A lesson in gravity at Mount Bachelor

Lift-served trails give mountain bikers a big thrill

The Bulletin (Bend, Ore.)October 27, 2013 

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 at Mount Bachelor ski area that has been envisioned and talked about in Central Oregon for at least 10 years finally opened this year.

I had the chance to ride Bachelor’s chairlift-served biking area with mountain manager Tom Lomax, who has overseen the park’s development.

Three routes opened for riding 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, B.C. 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 single-track 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 single-track 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 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 who have had a chance to ride the park are singing its praises. Adam Craig, a pro cyclist from Bend, took a tour with Lomax 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.”

About the bike park

Opening: Starting next summer, the park is expected to be open from about mid-July to mid-October, seven days a week through August, and Fridays through Sundays after Labor Day.

LIFT TICKETS: During a partial season last summer, tickets were $29 for a full day, $19 from 1-4 p.m. and $69 for a three-day pack.

FEATURES: The excavated trail Lava Flow is 5 feet wide with rollers and banks. The hand-built single-track trails Blade Runner, Rattlesnake and Last Chance feature rocks, tight corners, steep terrain. Once completed in the coming years, the park will include 10 trails and 13 miles of riding.

LENGTH: Trails and routes range from about 1 to 4 miles. Vertical drop is 1,360 feet.

RATING: Aerobically easy (no climbing!) and technically intermediate, advanced or expert, depending on the trail.

GEAR: Riders are required to wear a helmet and closed-toe shoes, and mountain bikes must have functional brakes. Bikers are encouraged to ride full-suspension bikes with a minimum of 5 inches of travel and wear a full-face helmet with additional body armor.

DIRECTIONS: From Bend, drive 20 miles southwest on Century Drive to Mount Bachelor’s West Village Lodge parking lot. Pine Marten Express is the chairlift that will serve downhill mountain bikers.

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