Cass Gilbert on the Trans Ecuador Route
We’re always striving to improve the routes we publish on the site. As such, Cass Gilbert headed out to re-ride a section of the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route (TEMBR) at the end of last season to work on some improvements. In preparation for this year’s season, here’s a collection of images from the journey and thoughts on what bike suits it best…
The Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route is a ride that’s close to my heart. Compact yet incredibly varied, Ecuador is a country that I expected to traverse quickly on my first visit there back in 2010. I’d never have expected that I’d return, time and time again, in my quest to discover dirt roads and connect trails across the unique ecosystem of its high altitude tundra, the páramo. I have the Dammers to thank; no one knows this land like these Ecuadorian brothers, and few appreciate it in the way they do, being both hard-working farmers and outdoorsmen to the fingertips.
The Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route is the sum of much of their knowledge and my own experiences. There are two versions; one focuses on a singletrack and hike a bike-style crossing of the country, while its mellower hermano is more dirt-road orientated. The latter is by far the more approachable of the two possible routes, but you can mix and match them to create the right ride for you, working in sections of another route posted to the site, the Tres Volcanes, offering lots of options depending on riding inclinations and the seasons.
And so it was that I found myself back in Ecuador at the end of last year, enjoying some Dammer hospitality and fortifying myself on produce from their family permaculture farm. This time, I was riding with filmmaker Jay Ritchey as we were planning to make a short film guide about the route (it’s almost finished, and will be available to watch soon). Again, I trawled the collective Dammer mind for improvements that we could work into TEMBR, along with possible additions and detours, adding these to a list of feedback other riders had given me.
For the film, we decided to home in on my favourite parts of the dirt road route, the area that runs immediately south from the Colombian border – La Reserva Ecológica El Ángel, home to groves of frailejon. We also crossed the Paramo de Piñán, looped around Volcan Cotopaxi, climbed up into the fertile farming lands around Quilotoa, and camped beneath mighty Volcan Chimborazo, whose peak marks the closest point to the sun due to the curvature of the earth. Note that, unfortunately, the segment of the ride in the area around Buenas Aires is not currently recommended for travel, due to a recent, localised dispute with illegal miners. Hopefully this will be resolved before too long. In the meantime, details can be found on the route page.
I’ve now ridden the Trans Ecuador on a variety of bikes and setups, from a 26in mountain bike with panniers to 29+ rigs with bikepacking gear. Although I’d stress that anyone with a mountain bike and an eye on the scales will enjoy this route, there’s no doubt that plus-sized tires and a minimal packlist suit the Ecuadorian landscape, given the amount of cobbled roads, rutted paths, and impossibly steep climbs. Front suspension is never unwelcome, of course, but I’d consider a simple 26+, 27.5+, or 29+ rigid mountain bike to be pretty much ideal for the vagaries of the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route.
In preparation for this year, we’ve improved a few connectors, found detours around newly paved roads, and added one of my favourite sections: a ride up to a beautiful, high elevation campspot in Chimborazo National Park, which I’d highly recommend if the weather is on your side. Speaking of, riding towards the end of the season meant the weather wasn’t always on ours. Whatever the time of year, bring your rain gear, as no Ecuadorian experience would be complete without a thick veil of páramo mist and the odd torrential downpour. There’s a reason it’s so green…
No matter how many times I return to Ecuador, there’s always something new and unexpected to appreciate. This time around, I was treated to the site of a vicuña rolling over almost in front of me, as if calling out for a belly rub. Chimborazo revealed herself gloriously, always a sight to behold. And we also lingered in the popular town of Otovalo drinking coffee, enjoying local street food treats and soaking up the market vibes.
Thanks to all our readers who have provided feedback on the route and helped improve it. It’s still a work in progress – particularly the section from Cuenca to Loja – so ongoing feedback is greatly appreciated. I hope you enjoy the gallery below, and you’re inspired to plan a trip to Ecuador to enjoy its remarkable terrain.