Mountain Biking Magazine (June 2001, vol 15, No. 9, pp. 22-32)
When it comes to mountain biking in South America, Bolivia may not be the first thing to register. Old-school outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made their last stand here a century ago. More recently, Bolivia has been home to the infamous Shining Path Guerrillas, a group of extreme Marxist revolutionaries known for their strict interpretation of the writings of Karl, not Groucho.
But the thing is, you can go mountain biking in Bolivia. Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, run tours in the country for riders of virtually all skill levels, from little experience to completely insane. Headed by New Zealander Alistair Matthew, Gravity offers rental bikes, qualified guides, and itineraries that run the spectrum from all-day downhill runs that beat the best of the North Shore, to easy adventures that can be handled in a day.
Gravity is not just a word!
Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking is the premier operator of 1-day downhill mountain bike rides in Bolivia. Nobody else has done these rides as often as they have, and nobody does them as well. Gravity surveys its customers at the end of each ride and the company receives rave reviews and ratings every time.
Gravity's multi-day tours draw on this experience and intimate knowledge of the excellent mountain biking areas around La Paz. As such they have been able to construct a wide variety of options that can be easily developed into a seamless multi-day itinerary to suit each rider’s needs. The company also has connections with adventure tour operators around the world, so they know what to expect from North Americans who come down for one of their guided tours.
Rental bikes are available, and the company carries U.S.-made KONA models, which make at least this aspect of a Gravity tour pretty familiar to almost anybody. Even helmets and gloves are available, which goes without saying, especially on the downhill packages. The company does advise that you bring your own hydration pack, other personal gear, and your own preference in clipless pedals and shoes. Camping gear like sleeping bags, etc., are also available for rent through them.
Just where is Bolivia?
Bolivia is blessed with unique cultures and unparalleled variety in geography and ecosystems. For the average rider, the prospect of coming to Bolivia to ride can be simply overwhelming because of the huge range of spectacular locations that can be visited, and activities that can be sampled.
If the prospect of travelling a bazillion miles to cruise through the Andes sounds scary, the folks at Gravity can work with you on setting you up in the best possible way. Travel arrangements and tour packages can be set according to your own needs and the areas you want to explore in this fascinating country. To help you get the most out of your Bolivian adventure, Gravity can even make arrangements with top operators in other areas. You don’t even have to have a gold card burning in your pocket, because tours are available for almost any budget.
Multi-day tours range from 2-15 days, and feature sag vehicles, guide, cook, and a bike mechanic. Gravity describes their tours as “adventure with a difference” that include a wide variety of terrain, scenery, history and many other aspects that reflect this country’s unique character.
Choosing your own path
Unlike some others who’ve visited the country in the past, your visit to Bolivia has lots of potential for adventure and fun that won’t be seen anywhere else in the world. Gravity ensures that by offering several tour packages, as follows:
1. 5-Day Salar de Uyuni Ride. A non-technical (flat) ride, but requiring some fitness that starts in La Paz and finishes in Uyuni.
2. 5-Day Intermediate Exploration. This tour includes some of the best rides around the Bolivian Andes in the La Paz area. If you love downhills then you’ll like the 35,000 feet of vertical descents included in this tour. Expect everything, from spectacular mountain scenery down to dense jungle vistas.
3. 9-Day Beginner Mountain Biking Escapade. Adventurous beginners or intermediate riders spend more than a week in the Andean Mountain range around La Paz. There’s a wide variety of riding, with incredible scenic and historic settings, stunning mountains, picturesque villages and vibrant jungles.
4. 12-day Intermediate Mountain Biking Adventure. For intermediate and higher level riders, there are 12 days of exploring huge variety of incredible riding in and among the Bolivian Andes and surrounding jungles. Unparalleled riding and scenic variety, and featuring descents of as much as 13,000 feet in one continuous blast!
5. 12-Day Advanced Adventure Mountain Biking. A serious adventure for serious riders only! Twelve days of full-on, hard-core mountain biking action down some of the longest and most challenging singletrack you can do anywhere. This tour boasts eight hours of technical, steep downhill in one day, which should be more than enough to satisfy the hardest of the hard-core. Gravity recommends that you bring your own bike for this tour.
Roll your own
If one of the above tours doesn’t tickle your fancy, Gravity can customize a tour itinerary to meet your desires, fitness, experience and riding style.
Available options include Lake Titicaca with its Inca ruins, a cross-country exploration of Lake Tuni, or a ride to the summit of Chacaltaya, which, at 17,500 feet, is the world’s highest developed ski slope.
Another fave is the Descent to Coroico, which is 40 miles of almost continuous downhill. On your way down, you get a chance to see llamas, alpacas, waterfalls and spectacular jungle panoramas. Ride down from the wind- and snow-swept La Cumbre summit to the steaming Amazon cloud basin at Yolosa. After the ride, stay in Coroico, a beautiful small town with an excellent hotel and restaurant facilities, and a great base for several day hikes. This is Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking's most popular tour!
CUT TO THE CHASE: Show me the photo slideshow of the World's Most Dangerous Road (in a new window)!!!
The Jungle Rail trail is 37 miles of challenging single- and double-track riding along an abandoned railway line deep in the jungle. Spectacular views out over the jungle from this track that has been precariously hewn from the side of the hill. At times you race through the jungle hundreds of feet above the valley floor.
What you need to know
Basically all of the typical preparations for a serious long-distance trip to another country should be considered for travel to Bolivia. Possession of a valid U.S. passport and visa should be taken care of well in advance of your trip date, and any inquiries should be made while making initial plans.
The good part is that the team at Gravity can help make all necessary travel arrangements, including tickets, hotels, travel advice, etc. Rental bikes and other items are available, because shipping a bike on an airliner can be expensive. However, Gravity does recommend that you bring your own ride for its more challenging tours.
Alistair Matthew and his staff are very experienced and have done an excellent job of bringing organized mountain bike tours to an improbable part of the world. If you really want a memorable adventure worth its weight in bragging rights, then Bolivia is the destination for you!
For more information, contact Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking/America Tours SRL, 1490 Ave. 16 de Julio (El Prado), Ground Floor, Office #9/10, La Paz, Bolivia. Phone 591-2-2-313849; fax is 591-2-2-310023. Web: www.gravitybolivia.com