It's impossible to describe the Porcupine Rim Bike Trail as anything but jaw-dropping. This is a world-famous trail for a reason. 15 mile ride through the middle of nature? Check. An elevation difference of almost 3,000 feet over these 15 miles? Check. A max grade of 42%? Now we're talking. You get all of that, and more, in the heart of Moab, Utah.
It's a bucket list item for any mountain biker. But make no mistake: this trail is as challenging as it is satisfying. From the trail rim to Colorado River, you'll have plenty of picturesque vistas awaiting you. By the time you see them, you know that you'll have earned those views.
This is not a trek you just decide to ride on a whim. It's a challenge to yourself that you can master even the most difficult of trails and live to tell the tale. It's a pilgrimage of sorts, an opportunity to test your limits and reap the rewards.
If you're not scared off yet, you've come to the right place. Porcupine Rim is waiting - you just have to make sure you prepare for it.
Let's not spend too much time on the thrills of this classic ride. You can find that elsewhere on the internet, including plenty of reviews from fellow mountain bikers. Instead, this article will focus on the steps you need to take to be prepared. And make no mistake: preparation is key if you want to make it to the bottom of the trail in one piece.
FIND THE RIGHT TIME
When you're riding on the Porcupine, you're never riding alone. The trail's fame essentially means that hundreds of other bikers will try their luck at the same time. Even across the 15 mile track, that can be a bit crowded. Finding the right time is crucial.
Try to avoid weekends, which is when the crowds are biggest. Weekdays, especially early in the week, will likely be a better bet. You might not get the entire trail to yourself, but at least you get to enjoy nature to a fuller degree.
The time of year also matters. Summer spans a bunch of months, and you might to avoid July entirely. With its 99 degree Fahrenheit average daily high for Moab during the month, it won't be pleasant for any kind of exercise. September, with an 87°F average high, tends to be much more pleasant if your schedule allows it.
PACK THE RIGHT WAY
With the right time in your pocket, it's time to think about packing. Moab trails are not for beginners, and that's especially true for Porcupine Rim. That means you probably already know about the basics when it comes to packing. Still, consider these absolute essentials for the ride:
- Plenty of water to last you through the entire day if needed, without the danger of dehydration.
- Snackable food items like granola and protein bars to keep your energy up in the course of the ride.
- Breathable clothing like Meriwool Layers, designed to keep you from getting too hot on the trail.
- Your phone, both for navigational purposes and just in case you get into a dangerous situation.
- A map of the trail that helps you get back on track should you get sidetracked (which can happen easily on this trip).
- A patch kit and tire pump. The last thing you want in the middle of the trail is to be stuck after hitting a rock just the wrong way.
- Sunscreen, just in case you need to reapply as the hot Utah sun shines down on you.
- A first aid kit - you never know when you might need it.
Some of these take up space. In some cases, that's okay. As long as you pack just what you need, it should all fit in a backpack that you can easily carry with you as you blaze down (and up) the trail.
PERFORM A BIKE CHECK
How well is your bike prepared for the ride? Remember, this is a rough trail, one of the most challenging in the world thanks to its elevation, pitch, and length. 30% of it are single track, which means you know it's nothing to sneeze at. You have to make sure your bike is up for the challenge.
Start with the air pressure. Check out what pressure range is best for your tire (you can find that info on the tire itself). Then, stay on the low end of that range as you fill it. Too low, and you won't handle your bike easily. Too high, and even small rocks can cause damage to the tire and a potential accident.
Next, be sure your chain flows seamlessly and your gears shift easily. Any hitch there could cause you to veer off at the worst possible moment. Finally, take a simple ride to make sure your wheels go straight without steering and your brakes work properly. Make adjustments now and test again until you're perfectly happy with the performance.
STUDY THE TRAIL
Yes, you'll pack a map. Don't rely on that alone as you navigate on the trail alone. Especially the back half of Porcupine Rim is known for its many side roads that end in no-man's land. One wrong turn and you're off the road, having to find your way back while wasting precious energy and time.
Instead, make sure you know the map almost inside and out before you go on the trail. Know where to turn, what the landmarks are, and how to find markers that designate the trail. Here, you might find them painted on rocks, roadside signs, and other elements. The less you have to take your concentration off the road as you find your way, the better.
Finally, check out some videos of others who have braved the trail. This is not quite as formal as studying the map, but it does help you get a feel for the ride. This BIKE Magazine video is a perfect example.
Check out the narrow 'road' in that video. A little bit of nerves are okay, and to be expected. But if you're terrified, you might want to check out another trail. Watching videos like these helps you set your expectations and avoid any unpleasant surprises before you set foot on the trail.
CHARGE YOUR PHONE
Obvious? Maybe. Still, it's worth mentioning, and mentioning again. You may never even touch your phone in the course of the 15 mile track. But if you do, you want to know that it's charged and ready to go.
As the Moab Bike Patrol points out, cell phone reception in the area tends to be spotty depending on the carrier. Don't let that worry you. Chances are that when needed, you'll still be able to get an emergency call through. Of cousre, you can only do that if your cell phone is actually available at all times.
Yes, that means charging it ahead of the trip. It also means turning it off for stretches (such as the shuttle bus ride to the trailhead) where you don't need it. Stop for pictures, as you must - but don't spend hours trying to record videos of your trip and training the battery.
Before the trip, it pays to get loose. Yes, you should be in shape to begin with. 15 miles in the blazing Utah sun, with a 1,200 foot ascent and a 2,900 foot descent, are nothing to sneeze at. You need good conditioning to ensure that you can make it through it and start telling some tall tales.
At the same time, it doesn't end there. Even marathon runners might not make it through a race if they don't go through the right warmup routine. In this case, that means acclimating your body to the temperature of the day to avoid any shock or drastic changes.
Crucially, it also means doing a couple of stretches that get the blood flowing before you sit on a saddle for hours. If you feel your body getting numb in the course of the trip, don't be afraid and stretch some more. Staying loose helps you stay alert and ready to bike around any obstacles in your way.
HAVE SOME FUN
Finally, we gotta be honest: trails like Porcupine Rim are nothing if not fun. Yes, they're challenging. Yes, you need to prepare more than you would need to for your average afternoon ride in the local state park. But as long as you can take care of the above steps, you can begin to truly enjoy the process.
That's what all of these preparatory steps are actually about. You get the preparation and worries out of the way so that by the time you get on your bike, you can enjoy everything the trail has to offer.
For a few hours, you become one with nature as you make your way up the mountain and down to the Colorado River. At the end of it, you can look back on an unforgettable experience that comes with the satisfying feeling of having braved the travails of Porcupine Rim.
Ready for your next adventure? The right clothing is essential to making sure that you enjoy it despite (and because) of the exertion. Browse our clothing selection for the right wear for this challenging but rewarding trip. Our merino wool layers are designed to be breathable, lightweight, easy to pack, and versatile. From the heat of a mountain bike ride to the cool nights camping in the desert, we've got you covered.
Author: Simon Stuchlik