"Wheel Life," a cycling column by Todd Litman and Suzanne Kort, published weekly in the Times Colonist Newspaper (Victoria, BC)

12 July 1997


Cycling Route Perfect For Heavenly Bodies



Todayís recommended route is a really exciting mountain bike ride that begins in the Chryse Planitia, meanders up the Ares Vallis to the Sinus Meridiani, then back along the ridge above the Simud Vallis. Thereís an exciting optional side trip through the Gangis Chasma and back along the Shalbatana Vallis. Itís a beautiful, but challenging trip.

Where on earth, you may be wondering, are we talking about? The answer is, "Not." With all the attention that Mars has been getting lately we decided it would be a good time to share one of our favorite bike rides on the Red Planet.

This particular route is becoming increasingly popular with interplanetary tourists. Along the way you may spot the Viking 1 and Pathfinder landers (wave hello to the folks back home as you ride by). NASA has a habit of leaving debris all over the solar system, but please give mountain bikers a good name by picking up your litter.

Why should you be interested in a trip like this? We always advise bicyclists to be prepared. Imagine what would happen if sometime while you are out bicycling a flying saucer drops down and offers you an interplanetary ride.

If you had clipped todayís recommended route you would say, "Sure, letís go to the Chryse Planitia, and weíll head southeastward from there. Iíd like to make a quick stop at Cape Canaveral along the way to pick up a space suit please." Then show those nice aliens that earthlings are as good at mountain biking as any life form in the galaxy.

Youíll find that the Martian surface is dusty, with lots of dry river beds, volcanoes and impact craters, a perfect landscape for off-road bicycling. Although there are some steep climbs (Olympus Mons is 25 kilometres high), the gravity is only 38% of earthís. The thin atmosphere (only 1% of earthís) means that there is little wind resistance, so its easy to ride fast without all that expensive aerodynamic equipment you would require on earth.

Youíll need to bring plenty to drink, because there is no fresh water. The weather is rather cool, ranging from a summer high of -20į down to -111į, so wear a jacket and tights, especially if you are considering a ride down to the dry-ice pack at the south pole. The sky is a beautiful pink, and usually clear. You donít need an umbrella, but check the weather report before you go because there are occasional duststorms. Take plenty of sunscreen, since the UV rating is high.

Once youíve left earth, donít get sidetracked onto a planet that is unsuitable for bicycle. The gaseous planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) donít offer much to sink a knobby tire into, and Mercury and Venus are just too darn hot. Sure there are a few moons in the solar system you could bicycle on, but most are too small to offer much gravity. Mars is by far the favorite interplanetary destination for serious mountain bikers.