November 14, 2013
I recently sat down with Adventure Cycling Cartographer Casey Greene to chat with him about the project that has been occupying his time for much of the last year, the development of Adventure Cycling's exciting new Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. Maps for the new route will be available in early 2014.
The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route will guide riders over and through the breathtaking landscape of central Idaho. From blue ribbon trout streams to big sub-alpine terrain and cozy mountain towns, they will pass through some of the most spectacular country the West has to offer. In total, there will be just over 500 miles on the main route with the possibility of 150 extra miles of singletrack riding.
From our first route, the TransAmerica Trail, through our mapping of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the longest off-pavement mountain bike route in the world, Adventure Cycling has always been on the cutting edge of long-distance bicycle routing in North America. The Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route continues this trend by incorporating backcountry singletrack options into a route, which is a first for us. It’s also something that our members have been asking for, and with the innovative new bikepacking gear and techniques that have surfaced over the past 10 years, it seemed like the perfect time to develop a route like this one.
The route will feature over 50 hot springs. Amenities will range from developed resort-style springs to remote natural pools.
Riders will need to have a basic understanding of mountain-bike technique, but by no means will they need to be experts to ride the main dirt-road route. However, the four singletrack options will be more challenging and riders will need to know their own ability when attempting to ride these sections. Some parts of the singletrack sections are expert-only riding. On those stretches, most people will choose to walk their bike — that’s what I did when I was researching the route.
While there will be four different multi-day singletrack options for those who wish to partake, riding singletrack will not be mandatory on the route.
I wish there was a simple clear-cut answer to this question, but there’s not. Here are some basic suggestions: For the main dirt road route, I would go with a hardtail mountain bike with tires in the 2.2” range. It doesn't have to be a brand-new bike, but make sure all the components are in good working order. Rim brakes and mechanical discs are prefered over hydraulic. For the singletrack sections, a full-suspension bike is ideal.
All that being said, if you’ve toured dirt roads on your cross bike, and are setting out to ride the main route, use your cross bike. Fatbikes? Sure. 26-inch-wheeled, rim-braked, no-suspension singlespeeds? That’s what I rode to research all of the singletrack sections.
Just like there is no right bike for the job, there is no correct packing system. Personally, I prefer bikepacking bags to panniers, and panniers to trailers. There are limitations to all of these. Know them, and choose accordingly. Climbing is harder with trailers and they are costly to ship to the start of a tour. Panniers require racks which can be a pain to install on modern mountain bikes. They also are a drag in a head wind. Bikepacking bags offer a limited amount of space, and the space they do afford can be awkward to pack larger items.
For singletrack, I would not suggest anything other than bikepacking bags.
There are quite a few 3000+ foot climbs on the main route and a few of those are fairly steep. On the singletrack sections there several 2000+ foot climbs that only the strongest riders will be able to pedal. I just walked those stretches while researching the route.
So yes, I would train a bit before setting out to do these rides, but nothing crazy. For the main route I would work up to a casual five-hour, loaded ride before starting the trip, and for singletrack, add some hiking and upper-body strength training. The singletrack sections are true backcountry epics. Plan for hike-a-bikes, downed trees, river crossings, and other obstacles to haul yourself and your bike over.
I know it seems like a remote part of the country, but there are actually many places to refuel and restock supplies on the route. The longest stretch on the main route with no services will be 75 miles. However, on the singletrack sections, there are almost no services. A rider may have to pack up to four days' worth of supplies to complete these stretches. The maps will display where services are available.
Yes, there is tons of good beer in central Ida… Oh, you said bears. Yes, there are bears in Idaho.
While there has not been a confirmed sighting of a grizzly in this part of Idaho in over half a century, it would not be improbable to find a straggler from the Teton range roaming the eastern extent of the route, which is part of their historic range. A rider will be much more likely to encounter black bears or wolves. Both of which have healthy populations over the entire route. There are mountain lions out there as well. Prepare accordingly.
There will be a 30-mile spur route to guide riders from the Boise airport to the main route. The singletrack sections are accessed from the main route. A secondary option would be to fly into the Sun Valley airport, and hook up with the route in Ketchum via a 15-mile bike path. Though we will not have it mapped out, it’s fairly straightforward if riders want to use it. However, flights into Sun Valley are generally a more expensive option.
In the Northern Rockies, the best time to plan for a mountain-bike tour is that sweet spot after the snow has melted up high, but before wildfire season starts. This would mean sometime between late June and late July. If you're planning your trip six months in advance, shoot for this window.
However, my favorite time to bicycle tour to hot springs is in the autumn. The air is cooler, which makes the hot springs more inviting. For a fall excursion, shoot for early September to mid October. Keep in mind: fires could burn well into October and the snow could start flying in late September.
There will be two maps in this series, one for the main route and a supplemental map for the singletrack option. Both will be available in early 2014.
Photos by Casey Greene.
GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer 'Jenn' Milyko, an Adventure Cycling cartographer, and appears weekly, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.