If you’re looking for the best mountain bike race to do, it’d be hard to beat the True Grit Epic. When you think of an epic mountain bike ride, or an MTB road trip with your buddies, the trails in St. George and Santa Clara, UT, are probably what you’re dreaming of. Endless miles of singletrack, slickrock and swooping trails. Wide open vistas. Technical, rocky terrain.
And, if you’re from the east coast, it’s something different than the dirty, rooty (and likely muddy at this time of year…the race is in early March) tree-covered trails we’re used to. The True Grit Epic’s course combines the best of southern Utah’s mountain biking into one big day that’s well stocked with food, supremely organized, and just makes for a helluva good time.
But there’s more to this place, which makes the event the perfect cornerstone for a week-long road trip or family vacation. There’s great riding, but it’s also in close proximity to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, too. Here’s our guide to turning the True Grit Epic NUE race into a properly epic mountain bike road trip…
Start in Vegas, Then Get Tacos…
But not just any tacos, and not in Vegas. Keep reading. Personally, I hate Las Vegas. But it’s cheap to fly into, and it’s only a few hours drive from there to St. George, UT. So, if you’re not driving from home to the event, Vegas is the best spot to fly into. You can either travel with your bike, or ship it ahead of time, which we’ll cover at the bottom of this story. Either way, rent a van or SUV so you have somewhere to fit your bikes and gear, then hit the road. You’ll want a vehicle because you won’t be staying in St. George the whole time, but it makes the best home base for everything else in the area.
En route, you’ll want to stop at Tacos Colima food truck in Overton, NV, right off Interstate 15 at Highway 93.
Try the barbacoa. And all the sauces. Trust me. Worth it. And get a road burrito to go. Thank me later.
BRB, gotta go get tacos.
St. George, UT, as a base of operations
We stayed in St. George/Santa Clara, UT, the former being where all the happenins is a goin’ on. More so than any of the smaller towns surrounding it, which makes it a great home base for riding the expansive trail network used by the True Grit Epic. Nearby Hurricane, UT, is also very well known for amazing trails (like Gooseberry Mesa and North Rim Trail), but there’s not much there for food and fun off the bike (compared to St. George, anyway). And you’re not far from some of the best national parks in the U.S., either…
We took a day trip to Zion and had plenty of time to hike and grab an early dinner and still be in bed by 10pm. Bryce Canyon is a little further, but you can ride one of my favorites, Thunder Mountain, on the way in. Get dropped off at the trailhead and you’ll finish at the Red Canyon Visitor’s Center, which has hiking trails off it for any non-cyclists in your group.
If you’re making a big loop, Horseshoe Bend and the Grand Canyon are just south, too. I’d give yourself 10 days if you’re going to try to hit all of that, then just keep looping clockwise back to Vegas to fly home.
Inside St. George, you’ll find plenty of food options to get you started for the day. We liked Perks! Espresso & Smoothies for a quick bite , but check out Zion Blues, too.
For a heartier sit-down breakfast, the Bear Paw Cafe was very tasty, with giant fancy coffees. Just look at how happy Bergur is!
Keep an eye out for the Affogato coffee truck, too.
The pic above is from La Cocina Mexican Street Food, which has great outdoor seating. Mexican restaurants are literally all over town, but Angelica’s, Ninfa’s, Irmita’s, Green Iguana, El Coyote Charro and Alfredo’s A all come recommended by us or the locals.
For scenery, checkout Xetava Gardens Cafe or Cliffside Restaurant. Both are a little fancier, but delicious and recommended by locals, too. Now that you’re full…
How to Race the True Grit Epic NUE 50-miler
Notice I’m not telling you how to do the 100-miler. Because a) that’s sick, and b) it’s just two laps of the 50-miler. After 50 miles, I promise you will not want to turn right to start another lap. Save it for some of the other trails mentioned here. That said, for race course recon and prep, I’m turning it over to my buddy Thom Parsons of DirtWire.tv:
And for a recap of the 2018 event, which is far more motivating, check this one out:
TL;DW? Here’s the bullet point list of what you need to know if you’re racing the True Grit Epic…which doubles as the list of reasons why you should come do this race:
- COURSE DESCRIPTION: This is a real mountain biker’s race course, comprised of 90% or more actual trail, singletrack, and slickrock. Other than a short stretch of road leading out of the start and back to the finish, you’re on real dirt and rock the whole time. Very little of that is gravel road or double track, either. This really is a true mountain bike race. Which is why I say 50 miles is plenty.
- BIKE SELECTION: You’ll want suspension. A 100-120mm XC or lightweight trail bike would rip this course, keep you comfortable and in control. I raced a minimally-suspended hardtail (shown above…you can see the review of the complete build here, here, here and here), and it was not the best choice. If you’re making a vacation out of this with plans to ride elsewhere, err on the 120mm side of travel. I’ve ridden Hurricane on a hardtail, too, and it was do-able, but 120mm front and 100-120mm rear would be the right travel for fun everywhere without giving up race-day efficiency.
- TRAIL CONDITIONS: The trails are mostly fast, but technical, and there are some real grunts of climbs. And it varies as you work your way through the course, which helps keep it fresh even towards the end. In most places, there’s plenty of room to pass. Chances are it’ll be dry, but check the weather ahead.
- RIDE SMART: Save some energy for Bear Claw Poppy, this is an extremely fast, swoopy and ultra-fun section that you can absolutely hammer, but it’s in the middle of the course, so don’t blow everything on it.
- TIRE SELECTION: Assuming it’s dry, you’ll have traction for days, so you can get away with low profile, fast rolling tires. I worried more about pinch flats than punctures, however I did get a pin-hole sized puncture that eventually forced me to put in a tube because my sealant of choice that day failed. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph & Thunder Burt combo was perfect.
- FOOD & BEVERAGE: You’ll hit each checkpoint and food stop twice, so there are four opportunities to refuel, fix things (or have their neutral support mechanics fix it for you), or grab something out of your gear bags. I prefer wearing a lightweight pack so I can drink more easily, but it’s entirely feasible to use one large bottle per stretch and just refill at each stop. One thing that really impressed me about their sag stops is that the food was never ending…so slower riders don’t have to worry about them running out of the good stuff late in the race.
- BAG DROPS: Race staff will shuttle your gear bags to and from the rest stops for you. This makes them a great place to shed layers, because it can be a little chilly at the start, but you’ll warm up quickly. Bring a few spare bits, possibly even a spare tire, and throw it in your gear bags. Better safe than sorry.
- EVENT MANAGEMENT: Speaking of race staff, promoter Cimmaron Chacon (pictured above, with the mic) puts on a heckuva good race. Everything ran smoothly from start all the way through post-race activities. Even my arm and knee warmers made it back from a rest stop despite not having a bag to drop them in. She puts out a “Race Bible” prior to the event to fill you in on logistics, and their website has tons of info to help you prep.
What to Bring
For the race, I went fairly light and used most of what is shown above, minus the Otterbox with a camera…mainly because it wouldn’t fit in the Osprey Syncros 3. That pack is a great minimalist pack that still has some organization, but it’s maxed out with a mini-tool, pump, CO2+chuck and a couple snack bars. The pump has to fit inside the main reservoir compartment. For a race setup, it worked.
For all day adventures and more casual rides, I’d go with something like the latest Camelbak Mule LR 15, which has room for more food and a light jacket (just in case, right Scouts?) and somewhere to stash arm/knee warmers as it warms up. Plus, these new Camelbak LR models keep their 100oz of water sitting lower on your back for a better center of gravity. And you’ll want a lot of water since it’s very dry out here. And lip balm. And at least one person in your group should be carrying a small first aid kit.
For tires, you want something that’ll protect against pinch flats and sidewall cuts. It’s rocky terrain with lots of square edges, but hardly any vegetation (think cacti) with thorns.
Otherwise, the basics for any ride include your helmet, gloves, eye protection, etc. It’s cool-to-cold at night, so pack layers.
Bike Shops, Lodging & More Local Knowledge
Check out RedRock Bicycle Co. for all your supplies. They’re a race sponsor, and they have rental bikes, too. I shipped my bike here through Bikeflights.com because it was way cheaper than flying with it.
It’s also a massive shop and showcase Specialized dealer, so they’ve got some killer stuff on display, including a huge room of women’s bikes, clothing and gear.
They also have the sickest repair bay I’ve ever seen, worth asking if you can take a peek!
Getting Your Bike There
Want to travel with your own bike? Here are example rates as of January 22, 2019, to help you determine the best way to get your bike to and from St. George, Utah. Rates based on checking sporting equipment/oversize baggage with Delta Airlines fees versus shipping in a Thule Transfer 669 hard case (one of the heaviest cases we know of) using Bikeflights.com. Shipping time is each way, not a combined total.
|Delta||N/A||$150||$150||same as you|
|BikeFlights||Los Angeles||$26||$26||2 bus. days|
|BikeFlights||Kansas City||$31||$31||3 bus. days|
|BikeFlights||Washington DC||$49||$49||5 bus. days|
Ready to ship it? Check rates for free right now on BikeFlights.com!
We stayed at the Sports Village condos, which have plenty of sleeping, a proper living room and kitchen, and are located just a couple minutes by bike to the trailhead. Technically, these are in neighboring St. Clara, UT, but the convenient access to trails outweighed the 10 minute drive back into St. George for food and fun. Plenty more hotels are in the area.
Here’s a couple more useful links: