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A small village on the French side of the Pyrenees. Riders: Juan Garcia and Jordi Bonet / MTB Dreams

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

When I lived in the Midwest and in the Southeast, my mountain bike travels had one main goal: to ride more impressive trails than I could find at home. Whether those trails had longer descents, better views, or more technical features, the goal was always to find higher quality trails than I could access on a daily basis—even if it was just a quick trip from Georgia to North Carolina.

But now, I live in the High Rockies of Colorado, with one of the most acclaimed trails in the nation—if not the world—located virtually in my backyard. Yet I still love to travel.

Calling some of the best trails in the nation my stomping grounds has changed the primary objective of my travels. Now, I’m not necessarily interested in finding trails that are better, but instead I try to search out trails and places that are different.

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As always, steeper than it looks. Plus, it’s impossible to capture the consistent steepness mile after mile! Rider: Jordi Bonet / MTB Dreams

I recently completed a 5-day mountain biking trip in the Pyrenees mountain range, which forms the border between Spain and France (with Andorra sandwiched in the middle). While we were riding in a mountainous, alpine environment—similar to that found in Colorado—the trails were still remarkably different. They were steeper for longer amounts of time, less manicured (despite how wild some of our trails in Colorado are), and the mountains, while lower elevation, were steeper and just as formidable. Stay tuned for a full analysis in a future feature story!

Ainsa, Spain--a UNESCO Heritage site.

Ainsa, Spain–a UNESCO Heritage site.

Not only were the trails different, but the entire culture and experience was absolutely unique and totally foreign. Being immersed in a sea of Spanish and Catalan with nary an English word to be seen anywhere, popping out of the singletrack into a thousand-year-old village for a quick beer or Clara before continuing our ride, and staying in a stone-walled bed and breakfast that looks more like a medieval castle than a hotel—these are experiences you simply can’t get anywhere but the Spanish Pyrenees.

At the end of the day, were the trails I rode objectively “better” than the ones I ride every day in Colorado? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is certain: the trails, the towns, and the culture are completely and radically different.

And variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

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# Comments

  • StaranCycles

    Great article Greg!

    I am one of those lucky enough to travel with my bike to a lot of renowned riding locales. Even some of the not well-known locales (i.e. Manitoba, Canada) have surprised me. Every trail and area is a little different.

    I know everyone can’t do it but if you can consider it. Travelling with a bike, even for a short business trips, is worth it and not complicated. Get a decent bag and a small tool kit. Takes 10 mins to put together and take apart once you get hang of it. Then take find a local trail (on Singletracks.com of course), and you go for a ~1hr loop, grab a bite/beer on the way back to the hotel. Better than hitting the hotel fitness centre!

    If you cant take your bike, consider a local rental, or reaching out to someone on a forum. On that note, happy to show any visitors around the varied riding up here in Toronto.

    happy riding!

    • rodrigofurtado

      Last year I was going on a conference in Wisconsin and thought of bringing my bike. I was ok with the initial cost of getting the bike bag, but I gave up when I saw the airline prices to check in my bike.
      Can you guys share your experiences on that? Do you always pay? Is there a better bike bag to avoid extra bike charges?

    • mongwolf

      First off, check different airlines. I’m quite sure that Frontiers (and maybe Southwest) has much cheaper rates for oversized sports equipment than other airlines. If you are traveling to East Asia from the US, I strongly suggest that you check into Korean Air. They will “check” your bike for no charge as one of your two allowable checked pieces. The only catch is that the piece cannot be over 50lbs (and the maximum linear inches … maybe 110″ I believe). If you buy an expensive bike case, then you are guaranteed to be over the 50lbs. If you use a regular carton bike box, then it is easy to stay under the 50 mark. My son and I have traveled back and forth to East Asia with our bikes maybe four times each using the boxes with no problems. I do suggest that you leave your rear tire on to protect your rear derailleur and hanger. The only issue with Korean Airlines is you have to watch your ticket prices. They can be expensive. If you plan your trip well ahead of time, you can usually get a very comparably priced ticket to other airlines flying across the Pacific. They do have the best service (by far) than the other airlines. And that counts when your flight is 9 to 12 hours long.

  • StaranCycles

    Airlines
    I am spoiled because as a frequent flyer so I get to take it for free on Air Canada but agree airlines can vary wildly. In fact I get 3 for free, which I often take advantage of if a group of us goes somewhere.
    AC is $50 each way if you pay but some of the big US airlines are insane. I recall Delta or AA being like $200! UA was $100 the last time I paid and that was on a business ticket… I recall Jet Blue being cheap and even free when the Tour de France is on.

    Mongwolf: haven’t tried Korean but that’s good to know they have great service, will keep that in mind.

    Bags
    I originally built my own bike bag out of Cordura, some custom cut foam, and a large durable cardboard box. This was to hold an XXL FS bike that regular bags didn’t fit. Now, I use that for a 2nd bike and use a Pro (i.e. Shimano) bag primarily. Both are just fine and no damage yet (fingers crossed).
    Also rented a Trico case years ago, was way too small for an XL hardtail, had to pull the fork. Other than that great. You could look into local rentals, I recall it being about $40/wk, $100/month.
    One thing to note, in my experience anyways, they almost never weigh bike bags, so if you can cram extra stuff in to save you from a regular checked suitcase it can save you.

    Lastly, there are services (or you can do it yourself) to ship bikes around. Pack it up small and light, send it by courier (FedEx or whoever) and make it hold for pickup.

    cheers,

  • Scott Cotter

    Having just quit a day job and joined the vagabond mountain bike lifestyle, I agree wholeheartedly. I’m not in search of better trail. I’m in search of different trail. I’ve ridden a lot of places in this country but after nearly 30 years of singletrack, I’m still trying to find the next ultimate ride. I’ve had so many over the years but the search for the next one is what keeps the fire burning. And during that wandering, I’ve found an awful lot of very good rides out there. And a lot of very good people with whom I will share a lifelong bond.

    Thanks, Greg, for a look at that little slice of Spain. That little courtyard seems like a place I’d love to sit day after day for the rest of my life, basking in the post-ride joy while sipping a tasty beverage and enjoying the world around me.

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