What Makes an Epic Mountain Bike Ride


It’s time for another one of our mountain bike monthly features….this time Greg from Singletracks let’s us know what he feels is 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!”

Epic adj.
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”:

1. Distance

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?

singletracks_logo_cGreg 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.

Enjoy Your Ride


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13 Responses to “ What Makes an Epic Mountain Bike Ride ”

  1. Di on December 30, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    My epic ride so far was my first group ride on a mountain bike with a group of experienced road bikers. Forty miles, out of shape, like a tortoise in a hare race. It was agony but I made it all the way.

  2. Ray on December 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    To read this post is a real waste of time!!!!! An Epic ride could happen in the park close you house and last only 20 minutes in a flat trail.

    Maybe this guy is a MB guru and he feels like Superman but it does not Give him the right to avoid the people to use the Epic word to describe any ride.

    All my rides will continue being Epic for me.

  3. Riaan Coetzee on December 29, 2012 at 2:51 am

    Speed – there’s few things in life as epic as pinning a long, technical piece of singletrack at breakneck speed, or flying of the drop-off that your mates just hiked down.

  4. chukt on December 28, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Personally, the use of the word Epic to describe a ride means that the ride has to meet 4 of these 8 criteria…

    1-Was the ride more than 8 hours? 2- Adverse/brutal weather; 3- mechanical failure w/o reparable recourse or w/ MacGyverable recourse; 4- Blood and injury; 5-Running out of water/food; 6-Discontent and Conflict w/in the group far beyond pouting…usually as a result of… 7- Being completely lost… and 8- Watching the sun set while still hours from trails end or unwillingly spending the night on the trail.

    We came up with this framework on a truly Epic ride in B.F.E. Wyoming that met all of these criteria…a 13 hour hell ride that broke friendships

  5. Ben on December 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    When you’re a novice rider, even 15 minutes on short mostly flat trail seems epic. Let’s remember that there are tons of people of all skill sets that have very different ideas of epic!

    • Singletracks Dot Com on December 28, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      While I do agree that epicness can be a sliding scale, let’s be honest: there’s no such thing as an epic 15 minute ride. Even if you’re running straight up a mountain with a bike on your back for 15 minutes, it’s still only 15 minutes of pain….

      For comparison, please see chukt’s comment above.

  6. Collin Stringer on December 28, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    You did a great job of defending an important word. So many words today (such as the word awesome) are being watered down by overuse. I would suggest threatening animals could add to the epicness of a ride. When I lived in Colorado, I rode through mountain lion territory at times. I knew of several guys being stalked by them. I’ve also spooked (angered?) bears on rides there.

  7. Jim on December 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Anytime I get out on my bike it feels great, but there is definitely a difference between a regular and epic ride. I like the things you listed and would add good weather to the mix as well. When the temperature is warm enough to be comfortable but not so hot that you’re sweating really bad is what I would sad adds to an epic ride.

  8. Shawn McAfee on December 28, 2012 at 10:09 am

    I like it Greg, you really stuck to the definition of Epic which I applaud.

    The only thing I will add to it is the inclusion of some good friends. Because sure, an epic solo ride is great. But how much better would that ride be if you can talk about it for the rest of your lives.

    • Singletracks Dot Com on December 28, 2012 at 10:29 am

      Great addition, Shawn. Thanks for chiming in!


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