Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Copper Canyon Bike Tour: Introduction and Index of Posts


My wife and I just got back from a bicycle tour at Copper Canyon, Mexico. The next several posts will describe the trip. Special thanks go to my Mother in Law without whom this trip would not have been possible for us. Kids and all, you know how it is. There was only one other person on the trip who had small kids, and her husband was watching them. Of course we wouldn't change anything but they (Dos Hombres) can sure create some logistical issues.

This trip is basically a once in 10 year thing for us. A BIG deal. We've only been away from the kids for 2 days before, never for this long.


This July my wife and I will have been married 10 years.

For our 7 year we had wanted to do something special, but we just ended up going to dinner and a movie. Pretty much the same thing we do every 'date' night. Yee! Ha! This year we were determined to do something grander. For months we had been hemming and hawing about what to do. We wanted to make a decision soon so we wouldn't be hitting the movies for our 10th.

For our honeymoon we mountain biked in Vermont. Should we do something totally different, like a cruise? Or beach vacation to escape the cold/windy Virginia winter? We nixed those ideas fairly quickly due to the fact that we would be bored stiff after one day of lounging. My wife really wanted to cycle in Italy. I would love to ride some of the famous Giro or Tour Climbs, but didn't care all that much for the 'cultural' aspect of Europe. Honestly, I'm much more of a home body w/o too much wander lust. But travel to Europe with bicycles is really expensive, and we wanted to have some sort of tour guide to avoid the stress of a DIY trip. Cost was just too prohibitive.

We started to look at other cycling tours. Copper Canyon, Mexico really caught our eye. Specifically the Western Spirit Tour of Copper Canyon. The cost was closer to reality than Europe, it had an active cycling aspect to it, and there was the cultural adventure of going to another country.

There is a lot of buzz about Copper Canyon as an up and coming mountain bike mecca. However there isn't a total wealth of info out there.

Hans Rey and company documented a first descent in the Canyon. A little too adventuresome for a 10th anniversary trip I think.

Shonny Vanlandingam did a trip out there, but her article didn't provide too much information.

Mountain Bike Bill has an awesome account of his trip to Copper Canyon that was run through the Kami Kiwi tour group. There are several other tour groups such as REI tours that do Copper Canyon trips as well. The Kami Kiwi tour seemed on the harder-core side while the REI tour seemed to cater to a more conservative crowd. The Western Spirit Tour seemed to offer the best combination of technical riding and options for easier riding than the other tours, and they had a stellar reputation on the forums.

I was just informed of this writeup and videos from the same trip
Schnauzer's writeup and video

Bike magazine just did a feature article on Copper Canyon in the most recent issue. The first part of the article was fairly critical of tours like the Western Spirit that put riders on the main dirt road for the ride into and out of the canyon instead of hitting the singletrack for the descent. However, if you read on the very experienced riders on that trip didn't have much fun on that route into the canyon. It is just too dangerous to take the single track all the way down in there. Having been there I can attest to that.

We rode a fair amount of dirt road, but the views more than made up for that fact.
And we got our share of some seriously fun singletrack.


We booked the trip and got the last two spots. We broke the bank on this trip, but it was worth it.

This is very much a riders tour with some decent track, and mileage. However, what strikes me is how much the cycling just became part of the landscape.

The bikes were the medium by which we were able to experience a different culture and landscape. There is a disarming quality to a bicycle that makes you approachable especially to the kids. DSC00664

It was a wonderful way to visit this different world.


Entire photo set

Copper Canyone Tour: Part 1: Vamonos Muchachos! We Ride.
Copper Canyon Tour: Part 2: Dropping Into the Canyon
Copper Canyon Tour: Part 3: The Lost Cathedral
Copper Canyon Tour: Part 4: The Aquaduct Trail
Copper Canyon Tour: Part 5: The Climb Out
Copper Canyon Tour: Part 6: Last Day of Riding
Copper Canyon Tour: Part 7: Goodbyes and Transition

Some general info on preparation for the trip:

You will need a passport or birth certificate to get into Mexico. We had neither. Expedited service and some nervous nights solved that. My passport should have been labeled Terry R. Ist given how the picture looked. My oh-so-cool goatee soul patch whatever made me look so scary that I don't think any local would want to steal it to try and slip across the border.

The trip is based out of El Paso Texas. It is a 10hr drive with immigration stops to Creel Mexico DSC00790 where the riding starts. Some trips base out of Chihuahua, Mexico but getting there is harder.

WS rents bikes but given my wife's custom needs and my finickiness with equipment we opted to ship our bikes through a shop in El Paso. Though they must have had the highschool intern kid build them up because there were some issues I had to fix.

What to Bring

We used space bags to reduce the size of our packing. But given that the tour sags everything we should have brought more stuff. We had enough riding gear but not enough lounging clothes. And looking good while lounging is important.

It is cold in Creel and can get windy at the overlooks. Arm warmers, vest, knee warmers worked for me. The temperature increases significantly when you go down to the canyon so shorts, jersey was fine.

Bring something for your behind:
as you spend some serious time in a chamois.

It is dusty, and dry. Nose spray, eye spray, inhalers, decongestant, etc....

Never forget that you are a VERY remote part of Mexico. So if stuff breaks you better fix it or have a replacement. The tour group had a decent stock of tools and tubes/tires. But bring extra stuff, like disc rotors, pads, brake pads, quick links, etc...

The only bike shop around is this:

And I don't think they stock bleed kits.

No cell coverage. There are Telemex phones in Creel that allow collect and credit card calls. In the canyon you have to go to a store and they make the call for you..expensive.

Not getting sick
Don't drink the water unless it is bottled or purified, which was available at all restaurants and from our guides. Wash your hands a lot, use hand sanitizer. Don't swallow the water when you shower and brush your teeth with bottled water.

The Language Barrier
English isn't the main language out there.. Imagine that. Our head guide knew spanish and there were two in the tour that were fairly fluent. I was envious of their ability to communicate because without you can be on the fringe just observing instead of participating.


At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your fellow biker here. You captured the essence of the trip, but need to place more emphasis on the chamoise quality and butt balm.
This is truly an epic journey and the best part is being so removed from the rest of the world (ROW), feeling the breeze on your face on the downhill and meeting all the friendly folks along the route including you and Karen.
See you on the trail,
Elena and John
San Diego, CA.

At 7:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may not be the Italy trip you are looking for, but this might be a possibility. is an 8 day stage race in the Alps. The price escalates the longer you wait, but they have offered reduced pricing to get Americans to come. They also have a price for companions(so they can eat and sleep with you). You can camp from the night before the race till the night after so you don't have to worry about accomodations. Some airlines don't charge for bikes on international flights.
There are a few of us Americans going over for the experience.


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