I’m currently in Moab with a bunch of guys from Combo, the Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization. We have 14 dirty mountain bikers crammed into a rental house about 9 miles outside of town and are planning on riding epic trails in Utah for 6 days straight.
On day one, we started with one of the most famous mountain bike trails in the state, if not the world. Slickrock is like nothing I’ve ever ridden before. Smooth-ish bare sandstone surfaces make for a unique riding experience that is way different than the tight, wooded, East Coast singletrack that I’m used to. There are no man-made features, Mother Nature sculpted this course.
Painted white markers tell you where to ride and do a great job of keeping you on track, but the path is so open that you can easily choose your own line. However, don’t stray too far. You don’t want to end up in a patch of cactuses, or worse yet, flying off of one of the numerous steep cliffs that are cut into this epic landscape.
The trail is not overly technical, an intermediate rider could navigate most of the obstacles. There aren’t a lot of loose rocks or roots to trip you up. There aren’t a lot of big drops or jumps. It’s fairly smooth with seams and small craters cut into the surface. However, the steep ascents and descents will challenge most riders. With the right amount of power you can make it up most climbs. However, there were several climbs where 80-90 percent of our crew of seasoned mountain bikers could not make it up.
Since it was my first time, I was riding with an abundance of caution, which meant that I walked a few downhills that I know were rideable. The thought of flying over the bars onto this endless slab of hard rock was holding me back a little. I would love to do a second lap to take on some of those descents again. I would definitely conquer more if I rode it again.
But, just because the terrain is relatively smooth does not mean it’s easy. Our legs were definitely feeling it after our 9-10 mile loop.
My assessment: if you are in Moab, then you need to ride this trail. I would love to do it again and also to try it in the opposite direction. Some of my companions, however, had a slightly different opinion. They were glad to experience it, but didn’t feel the need to do it again. They felt like the physical exertion involved in all the steep climbs took away from the fun factor.
My Garmin logged 10 miles and 1500 feet of climbing with an average speed of 6.5 mph with the practice loop included.
After Slickrock, it was still early in the day, so we decided to hit another trail. When I heard Pipe Dream was 5 miles long, it didn’t sound like it would be long enough to be satisfying, but this trail should not be judged on the mileage. It is a rocky technical trail that will keep you on your toes.
Pipe Dream is littered with huge boulders and initially looks like it would be unrideable, but the trail builders have done a brilliant job of weaving the trail into a challenging landscape. The singletrack is built using lots of large stones to build rideable lines along the side of a mountain.
It was designed for travel in one direction and ends right in the town of Moab near the brewery. If you ride in the other direction, the trail is supposed to lack flow and be “crippling, sluggish, and painful” according to mtbproject.org. We only saw one rider attempting to go the other way and he said it was really hard. You can turn the trail into a 8.5 mile loop by riding back along a relatively flat dirt road.
There are no big drops or jumps. The main technical challenge is picking smart lines and maintaining your momentum and balance in very rocky terrain. There are a few sharp, exposed switchbacks that require careful maneuvering. While I would consider this to be an expert trail, intermediates should definitely give it a try with a little caution.
The trail, and the effects of our previous ride, took it’s toll on our group. Only 9 of the 14 guys finished the whole trail. Exhaustion, cramping, mechanicals and small crashes were factors. Overall, it seemed like the most common problem was getting stuck on a rock and losing momentum, which led to plenty of stumbles and a few endos. One bike suffered a blown freehub, which required him to buy a whole new wheel to continue the trip. Another guy cut a gash in his wheel, but was able to finish by installing a tube. That same rider, had a close call, where he almost slid off the side of a loose gravel-covered trail that was bench cut into the side of a steep slope.
My overall impression, if you are staying in Moab and don’t want to travel to a trail, then you should definitely try this one out. While this alone is not a reason to travel to Moab, it is solid technical singletrack that would challenge some of the best riders I know.
And, if you want a real test, see if you can complete the “No Dab Challenge” where you finish the whole trail without putting your foot down. I did not even come close and had to put my foot down at least a dozen times, but I would love to try it again and see if I could improve my score.
After the ride, I had 15 miles on the Garmin and wanted a few more “easy” miles, so I decided to ride my bike 9 miles back to the house on the road. Jeremy Wenner decided to head back with me. I imagined an idyllic ride through the agricultural valley south of Moab. What I got was 850 feet of climbing into a headwind. When I got back to the house I was fried. I had a few cans of beer from the Moab Brewery and exchanged war stories with the guys. It was a relaxing evening and I’m pumped to see more trails.
Up next: The Whole Enchilada!