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Biking to Mt. Balagbag’s Helipad

Biking to Mt. Balagbag's Helipad

The picture probably doesn’t do justice to the difficulty of this route

Mt. Balagbag and its infamous peak called the Helipad is the logical next step for mountain bikers in Metro Manila who have already pushed themselves past the challenges of Timberland’s trails. If you think you’re ready for the big leagues, Mt. Balagbag is just there waiting for you like Cain Velasquez eager to give you a lesson or two about ground and pound.

As you grow as a mountain biker, you search for harder and harder routes to test yourself. You want to see how fast you can climb, and how fast you can descend on trails that get more and more technical. For Manila’s mountain bikers, Balagbag has got to be one of the hardest routes accessible via a weekend trip.

Biking to Mt. Balagbag's Helipad

Balagbag is not for newbies. This route is a test of both physical strength and will power

I’d heard and read a lot about Balagbag. I’d been wanting to ride it since October last year afer my first ride to Puray Falls, where a buddy mentioned that it was even harder than the Puray’s mountain route. During my second trip to Puray, I and another ride buddy almost stumbled into Balagbag when we took a wrong turn and wound up all the way to Macaingalan. That route was jackhammer painful, and apparently an accurate sampling of what one could expect en route to Helipad.

I wondered if I could ride it solo. But from the stories I had been hearing about its Level 9 gnar, I thought twice about the wisdom of such an adventure.

Last January 18, I finally got to ride to Balagbag, thanks to an invitation from a group of riders from Bike Bros. Jeffrey Isabelo was a veteran of several Balagbag rides, and was just the kind of trail master needed to safely guide a clueless noob like me through the mountain’s numerous challenges.

Nabutas Trail en route to Balagabag

It starts out as a gentle fireroad

Our party of seven riders took off from Rodriguez Rizal at around 7:30 in the morning. The weather seemed perfect. It was probably as cold as a typical day in the Cordillera. The Sierra Madre foothills seemed to be shrouded in mist. We hoped that it would stay that way. The last thing you want on a difficult mountainbike climb is to have the sun microwaving your carcass as you huff and puff while hauling yourself up the trail.

We took the shortcut route through the Nabutas trail which passed through a garbage dump. This is one of the sad realities of mountain biking in Metro Manila. Apparently, almost every good trail has been used as a route by garbage trucks before. It made us wonder if the mountains were really covered in mist, or if that was just thick smoke from burning trash.

Nabutas Trail en route to Balagabag

Hike-a-biking the rutty Nabutas trail

Nabutas trail meanwhile lived up to its monicker. Butas talaga sya. Some of the ruts could swallow your bike if you’re not too careful. After the rutty section though, you emerge onto a fireroad which winds through a countryside scene that coud only be described as idyllic. It’s almost as if someone transported you to one of those paintings by Angono artist Botong Francisco.

Nabutas Trail en route to Balagbag

Finally emerging from the rutty section

Jeffrey said the Nabutas trail was just a prelude to the real trail going to Balagbag. We had breakfast at the Licao-Licao terminal at around 9am as we needed to keep our fuel reserves up for the climb to Helipad.

Breakfast at Licao-Liaco

Before you go up Balagbag, make sure your fuel tank is full.
Photo by Richard Andy S. Maximo

Biking to Mt. Balagbag's Helipad

Mt. Balagbag doesn’t look too intimidating until you get close

The climb was everything it was hyped out to be. I had never ridden over so much rock on such a steep slope before. Just when I thought I had settled into a great rhythmn, a bowling ball would crop up a few meters ahead of me and throw my cadence off whack.

Biking to Mt. Balagbag's Helipad

Balagbag’s rock garden will put your climbing and descending skills to the test

Biking to Mt. Balagbag's Helipad

Mt. Balagbag: The view here is worth the climb

It was a struggle to keep my front wheel from doing a wheelie, while trying to keep enough weight on the rear to maintain traction. And let’s not even mention how Shotgun-steep it was.

I knew climbing Balagbag was going to be difficult. But I didn’t know it was going to be a calculus exam. In the end, I had to bail and push my bike up the steepest sections. Thankfully, the weather was cooperating. It felt like someone had turned on the aircon to fullblast, which kept us from overheating in the most lung-busting sections. Someone up there heard our gasping prayers.

Balagbag's SUV traffic

Mountains are the last place you’d expect to get traffic.
Photo by Richard Andy S. Maximo

Mountains are probably the last place you’d expect to find traffic. But weirdly enough, that was exactly what happened as our team had to make way for a caravan of 4X4 enthusiasts who were also on their way to Helipad. There were also a lot of motocross riders on their way down.

Biking to Mt. Balagbag's Helipad

The wind was so strong it made climbing even more difficult. But the cool weather also helped keep us from overheating

In the end, we had to share Helipad with the SUV crowd. It was kind of a letdown because we were looking forward to having Balagbag’s peak all to ourselves. But life is like that.

If the uphill was painful, the downhill was even more so on my hardtail bike. To use a cliché: the tables were turned as my companions who labored uphill on their full suspension AM rigs were now the ones having a blast as they sped down Balagbag’s rock gardens. I wanted to go as fast as they were, but my arms and legs could only take so much pounding, and I was afraid that my XC bike would come apart from the vibrations.

But I was really thankful for having a dropper seatpost on such a ride. It really made it easier to maneuver through the nasty stuff. My 2.4 Continental Trail King tires also gave lots of much-needed grip.

Biking to Mt. Balagbag's Helipad

As challenging and beautiful as it is, Balagbag would still a lot better with trees

Before we knew it, Balagbag’s peak was just a far away silhoutte behind us. Endorphin was still coursing through our veins as we made our way back to Rodriguez for a much needed soaking in tubs of Red Horse. What a ride!

Biking to Mt. Balagbag's Helipad

This mountain gives some of the best overlooking views of Metro Manila. Photo by Richard Andy S. Maximo

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This was not the route we took, but if you’re coming from the Quezon Circle this is the most direct route.

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  • Good day Sir! Ilang oras po inabot ‘yung padyak adventure niyo to Helipad? Recommended niyo po ba ‘yung solo ride?

    • hi adriel, we left at around 7:30am from somewhere near the total gas station in montalban. we took the nabutas trail and arrived at licao licao around 9:30, with plenty of stops along the way. we took off from licao at 10:30 and arrived at helipad by 12:00, again with plenty of rest and picture stops along the way. from licao, it’s possible to finish the helipad climb in under an hour if you’re a good climber and you don’t take any picture stops (but where’s the fun in that?)

      nope, i wouldn’t recommend you do it solo. it’s a technical trail and you or your bike might encounter problems along the way. best have a bike buddy or two for this ride.

  • Hi Sir, Kung magdadala kami ng sasakyan and we are coming from Fairview/Novaliches, san po magandang start point and magandang ipark yung sasakyan?

    • outsideslacker

      March 12, 2014 at 9:36 am

      Hi mimoy, i know some bikers start at the licao licao trails en route to balagbag. But i’m not familiar with those trails yet. The balagbag climb starting at the licao terminal was challenge enough for us 🙂

  • Sir good day. Ask ko lang po kung kaya ng naka-rigid fork ang trail dyan?
    Thanks in advance 🙂

    • outsideslacker

      June 17, 2015 at 6:55 pm

      Hi Norman, depende naman sa skills at type of riding na gagawin mo yan. Kaya ng rigid fork, pero baka masyado kang mahirapan sa rock gardens at di mo rin ma-enjoy yung technical sections. Best go with a suspension fork 🙂

  • Hi! Have you heard of an organized MTB race that has been conducted at Mt. Balagbag? or in Puray? If yes, do you have an idea how much will be the reservation fee for those places? Thank you!