So you’ve assembled for yourself a truly trailworthy mountain bike. Or you’ve just bought the sleekest, lightest road bike your mid-year bonus can afford. Not to mention you’ve trained your arse off in thrice-weekly sorties to Antipolo, San Mateo, and Tagaytay. You’re as fit as a fiddle, and your ride is in full battle gear.
Now that you’re all set to hit the road, do you know where you’re going? What routes are most worthy of all that prep?
Here’s a rundown of the 10 most memorable bike routes for mountain bikers and roadies, as recommended by the Cycling Advocates and Adventures (Cycad). They’re in no particular order because, in the end, every rider experiences each route differently.
1. Caramoan, Camarines Sur. This route offers some of the best mountains-meet-the-sea vistas. And on a clear day, you can see across Lagonoy Bay and witness majestic Mayon Volcano blowing off steam. Caramoan, which is around 450 km south of Manila, is barely accessible by land, as the road starting from Lagonoy all the way to Caramoan town 90 kilometers away is mostly unpaved, and very muddy (read: mountain bike heaven) during the wet season. Accommodations are non-existent outside of Caramoan, so you have no choice but to ride the night if you don’t make it to this place before dusk. There is a shortcut for the less intrepid, though. A Roro ride from Sagnay (around 15 kms south of Lagonoy) will get you to Caramoan town itself in two hours, and from there, it’s a mere hour or so by bike to the famed white sand beaches. But where’s the biking thrill in that?
Thrill factor (total bike experience): 3 out of 4; Chill factor (difficulty level): 3 out of 4. Minimum days doable: 3.
2. Alabat Island, Quezon. Here is a perfect example of “island biking.” Alabat Island, a mere 15 kms off mainland Quezon Province (one and a half hours on the Roro from Atimonan Port to Alabat town), only has one main road—and it just goes around the island. From the northernmost tip, Perez, to Quezon town at its southern end, the trip meter barely reaches 50 kms – just right for a two-day bike tour. A bike trip here would be ideal for mountain bikers who want to get away from the city for the weekend without necessarily busting their lungs.
For added thrill, you can include the challenging 4-km climb at Quezon National Park (more popularly called the “Eme”) and the 10-km descent from Eme to Atimonan Port on your first day. On the island itself, you’ll have the road almost all to yourself, as there is limited motorized transport (tricycles rule!) The road is well-paved, but at the southern end it becomes mostly gravel and dirt. The people are friendly and everyone knows everyone. And if you’re lucky, the barangay captain in Alabat town will even invite you to his all-night, on-street videoke party.
Thrill factor: 2; Chill factor: 2 (3 if you include the “Eme”); Days doable: 3 (with the “Eme” route), or 2 (just the Alabat Island tour).
3. Sagada-Besao-Tadian-Cervantes-Tagudin (Mountain Province and Ilocos Sur). Any bike expedition to the acknowledged roof of the Philippines, the Cordillera mountain range, is considered extreme, and therefore not for the weak of heart, literally. But for sheer magnificence, the SBTCT route easily takes the top tier of the cake. If you can still manage to appreciate 5,000-feet-and-up mountain passes, pine-forested trails, hanging coffins, and dirt roads that twist and turn interminably while negotiating epic ascents and spine-chilling descents that rival the Alps leg of the Tour de France, then good for you, Mr Show-off.
But for the average Juan D’ Biker, the “My God, this is beautiful!” moment would most likely come days after recovering from this most punishing but equally rewarding ride, as the pictures get uploaded and tagged among friends on Facebook.
Thrill factor: 4; Chill factor: 4 (if there was a 5 for the wind chill, then this is it); Days doable: 4.
4. Gregorio del Pilar, Ilocos Sur. The mountain bike trail from Salcedo to Gregorio del Pilar towns in Ilocos Sur is a mere 9 kms, but at the end of the ride, you’ll feel like you’ve done 90. The first five kms is wet and wild – you’ll only cross the meandering Quinibor/Buaya River 17 times, and there are no bridges. Bikers have no choice but to cross the river on their bikes, and at certain crossings the water is waist-deep (during summer, mind you), which would force any rider to disembark and carry the bike through the rocky-bottomed river all the way to shore. Then, from Sigay Junction, it’s a hellish 4-km climb on poorly-maintained concrete roads to the town named after the ill-fated youngest Filipino general during the Filipino-American war.
This is truly a ride that will get you wet then dry, and schooled on Philippine history in the span of a day. And that’s what’s so fun and unique about it. An interesting, if not must-do, side trip is the 4-km hike from the town to Del Pilar’s shrine at Tirad Pass, to the very spot where the General was felled by an enemy sniper.
Thrill factor: 4; Chill factor: 3; Days doable: 2.
5. Marinduque Loop. Unlike tiny Alabat Island, Marinduque is more sizable, thus offering more routes for both mountain and road bikes. And definitely, there is more to this island province than meets the fierce Moriones eye. For the mountain biker, the interior sections of the island offer challenging routes and great views of the rugged coastline and the West Philippine Sea. The circumferential highway, on the other hand, offers scenic coastal routes for both mountain and road bikers. Plus, bikers can get their fill of natural and man-made wonders along the way, what with the caves, beaches, a cathedral, museums, and even a hot spring on the island.
Thrill factor: 3; Chill factor: 2; Days doable: 3 (including the 12-hour Roro from Lucena Port to Marinduque, and back).
6. Batanes Island. The northernmost tip of the archipelago offers what is arguably one of the best overall biking experience even for trail-hardened bike tourists. The prospect of being so isolated and out of touch from the mainland, plus the inherent beauty of the mountain routes, with views seemingly coming straight out of the fantasy movie trilogy “Lord of the Rings,” is enough for mountain bikers to include Batanes in their bucket list, even if it takes an entire week off their busy work schedule. But because of the frequency of storms passing over this part of the Pacific, the window of opportunity is effectively narrowed to the latter part of the year and through the summer months.
Thrill factor: 4; Chill factor: 3; Days doable: At least 5
7. Island Garden City of Samal. Erstwhile known simply as Samal Island, this small patch of paradise on Davao Del Norte is a must-ride for bikers not only from the South. The relative peace and order here is a great way for cyclists to get introduced to Mindanao. The ride is relatively easy, so bikers can truly concentrate on finding out why this place has been renamed the “island garden city.”
Thrill factor: 3; Chill factor: Barely 2; Days doable: At least 3.
8. Baler, Aurora Loop. Want to immerse yourself in the magnificence, and utter cruelty, of the rugged Sierra Madre mountain range? Then there’s no better place to test yourself than in this 150-km loop that will take you from the flatlands of Nueva Ecija to killer climbs up the Sierra Madre, then down to San Luis and Aurora’s coastal capital Baler. If you still have the energy, you can ride back to Nueva Ecija province the next day via the Maria Aurora-Pantabangan-Rizal route. The ride is tough-as-nails traumatic, but the Kodak moments will linger longer in your subconscious.
Thrill factor: 4; Chill factor: 4; Days doable: at least 3.
9. Vigan, Ilocos Sur-Tuguegarao, Cagayan. This one’s for hardcore road bikers. It’s a testament to the quality of paved roads in the Ilocos and Cagayan regions (at least the northern part of Cagayan) that roadies won’t have to constantly glance down at the road to avoid rim-bending potholes. Instead, they will have to look up and ahead to enjoy the roadside attractions whizzing by. Along the 300-km stretch of this route, countless tourism attractions, historical sites, and pose-worthy landmarks await the roadie-want-to-tarry. The Patapat Bridge and Bangui windmills alone are guaranteed to bring out the goose bumps. Mountain bikers are also welcome to ride on some solid ground, for a change.
Thrill factor: 4; Chill factor: 3; Days doable: At least 4.
10. La Mesa EcoForest. This last route is not the least. And just because this trail is within Metro Manila, don’t underestimate the difficulty and beauty of this joint government- and private sector-protected area. The forested area that surrounds Metro Manila’s main water reservoir has been criss-crossed with purposefully laid out bike trails that test the skills and nerves of beginner and intermediate riders. There is a choice of short, half-day routes (20 kms) to the full-day, tear-your-leg-muscles-out 40-km trail. The path never gets boring because if you let your guard down, a slippery single-track will reintroduce you to Mama Eartha. But then, of course, we know you’ve loved her from the moment you said hello to your trail-worthy bike.
Thrill factor: 3; Chill factor: 3; Days doable: 1.