Moab: Braaaping with no engine

My past couple Moab trips were motorized. Moab is big, sandy and well suited to engines. I always swore I wouldn’t go back with a bicycle, but I did last week, and there was plenty of braaap.

I wish I had photos, but I was too busy riding my bike.

Day 1: Slickrock Trail
This 10-mile loop is a must-do for every mountain biker, at least once. Why? Not because it’s all that fun, but because it’s unique, and way back in The Day it was given legendary status by Bike Magazine.

Forgive me for saying this, but Slickrock is not a great bike trail. It is all up or down, and it is extremely steep both ways. The chain-popping climbs and eye-rattling descents are fun in their own way, but you have to be very strong and very skilled to maintain any flow. I pity the beginners who think this will be fun.

Slickrock on a moto is another story. With an engine, you can experience the natural flow of the sandstone sea. The Slickrock Trail was founded in 1969 by and for moto riders. It’s funny that MTBers now give moto riders such grief — much like MTBers receive from hikers — but I digress. Slickrock on a moto is like riding a natural skatepark. Pure fun.

I last rode Slickrock on a bicycle in 1996. It was the middle of July and over 100 degrees. I was 20 pounds lighter, full of anger and in top XC shape. I had a Foes Weasel with a RockShox Judy DH fork. Yeah, sick: six inches in the rear, 3 1/4 inches in front and XT V-brakes to control the whole mess.

Back then I pinned the main loop in 45 minutes (I believed it was some kind of record), and I remember pedaling as hard as I could the whole way, chasing every rabbit and getting the hell beaten out of me. I remember hitting bumps so hard the sweat dropped out of my helmet across my glasses. I remember the blood blisters forming on my palms — then popping. I remember running out of water at the midpoint and starting to feel cold; yeah, heat exhaustion. It was brutal, but that was my style then.

Last week, on a 2008 Stumpjumper Pro Carbon, it was a totally different story. The bike is superior in every way: more suspension, better suspension, smarter geometry, disc brakes, etc. My XC fitness and anger have subsided, but my skills are WAY better (funny: I used to think I was really good; now I know what good really is).

I cleaned every climb and stayed smooth everywhere. I chatted with other riders and admired the Colorado River, La Salle Mountains and surrounding desert. My heart rate stayed reasonable, my hands stayed loose, and I rolled the main loop in an hour. The guide books call for three to four hours. Not too bad. It was quiet and satisfying — in a way you get from turning cranks, but not a throttle.

Day 2: Amasa Back Trail
Oh man, this was sweet. Amasa Back is my idea of a mountain bike ride: an hour-long technical ascent with a tremendous view, then an extended-remix-technical-yet-flowy descent.

I was sore from Slickrock, so I started very slowly. As my legs loosened, a casual flow emerged: spin along the smooth sections, dance over the rock ledges, spin, dance, spin, dance …

A gaggle of Jeeps was balled up in a tech section. Sorry, but how lame is that, to drive all the way to Moab then sit in traffic? While the lead driver repeatedly slipped off the same ledge, I walked past with my bike on my shoulder. “That’s one good thing about these things; you can just pick ’em up and carry ’em.”

“Yeah,” said a bystander, “but you have to work hard, and you take big falls.”

“I guess that’s the tradeoff.”

I climbed, then I dropped through a saddle, then I climbed some more. The final half-mile pitch was all slickrock, and it was steep. I rotated my hips forward, opened my torso and churned out a comfortable 1/3 horsepower. braaap with a lowercase b.

The steepness culminated in an epic view. Colorado River, desert, mountains everywhere. Wow. I called The Wife, lowered my seat and let fly.

Now here’s the thing. Motos are incredible machines, but on a technical trail with enough downgrade, a mountain bike is unbeatable. If not for all-out speed, then for pure sweetness. I sprinted and cornered and dropped and pumped and jumped with absolute presence and Flow. I rode my Stumpjumper like an Enduro, or even a Demo. I passed many bicycles, several Jeeps and even a couple motos. Braaap!

Dude, what fun. An engine would not have made it better.

Motos can quickly become liabilities. Check out this adventure: Epic: Moab 2006

After hours
The Wife and I stayed in the jacuzzi sweet at La Quinta Inn on Main Street. I’m all for camping, but a living room and a pillow-top king sure are nice. Not to mention the cozy style.

She broke her ankle about 12 weeks ago, and last week we took our first outside rides. She spun up Sand Flats Road until it hurt too much, then she pinned it down to the car. Despite my excellent solo rides, each day’s highlight was seeing her smile as she grabbed the big ring.

The bike
I’m starting to get my 2008 Stumpjumper Pro Carbon dialed, and it is a heck of a bike. I’ll write more, but for now:

– It climbs and sprints very efficiently. The suspension is firm, and the entire chassis is stiff.

– The pedal platform yields astounding pump, and it lets you hop and jump with hardtail-like precision and power.

– The bike handles roughness. I’m trying to ride it as aggressively as an Enduro, and so far so good.

To do: Wrap the upper stay, because the chain is making a racket. Install a Maverick Speedball seatpost.

I’m back in Boulder, and I enjoyed Hall Ranch today.

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