Mountain Biking off the Beaten Path
Las Vegas Review Journal, May 20, 1999, Story and photos by Brian E. Clark
John Egbert makes no bones about his bicycling preferences. If he has his druthers, he'll head his mountain bike off the pavement and onto the bumpy, single-track routes that proliferate the Red Valley northwest of Las Vegas.
On a recent Saturday morning, Egbert was leading a group of riders on a two-hour tour that starts at a pull-off on Highway 160 and goes north toward some imposing sandstone spires and then to a vista called Black Velvet Overlook.
All week I've been doing road tours on the loop in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, so getting back on the single track is a wonderful thing, said Egbert, 21.
An off-road racer who works for Las Vegas-based Escape the City Streets Mountain Bike Tours when he's not riding, Egbert was sporting a good-sized scab on one of his legs that morning. It covered a gash from a fairly recent fall.
Oh, that, he said when asked about the wound. I was jumping off some rocks on my bike and fell. It's OK. Besides, this kind of riding keeps a smile on my face.
Though the group was made up primarily of 40-ish out-of-towners Egbert picked up at a Strip casino, he said the tours also are popular with locals who want to try mountain biking under the guidance of a pro.
We can tailor our rides to whatever ability levels we have, he said. If it's an experienced group, we'll find some trails for them that are more challenging.
The middle-aged men on Egbert's Black Velvet Overlook tour had ridden some back in their home states of Florida and California. None, however, were skilled at off-road riding. So before the ride began, Egbert gave them a primer on shifting gears, using the brakes and riding over rocks.
Basically, I tell them the rules of the road while I'm setting up the bikes, Egbert said. But people really need to ride a bit to get comfortable.
Within 15 minutes, the cyclists were headed up a relatively smooth trail that had a few of the riders huffing and puffing. Then, a thorn punctured a tire and Egbert got to show his clients how quickly he could change a tube. (He had it off and on in five minutes.)
On a small, rain-rutted downhill used by trucks and autos, things got interesting. First, Egbert zipped down the hill and back up the other side. Other cyclists followed -- a few on their bikes, a couple walking. The last rider, Jay Portnoy, began walking his bike down the hill. Then he jumped back on, rode 50 feet, hit a rut and fell hard on his left leg, forearm and shoulder. Blood from the scrape on his arm dripped onto his white polo shirt and mixed with the grime and dirt from the road. Stunned, he lay in the road as his friends and Egbert ran to his aid. Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet. But the fall ended his tour.
After he shook off the tumble, he limped back to the shuttle van, lay down and waited out the ride. (The tumble was serious enough, however, to put Portnoy in Sunrise Hospital for 11 days with a major leg injury and a separated shoulder. He was scheduled to return to Florida today. His wife said she'd never let him get on a mountain bike again.)
The remaining riders headed south along the single track, past cactus, brush and one frightened roadrunner. Then it was a long, two-mile run downhill on a smooth trail. The group stopped above a wash, entered it single file and then cranked hard to get up the other side. Further on, they came to Mud Springs, where they rode by an old stock tank and splashed through a tiny creek. It was then up a steep trail to Black Velvet Overlook. Only Egbert rode his bike the entire way. The rest, sucking air, had to dismount and push their bikes up to the top. Once there, they were rewarded with magnificent vistas of the Red Valley.
In the far distance, they could even see the Stratosphere. Then came what participant Mark Zimmerman called the best part of the ride. For nearly three miles, the group rode fast back downhill over dips and hollows, bending around an occasional turn before and negotiating a few tight spots. I'd never ridden in the desert before, said Zimmerman, who lives near Jacksonville, Fla. I'm mostly a road rider, but I'd done a little mountain biking in North Carolina. Would I do this again? You bet. We saw some pretty country and it was challenging enough for me. I'll be back out here when I come back next year. Other than Jay's fall, it was wonderful.