It was hard to miss the nervous, excited, anticipatory energy buzzing through the crowd of mountain bikers. Grown men dressed in neon greens and electric blues and sporting Star Wars-eque helmets were saying silly things, like, "Pedal bikes! Yay!" before high-fiving one of their goofily-dressed comrades.
I know, because I was one such doofus (though very excited, I did my darndest to not utter something similar) and was among a number of bike shop owners, employees and area tour guides who were all eager to get a firsthand look at Mt. Bachelor's new lift-served downhill mountain bike park. The trails, though not complete, show promise. They were primarily built by Gravity Logic, a badass B.C.-based trail-building firm. Tom Lomax, Mt. Bachelor's director of operations, is unsure of an exact opening date but expects the park—and at least five miles worth of downhill runs—will be ready by mid-September.
Lomax said Mt. Bachelor's park, which is centered around the Pine Marten chair, has a permit to build up to 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) of trails, but won't have that much terrain available until, possibly, the end of next summer. Still, the young trails had clearly worked their magic on our gathered crew.
"I'm freakin' stoked!" said an enthused Lev Stryker, mountain biking Jedi and co-owner of Cog Wild, a Bend-based mountain bike tour company. "It's gonna be awesome."
John Frey, manager of the westside Hutch's Bicycles and a fearless downhiller, agreed.
"I can tell they're putting a lot of effort and diligence into the project—the community will enjoy the spoils of their efforts," Frey said.
The 30 or so other riders who slashed their way down the newly built trails generally shared Stryker's and Frey's sentiments. But there were some concerns floating among the assembled riders. Is there a market for downhill trails in Bend? Where are the scary-fast, fall-line sections? What will be the longevity of trails built on fine, volcanic soil?
The coming months and years will reveal if Bend—and its visitors—adopt and adapt to lift-served riding (I suspect they do). Concerning the sustainability of the trails and Central Oregon's infamously delicate soil composition, Gravity Logic Director Tom Pro said not to worry.
"It doesn't matter where you build trails, there will be challenges and benefits," Pro offered. He'd know. Gravity Logic gained worldwide recognition for the radical trails it built at Whistler, North America's premier bike park. Pro went on to point out that Gravity Logic has successfully put in trails on other mountains with similarly loose soil, like Big Bear, California's Snow Summit. "I think it'll be all right," Pro said of Mt. Bachelor's trails. A winter's freeze should help the trails set-up well, he added.
Both Pro and Lomax explained the ways in which they've built Mt. Bachelor's trails to be more sustainable—some are machine-built and armored by man-made features like landscaping pavers—but the biggest sticking point is the trails' shape. More specifically, the winding trails offer more flowing, cross-hill turns and reverse-grade sections than they do fall-line trails. Building straight downhill trails, Pro pointed out, only leads to erosion—from riders and from nature, once snow-melt runoff starts flowing in early summer. Mt. Bachelor would never hold up to such abuse.
Mt. Bachelor officials are still shaky on bike park specifics. Questions like: When? How much? I'm a season-pass holder, do I get a discount? have yet to be answered.
But Lomax, a deeply-tanned, extremely friendly Tom Selleck look-alike (if Selleck rode a Trek trail bike) said he does know this much: Mt. Bachelor won't offer bike park season passes this year (for fear of early snowfall shutting down operations early); uphill travel on service roads and trails won't be permitted; and this season trails will be open until Columbus Day (Oct. 14) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Next season it'll be a seven-day-a-week operation.
Last Wednesday, we started our preview day with a run down the opening third of Lava Flow, the park's longest and easiest trail. Wide and serpentine, the four-mile- long trail is filled with banked and bermed corners—so much so that one could forgo pedaling or braking for most of the run.
Because the bottom section of Lava Flow is still under construction, we used the black diamond connector trail, Rattlesnake, which was more like riding tight, rocky singletrack through the woods (though nothing that difficult). It did feature a steep paver G-out, almost like a natural half pipe, which proved to be one of the day's most popular sections. To help maintain the trails park operators are watering the runs, using as much as 1,000 gallons a day, Lomax said.
Despite the abundance of family-friendly trails, the downhill park is no place for a cross-country bike. I rode my buddy's Giant Reign, which, with six inches of travel up front, a pneumatic seat dropper, and 2.35-inch Schwalbe tires, seemed just about right. Others were on board double-crown downhill bikes, but a six- to seven-inch free ride bike should work for most.
Mt. Bachelor's lift-served downhill bike park will be only the third such park in Oregon—surprising, given Oregonian's cycling fanaticism (the other two are at Willamette Pass and Mount Hood Skibowl). Timberline, also at Mount Hood, was hoping to start construction on a massive new lift-served park this past spring, but has run into legal obstructions via the Sierra Club. One-day passes at other bike parks range from $28 (Willamette Pass) to $61 (Whistler).