Oaxaca, Mexico is home to some of the most biologically diverse forests in the world. With mossy-trunked trees dripping with epiphytes, gigantic agave plants that look prehistoric, and ferns of every color, size, and shape, it’s a magical place to visit. So when I saw that Oaxaca Bike Expeditions was running a mountain bike trip over the Día de los Muertos holiday, I had to bite. Mountain biking in the Sierra Norte mountains of Mexico plus a big, colorful party? It just sounded too good to pass up.
And it was incredible! Six days of shuttling world-class trails, stuffing ourselves silly with delicious Oaxacan cuisine, shredding with a super rad crew, and sharing our experience with local guides all made this a truly unforgettable trip.
If this sounds like your kind of adventure, read on to learn how to plan and prepare for your Oaxaca mountain biking trip!
Learn everything you need to know about planning a Oaxaca mountain biking trip with Oaxaca Bike Expeditions including what to expect, what to pack, & more!
Getting to Oaxaca
Oaxaca is both a city and a state in Mexico. The state of Oaxaca is huge and is known for, among other things, its indigenous cultures, pre-Columbian archaeological sites, and delicious mole.
The city of Oaxaca is located pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the state and is actually quite a large metropolis with a population of over 300,000.
You can fly directly into Oaxaca International Airport from Los Angeles, Dallas, or Houston, or get a connecting flight from Mexico City.
Pro tip: I’ve never had a smooth layover in Mexico City. If you can, try to fly directly into Oaxaca.
About Oaxaca Bike Expeditions
There are several mountain bike tour operations in Oaxaca, but I choose Oaxaca Bike Expeditions because they seemed like the best fit: shuttled rides, local guides who grew up in the area, comfortable accommodations, and an emphasis on sampling the best food and drinks in Oaxaca (definitely a priority for me!). Plus their Instagram feed is seriously inspiring.
Oaxaca Bike Expeditions was started by Javier about 5 years ago and has since grown into a full-blown tour operation. They have all the details dialed and everything on our trip from the food to hotel rooms to bike repairs and maintenance was taken care of.
Oaxaca mountain biking trip options
Oaxaca Bike Expeditions offers several types of trips:
- Private trips with a minimum of four riders
- Celebrity trips with a professional mountain biker such as Geoff Gulevich, Mark Matthews, and Yoann Barelli. These trips include skills coaching as well
- Group trips for Día de lo Muertos and other events or holidays. Group trips can be a bit of a gamble due to varying skill levels and personalities, but Javier and his team do a great job assessing riders and offering different ride options while still maintaining a fun group dynamic.
Here’s what you get with a 6-day trip with Oaxaca Bike Expeditions:
- Comfortable accomodations at the best hotel in Oaxaca
- All meals included (from some of the best restaurants in the city!)
- Snacks, water, and electrolyte drinks
- Shuttles on shuttles to trailheads (for our trip we had two pick-up trucks and one large van)
- Transporation to and from the airport
- Access to a full-service bike shop
- Local guides who know the trails and are badass riders themselves
- A custom t-shirt
- Photos from a professional photographer and from the guides
- Permits that help fund trail maintenance and development
What is not included:
- Alcoholic drinks at restaurants (there is a beer cooler in the van for post-ride ‘rehydration’)
- Travel insurance (highly recommended! It’s cheap and can save a ton of money and stress if something happens on your trip.)
What to expect on your Oaxaca Bike Expeditions trip
Shuttles on shuttles
The city of Oaxaca is situated at just over 5,000 ft and some of the trailheads start at over 11,000 ft. So, to avoid long, steep, sufferfest climbs, Oaxaca Bike Expedition trips are 100% shuttled. Expect to do 3-4+ shuttles a day with shuttle times ranging from 10-45 minutes or more.
A variety trails & terrain that include:
Some of the trails we rode in Oaxaca were the steepest sustained trails I’ve ever ridden. The last trail we rode – El Toro – dropped over a thousand feet a mile, which is just insane! Not all the trails around Oaxaca are super steep, but many of them are, so be prepared with fresh brake pads and strong forearms.
Note: Javier and his team do a great job assessing skill levels and dividing groups based on ability. If you aren’t up for the steep descents, there are plenty of other less technical trails to ride. Don’t miss out on this trip because you don’t feel like you have enough experience.
In addition to steep descents, Oaxaca mountain biking is also known for its loose trail conditions. Our Oaxaca Bike Expeditions trip fell the week after the Trans Sierra Norte race, so the trails were probably even looser than normal, but just be prepared for some skidding and sliding (a fresh DH rear tire is a great choice – see ‘how to prepare your bike’ below).
Mix of flow and old-school tech
Oaxaca mountain biking is a super fun mix of old school trail and new school flow. Many of the newer trails are purpose-built for mountain bikers and have tons of flow and fun features to play on like wood ramps, drops, and jumps.
The old-school trails are steep, rugged and rocky! If you like a bit of everything when it comes to mountain biking, you’ll love Oaxaca riding.
Be prepared for tight tree squeezes. There are plenty of opportunities to catch the handlebars.
As I mentioned above, Oaxaca is situated at just over 5,000 ft and many of the trails start at 11,000 ft. I don’t typically do well at elevation, but I was fine on this trip aside from gasping up the mellowest of inclines.
Ninety percent of the riding is downhill, but there are a few short climbs and you’ll definitely feel them!
The food! Javier pulls out all the stops to make sure his guests are treated to some of the best food in Oaxaca. Dinners are at the top restaurants in the city and lunches are at small local places that serve traditional Oaxacan fare. We didn’t have one bad meal.
One thing to note, though, is that lunches aren’t until 2 pm or 3 pm, and dinner reservations are typically at 8:30 pm. This is because Oaxaca often gets afternoon thunderstorms, so the riding is in the morning and the eating is in the afternoon/evening.
Best time to visit Oaxaca for mountain biking
Oaxaca Bike Expeditions runs trips all year long. We visited in early November, which coincided with the Día del los Muertos festivities as well as the end of the rainy season. We only had a slight drizzle one morning, but the rest of our trip was perfect temps and sunshine.
Javier mentioned that January is his favorite time to ride because the dirt is really good and the temps are moderate.
If you plan your trip between April and October, know that this is the rainy season so you’ll need to pack accordingly.
How to prepare your bike for Oaxaca
Oaxaca Bike Expeditions does offer full-suspension Transition bike rentals if you don’t want to bring your own. Personally for me, though, the hassle and cost of flying with a bike is justified by having a bike I know and can trust.
If you bring your own, I was definitely surprised at how steep, loose, and challenging some of the trails were. I highly recommend you get or do a FULL bike tune-up before heading to Oaxaca. Here’s a checklist:
- Bleed both brakes
- Consider larger rotors for better braking power (I have 200mm rotors and I was so glad I did. If you have 160mm or 180mm rotors, consider getting adaptors and running larger rotors)
- Put on a fresh DH rear tire (I ran a Maxxis Dissector 2.4 and was very happy with it)
- Put in new brake pads if even moderatly worn. Seriously, you’ll need them
- Check rotor thickness and replace if worn
- Service front fork and rear shock suspension
- Grease pivots
You don’t want to get to Oaxaca and realize your bike isn’t in tip-top shape!
What to pack for your Oaxaca mountain biking adventure
Below is a list of gear and spare parts we brought on our Oaxaca Bike Expeditions trip. Javier does have access to a full-service bike shop. Andy got his brakes bled mid-trip, so don’t worry about something breaking or needing to be tuned – they have you covered.
- At least 2 pairs of brake pads per person – seriously!
- Full face helmet – I have the Bell Super DH helmet which can be used as a normal or full face. I was very glad I had the full face option
- Spare rear tire – not essential, but a good idea to have if you didn’t put a fresh one on
- Googles and/or sunglasses (lenses for low-light conditions)
- Elbow and knee pads
- 3-4 Jerseys
- 2-3 pairs of shorts (my all-time faves are the POC Essential MTB Women’s Shorts)
- 4 pairs chamois (check out my favorite women’s chamois)
- 2 pairs gloves
- Hydration pack or water bottle (since this is a shuttled trip you could get away with just a water bottle)
- Rain jacket or lightweight windshell (the Patagonia Houdini jacket was perfect for our November trip)
- Spare derailleur hanger
- Inner tube
- Tire plug kit
What to do in Oaxaca – Pre or Post Trip Ideas
If you have a few days to explore before or after your Oaxaca Bike Expeditions trip, here are a few ideas:
Visit Monte Alban
Monte Alban is one of the largest and most significant pre-Columbian archaeological sites in Oaxaca. It’s located about 20 minutes outside of Oaxaca and is definitely worth checking out. We didn’t visit the ruins on this trip, but I explored them on a previous trip to Oaxaca in 2015.
Check out the Tlacolula market
If you’re in Oaxaca on a Sunday, it’s worth making the trip out to Tlacolula to experience the Sunday market. It is HUGE! The market has everything from handicraft artists, local produce, street food vendors, clothing, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
The drive is about 45 minutes and you can take a bus or a private taxi.
Visit Hierve El Agua
Our taxi driver to the Tlacolula market convinced us to tack on a trip up to Hierve el Agua. The road up is an adventure unto itself! Hierve el Agua is a set of natural travertine rock formations that were formed by underground bubbling springs with a high concentration of sodium carbonate and other minerals. It’s quite beautiful and you can swim in the pools at the top of the ‘waterfall’.
Take a bike tour out to the Tule Tree
We did a three-hour bike tour with a local guide out to the widest tree in the world – the Tule Tree. The ride is on a separate bike path and ends in the small town of Santa Maria del Tule. The tree is GINORMOUS and definitely a cool experience. Ivan also has several other bike tours that look great including one out to a lake and ruins.
Have you been eyeing a Oaxaca Bike Expeditions trip? What questions do you still have? Let me know in the comments!