Photo credit: Mt. Lemmon Gravel Grinder
Mountain Biking During the Pandemic Part 2: Gravel Grinding
Ok, so you want to be a responsible citizen and practice effective social distancing but want to keep riding? Awesome. Here in Southern Arizona we’re really fortunate to have 450+ miles of non-Wilderness singletrack, so there are plenty of ways to spread out and avoid the crowds. In our last blog post we discussed some of the “lesser-traveled” trails around Tucson that are fun to explore and unlikely to be crowded. For this blog post we’re going to share a couple of gravel routes; higher-mileage rides that use dirt roads instead of trails. Gravel grinding is an awesome way to cover a lot of ground, explore new areas, and build fitness. It’s also a great option for beginner riders, less-confident riders, and those coming from a road riding background, as by and large dirt roads are less technical (but not always!). Southern Arizona has literally thousands of miles of dirt roads in both the low desert and the mountains, so you can move up or down in elevation depending on the weather.
To get the dirt on gravel routes, we reached out to a few of our local gravel grinder race/event promoters: the Mt. Lemmon Gravel Grinder (MLGG) and the Spirit World 100. The MLGG takes place in October of each year and takes riders from the 3C Ranch in Oracle up Mt. Lemmon and through the San Pedro River Valley on 40, 50, and 60-mile routes. SDMB is a nonprofit beneficiary of the MLGG, so a portion of all sponsorships and race fees benefit local trail projects! The Spirit World 100 is Southern Arizona’s newest gravel race, and it takes riders on a 50 and 100-mile route based out of Patagonia. The event is coordinated by The Cyclists’s Menu, which offers fully-catered cycling camps with amazing food courtesy of chef Zander Ault.
Exploration is one of the best parts of any ride, whether it's on singletrack or a back dirt road. You don't need to follow an established route to have a blast. Two great starting points are Charleau Gap Rd. in Catalina and Redington Rd. to the east of Tucson. Both roads are also popular with OHV users, especially on weekends, so avoid peak days/hours.
Given the distances that most gravel routes cover, it’s pretty likely that you will be driving there and stopping in small towns like Oracle and Patagonia. At this point we are all hopefully practicing social distancing, washing our hands, wearing masks, etc to help flatten the curve and end the COVID-19 outbreak. When traveling from one area to another, or from a city to a small town, please make sure to do the following:
Gravel Grinder Routes
Mt. Lemmon Gravel Grinder
The MLGG course has 40, 50, and 60-mile options. All routes technically start and finish at the 3C Ranch, but a good alternate start/finish is just past the ranch at the turn-off for Peppersauce Campground. While the MLGG is technically a gravel route, the Mt. Lemmon Control Road is steep, bumpy, and often has loose rock so while you can ride it on a gravel or CX bike, a hardtail 29er is the weapon of choice for most riders. The MLGG course has a low elevation of 3,000 ft. and a high elevation of 8,000 ft. (for the 60 Grind) so be prepared for a wide variety of temperatures. No matter which route you choose, the views of the Catalina and Galiuro Mountains are spectacular and the diversity of plants (Saguaros all the way up to Ponderosa Pines) on the course is second to none.
GO HERE FOR MLGG ROUTE INFORMATION
Spirit World 100
Based out of Patagonia, AZ the Sprit World 100 has 50 and 100-mile routes. These are more “traditional” gravel routes that can be ridden on a gravel/CX bike or a mountain bike. Both the 50 and 100-mile routes are between 4,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation, and cross high desert grasslands and the Patagonia, Huachuca, and Mule Mountains and the Canelo Hills. It’s proximity to the US/Mexico border makes the Spirit World 100 an interesting ride.
GO HERE FOR SPIRIT WORLD 100 ROUTE INFORMATION
Other Gravel Grinding Resources and Suggestions
The Dirty Freehub
The Dirt Freehub is a national website that features curated and vetted gravel routes in each state. They have detailed map and elevation information for all routes.
GO HERE TO SEE ARIZONA GRAVEL ROUTES ON THE DIRTY FREEHUB
From SDMB Board Member Kirk Astroth
SDMB’s own Kirk Astroth is an avid explorer of random dirt roads and backcountry routes, many of which feature interesting historical and archeological features. Read on for a list of some of his favorite gravel rides. You’ll have to do your own map and wayfinding research for these, which just makes it more of an adventure!
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