (it’s free) in the box to the right so you don’t miss it!

EDITOR’S NOTE PART II (May 11, 2012): UPDATED and cooler than ever.

I just recently ran into an old classmate at an ad hoc high school reunion. He’d moved from the area, and mentioned that he was getting more into mountain biking, but isn’t sure where to ride here. Naturally, I promised him some tips … and then I thought, “hey, maybe some other people besides Mitch would dig some advice!”

So here are 5 places in the metro Phoenix area where you can ride. Each will offer something different. These are in no particular order. I’ve linked each to my buddy at MTBikeAZ.com, who has produced some fine maps and profiles!
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McDowell Mountain Regional Park: There is something for everyone here. The Competitive Loops host all sorts of races. You can choose from the Long Loop (about 9 miles), the Sport Loop and the Technical Loop (both about 3 miles). You can string them together for some uberloops. All require some skill to handle steep drops, breaking bumps, rocks and lots of loose nastiness. Speeds can run high. Leave your iPod at home … rattlesnakes love hanging out trailside, and your earbuds will mask their warning signal. And watch the trail closely – that big rock you’re zooming around just might be a desert tortoise! Also, the park offers a 15-mile loop called The Pemberton, aka Trail B. This is technically easier, a varitable mountain bike super highway. By the way, the MTBikeAZ site’s map of this is outdated. Pick up a fresh one when you come into the park. Some snobby riders will label it boring: Not true. It has all sorts of offshoots to explore – and if you’re not up for a 15-mile loop, it has lots of connections back to the trailhead to cut it short, some of which are so fast that you’ll arrive at the bottom before the sound of your tires on the ground does. The park entry fee is $6, and it’s a screaming deal: The race loops feature a beaut of a new bathroom. Trail B’s launching pad has a groovy restroom AND a vending machine!

Pima and Dynamite: This is great for winter epic rides. You can just go forever and really get away from the red tile roofs. As you head away from the intersection, you’re on a false flat as you roll your way up. The terrain undulates and wiggles beautifully. Lots of hardpacked stuff, but it gets more wild and wooly the further north you go. Bring lots of food, water, sunscreen and tubes! Epic high desert scenery makes it even better. The terrain can be tricky and the speeds can be high. I rode here once with a friend, and we went home bloody, thirsty and late: His wife banned me from their house for one year, saying I brought him home sun-baked, penniless and smelling of cheap perfume. I only participated in two of the three! No bathrooms or facilities of any sort here. A bummer … this is State Trust Land, which means you need a permit. Yes, you really do. It’s pretty cheap, though it requires prior planning.
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Phoenix Mountain Preserve: Trail 100 is the mainstay of this ludicrously awesome urban park. The visionaries who set land aside for this gem deserve medals. There’s a trail at Tatum just south of Doubletree Ranch Road. You can ride this monster clear to 7th Avenue … and don’t forget all the side trails! Bring a GPS for sure so you can log everything you ride. Some terrain can be tricky: Crossing the Dreamy Draw freeway and heading west takes you up a few nasty climbs, and into a hideous, rocky wasteland. That eventually turns into some wild, good-time singletrack. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a snake, a bunny or three or even a ringtail. There are actually water and toilet facilities scattered around, which is nice.
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Papago Park: You experienced riders out there better stop snickering. You were once a newbie, a squid, a beginner. And I’ll bet this is where you cut your teeth. Mountain biking isn’t just about YOUR ride – it’s about what you pass on to create a new generation of riders. And Papago is the place to train your apprentices. And let’s face it: this place is fun. That four-mile loop around the old golf course is fast as hell, with beautiful sweeping turns that’ll help even the stoniest veteran keep them skills up. Parking, bathrooms, vending machines and water fountains are scattered all around. As your skills (or those of your apprentice) improve, head south to some short but steep climbs and a few super-secret drop-offs way south toward the freeway.
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Fantasy Island North Singletrack (FINS): This is a new trail, and I pumped out 900 words or so about it for the awesome Mountain Flyer magazine. It’s a bit controversial, though, as you’ll see from the article. But we won’t worry about that, for now. Let’s focus on this: People who know and love mountain biking built this beast, and did a right bang-up job. They smashed a lot of miles (15 and counting at last check) into a really small footprint. It’s all hardpacked and groomed. These trails are fast, like bowling balls on a greased bobsled track. There are some switchbacked climbs that’ll burn your legs and scald your lungs. Lots of turning, barely any straightaway flying; that’s to keep the speeds reasonable and hone your turning and braking skills. No facilities here, either, so stock up on the water and be willing to pee outside.
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Okay, I know some people’s rides got the shaft. I know there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’ll give some explanations below about why some got left off the list, but here’s the bottom line: If you don’t like my choices, go write in your own blog about your favorite rides!

Onto those that didn’t make it:

South Mountain: The Mormon Loop, the National and the Desert Classic are legendary around here. But you know, they’re just too crowded and eroded to be my favorites.

Hawes Loop: Too much road pedaling to fully access everything.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park: Because it’s the most suck-a-licious, pointless, loose-rocked POS trail I’ve ever turned tires over.

A few quick mountain bike notes about Wandering Justin: Riding since 1992. Ex shop mechanic. Raced in several 12-hour races (including one win in co-ed sport category), several epic singletrack races, one state series. Rides a 2006 Gary Fisher Cake 2 DLX, but likes Santa Cruz and Specialized way better. Has been (falsely) accused many times for gross malfeasance, negligence and nincompoopery leading to riding parties getting lost.