I think exploration is the true embodiment of the mountain bike experience. But these days, so many riders cheat themselves out of a unique adventure by refusing to truly explore. When some riders go to check out new trails, they’ll ride with someone who’s been there before, or hire a guide to show them around.

Sorry, but that’s not exploring.

There’s nothing wrong with riding with a local expert—I do it a lot myself. But really, it’s not true exploration. Exploring is finding a new trail, grabbing a map (or maybe no map at all), and finding out for yourself what it’s like. Sure, you can find out the basic info about a trail with something like the Singletracks Trail Database, but the experience, the exploration, is all yours once you get there.

Navigating the Alpine Tunnel route in Colorado. Photo: Jeff Barber

Navigating the Alpine Tunnel route in Colorado. Photo: Jeff Barber

Do you want to take it a step further? Do you really want to explore some place new? Take that turn that you’ve always ridden by. Follow that unmarked singletrack or fading dirt road and see where it ends up. Take a turn off the beaten path, and see for yourself where it leads.

Here are 10 reasons that you should take my advice, and head out and explore:

1. You’ll never know what’s on the other side of that mountain if you don’t go and see for yourself.

While other people can tell you what you might encounter on a specific trail, and you could see photos or videos from that place, you’ll never really, truly know what it looks like until you reach the top of the climb and look out on that vast mountain range for yourself.

2. Riding a trail that seemingly nobody has been on in years provides an unmatched sense of euphoria.

That euphoria is compounded when that trail you’re on, the one that looks like it hasn’t been seen by a human in who knows how long, is a sweet, flowing, ripping ride of a trail!

This sweet stretch of trail is fading away from lack of use. I don't know how many people can say that they've ridden this, but it's not many!

This sweet stretch of trail is fading away from lack of use. I don’t know how many people can say that they’ve ridden this, but it’s not many!

3. You’ll teach yourself how to be self-reliant and self-sufficient.

Exploring will force you to learn new skills in order to be self-sufficient in the backcountry. These hard skills can serve you for years to come as you explore further and further afield, but the soft skills of self-reliance will serve you in all areas of life.

See also: “Opinion: Accept the Risks and Be Self-Sufficient, or Don’t Mountain Bike.

4. You’ll live in the moment and forget about trying to snag a KOM or posting your fastest Strava time.

I’ve found no better way to live in the moment when riding my mountain bike than exploring new trails. I don’t care how fast or slow I’m moving. I don’t care what’s happening later that day. I’m simply living life to the fullest, and soaking in every new sight, sound, smell, and experience.

Sergio Barboni and friends explore the Italian Alps.

Sergio Barboni and friends explore the Italian Alps.

5. Food and beer taste better during a wilderness adventure.

It’s a scientifically-verified fact.

See also: “The Mountain Biker’s Guide to the Best Packable Beers.”

6. You’ll never know how hard you can push yourself until you get outside of your comfort zone.

Until you’ve hiked-a-bike up 2,000 feet (or more) of mountainside, followed by a bone-jarring descent coupled with numerous knee-deep river crossings, clambering over logs, and losing the trail more than once—all because you have no option and you need to find your way out of the wilderness—you may never know exactly what you can endure, and what your body can really do.

7. New trails can show you things you never imagined you’d see.

Historical artifacts are often hidden in the forest off of a seldom-used trail. Or maybe you’ll stumble onto a thundering waterfall, a rushing mountain stream, or a cliff that rises hundreds of feet into the sky?

Old mine site on the side of a trail in Colorado.

Old mine site on the side of a trail in Colorado.

8. You can make new friends.

There’s no rule that says you only have to explore trails hidden in the backcountry (though I think those are the best), but you could explore trails that are popular with other people. And who knows? You could make a new friend a long the way.

9. Exploring new trails will inspire you to travel.

I’ve traveled all across North America in order to explore new trails, and now I’m starting to branch out to the rest of the world! And while the thirst for new singletrack is always the main motivator, along the way I’ve gotten to experience different towns and cities, different peoples, different lifestyles, and different cultures. Exploring new trails can do the same thing for you.

My bike took me here: Carlsten Fortress, Marstrand Island, Sweden.

My bike took me here: Carlsten Fortress, Marstrand Island, Sweden.

10. There’s a reason the saying “stuck in a rut” has a negative connotation.

Riding the same old trails week in and week out, year in and year out, means you really are–quite literally–stuck in a rut. If you keep riding the same trails all the time, you’ll never learn any new skills since you always know what to expect, you won’t get to experience new places, and nothing in your mountain biking life will ever change.

I recently saw an article in a running magazine about a man who has run almost 15,000 days in a row—that’s 40 years—on the exact same beach. The first thought that popped into my mind was, “what a waste of a life!” I couldn’t help it: doing the same thing day in and day out, year in and year out, for 40 years straight is basically what I think hell would be like.

Don’t make your life a living hell. Get out and explore!

Your Turn: Are you ready to start exploring yet? Consider taking the #1trailaweek challenge!

# Comments

  • mongwolf

    Good morning Greg. Thanks for the article. I realize how blessed I am living in Mongolia with unending opportunity to explore new “trails” every week. Sure, none of them are groomed, and there are no banked turns or wooden jumps. But wow, the nature, the scenery, the challenge, the brutal uphill climbs, the amazing long descents, the true wilderness factor … … Yes, the mid of winter is brutally cold, but at least the rest of the year, most days are quite rideable (very little rain). I’m traveling through the US Midwest right now, and bumming pretty bad. Not because of the lack of interesting trails. There are many trails I want to ride, but the rain just keeps on coming, and the 10 day forecast looks bleak.

    • Greg Heil

      Welcome back to the US, Floyd! The month of May was the actually the wettest on record in the US, and my home state of Colorado (along with Oklahoma and Texas) is leading the front. So I feel your pain 🙂 I’m sure things will dry out soon, though!

      And I feel ya on the wilderness riding… that’s my favorite type! Resorts are good as far as they go, but give me a wilderness trail any day of the week!

    • mongwolf

      Thanks for the greeting Greg. Hope all is well with you. I hope to get out to Salida in July or August. I’ll let you know. I have been over to BV a couple of times to see our middle son. Last week I got to appreciate all the rain the Front Range has been getting. Jacks and Buff Creek were absolutely amazing. Is there anything better to ride than wet scree? I’m not sure?!!!!

  • tomcat32

    Like you I am a transplant to the Salida area. With so much riding around here I am luck enough to explore new trails regularly. More than a dozen new rides since the end of last summer and every one has been solo with plenty of wilderness riding. I enjoy the photos that you include of the Salida area in your articles.

    • Greg Heil

      Hey Tom, I’m glad you’ve had some awesome exploratory rides! Sounds like some really fun times!

      We should definitely get together for a ride sometime. Feel free to drop me a line at greg@singletracks.com .



  • John Fisch

    Hmmm. . . .
    It seems we have much in common–much of my thought process and personality are expressed in that article. However, it’s something I’ve been doing less of lately–I need to get back at it!

    • Greg Heil

      Looks like you got a good bit of exploring in this weekend! I’m a bit jealous… now I need to go check those trails out, too!

  • RobertD

    Some of my best rides have been because I rode down a trail, I had no clue where it might go. Also, since I have been in the woods more and will do this, it has given me a much better sense of direction. Love exploring about anywhere I ride. 🙂

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