Bataan is famous for being the site of some of the most heroic but hopeless last stands of the Second World War. For mountain bikers, the province is equally famous for the dreaded Bataan Killer Loop–a mountain bike route so mythically gnarled and twisted, it has supposedly reduced many a mamaw to a weeping pile of Piolo Pascual.
The BKL has been high on my bucket list for quite some time now. Last weekend, I finally ticked it off my list. I got the chance to haul my bike to Bataan and see for myself what the hype was all about. The verdict? The Killer Loop doesn’t just live up to the hype, it surpasses expectations.
Take the most enjoyable and challenging features of Timberland’s Blue Zone and Black Diamond trails, stretch them ten times and you got a pretty close approximation. Technical climbs, flowy descents, bone-rattling downhills, fantastic views of mountains, rolling hills and seas– the Killer Loop has got it all.
We met Eboy Roselada and other bikers from the Bataan Trail Riders and Adventurers Network at the Total gas station at Pilar crossing at around 7:00 that morning. Eboy is a veteran mountaineer who likes mapping out mountain trails in his spare time. While other bikers would haul their rigs onto a truck and drive to the trailhead, Eboy prefers to do it the old fashioned way–so we pedaled from Total and up the lung busting climb to where pavement gave way to dirt.
Some bikers say, the Loop counts as Killer only if you do it PATW-style. We have to thank Eboy and the Bataan Trail Riders for giving us that authentic experience. Of course, we could also curse them for subjecting us to so much climbing agony. But hey! As the saying goes: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you… (wait until after dinner).
From the trail head, we got our first glimpse of Mt. Samat and the giant cross on its peak. Lester, one of our mamaw guides, said the trail would encircle Mt. Samat and give us different views of the historic mountain along the way.
Despite its fearsome name, Bataan’s Killer Loop is not really as murderous as it sounds. Don’t worry, your loved ones won’t be writing your obituary after you ride this trail. The Loop however requires a whole lot of experience and endurance to finish. If you’re a newbie, this is definitely not for you. For Metro Manila bikers, you may need to practice scaling Timberland’s The Wall or Shotgun before attempting this trail. 6-8 hour rides to Tanay’s watery mountain trails will also help.
Besides endurance, the trail also requires some above average bike handling skills. The descents can be pretty fast and scary. There is a very high risk of a serious semplang if you don’t know what you’re doing. For Metro Manila bikers, you can practice at Timberland’s Blue Zone and Black Diamond trails to level up your bike kung fu.
While a fullsus AM bike may be the best tool for this trail, bikers who wield XC machines need not worry. Your bike with 100mm suspension will do just fine if you don’t push it too hard. Fast-rolling tires designed for XC races however are not recommended. Rubber with more aggressive knobs that bite into the dirt during hard braking will provide better control, and make your ride more enjoyable.
Last but not the least, bring lots of water. A 2 liter bladder may suffice for the trip if you don’t sweat so easily, but 3 liters or more is what I’d recommend since there aren’t any stalls that sell Gatorade or mineral water up there in the mountains. There’s a spring at over the halfway point of the ride, but you may already get thirsty before you even reach it. The long climbs will squeeze moisture out of your body and leave your throat and lips parched.
Like I said, the views are spectacular. You get to see mountains, forests and even the far off sea. There was even a section of the trail which has been dubbed Middle Earth because of its uncanny semblance to Frodo and the Fellowship’s path. Hmm, what is it about bikers and hikers and Tolkien references anyway?
Certain sections of the trail meanwhile reminded me of Batanes. Those sections should probably be called Bataan-es, since as Eboy mentioned, it’s never the locals who name the trails, but the visitors who keep asking: Ano tawag dyan?
While the air in the mountains of Mariveles was hot and humid and felt like it came from a blow dryer, the air up in the Killer Loop felt like it came from a Carrier. Yes, after all that climbing and hike-a-biking, there is some cooling relief in a section of the trail called “aircon.” This was where we had our lunch and where some of us took power naps to recover.
There was still a lot of climbing and hiking ahead. Suffice to say, even if you’re an incredibly skilled mountain biker, there are lots of sections of the trail that will require you to dismount and walk and carry your your bike. Unless you’re Danny MacAskill, prepare to have your ass killed if you attempt any of those boulder crossings on your bike.
But after all the climbing, it was time for some downhill fun.
Someone once said that the point of biking in the mountains is not just about getting up there and enjoying the views. You can also do that by hiking or trail running. Rather, the point of mountain biking is discovering “corridors of flow” in the high hills.
And in terms of flow, the Killer Loop doesn’t disappoint. Ang haba ng downhil!l
At several points along the trail, I was torn between simply letting go of the brakes and enjoying the ride, and braking and stopping to take photos of the amazing trail we were on. But if I had just kept riding you wouldn’t have any of these cool pics would you?
And after a very long and fluid downhill ride, the Killer loop ended, just like all good things eventually do. We found ourselves on Roman highway again following several hours of awesome riding in some of the best trails this side of Planet Pilipinas.
If you’re interested in trying out Killer Loop and other awesome trails in Bataan, here are a few tips.
- Get a guide. You can get lost in those forking trails. Unless you’re an experienced mountaineer who understands orienteering, it’s better to contact a local biker who knows those trails. You can contact Eboy Roselada and the Bataan Trail Riders and Adventurers Network here.
- Make sure you’re physically fit and at the appropriate skill level. Remember, this is not for newbies or intermediate riders.
- Get your gear in order. Make sure your bike is in tip top shape, and you got all your tools and spares: inner tubes, missing links, even RD hangers. Suffering a mechanical problem is not an option here.
- Pack lots of food and water. You’ll need it. Bring a beer too, just in case.