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Biking the Copper Canyon

Epic Climbs, Grand Adventure, Full Support (if you want it)

Cycling in the Copper Canyon is enjoying a boom. Chihuahua is home to a full-fledged mountain bike scene, and new “roads” (barely) have started connecting towns that were once geographically close, but world away. The steep grades are still mostly impassable by truck… but a bike? Perfect.

A few years ago we set out to scout some routes, test equipment and figure out if this was a place where the bicycle is still the best (and fastest) mode of transportation (spoiler: it is!). This page will serve as a good primer if you’re planning a trip. We’ll keep it updated as we explore more, and collect stories from other adventurers.

Batopilas Canyon near Yerbabuena / Photo by Ryan Steers


Canyon Crossing: Divisadero – Samachique (3-5 days)

Day 1 – Divisadero to Urique: Descend 6000+ ft to the town of Urique. A little highway riding to start and then a substantial, well graded gravel road. Caution it is a long, fast descent. It’s a decent town in the bottom with hotels, food, grocery and even air conditioning. (Strava Route)

Day 2 – Urique to Batopilas: You’ll be one of the first people to ever bike this leg. You’ll climb all the way up and out of the deepest canyon in North America, and then drop right back down into… the other deepest canyon in North America. It’s very steep and very rocky on both the up and the down. Start Early. You’ll need all the daylight you can get, and you want to get as much of the climb out of Urique as you can done before the sun is at full-blaze. (Strava Route)

Getting a late start in Urique (don’t do that) / Photo by Seth Klienglass

Day 3 – Batopilas to Samachique: An epic day on tarmac to finish off the trip (and give your bones and bottom a rest from the jarring rocks). Don’t be fooled, the sun is fierce, the climb is massive and the road has plenty of “obstacles.” Even though they call this a highway, you’ll only see a car every hour or so; most of the time you’re on your own, pedaling up the cliff. (Strava Route)

Tired and happy in Batopilas

Make it a 5 day: We recommend hanging out in Batopilas for a day or two (or five). You’ll need the rest, the town and hotel are gorgeous, and there is a lifetime of great riding right there.

Routes around Batopilas

Rodeo: A tough day, but totally doable for most cyclists if you take it easy and have the right gears. The road is pretty good the whole way, and easy for a follow-van to navigate. Climb up over a shorter wall of the canyon into a side-canyon to a the ranch town of Rodeo. Inch closer to the Rio Fuerte (this is the first leg of our future to the coast adventure). Remember though, you’ll have to climb back too. Or, just keep riding, it’s all down-hill from there and have someone from the hotel come pick you up. (Strava Route)

Yerbabuena: A great easy-day ride up to a small village just above the highway north of town. Mostly tarmac with a little dirt climb up to the village. Peaceful and cool in the morning, with great views of Cerro Colorado and the steep walls up-stream from town. (Strava Route)

Satevó: Another easy-day ride. This is a solid dirt road that stays close to the river and relatively flat. Your legs will need it after some of the bigger climbing days. If you’re feeling spicy you can keep going past Satevó and the road will turn up, up, up eventually cresting the canyon again. Or, you can poke around the shady old cathedral and then bounce back to Batopilas in time for lunch. (Strava Route)

Vuelta Presidente / Acueducto: The mayor heads out every morning for a quick little ride up the aqueduct trail, and back via the highway. It’s a short ride, great to spin the legs after dinner or before breakfast. A bit of singletrack, and you’ll get your feet wet! (Strava Route)

A quick ride at sunset from Batopilas / Photo by Ryan Steers

Tips for Cycling the Copper Canyon

We’ve been exploring the Copper Canyon by bicycle for a few years and we’ve learned a few things. These hot-tips are good for any trip.

  • It’s Really Hard: You can do it, but the riding is hard. Take it easy. We recommend cutting your distance in half… at least. That is, if you think you can do 60k, plan for 30k. If you think you can do 100k, shoot for 50k. Remember professional cyclists took almost seven hours to go 85 kilometers. The descents are hard and unforgiving. Don’t be afraid to take them slow, or get in the van. The Copper Canyon will make you pay for your ego in blood if you get cocky, so just ride chill, have fun, and know your limits.
  • Bike: We’ve been using gravel bikes, such as the 3T Exploro and the Giant Revolt. The Exploro will fit a slightly larger tire (2.1″) and that’s extremely helpful in the canyon. Fire roads are rough to very rough and the more air volume you have the better. If you’re not in tip-top shape, even consider a full suspension mountain bike. While there are some paved roads, a pure road bike is really limiting in the canyon.
  • Tires: Don’t go to the canyon on less than 40mm tires. Additionally, mount the biggest tires you can. Ideally tubeless, the rocks are sharp and, tubes?!
  • Gearing: You’ll want a minimum of a 1:1 gear ratio. Ideally, something even bigger. The climbs are steep and often very rocky and loose. Sure, you can power through a few hundred meters, but these climbs go for hours. You need gears, and lots of them. Again, pros were still struggling with 1:1 ratio on even some of the smaller climbs.
  • UV Sleeves: You know, those arm warmers that aren’t warm. It’s hot down there, and at 8,000 feet you don’t want to sweat off your sunscreen and fry. UV sleeves will save you.
  • Brakes: Bring spare brake pads. It’s not unheard of to go through a set in one day (really).
  • Shops: Chihuahua City has excellent bike shops. We checked out BiciSur and they have everything, in stock. Don’t panic about bringing a bunch of spare stuff with you, if you get in a jam, someone can get it from Chihuahua for you.
  • Dynaplugs!!!: Carrying a bunch of tubes is for plebes. We’ve been “testing” Dynaplugs for about a year now and they have saved more rides than we can count. They’re tiny, light and work as advertised. It takes only a few seconds to plug a hole and get back on the road (really). Bring a bunch of them (note: assuming a tubeless setup).
  • Travel: We highly recommend coordinating with a tour company in Chihuahua or Creel. They will arrange transport, follow-van and hotel for you. The area is extremely affordable, and having the luxury of the logistics being handled is one of the best reasons to make your next cycling adventure in the canyon. You’ll be taken care of the whole time.
  • Standard Copper Canyon Rules Apply: When to go, how to get there, where to stay etc. are all per-usual on the rest of this website. Check it out!