Mount Bachelor on a mountain bike: It's a thrill ride
MOUNT BACHELOR, Ore. (AP) Time seems to stand still when we let gravity and our bikes do all the work.
Thus, three hours felt more like 10 minutes as we cruised over rollers, swooped through banked turns and negotiated steep, rocky corners across the mountain.
Somehow, mountain bike trails have been expertly carved and shaped amid the jagged, unforgiving lava rock that covers Mount Bachelor.
The downhill bike park that has been envisioned and talked about in Central Oregon for at least 10 years is finally here in its initial phase, anyway. The park opened to the public last Friday, and Mt. Bachelor ski area hosted a grand opening the following day.
I got the chance to preview Bachelor's chairlift-served biking area a week earlier with mountain manager Tom Lomax, who has overseen the park's development.
Three routes will be open for riding starting this fall, but once complete, the park is expected to include 10 trails (a mix of relatively wide, excavated trails and hand-built singletrack) for a total of about 13 miles.
Every third chair on the Pine Marten Express lift will be fitted with a bike rack. Riders will roll their bikes onto the rack, then take the next chair up, their bikes on the chair ahead of them going up the lift. A lift operator will take riders' bikes off the lift as they unload at the top.
After completing this relatively smooth process, Lomax and I cruised over lava rock on our bikes toward the Skyliner chairlift and the start of the Lava Flow Trail.
Perhaps the bike park's signature route, Lava Flow is a 4- to 5-foot-wide excavated trail that is pure bliss, and approachable to intermediate riders. I was tentative to start, but after my first ride down I began to trust the banked turns and get into the flow.
By my third time down the hill I was full of confidence and able to enjoy every swoopy corner and every drop and rise.
Rather than bombing straight down the fall line, Lava Flow and the other bike trails go back and forth across the fall line, helping riders control their speed and making the ride down last relatively long. We required 10 to 15 minutes to reach the bottom.
"The trails are designed so that if there's a big dip, usually there's a rise after that," Lomax said. "You shouldn't have to be on your brakes the whole time, depending on the line you take. The Lava Flow Trail will be more than 3 miles long, and it runs between 5 and 7 percent grade. In the wintertime (skiing), if something is under 25 percent, you're gonna think it's super easy and flat, where biking is just completely different."
On one of our rides down, Lomax and I encountered a few employees with Gravity Logic Inc., which helped design and build the renowned downhill bike trails in Whistler, British Columbia. The Bachelor park, while nothing like the park in Whistler, is a joint effort by Gravity Logic and Bachelor crews.
"I think the trails are pretty unique to this area," said Tom Prochazka, director of Gravity Logic. "I think it could be a really, really cool park. I've just ridden Lava Flow. It's a unique trail, and the flow of it is amazing."
Upping the difficulty
After riding Lava Flow, Lomax guided me to a couple of hand-built singletrack trails, named Rattlesnake and Last Chance. Both trails are tight and twisty, with several technical rock sections and sidehill areas. Rattlesnake includes one section, which Lomax called the "halfpipe," that goes basically straight down along concrete pavers and then back up.
My mental fortitude was not strong enough to let myself go down the halfpipe. Sadly, I walked it.
"It feels very steep at the top of that," Lomax said. "You feel like you're going right over the front. You've got to come up to it, keep your weight back and just let it go. You cannot stay on your brakes going down that."
Bikers at the downhill park should lower their seats most of the way, as they won't be sitting on them much. Riding out of the saddle provides the most control on downhill trails like those at Bachelor. Still, I found myself pedaling every now and then to make it up a short climb or through a flat stretch.
Lomax said mountain bikers at the Bachelor park should be riders of at least intermediate skill and should have "good, solid trail-riding experience."
An evolving park
While Lava Flow is incomparable to almost anything on the trail system in Central Oregon, the singletrack at Bachelor is somewhat similar to other trails in the area except it is all downhill.
"I think an intermediate rider will be pretty comfortable on Lava Flow once they relax and begin to let the banked turns work," Lomax explained. "And you can go at your own speed; you don't have to bomb."
After my shaky start, by my last run I was riding much faster and not braking as much through the turns and steeper sections.
"That's what's fun about it: Every run you make, you learn a little bit about the trail and the next run you try something different in the corners," Lomax noted.
The trails this year will include mostly natural features, rather than any man-made jumps. Lomax said trail-building crews are focusing mostly on the "footprint" of the trails, rather than on building features. But as more bikers ride the Bachelor park, they will find spots to catch air, and jumps will certainly evolve along with the trails. Lomax said pro downhill mountain biker Kirt Voreis, of Bend, "keeps finding jumps everywhere."
Along with Voreis, other local pro mountain bikers are singing its praises. Adam Craig, a pro cyclist from Bend, took a tour with Lomax last month and came away highly impressed.
"Like everyone in town, I'm fired up to finally have lift-accessed mountain biking here in Central Oregon," Craig said. "What I saw and rode, combined with (Lomax's) passion for the development of the bike park, makes me confident that we'll have great riding up at Bachelor for years to come. The trail crew is doing a great job utilizing the unique terrain that makes our local mountain so much fun to ski in the winter. The trails have great flow, just like when there's snow."
You can find the original story on The Bulletin's website.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press