Embarking on a mountain bike trip to a new destination taps into the essence of what makes riding bikes on narrow trails so addictive in the first place: exploration, adventure, and an escape from the stress of everyday life. Whether this is your first mountain bike getaway or you've been planning mountain bike trips for years, crafting an unforgettable trip starts long before you hop on your bike.
When it comes to planning epic mountain bike adventures, few people can claim as much experience as Mark Sevenoff, Marketing Director and Co-Owner of Western Spirit Cycling Adventures. Western Spirit is renowned as one of the premier mountain bike guiding companies in the USA. Founded in 1990, they continue to hone their craft by launching new and innovative trips to new destinations and embracing new technologies, such as ebikes. I sat down with Mark to get his advice on how to plan the perfect mountain bike getaway, and have distilled his insights into five key ingredients for crafting an unforgettable mountain bike getaway:
1. Pick Your Destination Based on Your Timeframe
Your schedule determines not just the "when" but also the "where" of your next mountain bike adventure. If you're traveling to a destination that you've never visited before, you might be unfamiliar with the local climate and weather patterns. Before you commit to a specific timeframe and a destination, be sure to research when the ideal time to ride there is.
For example, if you call up Mark and say that you want to head to Telluride and mountain bike on your child's spring break in March, he'll say, "Okay, you can go to Telluride in March, but don't bother bringing your bike. You should bring your skis or snowboard."
"If you have a completely flexible schedule and you're retired or you work from home, it opens it wide up," said Mark. "But if you only have one week that [you can] go with your family, and it is March, or let's say it's July, then it really narrows it down."
2. Choose the Trails and Destination Based on the Group's Ability Level
Second, your destination choice or the specific mountain bike trails you choose to ride in that destination should be influenced by the other people who will be coming on the trip.
"If you're going by yourself, it's quite easy—you are only worried about yourself. But if you have any type of mixed group, you want to make sure that the other people are within their comfort level," said Mark. "So it's kind of a fine line between a good challenge and a sufferfest, right? You want to get that ratio right."
"I would say it's better to go on a slightly easier trip," Mark advises. If one (or more) of the people traveling with you isn't as capable or experienced, "you can always go and get some extra credit riding." Once you're done with the main ride and back to camp, you can always choose to pedal some bonus miles by adding on another loop or an out-and-back. "But if you bite off more than you can chew, then the other person might just be totally demoralized on day one."
3. Pay Attention to the Packing List
"Whether you're doing something on your own or with an outfitter like Western Spirit, one of the most common questions we get is, 'Do I really need rain pants?'" Mark quipped—which I found hilarious because I was going to ask that exact same question.
"For 20 years before I started working and guiding with Western Spirit, I never had rain pants—I had ski pants," said Mark. "The thought of riding in rain pants was just so foreign, but when you're riding with a group. . .you're [in] an expedition mentality. If one person gets a flat or an injury. . .if it was just you, you'd kind of move through. But if you have to wait around, it can get pretty cold pretty fast at high elevation or [in the fall]." You have to remember that you're operating in a group dynamic.
4. Don't Be Afraid to Travel Solo
"We get so many people that are really interested [in our trips], but they're like, 'yeah, I really want to go, but my friend is dragging their feet,' or, 'my friends are so lame,' or, 'my friend can't go this week, so I can't go.'" said Mark. He astutely identified a hesitation that I've seen hold back countless prospective travelers, whether it's a one-week mountain bike getaway or striking off to travel around the world solo for a year.
But Mark doesn't think traveling solo should hold you back: "It's amazing how many solo travelers we get. Furthermore, it's amazing how basically everyone coming on these trips—they're cyclists, and they love the outdoors. The amazing part is how they not just become friends on the trip but continue to keep in touch afterwards.
"You get Joe the plumber from Ohio, and then you get some aerospace guy from Seattle, and then some MIT graduate from Cambridge or whatever, and they all come together through this shared love of cycling and the outdoors. So don't be afraid to travel solo, because you might meet people you stay in touch with for the rest of your life."
Mark explained that he goes on a ton of solo adventures and trips with family and friends that he plans himself, but even as an accomplished guide and trip planner, he still enjoys going on guided trips, too. Especially if you're traveling with a group of friends, hiring a guide can ease some of the potential group tension.
"I've been asked to put together a lot of trips for friends, and I've done that too," said Mark. "But what is nice about paying a little bit extra and going with someone else is that you can defer that responsibility to preserve your friendship with your other friends.
"An example is: you're in Crested Butte, and you know what the ride is the next day, but what time are we leaving? Well, Fred wants to sleep in and make a fire in the morning and not get rolling until 10 or 11. He's had a few too many beers around the campfire, but Jill wants to be on the bike by 7:00 AM because it's going to get too hot. Then there's some tension. But the guides are like, 'no, we're leaving at nine—be ready.'
"It eliminates some of the bickering between friends. You can just be like, 'well, we paid money, and the guides are making this decision, and they've been doing this for 40 years, and they know best.' So whether you like it or whether you agree with it or not, it provides the assuredness and the answers."
Hiring a guide also eliminates a massive number of headaches for the person who gets saddled with planning the entire expedition. While perhaps it isn't too difficult to show up in an epic mountain bike destination like Moab or Crested Butte and plan a full week of riding, "when you get a little bit past that, whether it's a point-to-point ride like the Kokopelli or something like the White Rim that's [tough] logistically and permit wise, it's pretty darn nice to go with an outfit or to have a guide—even on the White Rim," said Mark.
"You can take Joe's truck, but then Joe doesn't get to ride half the trip and Joe's truck gets beat to heck. Our trucks are pretty rugged—they're definitely workhorses."
The other benefits of hiring a guide are myriad: not having to worry about planning your meals, cooking the food, doing the dishes, and a hundred other tiny things. Western Spirit makes a compelling case for outsourcing the logistics to guarantee that you'll have a truly unforgettable mountain bike getaway!