The start of the Pistol Hill trail
The start of the Arizona Trail at Pistol Hill Road.

Those of you that have been reading Tucson Velo for a while probably know most of the story about my return to biking.

Here’s the cheat sheet if not:

  • Five years ago I was a very out of shape 290 pound guy who never exercised.
  • A friend got me on a road bike and I was hooked.
  • I lost 140 pounds (I’ve since stabilized around 200 pounds)
  • I continued riding road bikes for fun, but became more interested in utility cycling

Transportation cycling will always be my passion, but when I want  to get out and have a blast on the bike, it’s no longer the skinny-wheeled road bike I reach for in the garage, but the full-suspension 29er instead.

I still get out for road rides with friends and enjoy it and ultimately as long as it has two wheels I’ll ride it and have a blast, but I think I’m finally ready to admit I’m not a roadie.

Here are five reasons why I’ve made the switch to mountain biking

There might not be cars, but there are cactus.
There might not be cars, but there are cactus.

1. No cars

The Tucson region has more shoulders, paths and bike lanes than any other region in the country, but despite that, there are frequently some kind of altercations or negative interactions with motorists on road rides. Sometimes it’s driver passing a little too closely, but can be more serious too. It’s nice to hit a trail and only have to worry about the occasional horse, jagged rocks and cactuses.

An aspen grove along the Arizona Trail in Flagstaff, Ariz.
An aspen grove along the Arizona Trail in Flagstaff, Ariz.

2. The places you go

I love the places you see on a mountain bike. In Flagstaff last month, I rode my bike to a grove of Aspen trees so beautiful that I just stopped and sat down to take it in. I would have never seen from the road. On Saturday I pedaled 6 miles outside the city, looked around and didn’t see a single sign of civilization.

3. Meeting the people who take ownership of the trails

I’ve been on a couple of ride with the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists and often ride with the group’s president Zach MacDonald. I was impressed by how much work their “Trail Love” crew does to keep the trails we ride on in good shape for all trail users. They also work closely with government agencies to ensure trail access remains for all users.

photo 4-1

4. More challenges to meet

I find that there are more challenges to mountain biking. In road riding the biggest challenges for me were related to my level of fitness. Going farther or faster were the two main challenges. In mountain biking those two challenges remain, but you add challenges like cleaning a section of trail with a big ledge or riding off a big drop. It’s an awesome feeling when you are able to rise to those challenges. I remember the first time I cleaned the rock switchback on Rock Wren trail in Starr Pass and managed to ride through the narrow gap the pass heading through Starr Pass. There are trails that offer more and more technical sections so that you can continue challenging yourself.

photo 5-1

5. It’s more about fun

Maybe it’s the people I ride with, but it seems like mountain bikers are more interested in having fun than laying down miles and watts or grabbing KOMs on Strava.

It’s not all roses and lollipops when it comes to mountain biking, though. Here are the two reasons why mountain biking stinks.

1. It’s painful to learn

When I started mountain biking, I fell. A lot. It’s a painful sport to learn. For the most part, there are less crashes on the road than the dirt.

2. Getting to the trail is a pain

Being that I love using a bike to get where I am going, I always want to ride the trail, but it often takes way too long and limits the trails I can realistically get to in the amount of time I have. I’ve given in and drive to some trails outside the city. I attempt to reconcile driving by always trying to carpool to the trail. On a road bike, you can leave the house and you are on your ride.

What about you, what are the reasons you love road biking or mountain biking?

17 thoughts on “5 reasons to love mountain biking and 2 reasons it’s an abusive relationship”
  1. Agree wholeheartedly! I bought a road bike to get in on roadie fun and I find myself grabbing the mtb from the stable 10 times out of, well, 10. 😉 I can ride for hours on trail and it seems like barely any time has passed. You can’t zone out on the trail. If you do you end up whipped by mesquite, knuckles brutalized by cholla, prickly pear pads pinning your shoes to your feet. Sometimes you don’t really know how you ended up here, while your bike ended up…there. Which I prefer over a brush with tons of car steel or a dooring. And my road bike? 17 lbs of cheetah. She’s sleek and gorgeous…and for some reason I just don’t trust her. My mountain bike is a beast at 30 lbs…and she’s solid. I hope to eventually become a roadie as well…but seriously that cuts into trail time.

  2. When I was a kid, I took my bike everywhere: roads, trails, and grass. My commuter bike is the closest thing I can get to that feeling now, though I’m compromised on the road with its heavy weight and on the trails with its thinner tires. But, like Amy’s bike, mine is also a beast and gives me a feeling of no limits on my rides.

  3. TucsonVelo great article! I got into MTB years ago and just recently started road riding so that my MTB rides aren’t spent gasping for air.

  4. My most serious crash was on a road ride with a group where people in front of me went down and I ran over a rider and then crashed myself. 
    I have fallen a lot mountain biking but nothing too serious. The worst crash was totally dumb and I ended up falling into a prickly pear. 
    I have known people who have broken bones both on the road and mountain biking.

  5. Love both, but I’m finding I’m on the road more simply beacuse for the reason you stated, you exit your front door and you’re on two wheels immediatly. Riding to the trails and back takes as much time if not more than riding the trails themselves, and there just isn’t enough hours in the day. I love the adrenaline of riding a fast single track or picking a line on a very technical downhill.
    As for seriousness of accidents, I’ve been hurt way worse on road than on the trails everytime. Speed, concrete, asphalt, and the occasional bad driver in a 2 ton death machine are not very forgiving.

  6. Nice post. I’ve not thought much regarding which type of riding I like more, but I do like both for what they are. Funny that my situation is different than most. I live on a rough dirt/rocky road 1/2 mile from pavement and about 4 miles north of the Sweetwater system. To leave my house by bike is to be mountain biking, and I ride to the trail. I am more of a roadie by habit however, and I have to drive my bike to meet friends for road riding. Two years ago I discovered my third discipline of cyclocross (out of necessity of wanting to do spontaneous rides from my door without racking up a bike).

  7. As a very avid MTBer you nailed it. Dont even have a road bike anymore. I get my pavement fix riding to work and trails on my mtb.

  8. The Bureau of Contradictions is pleased by this from the piece, “On Saturday I pedaled 6 miles outside the city, looked around and didn’t see a single sign of civilization.” (the trail itself and the bike, see photo, being the irony?)

    The Bureau of Trail Hygiene is pleased by this from the piece, “…cleaning a section of trail with a big ledge…” And this, “…I cleaned the rock switchback on Rock Wren trail.” Leaving the Bureau of Technical Terms, Inside Terms screaming “Whassup!”

    The Bureau of Parsimony and the Bureau of Consistent (Daily) Fitness dialed it all in and joined together and went for the usual early morning distance road bike ride…

  9. MikeMcKisson 
    I think you know I crashed my recumbent trike on a paved path and broke several bones.  Any activity that gets you up to any speed and exposes your body is hazardous.

  10. MikeMcKisson 
    I think you know I crashed my recumbent trike on a paved path and broke several bones.  Any activity that gets you up to any speed and exposes your body is hazardous.

  11. Funny, just this last weekend I loaded my knobs back on my old hardtail to take off-road (or Loop, as it were) since I haven’t been in years. Something to do with the perception of speed given your surroundings. I’d been noticing how different you feel riding on residential streets vs. a minor street with a bike lane vs. a major road with a bike lane vs. the Loop.
    But when I commute I’ll be on Thornydale southbound and get off that mf ASAP onto the Loop. Every minute away from motorized traffic is a minute I enjoy many times more. Do I zone out? Hell yes!
    I love to go fast. That’s fun. Granted me and my road bike (modern steel) aren’t the sleekest or fastest, but we do what we can. And it is certainly a class and then some faster than my MTB. But you don’t notice it off-road. The same damn bike on pavement is a dog yet in the dirt I feel like I’m flying. Like riding residential streets, your surroundings dictate that perception. Going by numbers neither is fast. But the feel!
    Anyway, I’m also bored with the same scenery. Hoping to find something fresh. Riding to a trailhead is highly unlikely though. Less overhead on the road bike…
    Excellent article. 🙂

  12. Roadies are in it for all different reasons.  I like that you can get in a rhythm and just float going down the road.  Riding a mtn bike requires concentration and a totally different type of focus.

  13. I prefer to ride on trails away from cars as well but I live in the center of town so the commute to the trails is a deterrant. I commute to work and ride the road occasionally but getting in a MTB ride after work when I’m already closer to the trails than home is a good way to cut down on a bike ride-specific drive

  14. Still a rodie at heart here, I just love the feel of it. But there’s NOTHING like a mountain bike in the snow…

  15. Like you, I love to ride either Road or Mountain, but I prefer Mountain. In fact, when my wife and I were buying a new home, being next to the trails was a major determining factor. Here in Albuquerque, we chose to buy a home right next to the foothills trail system so we could have access to these trails within a short walk or riding distance. I’m definitely not a roadie and my road cycling seems to be limited to commuting these days unless I’m participating in a charity ride or century.

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