Putting on my helmet and shoes in the parking area of the Phil’s Trail mountain bike complex, I spotted an older couple rolling in on what I could tell were rental bikes. They pulled up to a stop next to me and looked around at all the cars.
“Is it always this busy ?” the man asked in disbelief, adding that they were, indeed, from out of town.
I kind of laughed. I rode these trails three or four times a week, and even I noticed it was a little crowded for a Tuesday at 10 a.m. on a scorching hot summer day.
“Yep,” I said. “But don’t worry. Once you get out on the trail, you might not see a single rider.”
“Good to know,” he said, as they pedaled off to the trailhead and into the woods.
That’s part of the beauty Central Oregon mountain biking. Of course, there is the “actual” beauty of riding pristine singletrack beneath a canopy of ponderosa pines in the forested foothills of the Cascade mountains. The lower elevation trails cover all the bases: relatively flat, fast and flowy with some fun and some tough technical sections and punchy climbs that cater to beginners and shredders alike.
Head a little further up and you’ll ride more rooted routes in the shadows of snow-capped 10,000 foot peaks through high alpine meadows and breathtaking vistas. Rustic shelters used as warming huts in the winter turn into summer biking rest stops where you can take a breather, have a snack from your pack and enjoy the high-mountain scenery.
But with hundreds of miles of trails served by a few conveniently located parking areas, you can get blissfully lost in no time. It’s kind of like that scene in “Field of Dreams” when Shoeless Joe and the others walk into the cornfield and disappear into the stalks. Except here you are swallowed by a national forest. Sure, sometimes you’ll run into another rider or two or a small group. But I’ve gone 10 or 12 or more miles without seeing anyone but my own (slow) shadow.
Several times I’ve arrived at the trailhead where a bike shop group ride of 20 or 30 people have gathered and only once or twice have I ever run into those riders on the trails. (I can, though, often hear their gleeful whoopin’ and hollerin’ echoing from a distance deep into the woods.)
Phil’s is by far the most popular riding area in the region. The trailhead is just a couple of minutes from the middle of town and from the parking area, riders can access a maze of diverse singletrack.
If you want the thrills of going downhill but don’t want (or have the fitness) to do the pedaling up, Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours and Shuttles in Bend offers daily shuttle services up Cascade Lakes Highway to the sno-parks along the way where trails like “Tiddlywinks” and “Funner” await.
An epic ride popular among locals and tourists begins after being dropped off at Dutchman Flats and riding roughly 30 miles back into town – mostly downhill. (The ride does begin with a long, slow climb.)
Across the parking lot from Dutchman – Mt. Bachelor. The ski area now offers a lift-served, downhill mountain bike park and will expand to include a cross country section in 2015 when it hosts the mountain bike national championships.
But for most of us, the only competition we’ll face is trying to get in more than one ride a week and power up a climb a little faster than the last time we were out.
You can also venture north of Bend to the Smith Rock State Park area where some diverse trails await.
After about an hour of riding (and seeing only a couple riders) I arrived back to my car and to a parking lot that was even busier than before.
Filled with cyclists getting ready to get lost.