top of page

Desert Cycling "Survival" Guide

Know before you go by reviewing these 
tips before you hit the road.
By Robert Gibson
tucson guide bicycling guide

Tucson Guide columnist and cycling enthusiast Robert Gibson wants you to ride in Tucson safely while having fun. Follow his survival tips for a successful ride every time.

01 Faster yields to slower. Descending yields to climbing. Cyclists yield to all other trail users. Do your best to be a mindful and courteous cyclist; the goodwill you sow will last longer than that personal record. 

02 Ask for assistance (part one). If I see someone on the road or trail-side, I always ask if they "Need anything?" It doesn't matter who they are or what bike they ride. This is one of the first rules of cycling. Most of the time, the other person declines. Every once in a while, someone accepts. Maybe it's a tube, an inflation cartridge, or a tangled chain. Regardless, it feels good to help someone be on their way. 

03 Ask for assistance (part two). Don't be that person who leaves for a ride and doesn't bring the bare-minimum tool kit along for the ride. Being self-sufficient is another one of the first rules of cycling. Sometimes it all goes wrong, and you need assistance…that's cool. But make sure to take enough supplies to get you back from where you're heading (especially in the warmer months). 

04 Make friends wherever you go. It's no secret that not all trail users look favorably on cyclists, so I yield to all trail users, especially if they have dogs. I try to make friends with all the dogs on my usual loops. This lets the other trail users pass at their own pace and selfishly gives me a therapeutic respite. Who knows? Maybe the dogs will convince their owners that we aren't so bad.

tucson guide bicycling guide

05 Sharp things. If I see a nail, screw, or other (human-made) sharp, pointy thing deposited on the roadside, I will stop and pick it up. I do this so the cyclist behind me doesn't suffer the inconvenience of a puncture. I also do it so the motorists don't suffer a puncture either. Regardless of vehicle type, flat tires are a pain in the rear end. 

06 Two things make Tucson a year-round cycling destination: climate and sunshine. But, as I tell visitors, "Tucson gets summer like the Northeast gets winters; it's six months of summer." The two things that make it great in the late fall and winter can make it inhumane in the late spring and summer (and early fall). I have ridden here for 31 Summers, and there are ways to get through it. We all know the highs in the summer will reach triple digits, so become 

a morning person and be on the bike by dawn. But, watch those overnight lows. There will be days when it will be 80-plus degrees before the sun even rises. On those days, get up early and head off to the upper altitudes of Mt. Lemmon. Or, reconcile to just make it a shorter day.

07 Speaking of sunshine. The other thing that makes this a great place to ride also delivers mega-doses of ultraviolet radiation. Thirteen years ago, a dermatologist inexorably changed my relationship with the sun. Ever since, I have become a huge proponent of sunscreen and long sleeves, even in the height of summer. I recommend these precautions to everyone riding here, even if you aren't genetically predisposed to skin cancer. 

08 Ride defensively. Tucson has a zillion great roads and dirt roads (and various roads that lead to trails), so I always assume an ultra-defensive riding posture. I ride in as predictable a manner as possible, assuming no one can see me. I put myself smack in the middle of bike lanes to allow me reaction time from the left or right. Learn how to look over your shoulder without veering into the lane. Signal your direction well in advance and move intentionally yet smoothly. As a cyclist, I will always be on the losing end of the physics equation with automobiles. The best I can do is stack as many variables in my favor. 

tucson guide bicycling guide

09 Speaking of bikes and physics. 
Be a student of the bike both on and off the bike. Learn where your balance point and center of gravity are on your bike. Learn how to ride your bike slowly as well as quickly—slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Figure out your proprioception on your bike. Learn how you affect the bike and how the bike affects you: spatial awareness, inertia, force, mass, acceleration, rotation, momentum, levers, pivots, energy gained, and energy lost. Physics, geometry, and trigonometry—all those math and science classes you thought you'd never use in daily life can help you shred.

bottom of page