Central Oregon MTB

  Central Oregon is considered to be one of the capitals of mountain biking in the US and for good reason. To grasp the amount of trails available there are about 300 miles of continuously linked, legally sanctioned, single track trails that can be accessed from the west side of Bend. There is roughly another 700 plus miles in less than an hour and a half drive from town. New trails are being added at a feverish pace. A lot of this new development is south of Century Drive on the way to Mount Bachelor. 

Lots of towns claim extensive mountain bike trail mileage that in reality contains a lot of dirt roads or atv trails. Another huge plus here is that if you make a long drive to get to Bend for a vacation you could spend a week riding excellent trails without having to do hardly any more driving. Depending on the location of your hotel you could ride from the hotel and be on dirt in fifteen minutes without having to get in your car at all. If you are flying in there is no need to spend the extra money to rent an SUV to get to the vast majority of trailheads.

Most of the trails in the Bend area are smooth and fast on pumice soils. Riders from out of state frequently comment in amazement on how smooth the trails are. A big bonus is that most of the descents do not require a lot of heavy braking that wastes the energy you put out in climbing. Also mortals can do most of the trails without running a shuttle or taking a lift. For most of the trails in Central Oregon, your speed is only limited by your cornering ability. Although the majority of the trails are technically very easy and not too strenuous, they are far from boring if you ride them fast enough. Some of the trails elsewhere in Oregon like in Oakridge or on the North Umpqua are on steep hillsides with blind corners where going off the trail at full speed is going to involve some air time and big trees. Although many of the trails are technically easy none are as easy as say converted rails to trails that you could pull a child in a trailer on. There are extensive semi natural paved trails suitable for that in some of the planned resort communities in the area like SunRiver.

Another big plus here is that there are few dangers like poison plants, thorny plants, man eating animals, poisonous reptiles (there are rattle snakes in the Smith Rock Grey Butte area just don't go poking your hands under rocks and you will be fine) or cliffs to ride off.  By far the biggest danger is that you will visit, pool all your money to move here and then try to find a job that pays like where you are from.

There are a couple of other things that make Central Oregon riding great compared to say, a lot of five star trails in the Rocky Mountains. The trails here are not part of any cattle range except for Gray Butte, so you don't need fenders to keep the crap off your Italian shoes or ride trampled mud that has dried. There are horses on a small portion of the trails but except for some of the Sisters area rides the horse traffic is pretty light. Also, these trails are not shared with ATVs like so many in the Rockies are. ATVs have a separate trail system here. If you are planing a vacation here you should be able to do most of the popular rides without a guide, no problem.  With the exception of many of the trails on BLM land, the trails are well signed and correspond to the free maps on this site in addition to the maps readily available in any one of a dozen bike shops. If you have a bad track record reading maps, do not have very good internal compass, or just like riding with guides, they are available. Regular shuttle services are available if you are trying to minimize your uphill peddling. If you are in halfway decent shape you can skip the expense of shuttle rides as most of the climbing is easy compared to many other areas where mountain biking, like the name implies, involves riding up then down some mountain. Except for the Willamette Pass Ski Area about 70 miles away there is no lift assist trail riding. The Mount Bachelor ski area started construction on its downhill lift assisted bike park in the summer of 2013 being designed by the outfit that designed the Whistler BC park no less. 

The risk averse or those in the DWI (dads without insurance) category will be glad to know that the few rocky technical sections are generally short and easy to walk.  For those who are looking for technical challenges, there are increasing numbers of optional man made features popping up. If you are planning a vacation and are really into amusement park like "high consequence" elevated wood structures head to Post Canyon in Hood River. There are reportedly some trails with major man made features at an area west of Falls City called Black Rock . Yet another new area with significant man made features is outside of Sandy called Sandy Ridge. Locally, although there are some mostly natural technical rock features here and there with some trails having more than others, Central Oregon does not have anything like southwest "slick rock". By the way the term Central Oregon is a widely used local term for Bend and a few surrounding local towns like Redmond and Sisters. Geographically is roughly about a forty five mile radius from Bend. 

Most of the trails are pumice soils. Except for the very early season, where the ground is thawing on top and frozen underneath, there is generally no mud and if it rains the trails become firmer. Later in the year, on heavily used trails, the pumice can get ground into a fine powdery dust that hangs in the air. For group rides this can be an issue. Thankfully this same dust seasons beautifully over the winter and becomes firm and fast again in the spring. Speaking of group rides it is becoming more and more common to run into very large groups facilitated by various on line social media. For the most part, the trails are maintained and, in many cases built by the Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA). The Forest Service does clear some trees on some trails but thanks to the legacy of elected right wing politicians and a wrecked economy they have less and less funds every year, and rely heavily on COTA. In an ideal world maybe our federal government would wise up and turn our public lands over to Walt Disney, Ted Turner and Weyerhaeuser.

GEAR: Do not worry that you will show up only to find that you or your equipment are not good enough. However if you are in the market for a new bike or need some other bike accessory there are a dozen well stocked bike shops within a ten minute bike ride of one another.There is no sales tax in Oregon, so with bikes that cost thousands of dollars the tax savings would easily cover the cost of shipping it back home. Frequently there are also free demos put on different brands of bike manufactures typically at Phil's trail head. You could call some of the shops to see if they know when those might be. Cross country full suspension mountain bikes are more than adequate. The trails are easily smooth enough for hard tails. Due to the nature of the trails, single speed and cyclo-cross bikes are becoming increasingly popular. For the vast majority of trails you can leave you downhill body armor in the car. There are a few places where a beefy bike and armor would be appropriate like the hundred yard long freeride pump track just west of the Phil's Trail parking area, the jumps on the Whoops trail, maybe Funner and Tiddly Winks and the small Lair freeride park.The light duty gear option does not apply to all areas in the state especially Post Canyon in Hood River.

Speaking of gear more specifically bike clothes don't let yourself be intimidated by the large numbers of riders in sponsored looking jerseys.Only a small percentage of them actually are. (it is not uncommon to see riders with sponsored jerseys also training with impressive abdominal weight belts) The two wheeled billboard look, even in the forest, is such an unassailable part of bike culture it will probably not be changing anytime soon.That said Bend has a very active endurance race scene with lots of serious riders and events happening almost every weekend in the summer.

CAMPING: Despite the amount of public land that surrounds Bend, there are pathetically few campgrounds close to town other than Tumalo State Park. (There must be some type of conspiracy with the abundant local hotels.) Tumalo State Park is however a very nice park right on a beautiful stretch of the Deschutes River with a half a dozen yurts, solar showers and a short but beautiful hiking trail along the river. Many of the early Forest Service campgrounds along the Deschutes River near Bend were shut down when Bend got "discovered" and there were few apartments to be had. Public campgrounds near urban areas are problematical for the Forest Service. There are campgrounds near most of the high lakes west of Mount Bachelor but they are at least half an hour from most of the local trails, and town. If you want to get away from civilization there is some great riding up near the high lakes. Many of those higher elevation trails are not free of snow or cleared of downed trees until at least mid summer. There has been a tremendous amount of beetle killed Lodge Pole pine in recent years in some areas. In some years if you get to them before any maintenance has been done the number of downed trees may take some serious attitude adjustment to enjoy. You can camp anywhere in the National Forest for two weeks, unless otherwise signed. The vast majority of trails are on Forest Service land and this land starts close to town. If you do camp outside of a campground, bury your crap, pack your garbage out and try to leave the area like you found it or even cleaner if some inconsiderate person was there before you. Public showers can be had at the Juniper Fitness and Aquatic Center which also has a coed sauna, hot tub and steam room on on of the  pool decks.

WEATHER and GEOGRAPHY: Central Oregon is frequently referred to as the high desert. Most of the Bend area is in a rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains and is, consequently, pretty dry and sunny. However, being in the transition zone from the temperate rain forest of the western part of the state, and the deserts of the east, there is a great deal of variety in the climatic zones of the rides within relatively short distances.

Most of the rides, especially at the higher western elevations will be in snow until pretty late in the spring or even as far as mid summer depending on the snow the previous winter. There are some rides in the desert which can be ridden practically all year if you're so inclined. It does snow in the desert on occasion so there is no guarantee on that. If you think you know or want to know the average highs and lows for specific dates for Bend click here.


Overview Map
Google Earth Plugin Test page for Central Oregon (a work in progress)

Note: You may need to install a plug in to view the above page. It seems to work fine with the new Firefox browser (3.6.13) and the Google Chrome browser (8.0.552.237) right out of the box.  (Don't have the latest browser of choice? You should for security reasons.) Open the same page with Microsoft Internet Explorer and you will be directed to a site to install the necessary plug in. At IE9 it doesn't work and gives no instructions for any missing add ons (conspiracy?). Downloading the plug in, if necessary, is only slightly less time consuming than installing the desktop Google Earth but you do not have the control that you do with Google Earth itself. 

Paulina Peak - Newberry Crater
Gray Butte \ Smith Rock
Phils Trail Network
Deschutes River Trail
Redmond Radlands

 

* Using Forest Service data and factoring out ATV, snow and wilderness trails and adding some local knowledge about trails that are off limits for other reasons or are too steep etc there are:  682 miles of suitable trail in the Deschutes National Forest, 171 in the Ochoco National Forest, 124 in the Willamette  (in less than an hour and a half drive).  Nearby BLM trails add about another 30. 

 By comparison there are roughly 500 miles of trails that could be claimed by Oakridge "the mountain biking capital of the northwest" but many of those are typically done with a shuttle assist. The trails around Lake Waldo can be claimed by both Oakridge and Bend but are actually closer to Oakridge. They are done often enough as day trips from Bend to be claimed by Bend as well and are included in the totals for both. Trails that are over 45 minutes to get to do not get ridden as frequently from Bend because there is so much good quality riding that is closer.

 
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