Missoula, Montana: a bicycling nirvana

Missoula. Hot, but not spicy.

Missoula. Hot but not spicy.

Missoula: not a spicy Indian curry but a town I’ve long hankered to visit, famed as it is for its bike-friendly layout, liberal tendencies and hippyish vibe. It’s also home to the Adventure Cycling Organisation, pioneers of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route I’ve been following. And, best of all, it boasts mile upon mile of fine singletrack spiderwebbing right out from its backyard. What more of an excuse could I need for a detour?

The Adventure Cycling Association, who mapped a whole host of rides around the US.

Ride Loaded. The Adventure Cycling Association, who've mapped in intricate detail a wealth of rides across the US, including the Great Divide.

Everyone who visits the Adventure Cycling Organisation office gets a free ice cream, and their photo taken. At the end of the year, these are archived and stored, should you pass through again in years to come.

Everyone who visits their office gets their photo taken. At the end of the year, all the pictures are archived, should you pass through again in years to come. Knowing the real way to a cyclist's heart, extra enticement to swing by is offered in the form of a free ice cream...

Variois touring bikes have found their retirement on the office walls, including one of legendary Kiwi traveller XXX.

Various touring bikes have found their retirement hanging on their office walls, including the trusty steed of legendary Kiwi traveller Ian Hibell, whose exploits included crossing the swampy, inhospitable Darien Gap by bike.

I’ve always admired co founder Greg Siple’s black and white portraits of touring cyclists, so was delighted to be photographed by him. Unfortunately the gravitas of my pose was somewhat undermined by the fact that I only had my bike helmet and rear wheel with me, as proof of my cycling credentials. I’d had to leave the Santos in Seeley when I hitched over (thanks Raine!), bringing my rear wheel with me in the hope of getting the Rohloff cog flipped over, to help prolong its life.

I've always admired co founder Greg XXX's black and white portraits of touring cyclists, so was delighted to be photographed by him. Here he is on his bike back in 1973, when he and a group of friends were amongst the first to ride from Prudoe Bay to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. The journey took two years and was covered by National Geographic.

The office is full of old black and white photographs of tourers in sneakers, cut off jeans and 70s hairdos, gathered for the ground-breaking Bicentennial Ride in '76. Here's Greg looking very dapper in Peru back in '73, when he and a group of friends were amongst the first to ride from Prudoe Bay, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. The journey took two years and was covered by National Geographic. Inspirational.

There’s a great bike scene going on in Missoula. Dave and Kevin, who I’d met in Columbia Falls at a house party, lent me a cruiser for the day so I could blend in seamlessly with all the cool cats. Experienced mechanics, they’d recently set up their own bike shop, breathing life back into quality old bikes before selling them on. And a great setup they have too. Their website has some absolutely gorgeous photos taken by Tom, a Missoula based photographer who put me up for the night.

Hellgate Cyclery: Kevin and Dave, purveyors of old bikes made good.

Hellgate Cyclery: Kevin and Dave, purveyors of old bikes made good.

A classic Schwinn cruiser. My chariot for the day.

A classic Schwinn cruiser. My chariot for the day.

Visiting Missoula was also a welcome chance to meet up with Aaron Teasdale, the art editor of Adventure Cycling magazine, which I’ve been contributing to. It was great to hang out, talk bikes, swap ideas and get the lowdown on Missoula. We only had time to slip out for a late evening spin in the local hills before he headed out of town, but it was enough to convince me to stay another day…

Luckily Tom, who I was staying with, didn't take much convincing to take the morning off and take me for a ride. We rode out from his front door to Rattlesnake Trailhead, and began a long, sinewy singletrack climb into the mountains. The trails were bone dry, and on the descent, I struggled to keep up with the will-o-the-wisp plume of dust kicked up by his wheels.

Luckily Tom didn't need much convincing to show me the singletrack sights. Missoula is endowed with miles of trails, all accessible by bike from downtown. Heading out to Rattlesnake Trailhead, we began a long, sinewy singletrack climb high into the mountains. The trails were bone dry and on the descent, even on the titanium hardtail I'd been lent, I struggled to keep up with the will-o-the-wisp plume of dust kicked up by his 29er wheels.

Sweet Missoulan singletrack. Copyright Tom Robertson.

Sweet Missoulan singletrack. Photo by Tom Robertson.

Like a Portland in the sun, Missoula has a rich bike culture. I've rarely seen so many cyclists in an American city. With its almost instant access to miles and miles of primo singletrack and laid back lifestyle, I reckon it has to be my favourite town on the journey so far.

Like a sunny version of Portland, Missoula has a rich and progressive bike culture. With its almost instant access to miles and miles of primo singletrack, its city bike lanes and laid back, liberal lifestyle, it's one of my favourite towns on the journey so far.

2 thoughts on “Missoula, Montana: a bicycling nirvana

  1. Tommy

    Hi interest read on your blog hope you trip is going well.

    A small correction for you, Ian Hibell is English and from Brixham Devon not N.Z, unfortunately there is some bit of film flying about of him saying he is a Kiwi when in fact it was merely his two companions that were Kiwi. Amazing rides none the less.

    Reply
  2. Scott

    Are you sure that bike belonged to Ian? Ian is the biggest little man I know, my hero and is not from New Zealand…..
    Ian Hibell is English …… May he rest in peace.

    Reply

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