Mountain Bike Road Trip Planning Guide

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Mountain Bike Road Trip Planning Guide

The Pikes Peak APEX is just one of many opportunities to pack up the car or truck and head out for a mountain bike road trip. The best places to ride are often off the beaten path, but the trails and adventures are worth the trip. With a huge network of trails immediately adjacent to Colorado Springs, Monument, and Cañon City, the Pikes Peak Region offers the best of both worlds. No matter where your mountain bike road trip takes you, here’s how to make it a successful, convenient, and trouble-free trip.

Prep Your Vehicle

Getting stuck on the side of the road is a guaranteed way to ruin your mountain bike trip. If you are planning on visiting small towns and remote trailheads, roadside assistance is not likely to be nearby. That leads to long waits and expensive tows. And if parts for your vehicle are not readily available, you could easily end up stranded for a few days.

Before you leave, take your car to a mechanic you trust and tell them you’re planning a long road trip. Here are some areas that should receive particular attention:

  • Fluid levels: Check all fluid levels and top off where needed. If you have been putting off an oil change, take care of it before you leave.
  • Belts and hoses: Check for frayed or loose belts, and dry or cracked hoses. Mountain bike road trips often include driving up mountains, sometimes on dirt or gravel roads. These conditions can be put more stress on engine parts, particularly if you are carrying lots of cargo or pulling a trailer.
  • Air filter: Combustion engines need air to burn fuel, and your car’s air filter keeps dirt and dust out of the engine. When it gets dirty, your engine loses power. Dusty dirt roads are a feature of many mountain bike road trips. It’s good to start out with a clean air filter. Be prepared to check it or replace it earlier than normal upon returning.
  • Battery: If you think getting a jump start in the office parking lot is tough, wait until you try to get one at a remote trailhead. When your engine is running, the alternator charges the battery, but old batteries don’t hold a charge as well. Keep in mind, battery usage may increase during road trips. When the engine is off and you’re playing the radio or using the cabin lights to rummage through the back, you’re draining your car’s battery. If your battery is old, you might have enough charge to start the car for your daily commute, but not enough to handle the increased usage during a road trip.
  • Tires: Check your tires for the appropriate amount of tread depth and inspect for uneven wear and cracks. If it’s time (or past time) for new tires, invest in new tires now. Whether you encounter rough roads or bad weather, having four good tires under you provides peace of mind.

Plan For Security

Unfortunately, criminals sometimes target vehicles at trailheads. Your car or truck may appear attractive because there’s a good chance there’s expensive gear inside and the chances of getting caught are low. To minimize the risk of a break in, keep valuables out of sight. If thieves do choose your vehicle, they’ll work quickly and look in the obvious spots. Hide truly essential items (if you can’t take them with you) in hard to reach or obscure places. If you have access to a more secure location (i.e. a friend’s garage, hotel room, etc.), consider unloading some of your valuable sporting equipment so it’s not all in your car or truck at a remote trailhead.

Locking a bike to an external bike rack or in an open truck bed may deter or slow down an opportunistic thief but is unlikely to stop a determined and well-equipped one. Do your best to avoid leaving a bike locked to an external bike rack overnight. If you are staying in a hotel room, bring the bike into the room. If you are camping or need to leave your vehicle unattended for a long time, try to put the bike inside your vehicle and out of sight. You can even make it hard for would-be thieves to get away with your beloved bikes by locking frames and parts together inside the car.

Combine Mapping Apps with Local Knowledge

Finding mountain bike trails is easier than ever with mapping apps like MTBProject, Trailforks, and others. However, local knowledge is crucial for context. Trail conditions change rapidly, and mapping apps may not be up to date with trail closures and reroutes. It can also be difficult to know how local trails are most frequently (and enjoyably) combined, or how locals typically get from the end of one marked trail to the start of the next. Visit a local bike shop and buy the local map if there is one. Look for online groups of local mountain bikers.

If you are traveling to a new area for a much-awaited mountain bike adventure, getting lost or having to stop every 10 minutes to route find can be extremely frustrating. Take the time to plan out mountain bike routes. If GPS maps are available and you have a head unit with navigation, load the map to your head unit so you can focus on having fun.

Figure Out Your Device and Data Needs

Ideally, a mountain bike road trip is your chance to unplug and just enjoy time in nature. But it’s more likely that you’ll want at least one electronic device charged and ready to go. How are you going to charge your devices? Do you need an inverter or can everything charge or run off an automobile auxiliary power outlet (previously known as the cigarette lighter)? Are you going to use solar panels to charge battery packs?

If you plan on combining business with pleasure, make sure you can access all the files and software you need from the devices you’ll have on your road trip. As I have learned the hard way, some subscription based online tools have different functionality on mobile browsers compared to laptop browsers.

From a data perspective, if your mobile plan has a fixed amount of data, a road trip may be a good time to upgrade to an unlimited data plan. If you’re using a phone to navigate by Google Maps, Waze, or your preferred app, you’ll chew through a lot of data. Same goes for uploading and sharing all those photos and videos! The full-time travelers (#vanlife) often have more elaborate setups to ensure connectivity in remote locations, but those solutions are typically overkill for occasional road trips.

Invest in a Good Cooler

You don’t have to spend a fortune, but a good cooler will pay for itself in reduced food waste and fewer restaurant meals. Plus, there’s nothing like an ice-cold drink at the end of a great mountain bike ride. From a recovery standpoint it’s important to eat a snack or meal within 30-60 minutes after a big ride. In many cases you’ll still be miles from civilization when you finish your ride, so having lunch fixings waiting for you can make the day a lot easier. Plus, having food with you eliminates the rushed feeling of needing to go find post-ride food before you bonk.

Pack Tools for Maintenance, Not Just Repair

Great rides start with clean bikes and finish on dirty ones. In addition to packing the spare parts and tools you might need if something breaks (and a first-aid kit), remember to pack bike cleaning supplies. This includes a chain cleaner, your preferred degreaser, and the brushes, rags, and cleaners you use to make your frame shine again. If you have room in your vehicle, consider taking a bike repair stand for convenience. If you don’t have room for a full-size repair stand, consider a freestanding bike storage option. A few compact solutions include this and this. Your hitch-mounted bike rack can also be a good bike cleaning station in a pinch.

Plan Ahead for Rainy Days and Muddy Gear

Road trips can be hard on the interior of your vehicle, especially when it comes to dealing with wet clothing and muddy gear. If your adventure vehicle isn’t already equipped with all-weather floor mats and cargo liners, go get them. For instance, one of our Founding Sponsors, Hueberger Subaru, has everything from all-weather floor liners to rear seatback protectors, waterproof seat covers, and more. A plastic container (trash bags work, too) is useful for separating wet clothing from dry cargo when you get back from a wet ride.

Most of all, bring your senses of adventure, humor, patience, and adaptability. Great road trips start with a plan and a willingness to deviate as obstacles appear or opportunities arise!