This article first appeared in issue 94 of Singletrack Magazine. Subscribers have full access to all Singletrack articles past and present. Learn more from about our subscriptions offers:
We’re being bombarded by adverts encouraging us to book a holiday. From issue 94, here’s our guide to the world’s prime riding spots. Not an oversized mouse or screaming child in sight.
International Travel: Ultimate Holidays
Words and pictures by the Singletrack team (unless otherwise credited).
It’s probably fair to say that for the typical Brit, this time of year is not the very best to be riding mountain bikes. Regardless of stoicism, determination or drivetrain longevity, we think the majority of riders endure, rather than enjoy, the clammy chill of winter, while looking hungrily towards whatever we can treat ourselves with when the weather improves next year. And for many of us, that might include a trip to some foreign (or not so foreign) climes. But where to go? In the next few pages the staff and friends of Singletrack nominate their ultimate riding holiday destinations…
Park City, Utah.
Where? Surely Utah’s a bleached desert and a bit lacking in trees? Not so! Just half an hour up the hill from Salt Lake City, heading into the Wasatch Mountains, is Park City. This is actually where the ‘Salt Lake’ Winter Olympics took place in 2000. Tree-lined mountains are cut through with the slashes of ski pistes, green in the summer, hiding miles and miles of custom-built mountain bike trails.
Park City itself is old in US terms; a former mining town, boasting some houses nearly 200 years old. It mixes old-school quaint with up-to-date shopping and over 150 restaurants. Both Park City and neighbouring Deer Valley have invested heavily in mountain bike trails, chairlifts and mountain bike patrol staff. The Deer Valley Resort map boasts over 35 different trails alone, with Park City, Canyons and other resorts having even more, all linked together by singletrack. It really is possible to ride all day here and not touch the same trail twice. For the adventurous, you can ride something like the Wasatch Crest Trail – 25 miles of mostly downhill, fantastic singletrack that ends up in Salt Lake City itself. The trails are designed with flow in mind, whether you like endless, tight berms, or fast rollers and drops. It’s big mountain singletrack at its best.
It’s not just the trails though. The whole town is geared up to well-heeled winter skiers who expect top-notch service. In the summer, the prices are less steep, but the service is still there. You can get by with an excellent trail map and a lift pass, but my tip would be to hire a mountain bike guide for a couple of days to show you how best to link up the maze of incredible trails. Then finish at one of the brewpubs or world-class restaurants for dinner.
If you’re after a special occasion mountain bike heaven trip, then Park City has to be on your list. Fly to Salt Lake, drive or get the shuttle up the mountain, stay in a ski lodge and ride until your legs fall off. Then eat until you explode. You won’t run out of trails to ride in a week. And then it’s only a four-hour drive to Moab.
Santa Cruz, California.
I love visiting Santa Cruz and have been to it more than any other US city. It has a small, seaside feel to it, similar to somewhere like Brighton in mixing atmosphere and weirdness. There are many, many bike people and bike companies here: Santa Cruz Bicycles, Ibis, Fox Shox, Bell, Giro, Easton, Rock Lobster, X Fusion and more are all in town or within a bike ride. It’s where Keith Bontrager and Julie Furtado live and where you often find racers like the Athertons spending the winter to train. Plus, it’s where Lost Boys was filmed!
Great riding starts almost from town, with a host of great trails beginning just on the edge of town, and a healthy riding scene to support them. A couple of miles up the coast is Wilder Ranch, with its miles of narrow singletrack, or the university, with its loamy redwood forests. To the south are the Post Office jumps of Aptos and, inland, there are trails leading into the Santa Cruz Mountains proper. The town has great bike shops, great restaurants and the Pacific Ocean too. It’s the combination of all these factors that make Santa Cruz a must-visit for me.
Another American ski town, Ketchum, and its associated ski area of Sun Valley, is a truly small town in the middle of green, rolling mountains. There’s so much space here that there are trails in all directions – in fact, one local reckons there are 400 miles of singletrack within a 30-minute radius of town. 400 miles! There are hot springs, forest meadow campsites and a limited amount of great lift-served trails. Otherwise, it’s a place for riders who don’t mind earning their turns, where two-hour climbs give access to half-hour singletrack descents.
Thredbo Resort, Australia.
Thredbo has been holding downhill races for a number of years now and some of the well-known young Aussie riders grew up riding those tracks – Troy Brosnan and Andrew Crimmins are just two. There’s dust, sun and some amazing trails here, and I think I’d become a better rider after riding the variety of trails the resort has to offer.
I made a trip out to Portugal last year. It was the first time I’d been riding out of the UK and on properly dusty trails. With a massive variety of tracks from super-flowy to slow tech, and mega-steep to super-fast open sections, I had the best week’s riding and can’t wait to go back.
I’ve been riding in Verbier on and off for over a decade now. My first visit was with my kids when they were riding tag-alongs. We were there at the invitation of Phil and Lucy at Bike Verbier who have been friends of mine and Singletrack ever since. In the winter it’s one of Europe’s most prestigious ski resorts, but in the summer it’s an alpine plateau of green trails and endless descents. From the valley floor at 800ft, you can take three lifts to the top of Mont Fort at 10,000ft and then spend the rest of the day riding back down. From sub-alpine landscapes to singletrack ribbons following babbling streams, the landscape changes with a variety I’ve found nowhere else in the Alps. The town of Verbier is at the halfway point on the mountain and it’s from there that the trails steepen and become really technical as you plummet through trees, meadows and stereotypical clutches of log-built, ancient chalets.
It’s a steep-sided resort with lifts running all summer, and yet it doesn’t have the same full-on downhill vibe like Morzine or Les Gets. It’s more of a network of natural cross-country trails that just happen to have been drawn out on an achingly beautiful, steeply pitched landscape. There’s climbing to be done here too, if you want to; you can choose to earn your descents or you can take the lifts. But the variety of the trails, not just in terms of pitch but in the landscapes they run through, is unlike anything I’ve come across anywhere else in the world.
There’s a trail named ‘Chute du Bisse’ which starts at the edge of a monumental precipice overlooking the valley below and more mountain peaks and trails beyond. If you don’t mind, when I die, you can bury me there.
Golden is a proper town in the Rockies. It’s a working town in the logging industry. From the resort of Kicking Horse above it, you can see the strands of mile-long logging trains crawl across the valley floor. There are proper bars, and real people, and there are trails in the forests that you can properly get lost on. Oh, and there are bears too.
Kicking Horse, above Golden itself, is another world. It’s fairly new by winter resort standards – it was still being completed only a decade ago. The lift to the top of the mountain spits you out at the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, which claims to be one of the highest in Canada at 7,700ft. The descent claims a record, too: at 3,700ft, it’s the longest continuous descent in North America. It’s relatively undiscovered due to its remoteness as a destination: it’s not really on the way to anywhere and it’s three hours out of Calgary. But if the managed nature and commercialism of resorts like Whistler seem too ‘Disney’ for you, then Golden is a naturally quiet antidote that I have appreciated twice.
Basque Country, Spain.
Where the Pyrenees meet the sea! If you want proper natural trails with descents that have to be earned on the way up, plus real Basque culture (don’t call it Spain – that’s like mentioning the war to a German) and amazing food, then the familiar climate of the Basque Country in north-west Spain provides riding from peaks to beaches via the odd bamboo forest – no, really!
Image courtesy of Nukeproof. Photographer Andy Lloyd.
If you can get away from the crowds in the centre of town – and the attitude that can sometimes go with it – then there is no finer place for riding. Yes, you have to be careful about your route, especially in high season, but with the looming expanse of Mont Blanc filling your vision all day and oodles of steep alpine singletrack to play on, it really is a fantastic location. Oh, and Micro-Brasserie de Chamonix is the perfect way to end a ride.
It can be a dark and forbidding place when the clouds are down and the light is sucked in by the piles of quarried slate, but on the plus side, Wales’ highest mountain Snowdon is easily accessible by bike (the Ranger Path remains among my favourite descents) and the miles of man-made trails at the likes of Coed y Brenin are a great alternative if the weather turns sour.
Why pick a corner of the UK as my favourite ever place to ride, when there are so many more exotic locations in the world to choose from? What is there about the often damp, grey and midge-infested north-west of Scotland to love? Simple – it’s not just the trails themselves, brilliant though they are; for me, a dream destination has other criteria to fill too.
First, the landscape must be absolutely stunning, and here the British mainland’s most distant reaches definitely deliver. The scale – and the geology, if you’re into that sort of thing – is breathtaking, and not a little humbling, too. Standing at the start of any trail here provokes a mix of excitement and trepidation – it’s wild, exposed country. Letting your eye wander along a line of singletrack as it rises into the corrie in front of you, starting under your front wheel as a foot-wide ribbon of perfectly grippy granite and sand, diminishing to a pale thread before vanishing into the nothingness several miles distant, is one of the spine-tingling pleasures which only human-powered travel in a spectacular landscape can give you.
And where else can you ride all day, under blue skies and on world-class trails, without seeing another human being? I love that what passes for a ‘honeypot’ riding area here is still deserted; my favourite loops in Torridon and on Skye, with a justifiable reputation as must-rides, probably see fewer riders in a year than one of the 7stanes does in a week. Although they’re now well lodged in the collective mountain bike consciousness as fabled destinations, they’re still far enough away from, well, everywhere, to keep the crowds away, and to make travelling there, even for semi-regular visitors like me, an adventure in itself.
In fact for many UK residents it’s probably easier to get to the Alps than it is to get to Applecross, but again that works in my favour; there might already be tyre tracks under your wheels here, but you’ll rarely get the chance to exchange pleasantries with other human beings until you’re off the hill and headed for your locally caught seafood supper in the pub at the end of the day. Which, for me, is just the way it should be.
This little slice of mountain bike heaven, bridging the gap between the Alps proper and the Mediterranean coast, has some of the best riding I’ve ever experienced anywhere in the world. The trails are absolutely mind-blowing; technically demanding, sustained and fun. As hard on riders as they are on bikes, they’re still highly rewarding for those who approach them with the respect and skill they require, and if you can hook up with someone who knows their way around then you’re onto a winner.
Rooted in local history, they offer a fair dose of culture too; beautiful villages and medieval towns perched on the sides of mountains, trails running alongside ancient aqueducts and down centuries-old donkey tracks. All this in a Mediterranean climate that dishes up plenty of sunshine (and spectacular storms, too), lines the trails with aromatic lavender and thyme, and makes lazing around at the tops of climbs a pleasant, rather than hypothermic, experience. Bliss.
Blame it on too much Nordic noir, but there’s something I find uniquely appealing about the idea of riding among fjords and mountains in the land of the midnight sun. Norway and Sweden both have a reputation for being good spots to explore by bike, though they don’t seem ever to have transcended the occasional flurry of ‘next big thing’ status to become accessible locations. Perhaps they’re next on the list?
The Himalayas, South Asia.
I grew up reading and re-reading mountaineering books, and found there was something amazingly romantic about these expeditions. Not just the hardship and risk up high, but the base camp relaxation too, all captured in a few photos in the middle of the book. I’ve always wanted to go, and I like the perverse logic that is to take a mountain bike to the biggest mountain possible.
Iceland has it all for me: a ludicrously beautiful and rugged landscape, the opportunity to disappear out in the serious wilds, an über-cool urban culture, fantastically warm people – who simply get on with living through the rawest of elements – and of course some epic singletrack.
Mountain biking is a growing sport in Iceland. While it’s always had a small core of diehard riders, until relatively recently the most common outdoor pastime generally involved diesel and beefy 4x4s. But the last few years have seen a surge of riding, and many more companies now seem to offer the ultimate backcountry mountain bike experience. There’s even a small bikepark tucked away in Skálafell, on the remote eastern side of the island – with, fingers crossed, another planned in years to come.
For the brave and adventurous, GPS self-guided mountain bike treks are possible, but the cream of the trails are hidden deep in the backcountry, so you need some well-honed navigation (and survival) skills to take them on. For those after a slightly less intrepid option, one of Iceland’s guiding companies can take you into the heart of riding nirvana, with varying levels of support including pick-ups, accommodation and even heli-bike options. These guided weeks aren’t cheap, however, so start saving now keeping in mind the mantra ‘opportunity of a lifetime, opportunity of a lifetime’!
Image courtesy of Huw Oliver
I find the idea of pedalling across old lava flows, past aqua-mint-coloured glaciers, meadows of wildflowers and gushing waterfalls, through deep canyons with steaming vents, across rainbow volcanic mountain ranges and being so far from big civilisation, just too exciting. Riding all day, sleeping in mountain huts, bathing in hot springs and finishing long rides off with Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps), while watching the northern lights is my idea of perfection. I think I’ll avoid the Hákarl (putrefied shark) though…
Rotorua, New Zealand.
I may have been living under a rock the last few years, but it was only this spring that I learned of Rotorua. I was sharing a chairlift in the Alps with an Australian journalist; with sculpted bike park awesomeness passing beneath us, he turned to me and said: “Fun, yeah – but not a patch on Rotorua.” My ignorance being immediately obvious, he continued telling me about this New Zealand mountain bike utopia, where the trails define ‘flow’. His eyes were twinkling as he reeled off the indigenous-sounding names of the trails, and told me I should absolutely make the pilgrimage across the globe to sample the “ultimate flow”. Coming from an ex-racer who has travelled the world over, riding the world’s best trails, I reasoned I could take his recommendation pretty seriously.
So began a bit of an obsession with Rotorua – this small town on New Zealand’s North Island, with seemingly endless miles of trails cutting through the prehistoric tropical forests. From sublime flow to rooty tech to manicured bike park fun, Rotorua seems to have everything. And since I learned of this bike paradise, it seems to be cropping up everywhere. Indeed, last month it announced it would be the venue for the first round of the 2015 Enduro World Series – like the many other world-class events that have been held there in the past, that’s one of the biggest stamps of approval surely?
Rossland and Revelstoke, British Columbia.
I spent a summer in British Columbia a couple of years ago, riding some of the finest trails imaginable, and these two spots stuck out like crown jewels. I’d go back in a heartbeat and ride there (if only Canada wasn’t so crazy expensive to get to); they’re my must-ride destinations.
Finale Ligure, Italy.
Home to a brilliant 24-hour race and the home of pesto.
I go there every year for quality suffering. Brilliant riding, massive hills (OK, just the one massive hill but it’s a volcano), fab weather, cheap to get to and courteous drivers. And Canarian potatoes. Don’t forget the spuds.
It’s been 12 years since I visited Downieville for the Singlespeed World Championships and to be honest I’d really like to go back there on a proper bike. It’s a small former Gold Rush town of 300 or so inhabitants, in northern California’s Sierra Mountains; it’s full of proper beardy mountain men, has a bar with swing saloon doors, and a diner that has roadkill on the menu. It also happens to be located in the middle of some immense riding.
Once you’ve navigated the 13-mile climb out of town (shuttles are available), there’s plenty of backcountry riding to be had in a mixture of high country and pine forests offering plenty of wilderness feel while being fairly straightforward to navigate. There’s something special about riding somewhere that harbours ‘proper dangerous fauna’ when you’re miles from anywhere, and Downieville doesn’t disappoint; there are plenty of bears on the trails if you get an early run in, trailside timber rattlesnakes sunning themselves and if you’re really lucky (or unlucky…) you’ll encounter mountain lions too.
There’s a tick list of classic riding here that’s possible to string together into a 17-mile, 4,000ft descent: Packer Saddle, Butcher Ranch, Pauley Creek, First Divide, Second Divide and Third Divide combine into the Downieville Downhill, a ride that drops you back into town from the shuttle trailhead, crossing meadows, criss-crossing canyons and the Yuba river. It’s a good mixture of fast and flowy singletrack and exposed technical riding that’s a blast to ride. Hit it as a group in summer conditions and the dusty loam just hangs in the air, a sepia-toned mist that cuts down visibility but creates such a special feel to the ride. Big rides in the backcountry, long hard descents and the opportunity to be eaten by the local wildlife: you can’t beat that.
This is possibly the most beautiful landscape in the world, with dolomitic spires towering over alpine meadows in a land overflowing with good food and coffee. High mountains, almost compulsory hike-a-bike, and good hard technical riding with the promise of multi-day, hut-to-hut trips is what’s kept me poring over maps of this region to plan the ultimate adventure.
I’ve had a brief taste of what’s on offer in the Alta Badia, on the edge of the Fanes-Sennes-Braies nature park, and that was enough to get me hooked and wanting more. A network of beautiful singletrack threading through amazing mountain scenery, with a mixture of fire road climbs, portage and ski lifts to access it. A fully supported network, with mountain huts offering food and shelter in between some amazing moments of riding in high mountains. Incredible moments of flow, tricky little committing technical moves and racing incoming thunderstorms back to our base – these all add up to proper holiday memories.
All I ask is for one more trip to the Dolomites with like-minded riders full of ‘mountain optimism’ – the shared belief that there’s an awesome trail just beyond the next two hours of carrying your bike up a mountain pass. The common knowledge that it’ll all be worth it, if we just dig in right now. That, and for the route to deliver the goods. That would be tutto bene.
There’s no uplift here: you’ve got to tackle long climbs to get your ride rewards, but they are so worth it. Slovenia is a country covered in a woodland, karst and mountain landscape that seems full of technical trails that’ll keep you busy for weeks. Grind up, follow what you find, ride down, repeat. Yum.
Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire.
There’s no place like home and it’s not just luck that led to me living in Hebden Bridge. I want to live somewhere that other people would want to visit on holiday! Hebden has great riding straight out of the door and it’s within two hours drive of other great places like the Lakes, the Peak District and north Wales. I speak the language, understand the money and know where to get a good ice cream.
Zona Zero, Spanish Pyrenees.
This is another great destination that I go to regularly. Paths between abandoned villages have been cleared and made into mountain bike trails and the medieval hill town of Ainsa makes a great place to eat and stay. In fact, it’s such a good place that the Enduro World Series is holding a round there in 2015. The after-party is going to be the best in the series, I’ve been told and knowing what the fiestas are like in that part of the world, I believe the rumours!
Les Arcs, France.
A few months before my first daughter was born, I decided (with my wife’s blessing) to have a ‘last hurrah’ blowout riding holiday to remind myself of what I’d be missing once nappy changing took over. The last time I’d been on a bike holiday was a lifetime ago, when I went to Chamonix in the late nineties. That trip was so good that the Alps had assumed almost mythical status in my mind. So, after seeking friends’ advice, I went on a trip to Bourg-Saint-Maurice near Les Arcs. The town is small but perfectly formed, and has everything you’d need without being totally overrun with summer tourists. And oh boy, the trails… Even if you go, as I did, in September when the lifts are closed (so there’s a huge amount of climbing to do), the trails are extraordinary.
Long flowing mountain-top singletrack. Piles and piles of woodsy, rooty, rocky sections. Hundreds and hundreds of switchbacks. Perfection. Whatever level of rider you are, you can’t fail to be a better one by the end of your time here. There are simple trails to challenge the beginner while leaving the more seasoned whooping with delight, and technical trails gnarly enough to leave even the most blasé rider with a well-puckered arse.
And after a long day in the saddle, a shower and a change of clothes, there’s nothing better than a beer and a slap-up feed whilst immersing yourself in the numinous power of these mountains. I’d go back again in a heartbeat.
Image courtesy of Bike Village.
I’ve not ridden in Turkey – I’d just really, really like to. My brother got married to a Turkish girl last year, and my family and I piled over for a fantastic and hugely memorable Turkish wedding, in absolutely the middle of nowhere.
If you look on a map, Göynük in Bolu Province isn’t all that far from Istanbul. But looks can be deceiving: Turkey is a very big place. It took me hours and hours to get there, and the journey culminated in an intermittently metalled road to a small town in the middle of a very quiet region known, apparently, for its chickens. But the scenery is spectacular: steep-sided valleys covered in trees, the odd extremely enticing trail heading off into the distance, not many people, few cars, and nary a bike to be seen.
I do love a backcountry adventure, so I did some research. My investigations suggest that the locals occasionally use these trails to hunt on horseback, but that there aren’t many restrictions on where they can go – so riding here looks very tempting indeed. And even better, I’ve since found a Turkish guy who rides, speaks excellent English and is as keen to explore the region as me. I will return, this time with bike in tow.
My new wife and I went to Tuscany on honeymoon, sans bikes. As we wandered round the most spectacular countryside in a hire car, we drank amazing wine, ate amazing food, gawped at exquisite scenery, and occasionally I gazed with teary-eyed desire at very lovely-looking trails linking hilltop villages, and at the wonderful green Apennine mountains and the plethora of singletrack within. Want.
Cheesy I know, but once you get past the overhyped Slickrock trail and get out into the real Moab, you see what the area is really like. Back-breaking climbs, eye-watering views and stomach-churning descents up, over and around some of the most challenging mesas in the area, including the ubiquitous trip over to Porcupine Rim.
The land of fire and ice has drawn me for years ever since I saw some photos of a friend’s ski-mountaineering trip back in the late nineties. The brutality of the island in winter does not relent much in the summer months – you exchange snow for rain, but freedom and solitude look like your reward. A targeted bikepacking trip for me in the coming year I think…
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