Mountain Bike Spring Break: Ever-Sunny Tucson, Arizona

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If spring showers have you desperately craving sunny singletrack, it might be time to hit the road to Tucson, Arizona.

In fact, Tucson ties a couple other Arizona cities for the third sunniest city in the U.S. So when winter is lingering in other states, sunshine, warmth and Tucson’s massive network of fun trails make it worth packing up the bike and buying a plane ticket or filling the car’s gas tank. Here’s how to get the best of Tucson on two wheels.

Sample both the desert and mountain trails.

Tucson is famous for its giant, sculptural saguaro cacti—and for good reason. But did you know the city is also surrounded by five different mountain ranges? Mount Lemmon looks out over the Tucson Valley from the northeast, and is covered in popular trails. And high-quality mountain bike trails wind up and down the mountains on every side of the city. Plus, the Arizona Trail, which stretches all the way from Mexico to Utah, skirts Tucson along the east side, offering big link-up possibilities.

If flowy, fun and long sounds like your jam, head up to the Canada Del Oro—or CDO—trail that winds its way down Mount Lemmon from 9,000 feet to the desert floor over about 21 miles. If you’re in for a full-day adventure, Lemmon Drop also connects several different trails on Lemmon’s flanks for almost 30 miles of both forested and wide-open desert riding.

If you want to start on something more mellow, the popular 15-mile Honeybee Canyon Loop offers smooth terrain with a fast finish to reward a climb at the start. Closer to town, Fantasy Island also links a group of rolling, beginner-friendly trails. And that’s just scratching the surface. The Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists host a great trail list on their website.

Get in on the 24-hour action.

If you’re looking to meet new mountain bike buddies or have the competitive itch, register for the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo mountain bike race. The event is a great way to experience Tucson’s landscape and local biking culture. For an entire weekend, mountain bikers converge in the Sonoran Desert, setting up tents and living out of RVs in “24-Hour Town,” on the edge of a massive singletrack racecourse. It’s one of the biggest 24-hour events in the world, and watching the sun come up when you’re out on a relay lap among the saguaros is nothing short of magical.

Camp near where you ride.

Camping options as well as biking trails cover Mount Lemmon in the Coronado National Forest. Catalina State Park north of the city is also within the Coronado National Forest and holds a campground near the popular Golder Ranch trail system.

If you want to stay on the west side of town, check out the Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson Mountain Park. It abuts the south side of the super-scenic Saguaro National Park, which doesn’t allow any car camping but hosts several primitive hike-in campsites if you’re craving a more backcountry experience sans bikes.

Gear up where the locals shop.

Fairwheel Bikes rents both road and mountain bikes and gets the locals’ thumbs-up. If you’re a closet roadie with a gear fascination, this is the shop to visit. They specialize in high-end and hard-to-find parts. For a more rootsy vibe, check out Ordinary Bike Shop, where they built their reputation by building up old rigs and recycling used parts. But they don’t stop there—they’re well stocked and super knowledgeable.

Taste the Mexican food—but don’t forget the coffee and pizza.

In this part of the country, the odds of finding good Mexican food are pretty solid, no matter where you go. But Tucson Tamale is a legend—so much so, they flash freeze their fresh tamales and ship all over the U.S. They even have vegetarian and vegan options. For a caffeine fix or a post-ride pizza and beer—or all three—locals head to Time Market.

Photography by Matt Hage / ©HagePhoto.

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