Finding ways to alter one’s state of consciousness is human nature. For some, the gravity-assisted sport of downhill mountain biking does just that. When skill is matched with challenge, mind and body become one in an effortless ability to conquer jumps, ride berms and simply stay on the trail until the bottom of the hill; the rider enters a flow state.
Fifteen-year-old Arlie Connolly, a competitive downhill racer and free rider, describes this energized focus in one word: freedom. “I feel free to be able to do and explore whatever I want. I can push myself how I feel comfortable, and it just makes me feel super free,” said Connolly.
In the case of downhill riding, freedom comes with risk, and Connolly counters the inevitable risk of speed and aggressive riding by wearing ankle braces, knee pads, body armor, a neck brace, a full-face helmet and elbow pads. “When you’re going fast, lose control and start tomahawking down the mountain, and you can walk away from it, that’s nice,” said Connolly.
Great local shops including Pine Mountain Sports, Sagebrush Cycles and Project Bike sell protective gear, share tips on trail condition, and rent and sell bikes. Important bike features to consider include suspension, wheel size, frame materials, gears and brakes.
Depending on how much downhill riding you intend to do, you may consider a downhill bike, made exclusively for descents due to large suspension and heavier weight, or an all-mountain bike, a cross between a trail and downhill bike, which allows for a more well-rounded ride that can still handle steep drops. Other special features worth noting include a dropper post (allowing a rider to quickly drop their seat for a descent), wide and stable handlebars, and grippy yet light pedals.
Central Oregon is a bucket-list destination for mountain biking and breeds young talent like Connolly, who competes nationally, but especially enjoys the comradery of going head to head with passionate local riders at competitions such as the Gravity Race Series at Mt. Bachelor, which just had its seventh annual series this past summer. The local community of passionate riders is stoked to welcome newcomers to the trails. Ready to take the plunge? Here are some top regional downhill trails to consider.
Redline at Mt. Bachelor Bike Park
Open until October 3, Mt. Bachelor offers more than thirteen miles of lift-served, downhill bike trails ranging from green to double black diamond. A staff favorite, Redline is not made for the weak-hearted. Located under Red Chair, the advanced jump-line trail provides berms, rollers and jumps to create a truly magical riding experience for those ready for some high-intensity action. The trail is closed daily and watered to keep the dirt and features in prime condition. There will be whoops and hollers (and maybe some backflips) on the world-class trail.intermediate
Farewell near Bend
From the Tumalo Falls parking area (or Skyline Sno-Park if parking is full), climb North Fork up to Mrazek for this speedy and scenic descent. In just three miles, riders descend more than 1,200 feet in elevation. The backdrop of this trail includes incredible views of the Cascades. Don’t get too caught up in the scenery, though. While there are no mandatory drops, there is loose rock, tight switchbacks and a seriously steep descent. Also, remember the most technical obstacle is other humans—slow down for hikers enjoying the trail.
Funner near Bend
The name says it all. Loaded with a variety of natural features including drops, jumps and skinnies (ridden wooden features), the trail does a beautiful job of showing riders the landscape and geology of the area. Funner rides well most of the year and, after the highly-trafficked summer months, fall is the time to hit this techy trail in the Wanoga trail system, located south of the Cascade Lakes Highway.
Lawler near Oakridge
Head southwest and in less than two hours, the mountain-bike capital of the Northwest awaits. Oakridge offers hundreds of miles through the Willamette National Forest. Lawler Trail is one of the classic, more challenging rides with steep descents through a deep green forest with jagged ridgelines, tight switchbacks and take-
Tips for the best possible ride
With a shuttle service, it really is all downhill.
Local shuttle companies, including Cog Wild and Trans Cascadia Excursions, will shuttle you to the top of the trailhead for a reasonable price. Plan ahead and shuttle to check several rides off your list—a great way to experience as much as possible in a day.
Do your part to love the trails like they love you.
As trail use gains popularity and Central Oregon grows in population, the collaboration between the biking community and the organizations that support the maintenance and momentum of the area need support. Consider donating or volunteering with Central Oregon Trail Alliance, buying a Northwest Forest Pass or even just picking up some litter on each ride. Happy Trails!