What should I expect from the rim trail?

That is a question I wish we could answer with a simple response like “easy-intermediate” but the truth is those terms don’t mean anything to you unless you are an experienced mountain biker and have some valid basis of comparison. Because of that, I am going to try to write this to the people who are not avid mountain bike riders. To those who are- “easy to intermediate, a mix of slickrock, hardpack, and sand” carry on. Come ride it; you’ll have fun.

For those still reading, the rim trail is beautiful, unique, sometimes scary, challenging and rewarding all at the same time. If your level of experience is “I ride a beach cruiser in the city” and “are these little levers the gear thingys?” there will be sections of the trail that are beyond your skill level, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ride it. Whether you can do it or not depends on your level of comfort and if you are willing to risk some lumps and bumps should you take a fall. The simplest way to say this is try what you are comfortable trying. If you don’t feel okay, get off the bike and walk for a few yards and you should be around whatever obstacle was making you feel uneasy. That is safest way to answer that. Now, if you are inexperienced but you want to test your limits and push yourself, you can do it. Here are a few tips:

• DO NOT SQUEEZE YOUR BRAKES SO HARD YOU LOCK THEM UP, especially your front brake.
• Please re-read the above statement.
• Have some speed but not too much.
• Keep your feet on the pedals and keep the pedals level when not pedaling. Using a “half pedal” technique (not pedaling a full revolution) can be helpful when negotiating rocky obstacles.
• Do not take stupid risks. You are out in a wilderness trail relying on a machine to get you back safely. Know your limit and respect the danger that can be inherent to mountain biking.

Many modern mountain bikes are equipped with disc brakes, some of those are hydraulic disc brakes, and some are strictly mechanical. Disc brakes are substantially more powerful than traditional v-brakes—meaning you don’t have to squeeze very hard to get the job done. Especially with the hydraulic discs, you will want to ride a little on the pavement and get used to the brakes. If you squeeze your brakes too hard on a downhill section or even on a flat with too much speed physics will take effect. You are an object in motion, and you will stay in motion even if your bike does not. This involves flying over your handlebars and usually some pain. On the rim trail this really is an important point because you will be riding along sections of exposed cliff ledge, and you do not want to go over it. So, in summary, locking up your front brake equals you going over the handlebars; locking up the rear brake will cause your bike to want to fishtail and potentially lose control. When you put yourself on two wheels going down a hill, you are going to go down the hill, one way or another. The safest way is rolling on your wheels at a controlled speed. We can’t control gravity with our brakes, but we as riders can control our speed and subsequently our bikes by using our brakes appropriately.

Speed is not your enemy out here. Too much of a good thing, of course, is a problem but some speed is exactly that—a good thing. Modern mountain bikes have highly engineered suspension systems. In order for these shocks to work properly and offer the smoothest, most stable ride, you need a little momentum so that they function as they are designed to. If you go too slow, the shocks won’t compress and you are going to have a bumpy ride over the rocky drop ins on the trail. In addition, when you go over obstacles (i.e. small rock steps, maybe 8-10 inches) you want to have enough momentum to go over the obstacle letting your front wheel stay level. If you go too slow, you will plant your front tire as you go over, making for a much rougher ride.

Bring water. I can’t overstate this; you are in the middle of the desert, and there aren’t hydration stations on the trail, nor are there many sections of shade. You will want to select your ride time with some forethought. In the summer our temperatures are routinely greater than 100F / 38C, so getting your bike the evening before and going for a sunset ride that night and an early AM ride the next day would be an ideal way to ride. In the fall/winter/spring you can ride during the daytime hours without too much worry about extreme temperature.
I would not describe the trail as “easy,” although it is not overtly technical. It is still a ten-mile ride over some moderately tough terrain. If you are an experienced rider, this will be a fun, relatively leisurely ride. If you are not somebody who regularly rides a mountain bike, you are going to get a workout. I have taken out people who were avid road cyclists, personal trainers, and generally in good physical condition, and they get worked running a half rim at a fairly slow pace, so that should give you something to gauge the level of difficulty. You could be a world class swimmer or tennis player and still experience some strain doing this because you are using different muscle groups and you haven’t developed some of the nuance skills that you would have if you rode the trail regularly.

This is not Disneyland. There are no cast members out there on the trail to pick you up if you eat it. There are no safety fences and nobody is out there removing obstacles to ensure you have a smooth park-like ride. Your safety is YOUR responsibility. The locals here are good people and our shop team will be as helpful as possible in helping you out of a jam, but you may have to walk a little while. The majority of the rim trail is not accessible by vehicle. There is a decent possibility of experiencing some injury while mountain biking. Getting a pedal to the leg, scraping extremities on branches, or even more severe injuries in the event of a crash should be expected. Leaking a little blood is typically preferable to leaking brake fluid, at least in my opinion. Many local riders (myself included), who have been riding this trail for years still experience injury from time to time. It happens. Bring your own first aid kit. If you break an extremity, call 911, leave the bike there, and let us know once you get safe and stable so that we don’t send a search party for you.

Bikes are machines and they can fail. Each of our bikes goes through a detailed inspection before it goes out and when it comes back in, but we cannot guarantee you will not experience some type of mechanical failure while riding. This is a rough trail in spots, and it is inaccessible by car. If you experience a breakdown, we can often meet you at one of the access points to swap a bike out for you or do a quick repair such as a tube change, but you will have to make it to an access point which could be a few miles walk in some instances.

So, all that said, why choose to ride a trail like this? If you like a challenge, if you like to live and ride on the edge (literally), and you are someone who is rewarded by a sense of accomplishment and some incredible views, then this trail will be a great experience for you. If you are looking for a “tourist” experience where you get waited on and have wifi access, this isn’t it. Get out and ride, push yourself a little, and you might be pleasantly surprised at how much you are really capable of.