Lunar Exploration: Riding White Mesa, NM.

Returning to New Mexico has given me the chance to ride a couple of trails I heard about, but didn’t have time to explore before. Numero Uno on my wishlist was a classic local desert loop known as White Mesa, set in a bizarre, lunar-like landscape. It’s so named for the colour of the gypsum residue that reflects the sun in this mineral-rich, parched-dry area.

The trail is well marked, and there are various permutations to shrink or extend the ride. Our trip was a little forshortened when Nancy took a nasty, helmet-cracking, wheel-tacoing spill. Luckily, she lives to ride another day.

The trailhead is about 35 miles from Albuquerque, the last few of which are along a dusty dirt road off Highway 550. We drove out with a posse of riders, including Dallas, Amy, Woody, Mike and Bobbie. Although the loop itself is pretty short, you could use public transport and make a weekend of it, hopping on the Railrunner from Santa Fe ($6), or Albuquerque, and getting of in Bernalillo. This links up with the Bernalillo-Cuba shuttle bus ($2, inc bike), stopping off in the Zia Pueblo and San Ysidro Village, which is a couple of miles from the turnoff. Incidentally, I’m a big fan of the Railrunner, the train that runs between ABQ and Santa Fe. Although the timetable is a little restrictive – it’s aimed at commuters – it’s cheap, bike-friendly, and has free wifi!

As far as I’ve experienced, White Mesa is completely different from anything else in the area; it’s as unique as Utah, and definitely somewhere I’d like to explore further. There’s plenty more scope closer to ABQ, with bike lanes around town, and the local Foothills trail network within riding distance – not to mention some great road riding potential too. Plenty of route info can be found at Two Wheel Drive.

Thanks to the posse for their hospitality and for showing us around, particularly Dallas for prepping our bikes in his incredible, spick ‘n span workshop!


In Santa Fe the trails are caked by snow and mud. Head south 60 miles and drop a couple of thousand feet, and this is what you get.


New Mexico mountain biking at its best. The White Mesa loop is fast and flowing, with a few technical hurdles, some exposed ledges and a couple of grunty climbs.


Inter-planetary exploration.


Post-spill. Nancy back on the bike, front wheel trued back to life. We later found a second hand replacement - a Mavic 317 laced to a Specialized hub - for $30 at the excellent Broken Spoke in Santa Fe.


The trail is well signed, and can be ridden in either direction.

A short hike 'n bike earns some bonus singletrack and an off-the-saddle steep descent.


Amy, on her green-rimmed, Voodoo 29er. This is perfect big wheel country.


Riding the Dragon's Spine.


White Mesa was my first time out on the Ogre. Next time I'll bring my bikepacking gear - the area would make for some awesome camping and incredible starry nights.


Sweet singletrack on the way back to the trailhead.


Downtown Albuquerque. The largest city in New Mexico, ABQ is surprisingly bike friendly. The Paseo del Bosque runs from north to south of the metropolitan area, amongst the cottonwoods of the Rio Grande. There's plenty of singletrack to be unearthed along the river trails too, and quick access to the Cedro Peak National Forest.

9 thoughts on “Lunar Exploration: Riding White Mesa, NM.

  1. Mike Sharp

    Ride on, my friend and be safe as you do. I thoroughly enjoy your posts and travels (though not so much as you, I’m sure). If you find your way through Denver, by all means let me know.

    1. While Out Riding Post author

      I’m using the tyres that came with the bike, WTB Exiwolfs, 2.3. They’re the folding kind, they seem grippy enough and roll nicely, even on pavement when run at 50psi.

      I like the Ogre a lot, so far. I mean, it’s not the lightest frame, but you don’t buy a Surly if you’re hung up on weight. It makes up for this in how tough and versatile it is. I love all the eyelets (provision for three water bottle cages, front and rear racks, mudgards, plus water bottle/Anything cages on the fork). And of course it will take a Rohloff too, of which I’m a big fan. The handling in nice and direct, and not sluggish at all. It’s a stiff frame and fork, so doesn’t wallow around with load. I did a short rack and pannier tour recently – no issues on heel clearance.

      I’m coming from a Troll, similar in many ways. I had that set up with a 100mm suspension fork. While I don’t think 29er wheels and a rigid fork are a match for 26in wheels with suspension in terms of off road ride comfort, they are a good compromise. On the Ogre, I feel I can ride relatively technical terrain with plenty of assurance (albeit a little slower), with a far more direct, efficient feel on hardpack trails and pavement. Throwing on some light, narrow tyres would speed things up further for longer paved stretches.

      The only issue for me, as someone who travels a lot with my bicycle, is the non-availability of 29er tyres beyond North America (and Europe/Australia). That would take some planning. I’d feel the need to run extra strong rims, and carry at least a spare tyre. Or maybe two light, fast rolling touring tyres – like Marathon Supremes. This would save wear and tear on the knobblies, be quick on the road, and act as emergency spare tyres if needed. From my experiences, 700c super skinny road tyres are pretty easy to find in high end bike shops in major cities around Latin America, but these would be far from ideal for touring…

      I’ll write up some more thoughts when I’ve had longer on the bike!

      1. Chris

        Thanks for the info Cass, I’m leading toward the Ogre. I’ve got an old life insurance policy that I’m going to cash out to buy it. Doesn’t really do me a whole lot of good since it’s only worth something when I’m dead and at that point I wont be able to enjoy the bike, so it’s kindof a no brainer!

        Take care, I enjoy reading your updates. Chris

  2. Steve

    I have a stock Ogre and love it. It is heavy, but rides real good. I was wondering what rack and pannier you are using? Also, what do you think about Salsa woodchipper handlebars on this thing? Another bar I was thinking is the Jones H-bar, or possibly the Titec J bar, only I wished the bar was a little longer to slide the rapid-fire shifters on.

    1. While Out Riding Post author

      I haven’t tried to Woodchippers, though I heard good things. The only potential issue I see is the extra reach you’d get from running a drop bar on a bike designed for flat bars – it might end up being quite a reach. And getting the height of the bars right so the drops are useful. Maybe you could experiment with a shorter stem, steeper stem.

      I prefer the aluminium H Loop bars over the Titecs, though they’re more expensive. As far as I know, these bars are wider too, and should work fine with rapid fire shifters. The downside of the design is if you want to run a bar bag, as the loop puts the weight waaaaaay out front. If the sweep is too much sweep, there’s plenty of 20-25 degree options around.

      In any case, I’m a big fan of Ergon grips for long distance touring, especially with a rigid setup.

      As for rack and panniers, I just borrowed what I could: a Planet X rack and Ortlieb rear rollers. I wouldn’t recommend the Planet X rack as it spaces the rack out really wide for running discs on a standard MTB frame, which compromises the rigidity. Tucking the disc mounts between the stays, a la Ogre, means you should be able to run a standard rack. Given the way cable pull disc calipers jutt out (like BB7s), you still may need to space the rack leg out a little, so there’s no rub against the back of the pannier.

      Given the choice, I’d spend the extra cash and see if there was a Tubus rack that worked. The guys at know their stuff and should be able help work out what fits best.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.