With only their bikes, gear and tents, Smith riders Rosara Joseph, Sarah Rawley, and Liz Cunningham embarked on a unique backcountry mountain bike experience in the misty mountains surrounding Oakridge, Oregon for the the inaugural Trans-Cascadia Enduro. Unfolding over four days with 21 race stages and 32,000 ft of descending on unknown trails, the riders discovered the magic that comes from venturing into the unknown with your closest friends and fellow competitors.
Courtesy of IMBA
For more than a decade, IMBA has recognized trails and trail systems around the world that stand out as models for the best that mountain biking has to offer. From rugged, long-distance treks to front-country networks that challenge and excite riders of all ability levels, the Model Trails program is designed to inspire the kinds of experiences that keep mountain bikers coming back for more.
“More” is definitely the right word to describe the 2015 class of inductees. In the Epics category, the six selected rides average over 60 miles in length, and offer stout challenges—along with jaw-dropping scenery—for even the most experienced trail enthusiasts. In the Ride Centers category, the interest and growth in this designation has absolutely exploded, with an unprecedented number of applications and fully 13 of these outstanding trail systems recognized this year.
This year’s class includes our first round of renewing Ride Centers: Each location is now required to resubmit an application every four years. To maintain a high level of consistency a reviewer from IMBA’s Trail Solutions team conducts an on-site visit to evaluate the center’s trail system, bike amenities and other criteria. “Earning a top-tier score keeps getting more difficult,” says IMBA Field Programs Director Chris Bernhardt. “We want to continually set the bar higher—just as riders’ abilities are always expanding and improving, so should the facilities that we recognize as the best places for mountain biking.”
Armstrong to Strawberry in California, 39 miles: This 90-percent singletrack route ranges from fast and flowing to technical and chunky. Soak in the views of Lake Tahoe and views of the southern Sierra. There are dramatic views of Strawberry Valley from the top of Lover’s Leap, 1,100 feet above the deck, just before the final rip-roaring descent.
Black Canyon Trail in Arizona, 68 miles: Riding the BCT from north to south offers a long, gradually descending route with plenty of pedaling and backcountry flavor. The northern segments vary from open desert to tight canyons. The middle sections, from Bumble Bee to the Table Mesa trailhead, offer the most dramatic scenery and adventurous riding.
High Country Pathway in Michigan, 82 miles: From beautiful hill top vistas to dark, cool cedar swamps and pine plantations, the HCP provides an extended journey deep in the woods of Michigan. Home to the largest free range elk herd this side of the Mississippi, the route crosses through three counties with very little sign of civilization.
Laugavegur Route in Iceland, 54 miles: A mind-blowing, multi-day, overland route in the highlands of Iceland. On this point-to-point hut adventure you’ll ride singletrack through a multitude of landscapes including geysers, multi-colored Rhyolite mountains, bubbling mud, endless lava fields and glaciated mountain vistas. The 54-mile trip is best tackled as three long days or five shorter rides. The last day from Þórsmörk to Skogafoss is truly epic and travels between two major glaciers, across the slopes of a cooling volcano.
Ouachita NRT in Arkansas, 108 miles: Newly opened to mountain bikes, this long-distance National Recreation Trail explores remote sections of the Ouachita Mountains. Expect rugged trail surfaces and some hike-a-bike, but also rideable climbs and rowdy downhill sections. The trail also connects with the Womble Trail, another IMBA Epic in Montgomery County—string them together for a mega-Epic!
Surveyor’s Ridge Loop in Oregon, 21 miles: One of the top trails in the state of Oregon, Surveyor’s Ridge is a Pacific Northwest must-ride. This is a true ridgeline ride, with aggressive short climbs and descents to distract you from the gorgeous views of Mount Hood. Expect technical rocky sections, open alpine meadows and a mountainous vibe from start to finish.
2015 Ride Centers
Enteries marked with an asterisk (*) had already obtained Ride Center status and were reevaluated in 2015.
Gold-level Ride Centers
The trick to being both a phenomenal place to be a mountain biker and a major metro area is community dedication to accessible, recreation-friendly open space. In the Boise area, this all started more than 20 years ago when creative mountain bikers and land managers planned an extensive trail system to offer great riding and community connectivity via a large singletrack network. Today, thanks in large part to a variety of volunteer-led groups, including the Boise Area Mountain Bike Association, you’ll find everything from rocky, mountainous terrain to buff trails and a bike park, all accessible from Boise and Eagle.
From the buffed-out, flowing trails at Lester to the freerider’s playgrounds at Piedmont and Brewer, the riding in Duluth is both high-quality and highly varied. The entire community has embraced trail-based recreation, including a major initiative to create the Duluth Traverse. This in-progress effort—led in part by the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores—will result in a 100-mile singletrack ride in an urban environment.
Nelson, New Zealand
Riding Nelson’s trails is a year-round adventure, with sunny days with bluebird skies the norm throughout the year. The riding options include several bike parks, as well as more natural trail in both plantation forest and native bush. The range of trail types is amazing, from gentle, family-oriented trail riding to full-on downhill runs, backcountry adventures and everything in between.
This small town styles itself as the mountain bike capital of the Northwest. The local IMBA chapter, the Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards—alongside other stakeholders such as the U.S. Forest Service and local bike-centered businesses—constantly works to improve the mountain bike trail options. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to sample the 30-mile Middle Fork trail, the 20-mile circuit of Waldo Lake and dozens of other high-quality options. But be sure to also leave time to sample the in-town eateries and bars that cater to the knobby-tire set.
Park City, Utah*
Since hosting the IMBA World Summit in 2008, Park City and its trail system have been on the rise. There are now over 450 miles of trail, all accessible from town. In addition to new development, Park City continues to show a strong commitment to maintaining and improving existing trails. Between the volunteer-led Mountain Trails Foundation, various city and county agencies, and the resorts, the collective annual trail budget tops $1 million, resulting in a huge amount of varied, high-quality riding.
Rotorua, New Zealand
According to Redbull’s mountain biking web series On Track, “When we die and go to mountain bike heaven, there’s a good chance it will probably look a lot like Rotorua, New Zealand.” The riding varies from extensive trails in the Whakarewarewa Forest to the gravity park at Skyline Rotorua, New Zealand’s first year-round gondola assisted bike lift. Rotorua also provides a plethora of other activities and attractions, including natural thermal spas and hot pools to rejuvenate your aching muscles after a hard day on the trails.
Silver-level Ride Centers
The Cuyuna signature is a cycling experience for families and experts alike that provides, without a doubt, overwhelming fun. More than 25 miles of purpose-built trails wind through a landscape created by 70 years of iron ore mining. Nature has reclaimed the area: water has filled the pits and turned them into 15 deep lakes, and trees and shrubs have taken root on the rocky, rugged landscape. It’s the perfect canvas for crafting year-round trails to conquer by bike, with all the riding skillfully cared for by the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew.
More than 20 different trailheads and 75 miles of singletrack can be accessed from the downtown area of Montana’s Queen City. To top that, Helena offers free shuttles that run five days a week, taking you to the best trailheads in the South Hills Trail System, as well as to the top of the Continental Divide to access the iconic Continental Divide Trail. Farther east, the Trout Creek Canyon-Beartrap Gulch loop navigates steep limestone canyons. Plus, Helena offers a vibrant, in-town cycling scene.
This lakeside community has been quietly assembling a diverse collection of trails with options for every ability level and riding style. Once known for its rugged backcountry trails, the Central Idaho Mountain Bike Association began adding purpose-built trails. On a summer day, you can ride a fern-lined trail through stands of towering old-growth Ponderosa, then test your skills on a lift-served gravity trail. Or ride an IMBA Epic trail to beautiful Loon Lake and discover the wreckage of a rare WW2 bomber before ending your day with a microbrew and dinner.
Bronze-level Ride Centers
Brown County, Indiana
Just a short distance from the major metro areas of Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinnati, it’s no secret that Brown County has some of the best mountain biking in the Midwest. You’ll find a 28-mile mile IMBA Epic ride within Brown County State Park, with route options for every skill level. There are many more miles of flowing single track within the state park, plus more being built in the state park and neighboring state forest by the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs isn’t just home to outstanding mountain biking, it’s also a first-class tourist destination. The geothermal baths alone have been bringing visitors to the area for hundreds of years. Trails, horse racing and historic hotels define the downtown area, while three IMBA Epic trails are just a short drive away—including the state’s newest Epic and longest mountain bike trail in the state at 110 miles long, the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. The Central Arkansas Trail Alliance and other volunteer-led groups help keep the trails in top shape.
The Greater Reading Trails System, overseen by the Berks Area Mountain Biking Association, consists of more than 125 miles of trails in 5 major preserves, all of which be accessed via the Schuylkill River Greenway Rail Trail. The trails range in difficulty from beginner-friendly to some of the most technical, rock-strewn trails you’ll experience anywhere. There’s also an abundance of in-town amenities, including bike shops, craft beer bars, hotels, music venues, restaurants and sporting events.
Big things are happening in Richmond, including the upcoming (Sept. 19-27) World Road Cycling Championships. For dirt lovers, rvaMORE and a host of partners have raised over $325,000 in just two years, opening miles of new trails, including a purpose-built hand-cycle line, plus a flow trail and beginner-level singletrack. Best of all, this is a truly urban-based center, with great connectivity allowing riders to access standout trails without getting into a car.
Twin Cities, Minnesota
Since 1994, the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC) IMBA chapter has worked diligently on its mission of “Gaining and Maintaining Trails” in the Twin Cities metro area. Today, MORC oversees 85 miles of singletrack within 11 parks, and is the organization behind the acclaimed Cottage Grove Bike Park. And, during the winter months, there are over 50 miles of groomed singletrack trails to explore and enjoy.
Finally, IMBA’s 2015 Model Trails recognition includes the Northwest Arkansas Regional Ride Center. With theBentonville (silver-level) and Fayetteville (bronze-level) Ride Centers located less than 30 miles apart, the two towns have formed the the first and only region-wide Ride Center designation. Mountain bikers visiting the Ozarks can double-down, with a wide range of riding to choose from and two cycling-crazed communities hosting some of the nation’s finest trails.Tweet Print
Editor’s note: We will be updating this post at the bottom as news develops.
Photos by Adam Newman
Portland, Oregon, has a reputation as a progressive and welcoming city for cyclists. It has one of the highest rates of bicycle commuting in the country and it supports a huge road and cyclocross race scene. In 2008 it was the first large city awarded Platinum status by the League of American Bicyclists.
In contrast, mountain bikes are largely outsiders in the Portland cycling scene. While other cities in Oregon like Bend, Hood River and Oakridge have embraced mountain biking, the nearest trails are at least an hour drive from Portland. The city has dangled promises of working together in front of riders for more than a decade only to snatch them away at the last moment.
In Issue #158 (August 2011) Dirt Rag featured the frustration of Portland mountain bikers in an Access Action piece (Portland, We Have a Problem). Since that story was published, sadly not much has changed in Portland.
The city did build a pump track at Ventura Park—largely thanks to the generosity of bicycle accessories brand Portland Design Works—but it could only be described as modest. A 35-acre piece of property known as Gateway Green is being considered for off-road cycling development, but its future is far from certain.
Nevertheless, spirits were riding high in late 2014 when more than 200 mountain bikers packed a public meeting to voice their input in the future of a 1,300-acre property that borders Forest Park. Optimism for mountain biking in the city further swelled as Portland Parks and Recreation requested $350,000 in its budget for a comprehensive off-road cycling master plan and the Northwest Trail Alliance collected more than 2,500 signatures on a petition delivered in person to a Portland Parks budget dialogue meeting.
It seemed 2015 would finally be the year that mountain biking came to Portland. Then on March 2, the bubble burst.
One of the few places within the city’s 133 square miles where cyclists can get their tires dirty was River View Natural Area, a 146-acre tract of undeveloped hillside that had been used by mountain bikers for years before the city purchased it from a nearby cemetery in 2011. The trails there are hardly epic, but they represent one of the only places in the city with trails open to bicycles that aren’t doubletrack or wishfully re-labeled stroller paths.
Since 2011 cyclists worked hard within the bureaucracy of the city planning system to promote cycling in the park where it was still being allowed. The Northwest Trail Alliance organized trail work days, trash pickup and other events. The group even had a seat at the table on a project advisory committee, working with a technical advisory committee, a consultant team, and Portland Parks and Recreation to craft a future for the park that included mountain biking.
What they didn’t see coming was a letter from Portland City Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish announcing plans to alter the recreation policy for the property. In fact, NWTA members were in a meeting with Commissioner Fish’s staff when the letter was released to the public.
“Exercising an abundance of caution and to protect the city’s investment in the River View Natural Area [the city] will be limiting activities at RVNA from now on to passive nature-based recreational uses,” the letter reads. “Mountain biking will no longer be an allowed use at RVNA as of March 16th.”
The reason given?
“Seven undeveloped streams flow through the property to the Willamette River. These tributaries and their forested buffers support critical habitat for coastal steelhead, coho, and Chinook salmon in the lower Willamette, all designated as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.”
Environmental concerns are easily and often cited as cause to do (or not do) just about anything in Portland, but cycling had long been discussed as a legitimate recreation opportunity in River View.
In fact, the actual dangers to the streams and wetlands that support fish populations in the nearby Willamette River were identified at a January 14, 2014, meeting by the River View Management Plan Technical Advisory Committee as: 1.) Dogs on and off-leash; 2.) Off-trail use by cyclists and pedestrians; 3.) Illegal camping/party spots that create wildfire risk; 4.) Climate change.
Present at the meeting was professional mountain biker Charlie Sponsel. There were no promises made in regards to mountain biking, but “it was absolutely made clear that their goal” was to make a decision through the use of “a democratic, citizen process,” Sponsel told the Oregonian. Dogs are still permitted at River View Natural Area.
So despite the growing chorus of voices of citizens asking for more (or any) off-road cycling opportunities in the city, their voices may be falling on deaf ears. I reached out to Commissioner Fritz’s office multiple times for comment but did not receive a reply. She recently announced she will be running for reelection in 2016. No incumbent member of the Portland City Council has lost an election since 1992.
The investment the Commissioners cite in their letter stems from the controversy surrounding the city’s acquisition of the property in 2011. Funds to buy the land from a nearby cemetery—more than half of its $11.25 million price—were from city utility customers’ stormwater fees. The city justified the taxpayers’ purchase of the land by citing the environmental resources the property offers, but a state review agency found those claims largely unfounded. In 2013 a group of ratepayer plaintiffs sued the city after the Oregon Watershed Review Board found that the city’s claims “significantly overstated the project’s ecological merits,” according to court documents.
As the Oregonian pointed out in an editorial scolding the city council for the bait-and-switch, allowing active recreation on the site would be in opposition to its justification for the purchase, and could potentially open the city to more lawsuits.
I reached out to Commissioner Fish for comment on the lawsuit and got a reply from Jim Blackwood, a policy director in Fish’s office.
“The City Attorney advised BES and Parks that the utmost caution must be taken to preserve the natural area status to stay within the bounds of the court’s decision,” Blackwood said.
In statements made after the March 2 letter Fritz has said that the ban on mountain biking at River View isn’t permanent, and points to the $350,000 off-road cycling master plan as a sign of the city working for its constituents. But in that very letter Fritz and Fish point out that the budget request is only that—a request—and states “community advocacy will be necessary to encourage the Mayor and Council to fund this request.”
So will the master plan be included in the budget? I asked Commissioner Fish’s office the chances of an off-road cycling master plan happening at all.
“We are optimistic about the budget ask,” Blackwood said. However the City Budget Office isn’t so optimistic, and recommended against funding the study.
“The cycling community has expressed strong interest in expanding off‐road cycling options,” the recommendation reads (Page 22). “However, the current focus of the bureau’s current capital plan reflects its most pressing needs: maintaining assets and expanding access to underserved resident. Because this project is not included in capital plans and the bureau has other, higher priority capital needs, CBO does not recommend funding this project.”
Portland needs to address the discontent of mountain bikers in the city, but it is unlikely to pacify their request to reopen River View. In the Parks and Recreation budget request it states “This package would fund a joint effort with Metro to identify several sites, possibly within and outside of Portland, in which to build sustainable trails, access points, and facilities for off-road cycling that would not negatively impact natural resources.”
Given the city’s strict adherence to environmental concerns at the property it is unlikely that the decision to ban mountain bikes from River View could ever be reversed.
Portland loves a good protest, and in online forums and in discussions I’ve had with others, there is a growing sentiment among some mountain bikers that they are tired of working within the system. Ideas ranging from simply ignoring the ban on bikes to organized Critical Mass-style mountain bike rides have been floated.
In fact, Sponsel organized a protest ride on March 16, the first day of the ban. An estimated 300 mountain bikers and supporters came to the event which was scheduled to ride the trails in defiance of the ban. At the last minute the plans were changed, as heavy rains softened the trails and the riders wanted to show they could be good stewards of the property by not using it when it was vulnerable. A ride around the circumference of the park was enough to draw TV news crews and photographers.
Many have said they have no intention of heeding the ban at the River View Natural Area. Erik Tonkin, a long-time staple of the Portland mountain bike scene and owner of Sellwood Cycles, a well-known bike shop just across the Willamette River from the trails, wrote on his blog that he will continue to ride there, just as he has for more than two decades.
“The cemetery trails offer me sense of place,” he wrote. “I’ve lived and worked near to them ever since–without interruption, and by intention. The place made me the athlete I am.”
This is a great video by Cory Tepper summarizing the issue at hand.
March 18, 2015: There have been rumblings within the Portland mountain bike community that the city’s Platinum status as a Bicycle Friendly Community should be reconsidered. I reached out to the League of American Bicyclists, for a comment:
“Yes, we do take off-road cycling opportunities into account when making the award decision,” said Nicole Wynands, the Bicycle Friendly Community program manager. “We also reach out to local mountain biking organizations and advocates, as well as IMBA for input before we are making an award decision. We actually received a good amount of feedback from mountain biking advocates when we reviewed Portland’s last application, and included a specific recommendation in regards to mountain biking in their feedback report.”
Many riders feel a reconsideration should happen immediately, and Wynands said communities have been downgraded before, but only through the standard renewal process. Bicycle Friendly Community awards are valid for four years, and the League has never changed a community’s status while its reward was still current. Portland’s Platinum status was last renewed in 2013.
Wynands said the League is crafting a joint letter with People For Bikes and IMBA to the Portland city government. We will update this post with its content when it is available.
March 19, 2015: Today key leaders in the bicycle advocacy movement sent an open letter to Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and the City Council (PDF) admonishing the city for its handling of the River View Natural Area situation. It is signed by Michael Van Abel, president and US executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association; Jenn Dice, vice president government affairs at People for Bikes; and Andy Clark, the president of the League of American Bicyclists.
It reads, in part:
We know that sometimes other priorities for funding or even land use take precedence and bicycles are not given priority. We can generally accept those decisions. However, when those decisions are made in an arbitrary and capricious manner that cuts off due process, we must object.
We request that Portland Parks and Recreation, Bureau of Environmental Services, and any other city agency that administers public lands collaborate with the North West Trails Alliance and other local off-road bicycling advocates to develop a strategy to address the shortage of off-road bicycling opportunities in the city of Portland. We look forward to Portland living up to its status as a progressive thought leading city that embraces bicycling in all forms.
Unfortunately it also contains an error, stating that the funding for the Off-Road Cycling Master Plan has been denied. While the City Budget Office has recommended against funding the study (and against funding the Gateway Green project), it’s not dead just yet.
“The CBO recommendations … provide a starting framework for Mayor and Council deliberations on the budget,” said Andrew Scott, the director of Portland’s City Budget Office. “But there is still important information that will become available during the public budget hearings, Council budget work sessions, and further discussions with bureau management and our labor partners.”
“I think it’s safe to say that the Mayor and Council find the CBO reviews valuable in terms of setting a framework for the budget, but they make their own decisions about each individual funding request as it moves through the process.”
The next opportunity for mountain bikers to lobby for funding the study and the Gateway Green project directly to Commissioners is at the community budget forum scheduled for April 16 at the Floyd Light Middle School cafeteria at 6:30 p.m. Because the chance to speak is determined by a lottery system, the more mountain bike supporters are present, the larger the chance for their voice to be heard.
March 24, 2015: The Northwest Trail Alliance has informed its members that it has taken the first steps of legal action against the city of Portland for its decision to close the River View Natural Area to bikes. In an open letter, the group said it has filed a Notice of Intent to Appeal with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, citing the lack of public transparency in the decision.
“We do not take this action lightly,” the letter reads. “We would much rather work in partnership with the City to resolve the issue. However, the gravity of this decision, the lack of justification, and the lack of answers has lead the board to take legal action. We simply cannot stand idle.”
However, despite the growing chorus of those supporting civil disobedience, the NWTA doesn’t support such action: “We encourage our members and supporters to continue to make their voices heard in an appropriate fashion. At the same time, we cannot condone and strongly discourage any acts which defy current regulations related to trail access. As frustrating as it has been, we are committed to working within the system.”
According to BikePortland.org, the city has 21 days to turn over records used to reach its decision. Then there are several weeks of back and forth before the Land Use Board of Appeals renders its decision. It can uphold the decision, reverse it (if a law has been broken or jurisdiction has been overreached) or send it back to the city to reconsider, essentially putting all the pieces back where they were before. It could be mid-June before that decision is made.Tweet Print
Video courtesy of KMTR News
Cycling can be a competitive pastime, but trailwork days are one time when everyone can come together and unite to improve their experience. That doesn’t mean a little friendly competition can’t still have a role to play however, as the Disciples of Dirt in Oregon demonstrated.
Last month the club, based in Eugene, Oregon, hosted a work day with a twist: local bike shops brought employees and customers out to maintain and expand the Whypass trails, and each volunteer signed in with their respective shop name. After two days, the shop that brought along the most volunteer hours won bragging rights and the right to host a “victory” party at their store.
The key to a successful event isn’t a lot of rules or separating winners from losers, said Kraig Brockelman of the Disciples of Dirt. The point is getting folks out to help.
“I want more folks invested and involved in our mountain bike community,” Brockelman said. “The trails and therefore the community are the winners.”
Participating shops included Bicycle Way of Life, Hutch’s Bike shop, Life Cycle and Rolf Prima wheels, which is based in Eugene and it’s team squeaked out a close victory in the first Whypass Trail Work Challenge.
Has your club or trail network come up with creative ways to promote trail work? Let us know in the comments.Tweet Print
Oregon has a lot going for it: some of the best beer, wine, food, and of course riding anywhere in the world. Hailing from Portland, Limberlost is a new guide service that can help you experience the diverse riding opportunities throughout the state with a series of four, premium guided tours in 2015.
The tours include two weekends (an intermediate and an advanced) in Oakridge, home of the Mountain Bike Oregon festival; a supported trek along VeloDirt’s Oregon Outback route; and a week-long “bucket list” tour of the three major cross-Cascade trail systems in the state, the McKenzie, Oakridge and Umpqua.
Along the way you’ll get exquisite camp cuisine with ingredients sourced from Oregon, as well as beer and wine crafted in Oregon and cocktails mixed with Oregon spirits.
All four trips are based out of Portland, and include all meals, transportation necessary once you arrive, route finding and mechanical assistance. Each is limited to only six guests and supported by three guides to provide a premium experience.
Learn more and book a trip at limberlost.co.