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Culture

The Grind: Rediscovering home, thanks to gravel bikes

I spent more than 25 years in New Mexico but never discovered a whole bevy of unique riding in Albuquerque until gravel bikes opened the door.

Gravel racing may still be largely on hold, but adventure gravel riding is wide open. I rediscovered the joy of riding in new places, ironically, in my old hometown, where I thought I knew and had ridden every square inch in and around Albuquerque.

There were a few critical factors in my ah-ha moment. The most important of course was a couple of friends to show me the good stuff. Sure, you can stare at Strava and Instagram and maps to cook up rides, or just fumble around and explore with the “let’s see where this goes” philosophy. Me, I like following knowledgeable wheels and just grinning dumbly behind.

But another factor that made it not just possible but super fun is the modern gravel bike.

It’s often hard to see major changes in one model year to the next, but if you rewind, oh, 15 years, the differences between a current bike with disc brakes and tubeless tires — and sealant! — and an old one with caliper brakes and clincher tires — and Mr Tuffy strips — is quite apparent.

Marc Basiliere and Robbie Douangpaya alongside an acequia in Corrales, New Mexico.

So, the ride: The high desert town of Albuquerque was founded along the Rio Grande, the largest river in the arid state. Irrigating the fields was and still is done in many places with acequias, small community ditches where farmers share the precious resource of water. Houses and fences and paved roads have gone up and around the valley area, but the narrow dirt footpaths along the acequias remain out of necessity. And, it turns out, they make for excellent gravel routes.

Robbie Douangpanya of HiFi Wheels and Marc Basiliere of Lindarets showed me two sweet sections: the acequias of Corrales, and some fun singletrack in the bosque, the wooded area right alongside the Rio Grande.

Douangpanya is a principal behind HiFi Wheels.

So here’s where the bike comes in: I can’t tell you how many times I have ridden the paved Paseo del Bosque bikepath alongside the bosque over the years. And 20 years ago I would occasionally take a cyclocross bike through the bosque singletrack that ran, hidden by trees, basically just alongside the paved path, but the fear of goatheads usually kept me away.

Goatheads, for the uninitiated, are weed-grown thorns seemingly purpose-built to flat your tires. Well before road and certainly gravel tubeless tires were a thing, we would line our clinchers with plastic Mr Tuffy strips as defense against the damn things. Another popular Albuquerque solution was ‘the system’: Cut the beads off an old clincher and put the rest of the carcass inside a new clincher for a double-thickness tire. It rode like garbage, but you wouldn’t flat.

Point being — venturing onto dirt on a drop-bar bike used to be a risky proposition. A ‘when, not if’ situation for flat tires.

So that’s my excuse for not fully embracing the bosque trails. But all the paths alongside the acequias? I can only claim ignorance there. And what a treat! Singletrack right alongside water brings a few treats in a desert. One, there is just the novelty of water in New Mexican cycling, but two, having regular shade on a desert ride is luxurious.

Riding the acequqias also made me feel like a kid again, zooming around behind people’s back fences, traversing a good distance hidden from the main roads like a bandit.

For a better look at the Albuquerque bosque and the acequias of Corrales, check out the short video above. Or, better yet, go visit and ride them yourself! Just top off your sealant before you go…

An addition to showing me the good stuff, Robbie even loaned me a handlebar bag that matched my shoes. What a guy.