What Makes an Epic Mountain Bike Ride
What Makes an Epic Mountain Bike Ride
By Greg Heil
The word “epic” has been entirely overused in recent days, and especially in mountain biking circles. It seems like every time I ask a rider how his ride or the trail was, the classic response is either “It was epic dude!” or “Man, it was so gnarly!”
3. heroic; majestic; impressively great: the epic events of the war.
4. of unusually great size or extent: a crime wave of epic proportions.
By definition, if we use the word “epic” to describe every trail we ride, then we are actually lying about 99% of the time or, at the very least, just horribly misusing this descriptor and diluting any powerful meaning that it might have originally contained. However, I do believe that the word “epic” is a useful description… but only when a ride actually fits the definition.
Here are some of my personal criteria that need to be met in order to make a ride certifiably “epic”:
In my opinion, you can’t have an “epic” ride that is only 5 miles long. Even 15 miles doesn’t qualify… to get to truly epic status, we probably need to be talking about roughly 30 miles or more minimum. This could change depending on your fitness… for Jeremiah Bishop, an epic ride might have to be 150 miles or more.
However, in my book, the distance factor is balanced out by the others. Sometimes you can have a really, really tough ride that is more hike than bike and takes many hours but relatively few miles—that can be epic too. Similarly, if there is little technical difficulty, backcountry factor, or adverse circumstances, but you still ride 100 miles of dirt–that ride is still certifiably epic.
But whatever you do, don’t roll off the trail after a two-hour ride and try to claim that it was “epic.” Because it wasn’t.
2. Technical Difficulty
30 miles of fast, flowy singletrack might be fun… but it’s probably not “epic.” Add in some uber steep hike-a-bike, wicked rock gardens and root webs, a series of 2-3 foot drops, all over the course of a 30+ mile ride… and now we’re getting epic, dude.
3. Backcountry Factor
Many suburban areas offer 30+ mile trail systems right on the outskirts of the city limits. These trail systems usually consist of a stacked-loop design where you are never really that far from another singletrack trail and only a mile or two at most from the closest paved road. If you were to get injured in such a place, help could be there in a matter of minutes.
In contrast, let’s say you head out to do a 30-50 mile singletrack loop in the mountains of Montana. But in order to get to this loop, you have to drive 20 miles of paved highway out of the closest town, and then another 20 miles of gravel logging roads before you even get the bike off the rack. From that point, already 40 miles away from the closest hospital, you then head up on little-used singletrack trails for into the backcountry… putting you at 60 miles away from the closest hospital, with 20 of that being singletrack. Think help is going to get there in 20 minutes? I doubt it. If you’re riding alone, a bad fall here could mean death.
Now we’re really getting epic.
4. Adverse Circumstances
Adverse circumstances automatically catapult a mountain bike ride high up the “epic” scale.
If the weather switches from sun to rain to snow and back to sun over the course of ride, that definitely contributes to the epic factor. If one of the trails is unexpectedly muddy or has a ton of blow-downs, the epic-ness has just gone up..
Crashes and injuries also factor highly in the epic-ness equation. Did your friend take a header off of a cliff and dislocate his shoulder 20 miles from the closest road and have you help him pop it back into its socket? Yeah, that’s epic man.
And finally, mechanical issues can easily help a ride become “epic.” If your seatpost snapped off halfway through a 50-mile loop and you finished the rest of the ride standing up—you better believe that’s epic!
Your Turn: While there are definitely some constants, everyone’s definition of an “epic” ride varies. What do you think makes an epic mountain bike ride?
Greg Heil started riding mountain bikes seriously in 2007, and since that time has ridden hundreds of trails all across the United States. He is the Social Media Coordinator, and an editor, for Singletracks.com, which is your source for everything mountain biking: the number one mountain bike trail map database in the world, a daily blog, gear reviews, forums, photo of the day, and more! Be sure to drop by the site and check it out, and to “follow” them on Twitter.