Whenever I visit a new city, it’s become second nature that I find myself scrutinising its provision for cyclists and access to public transport – basically, its feasibility for car-free living.
In the UK I’m lucky enough to live in Bristol, a bustling metropolis in South West England, that affords quick and easy access into the surrounding green spaces. It’s just a 15 minute ride before congestion gives way to empty backlanes, and only a little longer before I’m amongst the twisting, turning singletrack of the local woodland trail network. An hour’s train ride deposits me near the Quantocks or Wales, both of which abound in mountain biking potential and overnight escapes.
All in all, it’s an amazing blend for a city of its size, and I’m always on the lookout for anywhere can replicate this formula. With a bit less rain, and a bit more sun…
Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico – not that that’s saying much in a state that’s home to just two million people – and could be a contender. In the heart of the city, miles of urban-themed mountain biking can be unearthed along the edges of the Rio Grande. It’s well served with bike lanes for hassle-free commuting and the surrounding open desert is the perfect stomping ground for roadies. I’ve mentioned the otherwordly White Mesa before, and there’s also the forest around Cedro Peak nearby – rumour has it technical day rides abound outside wintry months.
Like the relationship between Bristol and Bath, Albuquerque has a more affluent neighbour – Santa Fe – easily and cheaply linked by the Railrunner train, a service that offers free bike travel. Come spring, Santa Fe offers its own trail network, Dale Ball, just a short bike ride away from the train station.
But the deal-clincher for mountain bikers is the year-round, primo singletrack within cycling distance of Albuquerque’s downtown. As I discovered to my delight, the Sandia Foothills – pictured below – are the perfect antithesis to those winter blues…
The Sandia Foothills trail network is, on the whole, mellow and flowy. The terrain is ideal for both those relatively new to mountain biking, with a few more technical runs to keep experienced riders on their toes.
Altitudes range from 5700ft to 6800ft, with far reaching over the city and the surrounding high desert.
Singletrack weaves its way through giant, lichen-flecked boulders, groves of contorted cholla cacti and whispery grasses.
A perfect slice of the Sandia Mountains - Spanish for watermelon, so named for the colour they turn come sunset.
The Foothills are well marked. The area seems particularly popular with trail runners, with endless footpaths winding into the higher folds of the Sandia Mountains Wilderness.
Bone dry and perfect for building up trail confidence.
The trails meander their way amongst various desert shrubs; chamisa, three-leaf sumac, desert holly and big sage. Those soft, silvery-blue tones seem all the more striking against big, New Mexican skies.
A little talk... Nancy's swapped out her Jones Loop bars for a set of Salsa Moto Aces, with a 17 degree sweep. While the Jones proved perfect for touring, the Salsas put her in a more involved riding position - they seem to have noticeably improved her mountain biking skills.
I cannibalised them from the Ogre. Being the handlebar junkie that I am, I've invested in new steering. Andy Pearce's 22 degree sweep ti bars aren't just supremely elegant, they're also comfortable and wide enough for great control.
I'm reintroducing myself to big wheels and rigid-forked mountain biking. Most of the Foothills are smooth and flowy; perfect for this bare bones setup. Next time I'll remove my Salsa Anything Cages - a quick and easy process - in case they catch on branches or rocks.
High desert colours...
Nancy picks her way through one of the rock gardens that pepper the network...
... and adds a touch of glamour to her trail riding wardrobe.
Blazing quick singletrack hurtles us through cacti and grasses on the way back to the trailhead.
So far so good with the Ogre. 29er issues aside, this is turning out to be one of the most versatile bikes I've ridden.
The Sandia Foothills. It's not often singletrack like this is accessible almost every day of the year. And just a few miles from a city...