The World’s Most Dangerous Road – A Cycling Adventure
(Editor’s Note: The following write-up was submitted by Mtbr intern Cindy A. from Santa Clara, CA. She had quite an adventure on her very first mountain bike ride – Cindy is an experienced road cyclist who decided to try a different kind of challenge this summer!)
Hopped on my first full suspension mountain bike the other day in Bolivia to descend 11,800 feet on the World’s Most Dangerous Road, a.k.a. Death Road.
I went with the company that invented the ride: Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking. You’re just one slip on a nasty rock away from falling to your doom, talk about once in a lifetime! The reality is unless you are incredibly unlucky or reckless you’re pretty safe on the World’s Most Dangerous Road. Also when you’re getting your insides jumbled around for the first time over some melon sized boulders and get a glimpse of what looks like a never ending fall, it’s nice to know you are there with the best guides!
Walk around Bolivia’s urban capital La Paz and you will be bombarded with different knock off companies doing the Death Road ride for a lot cheaper. I met quite a few tourists that had horror stories of having to use their foot on the tire to brake, bikes literally falling apart, and constant flats. If you ever find yourself in Bolivia make sure you go with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking, it is worth the few extra bolivianos! They have higher quality bikes that are maintained, all the guides are bike mechanics, and the best part is they’re the only company to drive you back up the World’s Most Dangerous Road after the ride so you can really get a good look at what you bombed down!
You can sign up for a ride with usually just a few days notice online or in person. I went down to the office in person and tried on helmets and gloves to make sure I got stuff that fit.
A few days after I signed up we met at a coffee shop for breakfast before splitting off into two groups. We got in our vans to drive less than an hour to La Cumbre to start the ride. We were given our helmets, gloves, element proof jackets and pants, and free buff bandanas! The vans are equipped with optional full-face helmets, kneepads, and elbow pads if any riders prefer it. Our guide suggested going with less gear because sometimes it causes riders to rely too much on the gear instead of being a mindful rider. Our bikes were adjusted for size and any mechanical issues. Before we took off we all took turns toasting with 95 proof alcohol and spilling a little for Pachamama (Mother Earth) then on our bikes for a good ride.
The rules were simple: be a responsible rider and don’t do anything stupid. Fast confident riders could go as fast as they liked as long as they stayed behind the guide in front and slow riders could take their time with a guide bringing up the rear at the last riders pace. No one was held back and no one was pressured to go fast.
The ride started out on a paved highway so we could get a feel for our bikes. The spectacular mountain views were too beautiful to put into words. We stopped at a cliff where we were shown a bus that had gone over the edge on New Year’s Day and reminded to be safe and call out when we passed slower riders. We had to walk our bikes through a drug checkpoint and then had the option to ride on a slight incline. This was a real challenge because of the altitude: 15,000+ feet!
When we got to the beginning of Death Road we were reminded again to be safe and responsible riders. I can’t tell you how important it was to be told that over and over again. Many riders from other companies were out with us that day and they did some stupid things, sneaking up on slower riders without calling it out, riding recklessly, passing cars with cars in both lanes, and definitely relying on their safety gear a little too much.