Writer, editor and mountain biking expert, Greg Heil has ridden over 1,300 different trails across 18 US states and reviewed an enviable number of top bikes as Editor in Chief of Single Tracks. In fact, there isn’t much in the world of mountain biking that Heil can’t comment on. We caught up with him to find out about the best bikes on the market and his top mountain biking trails in North America.
How did you get into mountain biking in the first place?
“A mentor of mine encouraged me to give mountain biking a try, and I was instantly hooked. At first mountain biking was just something I did during the summer to occupy myself when I couldn’t downhill ski, but after a few years I began to spend more and more time mountain biking, and eventually it graduated into a full-time occupation.”
How have you seen the sport change over the last decade?
“There’ve been a ton of changes over the years, but here are three big ones:
- Gear: our bikes today are radically better than they were even five years ago. Small and not-so-small changes add up quickly to produce bikes that are lighter, stronger, more capable, and more versatile than I would have ever imagined.
- Fat bikes have radically transformed the way we look at mountain biking. In snowier climes, mountain biking is no longer limited by weather and snow accumulation – you can now easily ride 12 months of the year, no matter where you live.
- Trail access: while some trails have been lost, I think we’re currently in a golden age of trail building and development. Everywhere you look trail systems are being proposed, built, and expanded. And while you do hear stories every now and then of trails being closed to mountain bikes, for the most part we’ve succeeded in halting that unfortunate trend.”
Which do you prefer: totally natural trails, or ones that have been enhanced with manmade jumps?
“I’m a lover of all types of singletrack, and I’ve learned to appreciate all different kinds of trail for what each individual area offers. However, I personally gravitate to gnarly, rocky, natural trails.”
What are you currently riding?
“Generally I ride whatever bike I have in for review, so it changes every month or two. However, the GT Force has been my go-to rig for the past year and a half.”
What would you like to be riding?
“I would really love to review the new Salsa Bucksaw Carbon. I think full suspension fat bikes are going to quickly revolutionize the way we look at mountain biking, even on dry trails.”
What is the ultimate route that you haven’t yet completed, and what’s on your worldwide bucket list?
“As I ride more trails and explore more places, my bucket list doesn’t get any shorter””I just find more and more trails to add to the list!
For a long-distance route I’d love to through-ride the Colorado Trail (even though I’ve ridden quite a few chunks of it already). For a destination, Whistler is still a big gap in my resume. I would also love to ride in New Zealand and France.”
What are your 10 favourite mountain biking trails in North America?
“I’ve ridden about 450 different trail systems and over 1,300 different trails in the decade that I’ve been a mountain biker, so choosing just 10 is a tall order! For this list, I’m going to choose solely from trails I’ve ridden:
The Whole Enchilada, Moab, Utah
With about 7,000 vertical feet of descending, the Whole Enchilada Trail runs through almost every climate imaginable: above-treeline tundra, high alpine pine forest, alpine aspen groves, scrub oak forest, high desert, and low desert completely bereft of vegetation. And the riding along the way is wicked-awesome as well!
Canyon Creek, White Pine, Colorado
I’m a sucker for high alpine riding in the big mountains, and Canyon Creek is one of the most epic high alpine rides I’ve done. A brutal 2+ hour climb brings you to the top of a mountain at 12,500+ feet elevation, and then you finish with an epic 10-mile screaming singletrack descent.
The Colorado Trail
Choosing a 500 mile trail as one of these choices seems like cheating, but really almost every section of the Colorado Trail is worthy of this list. Talk about world-class, high alpine mountain biking! And for the record, I’m lumping the Monarch Crest under this selection.
Hangover, Sedona, Arizona
Hangover is a masterpiece of trail design and route selection. Set in the Sedona desert and routed along and down treacherous cliff faces, this short trail is one of the most memorable of my life.
Laurel Mountain, Brevard, North Carolina
Brevard is home to some of the most challenging and rewarding technical backcountry-style trails in the country. Located in a temperate rainforest, the challenging Laurel Mountain route offers up engaging mountain biking in an ecosystem that is completely different from that of the Western US.
Reid Divide Trail, Whitefish, Montana
This name is largely unknown to the mountain biking world, but this backcountry-style trail nestled deep in the wilds of Montana is an epic route with beautiful singletrack and blazing-fast descending.
Alpine Trail, Oakridge, Oregon
This is the marque trail in Oakridge for good reason: beautiful singletrack, massive trees that you make you feel as small as an ant, and ripping turns down the mountainside.
Downieville Downhill, California
Downieville is a classic in the world of mountain biking, but this shuttle run is worthy thanks to the absurdly-fast descending and gorgeous terrain.
Dakota Ridge, Denver, Colorado
This suburban trail isn’t epic in length or location, but this technical rocky masterpiece may humble even the most “advanced” of riders”¦ and it’s located within view of millions of people.
Levis Mound, Neillsville, Wisconsin
The trail system where I learned to mountain bike is a study in maximizing the available topography and interesting features to create a marvellously entertaining mountain biking trail in an otherwise flat Midwestern landscape. If you’re in Wisconsin, you don’t want to miss this one!”
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to destinations all across the US. Book your flight today and you could be trying out these mountain biking trails yourself…
Have you tackled any of these mountain biking trails in North America? Which are your favourite? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Tremayne Carew Pole