Moab is an amazing destination for road cyclists. Though better known for mountain biking, whitewater, and a diverse menu of power sports, road cycling in Moab has become increasingly popular. With relatively low-traffic paved roads along rivers and creeks, across the shoulders of small “island” mountain ranges, down spectacular canyons and across awe-inspiring mesa tops, Moab has gained a reputation as a skinny tire destination to compliment it’s renown in the fat tire world.
Moab’s love affair with road cycling gained a foothold in 2001 with the creation of The Skinny Tire Festival, an annual early-spring weekend of road cycling tours organized by founder Mark Griffith (this year, the 20th Anniversary for the event, it is scheduled for March 14-17.) The festival has grown over its 20-years, quadrupling in size, and sprouting two other annual road cycling events — Moonshadows in Moab, a summer evening ride over the mountains, and Moab Century Tour, a fall weekend festival. The festivals, especially the spring event, are known for their family-like feeling, with many participants having returned many times over the years. In fact, some have returned each year since its founding.
Perhaps sparked by these three annual events, the road cycling crowd has definitely “discovered” Moab, with more and more visitors coming to Moab throughout the year specifically to ride their skinny tire machines. Griffith says, “It’s not uncommon to see 30% of the visitors in town during the fall” with road cycles on their cars.
Scott Newton, owner of Moab’s Poison Spider Bicycle Shop, has also promoted road cycling in Moab via their annual Grand Fondo race in the fall and in many other respects. Newton says he used to never see other road cyclists when he’d ride the La Sal Mountain Loop, but that has changed dramatically. “I’m always shocked when I do the Loop Road,” he says. “Very rarely do I not see a road cyclist, anymore. Before, it was very rare to ever see one.”
If you, too, would like to discover the wonders of road cycling in canyon country, here are a few tips to consider in planning a visit to Skinny Tire Moab:
What to Expect
- Few “loops” — due to the canyon-esque nature of the terrain, most of the rides are out-and-back. The two exceptions involve loops up and over the shoulders of two small “island” mountain ranges. But, as Griffith says, since they many are traveling through a canyon, these out and backs “really ride more like a loop.” The return leg looks and feels completely different, due to the spectacular nature of the scenery.
- Remoteness — most of the rides will take you into very remote areas with few services available for support, including water. If you are used to riding in more populated areas, you will want to make sure you prepare. Either beef up your tool bag and take more water, or arrange to ride with a support vehicle, especially on the longer rides.
- Camelback — regardless of the particular route you are riding, you will probably want to wear water on your back. Even in the shoulder seasons and during the winter, the air is extremely dry, with humidity levels often in the teens and twenties.
- First Light — If you visit during the summer, leave for your ride at first light in order to avoid the heat of the afternoons and evenings. During summer, temperatures typically reach their peak at 2 or 3 pm and don’t significantly cool until just before sunset. Eight o’clock PM can often be as hot as noon, so the idea of riding during the “cool” of the evening is not practical.
- Obey Traffic Laws — Moab is an extremely bike-friendly town, but obeying traffic laws is still required and enforced.
- “Shoulderless” Roads — Many of the two-lane highways and roads lack significant shoulders. Be prepared for traffic-aware riding.
- Lodging — Most road cycling visitors seem to prefer Moab’s many hotels, bed and breakfasts, townhomes and condominiums, rather than the RV parks and campgrounds frequented by other types of visitors. Be aware that though some of the lodging establishments do provide bike lockups, not all allow bikes in their rooms. Be sure to ask when booking your lodging.
One of the best online resources for road cycling route maps in the Moab area is this PDF produced by Poison Spider Bicycles and hosted on the Discovermoab.com website. Physical copies may be picked up at the Poison Spider shop. The Route Guide details nine different rides that vary in length between 33.4 miles and 79 miles and that range from flat riverside rolls to extremely difficult rides with 4,000 climbs up and over the shoulder of the mountains. These rides are listed below in order of shortest to longest. The Poison Spider Route Guide has complete descriptions, including route maps, suggestions for varying ride length and points of interest along the way.
Rim Tours (435.259.5223) offers guided road cycling tours, while several shuttle services exist that may be able to offer ground transport to the start of a ride, depending on the season and how busy they are. Check with Coyote Shuttle (435.259.8656) and Porcupine Shuttle (435.260.0896) to inquire about shuttles.