This letter is concerning the state of trail building and mountain bike development in the region and, most likely, will strike some nerves. For that, I apologize.
For many years, the COTA (Central Oregon Trail Alliance) has done an incredible job of building, maintaining and promoting the mountain bike trails in this region. This is the work of a handful of very dedicated people and the volunteers they have been able to mobilize. The area would not be the excellent biking destination it is today without these folks, and as a former cross country racer and dedicated rider, my hat is off to these people. There is no doubt that their efforts have directly influenced the economy of Bend.
That said, there is an issue on the horizon which is starting to cause grumbling and dissention among riders where it doesn't have to exist. And that is in the developing freeride style of biking. I am also a freerider and trail builder. While freeride mountain biking has been around for some time now (one look at the photos in any bike magazine will make that obvious,) it is a relatively new phenomenon to the Bend area. There are, however, a growing number of very accomplished riders in this area. This type of riding is growing in popularity, and while it has taken some time, the local riders are beginning to become organized. This type of riding, which can be available to all ability levels, does take a large amount of construction work to become sustainable. And the riders are willing to do this work: Witness the Lair, the Whoops trails, the Slalom Loop at Phil's trailhead, the now-defunct Powers Road area and several "hidden stashes" including the upcoming inclusion of the Cline Buttes downhill and dirt jump trails. These riders are also willing to travel to ride new exciting locations. That means there is the potential for this style of riding to be a benefit to the entire community.
The issue is the typical problem associated with new ideas being enacted by large, existing organizations. What has worked so well in the past is no longer appropriate. While COTA has years of successful trail building skills, these skills and techniques do not appropriately address the needs of freeriding. This inappropriateness is visible in the need to rebuild areas of the Lair already, the lack of smooth flow in the Whoops trails, even in the unfortunately incorrect geometry of most of the built berms on the more high-speed sections of trail everywhere in the trail system.
COTA volunteers are usually directed in their building efforts by the people who have, for years, built the trail system. This is great; however, it has resulted in miles upon miles of very similar trails. Freeride not only provides the opportunity for a bit of diversity, it requires different building techniques. Fortunately, there are riders in the area who do this sort of riding and building. While the COTA volunteer system works to get shovels in the dirt (again, the original Lair build day is a great example), the guidance for the volunteers should come from folks experienced with this type of riding if the efforts are to be worthwhile. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to currently be the case. There are many sources of information available addressing the specialized requirements of freeriding, as well as local riders who have been building freeride trails in this area for years. COTA has the "strength" in its volunteers; the freeriders have the knowledge of how these areas need to be shaped to be usable, safe and fun. If COTA and these riders can meld, this sort of riding can increase the destination value of Bend considerably. If not, the issues cited above will become a black eye (however well-intended) for this style of riding, which will impact not just the trails, but the possible benefits to the town economy as well.