By Ronit Bezalel
If you’re looking to escape Chicago’s winter, consider a cycling adventure in Oaxaca City, Mexico. While Oaxaca is known for its culinary treats and culture - the region is also a hub for some sweet mountain biking. Just two hours out of town, you’ll be treated to the trails in the Northern Sierra Mountains. There is also some off-road riding only a few kilometers from the city center.
The best way to ride the trails is to go with a travel company. One of the most highly recommended outfits is Bicicletas Pedro Martinez (http://www.bicicletaspedromartinez.com/ ). Founded by Mexican Olympic Cyclist Pedro Martinez, this family run business has been operating cycling tours in the region for over 20 years. They are very knowledgeable and friendly, their guides speak English, and their mountain bikes are in great shape. They will also customize your ride to fit your skill level.
Bicicletas Pedro Martinez offers multiday excursions into the mountains, and one-day tours on roads closer to Oaxaca. I signed up for the “Las Nieves” 40k ride, which toured the surrounding areas outside Oaxaca. My guide Efrain was personable and a lot of fun. He’s an accomplished cross country racer, who has most recently gotten into Enduro racing. It was inspiring seeing him do a lot of jumps off the terrain, and I filmed him doing some of the tricks.
The tour can be customized to your skill level. I asked Efrain to take me on hills, since I like to get my fix when I’m out of town. He obliged! Our first 15k of riding was mostly uphill beginning on pavement, and then switching to flowy singletrack. We rode through dirt, a few rocky patches, and two river crossings. My hardtail bike was great, but Efrain was really sweet (and trusting) and offered me his carbon fiber Enduro bike to try out. That bike was like a dream!
We rode dirt paths and stopped at the town of Cuilapam de Guerrero where I visited the beautiful ex-monastery Convento de Cuilapam. We then cycled to the Zapotec village of Zaachila, where we had lunch. I sampled some of the region’s delicious mole – chicken cooked in a chocolate sauce. Efrain and I chatted about Enduro racing in Mexico, and he told me that he’s going to be racing the Enduro National Championship on February 25th in Mexico City.
After lunch, we biked back to Oaxaca City via a busy main road. As we reached the city limits, it was challenging darting in and out of traffic. I didn’t mind this though – it kept my skills sharp. I arrived back at the Bicicletas Pedro Martinez store with a huge grin on my face. The ride was a thrill, the scenery was beautiful, and my guide was great.
If you don’t want to bike in traffic, no worries! The other Bicicletas Pedro Martinez rides transport you in a van to a starting point where you bypass all the heavy traffic going out of town. The van also follows you as a support vehicle, although you need a minimum of two riders for van support.
If you want to bike around town without a guide, Bicicletas Pedro Martinez also rents bikes. Zona Bici (www.zonabici.com.mx) is also another store in town that will rent you a bike as well.
Oaxaca is an amazing city, and a highly recommended place for your next cycling adventure!
Ronit Bezalel is a mountain biker, filmmaker, photographer and journalist based in Chicago. She races for BFF Racing and loves to see more women get into the scene. Bezalel's award-winning documentary 70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green (70acresinchicago.com) has become an important tool in the discussion of race, class and affordable housing. Follow her on Twitter: @Ronitfilms and Instagram: @RonitPhotos. Learn more about her films: Ronitfilms.com.