First Ride on “New” Mountain Bike Trail – with video

McDowell mountain bike
The newly rerouted bit of the Pemberton Trail has some nice new rock scenery.

Nothing gets me as excited quite like a new mountain bike trail. Or even a re-routing of an old favorite trail.

Ever since McDowell Mountain Regional Park announced that crews had re-routed a bit of its 15+-mile Pemberton (aka Trail B) loop, I’ve been eager to see what it’s all about. I purposely avoided reading up on exactly what would change – I also love surprises.

Here’s what you need to know:

    • The McDowell Mountain Regional Park managers made the best change possible: They took the trail away from a sandy service road on the north side of the park and cut some new doubletrack (it ain’t singletrack, but it’s no Jeep road, either) See the end of the post for video.
    • Racers who will participate in the Fat Tire 40 should be stoked. This makes the worst portion of the course quite a bit more fun. I expect racers will be a touch faster without the sandy slog.
    • The new bit of trail is about 15 minutes long at my leisurely but experienced speed. At some point, it reconnects to the original trail. I’m not sure where because it was a sneaky transition.
    • The extra twists and turns should add a bit to the trail’s original mileage.
wandering justin mtb
Hey, it’s me!

The new bit of trail is not some sort of mind-blowing singletrack experience that will inspire epic heavy metal songs. So why am I excited? Because it makes a favorite local trail about 20 percent better. And that’s nothing any rider should take for granted.

It’s also a nice signal of intent from the McDowell Mountain Regional Park staff. They continue to seek ways to make the park’s experience even better for mountain bikers. Consider some other first for the park: the first competitive race loops, the first official night rides and the first pump track on Arizona government lands. In the future, I suspect you’ll see a flow trail open.

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Fat Tire 40 MTB Race: Great Fun, Lots of Challenge

fat tire 40
The pack is getting antsy to start.

The course for the Fat Tire 40 at McDowell Mountain is clearly the work of a leather-clad masochistic dungeon master who moonlights as a dentist. The last three mile are the proof.

That doesn’t mean the event, put on by Swiss American Bicycles in Glendale, Ariz., isn’t a ton of well-run fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a novel spin on the typical mountain bike races run at McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills, Ariz. It took riders along trails seldom ridden.

For instance, there’s that last three miles I mentioned. Riders actually got to ride the Sport Loop section of the Competitive Track backward. That was an unprecedented opportunity, and a surprise organizers sprang on riders during the pre-race meeting. It was also a hard finish to a hard race.

Promoters Offer Classy Swag

fat tire 40
It’s rare that the Scenic Trail gets used for racing. But it’s rocky, challenging fun.

Each rider got a quality, very cool-looking t-shirt and a water bottle. And the bag wasn’t crammed full of useless coupons. Finishers also got a slick pint glass etched with the event logo. Excellent, useful, memorable swag for a $75 entry fee.

Course Offers Plenty of Fun and Challenge

The race started off with riders doing a Lemans-style running start. Then it was on to most of a Sport Loop before branching onto the Tech Loop. From there, it was onto a portion of the Long Loop that connected to a service road. Riders took the service road to the Pemberton Trail, where they made a counter-clockwise turn before riding to the turn-off to the Scenic Trail. This not-often-ridden-by-cyclists bit was in prime shape. It was not nearly as sandy as some riders might recall, and the contour leading to climb resulted in some high speed.

fat tire 40
People often bring their dogs to races. But this baby goat ran away with the cutest pet award.

The climb was still rocky, as was the descent leading back to the Pemberton. From there, riders continued counterclockwise with a quick stop at a feed zone mostly populated by geuinely enthusiastic and helpful kids in their early teens. Riders then continued up the Pemberton to the Coachwhip Trail, where they turned right. From there, they climbed a ridge, met the Dixie Mine Trail and rode it until connecting again with the Pemberton. Riders then hooked up with service road, descended to a feed zone, reconnected with and finished the Long Loop and then road the Sport Loop in reverse.

That last bit was extra-challenging. Braking bumps, washouts and a few steep climbs made those last three miles extra-tough.

fat tire 40
A juicy bit of downhill fun.

All the turns are very well-marked, so your odds of getting lost are super-slim. Most turns were also staffed by people ready to set you right. I also noticed a lot of red "Wrong Way Fat Tire 40" signs on trails that weren’t part of the course. Nice work!

An Idea for Next Year

I have only one suggestion for the organizers: Have some electrolyte drinks at the rest stops. You can bring your own mix, of course, but you’ll lose time. Water is great, but a course like this demands salt, potassium and carbohydrates to stave off cramps.

Despite that caveat, I have to rate this race highly. I’ll do it again next year. It’s a fast bunch of riders, so they’ll challenge you just as much the terrain. I was pretty pleased to win a 15-mile battle with another rider,

fat tire 40
One of many funky beetles spotted on the Scenic Trail

putting more than a minute on him over the last few miles. The rest of the pack pretty much handed our shorts to us, but you sometimes have to revel in the small victories.

Returning to the Daylight at McDowell

McDowell Mountains, Coachwhip, Pemberton, Bluff, Dixie Min
Nice trails, awesome views

It’s been awhile since I’ve started and finished a mountain bike ride in daylight. With the brutal summer weather, I’ve spent the past few months starting in twilight and ending well after dark.

I came back to the day side Sunday – but only after watching a rather head-scratching car accident on my way to the trail (I suspect driving while texting was at fault).

Like a big dummy, I also left my two frosty, frozen bottles of live-giving Cytomax (perfect for our still-toasty temperatures, a late morning start and a long haul) home in the freezer. I didn’t want to ride without electrolytes, so I stopped at Slippery Pig Bike Shop Too. Doug hooked me up with some bottles, some of those new-fangled Alka-Seltzerish electrolyte tabs and cool water.

I put it in about 30 miles on the Pemberton, Dixie Mine, Bluff and Coachwhip (which is a trail named for a snake named after a coach whip) trails. I took down a pair of Clif shots and a Primal Strips vegan jerky bar (saltiness) in addition to my fluids. I think that wasn’t quite enough – I felt pretty worked for the rest of the day.

Pemberton GPS track
GPS track from an earlier Pemberton/Dixie Mine/Windmill ride. This does't show the most recent route that included bits of the Bluff and Granite trails.

The cool thing about riding in the day again is being able to see everything. I can carry my speed more confidently since every potential obstacle is in plain view. Things can hide on you at night … the circle of light from my handlebar and helmet lamps can’t show me everything. That makes things a bit more fun. I don’t think the county parks hold their organized nightrides until summer returns, so I won’t get my favorite fix of night riding for several months.

I noticed that most people out Sunday on the Pemberton were riding counterclockwise. Not my favorite way to handle it – the far north side is a long bit of false flat through some fairly sandy conditions. No thanks! I might go up the Bluff Trail and then take the rest of it counterclockwise. That could be fun. I also need to take the Windmill Trail further. Last time I rode it, it was pretty rocky and raw without much flow to it. But it might be worth another look.

Take a Ride McDowell Mountain Park’s Trails

A partial Google Earth View of an awesome ride at McDowell Mountain Park.
A Google Earth View of an awesome ride at McDowell Mountain Park.

I know I’ve mentioned the McDowell Mountain Regional Park before here on WanderingJustin.com. And let me tell you, my love for this park continues unabated. In fact, it’s stronger than ever thanks to some new signage springing up on the Pemberton Trail, aka Trail B.

Here’s the thing: The county officials thought most riders would abandon the Trail B once the Race Loops opened some years back. But though they’re far less technical, Trail B and its offshoots are big fun, and a perfect stomping ground for 29ers and singlespeed bikes. It’s seriously like Formula 1 racing, man! The Coachwhip Trail (see video) is primo stuff! Let’s not forget the elevation change adds to some super-sweet vistas looking east from the Valley.

Enough of my blather: Check out the video!