Info for New Cyclists

Welcome to NM - Chama - Eric Russell Photo
Chama, NM

The following information is for new cyclists getting started or for visitors to New Mexico who want to cycle some of the best routes around. The following may sound somewhat intimidating for new riders but with a little preparation you will be just fine. Enjoy the first rate cycling in New Mexico.

Getting there

Hey, New Mexico is a state in the US. We have interstates and everything. You don't need your passport to cash a traveler's check. It's that big sparse/mountainous area west of Texas, south of Colorado, and east of Arizona. There are no saguaro cacti in New Mexico — that's Arizona.

Where to ride

New Mexico has some of the best rides, off-road or on-road, beginner to expert anywhere. Here is a long list of books and maps for on and off road rides in New Mexico. Check here for a list of popular NMTS rides and their descriptions. There are quite a number of bike shops in New Mexico that deal with all kinds of bicycles, on-road, off-road and all prices, look these up in one of the white pages directories. These shops are good resources for places to ride in their areas. New Mexico has many mountains and national forests that are great scenic areas. Start your research here. If the upcoming rides listed here are too hard or long, try parts of the rides with less elevation gain or distance, or try an NMTS' "X" rated ride (all levels of riders are welcome), or try one of the NMTS' weekly out-and-back rides and do only as much as you want, or attend a monthly NMTS meeting to meet potiental ride partners.

Laws

Here is a list of all the New Mexico and surrounding states' laws about bicycles. It is legal to bicycle on NM highways, you can ride two abreast (although cautiously), you can ride on interstate shoulders outside of urban areas (they are supposed to be signed), you must ride with traffic, there is no mandatory helmet law but you really should wear one - having crashed hard a couple of times myself. New Mexico drivers are not the worst nor the best around. The majority are courteous but many don't know that cyclists (taxpayers too) have the same rights and responsibilities by law as vehicles. NM has a lot of just bad drivers but probably no more than other areas. So just be careful on highways and you'll be just fine. Ride in the same direction as traffic. If you're here you probably know that but it's amazing how many wrong way cyclists there are in NM. See the Education links for more information if you have any doubts.

Roadways
El Malpais Riders
Riders in El Malpais National Monument

Most of New Mexico's rural roads are older two lane highways with no shoulders, some with crumbly edges. There are some newer two or four-lane roads with shoulders (and rumble strips). The amount of traffic varies widely from place to place so there can't be any generalities. In many of the prettier rural areas there is really light traffic. In the rural areas the roads are fairly clean but around more trafficked areas there is often a lot of debris, especially glass (beer bottles etc.). In NM we have what are known as "goat-heads" or thorns that will definitely flat a tire so be prepared for flats. The open roads are not as bad as bikepaths fortunately. Mountain bikers will encounter a lot of these goatheads too.

Supplies

Places to get food and water may be pretty sparse in some of the rural areas. It's best to checkout maps or pre drive routes if they are in some of the more barren areas. Major rural road intersections sometimes have convenience stores but don't bet on it.

Clubs

There are a few bicycle clubs around, they are a good place to start, meet people, and find places to ride. Here is an extensive list of contacts.

Weather

Weather is a real issue in New Mexico. The temperature ranges can easily be 40° in a day, so get an early start in the summer. In the winter, late fall, or early spring it can be pretty cold in the mornings but not as windy in the afternoons. Carry a jacket, tights, and long finger gloves in the mountains. September or early October are great months for cycling with great temperatures and little wind. You can ride almost all year round, depending on how severe the winters are. In the spring and fall the mornings are cold, so start later, although you may have to balance warmth for some winds in the springtime and ride at lower, warmer elevations. I have been able to ride to the Sandia Crest in three successive Januarys in between snow storms.

Use sunscreen! New Mexico has high elevations, low humidity, and high UV so don't get burned, literally, especially in the mountains (elevations up to 10,000') and all year.

The weather underground is a good place to start for weather guesses, some areas even have wind guesses, and average temperatures / rainfalls.

Wind

Start your rides early in the morning to beat both the heat and the wind. The winds are typically calm in the morning but often start whipping up with the afternoon heating, so start early. Springtime means winds in New Mexico. It is especially windy in the mountains and passes when fronts are moving through. Don't be broken hearted if the wind turns 180° in a day on you.

Violent Weather

In the summer, especially June to August, thunderstorms often build up in the afternoons, especially in the mountains. NM typically has a "monsoon" season in July where there are numerous thunderstorms from annual moisture flowing in from the south. Be prepared for cold rainstorms, it can drop 20° in minutes, more in the mountains. Hypothermia is a possibility going over mountain passes, like Bobcat Pass in a bad thunderstorm. NM has a lot of lightning and you really feel like a target in a lightning storm. Carry your raingear.

Hydration

New Mexico is a desert state so always carry more water than you may think you'll need. During the summer it is hard to keep up with the water loss due to the extremely low humidity (<10%), high temperatures in the afternoons (100° summer), and the high UV factors. So use your favorite sports drinks or supplements to replace those electrolytes you will be sweating out. Just check out all the salt on your clothes after a long ride in the summer. The rule of thumb of one large water bottle per hour is not bad.

Elevation

The roads in New Mexico vary from ~4,000 ft. to ~10,000 ft. in elevation. There are a number of sources on preparing for cycling at elevation here. If this is an issue, be prepared. Albuquerque is at an elevation of >5,000' (mile high city) and cities like Santa Fe are above 7,000'.

Hills

This is like elevation above. There are a lot of mountains in New Mexico so there is a lot of climbing. If this is an issue check out topo maps of the area you will be riding in. If you have the choice use a road bike with a triple if you're going to do a lot of climbing.

Cell Phones

A lot of people carry cell phones now which are great around urban areas or interstates but be aware that there is no coverage for large parts of the backcountry or rural areas, so don't depend on them. Digital service is especially limited outside of urban areas.

Miscellany

There are no saguaro cacti in New Mexico — that's Arizona. Lots of visitors to New Mexico want to cycle around Santa Fe or Taos being tourist meccas. Santa Fe is not bicycle or even pedestrian friendly, with narrow winding streets and lots of traffic and most of the residents don't cycle or walk. There is terrific mountain biking outside both of these cities, however. There is great road cycling outside of Taos, too.

Member, League of American Bicyclists

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