Merry Christmas, Phoenix mountain bike tours | Wild Bunch Desert Guides

Merry Christmas, Phoenix mountain bike tours

by Laurel Darren, Wild Bunch Desert Guides • December 23, 2022

“Is there any way to give six stars? Took a great 15-mile loop bike ride with owner/guide Laurel today and would love to get a chance to do this again every single year.  Super friendly and professional throughout, plenty of water and snacks to keep us hydrated and fed. Excellent biking gear and safety orientation as well. While I don't discriminate, I am certainly happy to support independent, women-owned businesses like Wild Bunch rather than a large corporation.  Fully recommend riding with Wild Bunch!” – B.F., Montclair, NJ on Yelp, April 17, 2022

A family of four pauses during one of the Phoenix mountain bike tours from the Wild Bunch with a trademark Arizona sunset in the background. (TOP) A family of four pauses for a picture during one of the Phoenix mountain bike tours from the Wild Bunch with a trademark Arizona sunset in the background. (COVER) Wild Bunch guide Don Arbuckle (center) poses with a smiling couple for a photo during a Scottsdale mountain bike tour.

‘Twas well in advance of the night before Christmas, when feeling in a festive mood, jolly Santa Laurel decided to deliver an early bit of yuletide cheer.

As the founding owner of Wild Bunch Desert Guides – a five-star rated, small mom-and-pop shop offering Phoenix adventure tours – I had been pouring over my naughty and nice lists since the worst of the pandemic looking for ways to grow and improve the business.

In particular, Santa Laurel had been wishing for a fleet of new sleighs to replace the cycles Wild Bunch had been using since 2017 on our Phoenix mountain bike tours.

No gift was necessary from the North Pole, either.

I had pandemic relief money at the ready from a small business loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help fund the improvement.

The grinch in the details was wanting a particular style of bike to upgrade our toys – but being unable to find the requisite amount all at the same time for a full stable.

So, we had to wait -- and wait some more. Who among us has not had to be patient for a new bike for Christmas?

Then one day this summer, Christmas came early – I saw an Instagram post and made the call. My holiday wish was realized for our guests seeking a once-in-a-lifetime thrill-ride on the trails of our beautiful Sonoran Desert.
A Wild Bunch guest navigates a rocky downhill during one of our Phoenix mountain bike tours.
A Wild Bunch guest navigates a rocky downhill during one of our Phoenix mountain bike tours.

Phoenix mountain bike tours: Gift that keeps giving
Wild Bunch Desert Guides had been with Marin Bikes since 2017.

I will be honest – the bikes were great and still in super shape -- but I was a little disappointed in the company itself.

I hit Marin on social media so many times I stopped counting all of the photos and hashtags and “@MarinBikes.”

Wild Bunch tried everything in the world to get them to repost even one of our messages of thanks to them. And that was frankly a little frustrating and off-putting, because at the end of the day, Wild Bunch got a lot more people on their bikes to try them out than any bike shops. 

I just always felt like they never cared about our little Phoenix adventure tours.

So, when I had an opportunity to make a change, I knew I wanted to invest my next chunk of cash with a company that really cared about their business partners.

Kona is that company – well known for being really grateful to every entity that uses their bike brand.

So, it was a no-brainer decision to pull the trigger this summer when one of our pals here in Phoenix – the Grey Matter Family Bicycle Shop (GMF) -- was finally able to find a full fleet of 16 new Kona Honzos hardtail mountain bikes.

Supply-chain issues have been so crazy – you never know when another deal would be available. Plus, it was time to reinvest in the business after spending some of that SBA loan for our new website in late 2020.

Wild Bunch rolled out the new bikes this fall at the start of our seventh season delivering Phoenix mountain bike tours.
The Honzos have hardly disappointed.

I love the new bikes. They are beautiful machines – as well as being super playful and super fun.

The Honzos are “29ers” versus the 27.5 inches of our old Marins. So, they are slightly bigger but are also lighter. They just ride really smoothly -- and I just love the way they look.

The company literature describes them as “just like your favorite pair of jeans” – and I so agree. The Honzos are just so comfortable – they really are a perfect fit for whatever Phoenix mountain bike tours we take you on.

The fact that they are 29ers is really attractive, too, because while 27.5s were super popular for a time, there were guests who knew the difference and wondered if we had 29ers.

Now, we do -- and that is great.

Beginners don’t know the difference – and we get a lot of first-timers curious about the experience. But if you are a true mountain biker, you want to ride a 29er – and now the beginners who get into the sport after one of our tours are off on the right track wanting the same thing.

I still have a few Marins in our fleet -- just in case. But when we got the Honzos, I sold off most of the Marins. So, many of our bikes from last season have gone on to new homes. Those bikes were sold to other people who now have an opportunity to have a mountain bike.

A couple on one of the Phoenix mountain bike tours from the Wild Bunch poses for a picture at a gorgeous Sonoran Desert oasis.
A couple on one of the Phoenix mountain bike tours from the Wild Bunch poses for a picture at a gorgeous Sonoran Desert oasis.

More toys for Scottsdale mountain bike tours
Santa Laurel stayed in the spirit of the season this summer while on my extended working vacation to the remotely beautiful Lake City region of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

I also purchased a pair of full-suspension bikes.

The first was a Santa Cruz from All Sports Replay in Gunnison, Colo.

We also added a Rocky Mountain from Big Al’s Bike Heaven in Crested Butte, Colo. 

The backstory is simple: Two of my favorite bike shops in Colorado were getting rid of some of their inventory for the season, and so I was able to get the two full suspension bikes for our fleet at very, very reasonable prices.

The really cool story is actually getting to talk to the former owner and thanking him directly for the one I got from All Sports Replay. When the bike went out for the first time in Arizona, I sent him pictures of the guest having a blast on the bike.

Truth be told, Wild Bunch Desert Guides doesn't get a whole lot of full suspension upgrade requests. But it is nice that we have a couple bikes in the fleet to do that versus renting them. So, when somebody asks, I can say yes rather than reply: “I’m going to have to doublecheck into a rental.” 

Although, honestly, I am unable to recall a time when the three bike shops we work with have been unable to help us fit a guest with a special request. So, I definitely don't want to lose those special relationships. But at the end of the day, we will do enough tours on those bikes that we will make back the money that I spent on them. So, it is just a really great addition to our fleet. 

Otherwise, Exhale Bikes always takes amazing care of us.

Ditto for Dynamite Bike Lab, which is incredibly clutch for us when it comes to rentals.

And our aforementioned friends from GMF have some very high-end Pivots that they will let us rent depending on the situation.

I am always grateful that those shops have been so good to us when it comes to juggling things to make sure that our company and guests are so well taken care of.

And on the same note, when visitors call and don't really need a guide for Phoenix mountain bike tours? We refer those people directly to those three bike shops for rentals.

Most visitors to the Valley of the Sun do need a guide to help keep them safe in unfamiliar surroundings.

The Wild Bunch also takes time to match you and your skill levels to the perfect trail – and then shows you a great time and all of the perfect places for those unforgettable vacation photos.

Our guides also are medically trained to manage any emergency – from a skinned knee to heat illness.

However, based on their experiences, there simply are some people that you just know you can say, ‘Hey, why don't you just go to Dynamite Bike Lab and rent a bike?’

I love knowing when visitors trust that recommendation – and the shops are always great about letting me know by sharing their thanks.

And vice-versa -- they are always sending guests our way when they want to ride on hardtails. Most times that is our next tour -- but sometimes I allow a rental, because we really don't rent our bikes or even promote that.

But if the situation is right -- say one of my guides is going out to the trailhead anyway and can take two bikes and put people on rentals and they can ride while my guide is out with a group? I might allow that.

If Exhale turns people away, I try my best on the hardtail side because sometimes they don't have any bikes, either, and their customer calls us, and we try to stand behind their referral. 

So, we're working with all of them and they're working with us. We just have each other’s backs. After all, that is what friends do.

About the Author

Laurel Darren is the founding owner of the Wild Bunch Desert Guides, a 5-star rated adventure tour company that offers guided hiking tours and guided mountain biking tours in Arizona’s picturesque Sonoran Desert in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. Arriving in the legendary “Valley of the Sun” in 2012 -- from the home of John Deere in the Quad Cities of Eastern Iowa/Western Illinois -- this corn-fed Midwest girl brought 30 years of athletic chops under her chaps. A 3-sport high school standout and former college softball player – who won her conference’s Athlete of the Year award as a prep senior – Darren has graduated to competing in many races as an adult, from road running and cycling, to cyclo-cross and Mountain Bikes, and even Duathlon and Triathlon “Ironman” competitions. Darren was a popular, top-rated senior mountain bike guide at Arizona’s Outback Adventures before branching out to start her own small adventure business in 2016. To book a guided mountain bike tour or guided hiking trip – or a combination of the two adventures – please visit the home page or call 602-663-0842.


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