How to Plan the Ultimate Group Mountain Bike Trip
Award-winning journalist Morgan Tilton asks the founders and leaders of ten top mountain bike companies for advice on planning an epic mountain biking adventure with your friends.
Leaders from ten mountain bike companies offer sage advice on how to plan an unforgettable mountain bike trip and where to go.
Sheer sandstone cliffs plummeted 1,000 feet below us—it was difficult to ride my bike. I couldn’t stop staring at the massive canyon and bizarre formations that filled the skyline. We pedaled northbound, away from the visitor center atop Island in the Sky mesa in the northeast corner of Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Five minutes later, we turned onto Shafer Trail Road, an exposed, double-wide dirt track with hairpin turns that curled tightly back-and-forth as we descended into the gigantic chasm for several miles.
As Shafer leveled out, our group converged with White Rim Road, the namesake of our 100-mile backcountry loop through this remote, ancient strata carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers. I glanced into the distance. A line of enormous buttes had fluid ridgelines that led to the desert floor, reminiscent of cascading waterfalls. Beyond the bluffs, the earth collapsed another 1,000 feet at the southernmost point of our route and White Rim. Oblong arms of the gorge curled like the patches of a monarch butterfly’s wing.
The trip was already unforgettable, and we’d just started. Our crew of 15 friends committed to this remarkable three-day off-road journey: an endurance-based, non-technical, and plush ride. We called it the “whitewater raft trip of mountain biking”: With two support trucks, we hauled everything but the kitchen sink. We lugged instruments, a cluster of dutch ovens, fresh food packed in coolers, plenty of water, and libations. Each second was full of stoke, in the saddle and out.
How to Plan a Successful Group Trip
Whether it’s the White Rim or Whistler, every rider needs to do a bucket list mountain bike trip with friends or family. When I’m not riding or playing outside, I’m a professional adventure journalist. So, to create this group travel guide, I interviewed ten top-tier mountain bike company founders, vice presidents of product development, and managers: the professionals who’ve tallied the highest mileage in the world’s most incredible mountain bike destinations. Here’s what they had to say about how to plan a successful trip and where to go.
Define Your Trip Objective
First off, you want to be sure everyone who joins is safe and has a great time. “Consider what trails you want to ride and the skill level of the people that you're bringing along with you. Make sure that everyone could be comfortable in the environment,” says Diamondback Vice President of Product Development Michael Brown.
In other words, define your trip objective. Is the main goal to simply explore a new area, take a lot of pictures, or spend time with your people? Is the trip performance oriented: do you want to rack up as many miles as possible? Are your eyes set on riding an extremely technical trail? Along those lines, make sure everyone in the group will have access to trails that support their personal needs and independent goals, says Liv Cycling Senior Product Marketing Specialist Jen Audia.
As you whittle down your destination, factor in the season and weather. “As amazing as Gooseberry, Utah is, I definitely don't want to be there in July, because it will be extremely hot. Weather can make a big impact on your trip,” says Audia.
After you decide the type of mountain bike trip you want, then you need to figure out the best way to transport the group’s bikes. “If you are going to fly, there are different options for bringing your bike. Taking it on the plane with you could be complicated and nerve-racking. Instead, you can ship your bike point-to-point via UPS to a bike shop, like in Moab. Then, they can assemble the bike and have it ready for you to pick up for a fee,” says Brown.
That said, don’t rule out checking a bag. Depending on the circumstances, flying with your bike could set you at ease, says GT Bicycles Senior Brand Manager Mike Marro. “Ideally, buy a nice bike travel bag, and fly with your bike. It’s about the same cost as shipping it to a bike shop, and you’ll know that when you get off the plane at your destination that your bike is there,” he says.
Also, as you research the trails in your chosen destination, consider swapping out your bike gear. In which case, rental upon arrival might be the best option. “I love to go to Northwest Arkansas to ride. It is amazing and world-class, but I’m from California. We are soft folk here. We’re used to sunshine, dry air, and we don’t have a ton of sharp rocks. Going there, it’s humid. And they have trails with sharp rocks, which means different types of tires. Maybe what you have, including suspension, is not appropriate for where you’re going,” says Specialized General Manager and USA Market Leader Sam Benedict.
Pack Parts and Tools
Third, pack spare bike parts. “If it’s the first day of your bike trip and you break your wheel, you won't have a bike for the next three days. I've been in that situation multiple times,” says Revel Bikes Founder Adam Miller. “Or, I’ve been in Moab, for instance, when someone gets a flat tire and you don't have the spare parts. Then, you have to try to get to a bike shop from your campsite, and you’re an hour away. You also might have to pay high prices,” he explains. Bring a pump, bike tools, chain lube, tire, tube, wheels, and brake pads, says Miller and Benedict. Also, “sort out the closest bike shops, beforehand, in case you forget anything,” says Benedict.
For the group’s meal plan, “take advantage of grocery store food, camp stoves, and a cooler that works really well,” says Miller. For my White Rim trip, one person was the master chef and menu creator for the entire group. Then, we all helped in the kitchen, with clean-up, and made sure to follow Leave No Trace guidelines.
Next up, “Have a plan for someone getting hurt. It could be a gashed knee or sprained wrist. But, it’s going to affect everyone else's experience. So, have an action plan. Alternate who stays at the camp or house with the person who’s hurt, so he or she isn’t alone,” says Marro.
Also, discuss the lodging priorities with your group, Audia says, “I have a very positive experience camping outdoors, but consider what matters to the group, as far as returning back from a ride: Are showers important? Do you want to be in a cool landscape? Do you want to be in a town that offers other types of entertainment?”
Lastly, “Know your limits. On your first day, you're going to be riding hard and having too much fun. Then, you're going to have a couple glasses of wine or extra beers. So, don't overdo it: remember that you have consecutive days of riding, and that you need to hydrate,” says Marro. Guerrilla Gravity Founder Will Montague seconds that advice: “Never go too hard on your first day. People have a tendency when they go on mountain bike trips to get really excited and blow themselves up on day one. Then, they have to just read books for the rest of the trip.”
Bucket List Mountain Bike Destinations
Moab epitomizes a bucket list trip: Nearly every interviewee shared memories about annual trips to this desert mecca. Miller says, “Slickrock is a really awesome ride—it's super hard, so it’s not a very good beginner trail. And obviously, The Whole Enchilada is one of the best trails of all time. It honestly beats my other favorite places.”
British Columbia, Canada
British Columbia was also a top vote. “Your safest bet in British Columbia is going to be the Whistler and Squamish area,” says Montague. Whistler is a 50-minute drive north of Squamish in southwest British Columbia, Canada. Benedict agrees: his favorite all-time trip was with eight friends, for eight days riding in the Whistler-Squamish area including a day riding the lifts.
“There’s enough riding there to keep you entertained for a very long time. And so many of the smaller riding towns around B.C. are super cool: Nelson, Fernie, the Sunshine Coast region, and Pemberton. The riding is gnarly for sure. If you don’t like riding steep, root-filled terrain, don’t go to B.C. But if you do like it, it’s the best,” he says.
Also, a couple of hours north of Whistler is a region called Chilcotin, which Cannondale Vice President of Product Peter Vallance recommends. “It's the most breathtaking, beautiful backcountry area. You can rent a little cabin in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by alpine perfection. And you've got these ribbons of singletrack,” he says. One recommended route in the region is Spruce Lake (Intermediate), according to MTB Project.
Gooseberry Mesa, Utah
Before she was promoted at Liv, Audia was a demo driver, so she traveled around the country with demo bikes for events. Out of all the places she’s ridden in the U.S., she says Gooseberry Mesa is unlike any other. The trail network fills a sage-speckled mesa top in the southwest periphery of Zion National Park, in southwest Utah.
“There are camping opportunities all along the edges of the mesa, and you can post-up in these ridiculous, absolutely scenic spots. Then, you can ride from your site to the trail network, and it's one of the most unique places I've ever ridden for the type of landscape. Most of the trails are navigated through round, painted circles on the rocks rather than singletrack, so not only are you facing technical terrain but it challenges your brain in this new way,” says Audia. “You can basically finish your ride back at your campsite, take an outside shower, and have a campfire.”
“Bentonville is on the rise. They are putting a lot of work into creating this incredible, diverse network of trails. It's absolutely unreal. Your mind will be blown,” says Audia. “From downtown— which feels like a movie set, it’s so picturesque—you can jump on this paved trail, which parallels a mountain bike trail where you can practice small features, and then you drop right into this huge, expansive network of trails,” she describes.
Outside Magazine confirms Bentonville is “Disneyland for Mountain Bikers,” and “well deserving of the hype.” A couple of top-notch rides include The Slaughter Pen (Intermediate), and The Back 40 Loop (Intermediate), according to MTB Project.
Sedona is decorated with meandering high-desert routes and sandstone slickrock. “The trails of Sedona are baked into town versus Moab, where they're more on the outskirts,” says Montague. Camping options and bike-friendly hotels are scattered around town, according to Outside Magazine, which recommends venturing to Sedona, where trail diversity has increased over the past few years with both smooth and technical options.
“The setup is unique. From group campsites you can ride to the trails. You can ride singletrack to the other side of town, get a slice of pizza and a beer, and then ride different singletrack all the way back to camp,” Montague says. A few of the top-rated routes include Cathedral Rock Big Loop (Difficult), Aerie Loop (Intermediate), and Campbell Mesa (Easy), according to MTB Project.
Ultimately, regardless of the destination, Montague says, "If you get three friends in a truck and drive somewhere to go mountain biking, it’s guaranteed to be a good time no matter where you go.”
He’s right. My White Rim trip with friends was daresay perfect. We had a fair amount of luck: nothing went wrong with our support vehicles or bikes and no one had injuries or hangovers. But also, despite our spectrum of skill and experience levels, everyone shared the same goals. We all wanted a remote, less technical ride and to have a ton of fun socializing. With a good group vibe, you can’t go wrong, no matter what happens along the journey.