Underexposed EP4 – Oro Valley, AZ

Underexposed is a monthly series dedicated to showcasing trails around North America that fly under the proverbial radar for most riders. PEARL iZUMi athlete Brice Shirbach has seen firsthand what sweat equity can mean among mountain bikers and its impact on the places we call home, and with this series will look to help open eyes and shift our attention to some of the brilliant riding that exists in places both unexpected and unheard of.

Perched 2,000 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Oro Valley is a small suburb of Tucson, Arizona. The Tucson Valley occupies a stretch of what might be one of the American Southwest’s greatest gifts: the Sonoran Desert. The desert stretches across a range of over 100,000 square miles and includes portions of southern California, northern Mexico, and southern Arizona.

Home to one of the planet’s most biologically and geologically diverse desert systems, Tucson and its surrounding communities, in particular, are home to the Sonoran Desert’s most stunning stretches of real estate. Oro Valley lies six miles north of downtown Tucson and has a slightly higher average elevation, perched 2,600 feet above sea level. The Santa Catalina Mountains form a funnel of sorts to the north of town along with the Tortolita Mountains, with the rest of the Tucson Valley opening up to the south. While the Catalinas might garner the most attention for riders visiting the area, it is the more modestly scaled Tortolitas that are the subject of this particular adventure.

The Tortolita Trails are an ever-expanding network of trails that are made up of private land easements along with county and state lands that add up to 29 miles of rugged, rocky, and amazing trails that work their way up and over the Cochie, Wild Burro and Ruelas Canyons. There are a handful of ways to navigate this network of trails, but ultimately I think you should try and find yourself descending the Upper Javelina Trail. This mile-long gem offers up stunning views of the venerable Mount Lemmon to the east, as well as the Tucson Mountains and the Sonoran Desert. Do your best to avoid distracted riding, as the terrain is rocky and jagged, with plenty of cacti waiting around virtually every corner to catch you unaware. The trail ends just above the Dove Mountain Golf Resort and is very popular among hikers, so keep your eyes peeled. Fortunately, the line of sight throughout the entire trail is really lengthy, so you should have ample time to adjust your speed accordingly. Nature has done much of the heavy lifting in terms of creating a true all-mountain playground here, but that shouldn’t discount the effort that Pima County and Marana Parks and Recreation have put into these trails.

Tucson and its surrounding communities are home to some of my absolute favorite riding in all of North America, and I’ll admit that 90% of that stems from Mount Lemmon alone. But this is a massive area, and there are plenty of trails that really help to round out the riding experience, and in my estimation, the sprawl of trails across the Tortolitas is well worth a day or two off of the big mountain.

Trailforks.com map of the trails in the Tortolitas area
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Brice has been riding bikes professionally and sharing his adventures with others for close to a decade. He cut his teeth racing and riding up and down the east coast, and considers himself fortunate to explore some of the best trails and communities on the planet as a career. Brice produces content for Pinkbike.com, as well as many of his sponsors and partners, including PEARL iZUMi, Pivot Cycles, Maxxis Tires, and others. His greatest joy can be found at home in the form of his wife, Megan, and two boys, Logan and Henry.

PEARL iZUMi Athlete

4 thoughts on “Underexposed EP4 – Oro Valley, AZ

  1. First of all this is not in Oro Valley. It’s in Marana.
    Second, SDMB had nothing to do with these trails.
    They weren’t involved in their development nor in any maintenance. The county and a local hiking group and eventually a local builder of trails hired by the county added and improved the trails. So please give credit where it is due.
    These are difficult and demanding trails throughout and require a decent level of skill and stamina to do. A disclaimer would have been appropriate.
    Please Brice, a little better next time. Otherwise thanks for the fun reads and videos.

    1. Hey Eric! Yeah, I used Oro because for all intents and purposes, it shows up as Oro Valley on Trailforks. Quite honestly, I almost just called it Tucson because it’s really just a suburb of it and for everyone unfamiliar with the area, they wouldn’t know Oro from Marana. I’m not sure I do either 😉 Seriously though, zero offense intended! On a map those mountains are halfway between Oro and Marana, and with Oro being the larger population center, I just listed it as such. It was less about the address and more about the Tortolitas as a small chain of hills. I was unaware of any other mtb trail group in town beyond TORCA and SDMB, so we’ll update it. Glad you enjoy the videos! I do mention how rocky and rugged it is in the video as well. I think skill level is always subjective and it’s a sliding scale, so while I’ll discuss the terrain in each video, I tend to steer clear of describing what skill level is required. An advanced trail here might be pretty moderate compared to what is “Advanced” up on Lemmon. But I do appreciate you mentioning it!

  2. Hi I can’t speak for all but I believe some folks would like to keep their local trails “underexposed.” Maybe we can cool it on blowing up spots that locals enjoy. That may make them less enjoyable. Food for thought before you blow up any one else’s spot. Thanks for the consideration.

  3. Hi. I can’t speak for everyone but I think locals would like their trails to stay “underexposed.” I’m all for advancing the sport but some of the greatness about mountain biking is having your hidden gem. I would just appreciate if you and pearlizumi would consider the consequences of blowing up local spots. Not everyone is a fan of that. Sometimes it takes getting out on your own and exploring or networking with other local riders to find new trail. I just request that you all think of this before blowing up any more local spots. I hope you dig deep and remember why you actually ride, you might remember that instead of doing it for personal gain. Food for thought!

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