Sunrise to Sunset with the People of Bend
A hideaway, camouflaged in Douglas fir and redwoods, and simply drenched in some of the most outstanding trail riding in the world. Welcome to Bend. Words and photos by Steve Jones.
A hideaway, camouflaged in Douglas fir and redwoods, and simply drenched in some of the most outstanding trail riding in the world. Welcome to Bend...
Taken from Dirt issue 144, February 2014
‘Party Bus’ was stretching the imagination, but the cranky old bus driver who’d taken us across the border into the top left corner of the United States of America finally slung our bags out at Bellingham International where propeller planes ruled the runway rather than jet engines – international only in that it serves as a hub for shipping fishermen north to Alaska. That’s the impression I got anyway.
The drive south to Oregon along Highway 5 was an epic, the pathway led by dormant volcanoes that worked wonders as cairns for our journey. Mt Baker and Snoqualmie dominate the horizon to the east, before the road heels right and then south, Mt Rainier and then Mt St Helens – a peak that blew a thousand foot off its summit back in 1980, the deadliest volcanic activity in the history of the United States.
We wake up in a village called Battle Ground just on the state border. Coffee and cake get us motoring again and soon Portland comes into view just over the boundary, but not after you’ve passed over the languid Columbia River which pulls in from the east. As enticing as the city appears, this is where we turn off the main highway and head for Mt Hood, another focal point, another pile of trouble, a place rich in mountainbike history. A wrong turn has us poking around in the undergrowth for a short while, the roads small but full of characters, we re–join onto some new tarmac broader of girth en route to Madras passing a few sketchy Reservations, which as it turned out were best avoided anyway.
South–east from Portland is largely on wide–open road, slightly different to the densely forested rolling hills that I had envisaged. Obviously there’s lots of it and Bend sits on the edge of the big woodland blocks. For now the southern peaks of the Cascade Volcanic Arc and big country stretch out south – Mt Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mt Washington, Broken Top and Mt Bachelor keep us absorbed for the final leg of the drive. It’s impressive.
Rolling into Bend at around midday the heat is intense and the mood upbeat, its grid square town centre is easy to navigate, but as we were to find it has a rare old twist. It’s a town rich in pretty much everything, one of many seasons, top racers, wild boozers and simply incredible trail riding.
Cog Wild Tours (our hosts for the week) sits on the perimeter of the town, on the edge of a wild expanse broken only by one major road until you get to the Pacific. The states of California, Nevada, Idaho and Washington border this impressive and relatively rural state – madness to the south, trees to the east and the conclusion to our journey back up north – strange old days. The base of Cog Wild is craftily located so that in but a few breaths you are into woodland, which stretches for hundreds of miles. Scooting singletrack, food and beer are all within walking distance and all of the highest quality.
Click through to view part one of the gallery of Bend before reading on on...
Within minutes we are skirting the Deschutes river, as it crashes down through volcanic lava fields, and choking on dust on the rapid singletrack. Bloody Mary’s for breakfast and Boneyard beer in the sultry evenings. I’ll let the locals take up the story.
“A lot of progression has come from the volunteers because we are building trails we like to ride"
One day, week–long or simply shuttles, you've got it covered?
Cog Wild has something for all types of riders, to do–it–yourself adventurers who just want a drop off and pointed toward the good trails to a fully catered and guided experience. Riding with a guide has so many benefits we find more and more experienced riders end up doing the guided experience, there is so much freedom to shredding with someone who has intimate knowledge of the trails.
The overnight camping trips continue to be a favourite. Lasting friendships are often formed between guests and guides and we end up with a lot of tours with the same guests requesting the same guides year after year. One of our favourite tours is called the "Bike and Brew". The guests stay at a downtown hotel, we ride great trail all day then end up at a local brewery for a tasting with the brewmaster and a tour of the facility. Dinner is either at the pub or a local favourite restaurant.
There's a massive riding scene in town it seems?
Bend is a very complete cycling town. There are multiple group rides, road and mountain, each week. A very robust race scene with Super D's, Enduro racing, XC, 24 hour and ultra endurance events happening all summer. Our trail system is so massive and diverse, you can get away from the busy trails and find yourself on a lonesome ride pretty easily. I think one of the best parts of our scene is the volunteer effort on our trails. The Central Oregon Trail Alliance is big and a lot of people put in time to fix trails and build new ones. A lot of progression has come from the volunteers because we are building trails we like to ride, with some fun unique features with lots of speed and flow.
Bend is pretty much all about trail riding correct? 140mm max?
The weapon of choice for Bend is a trail bike. Most of the trails are fast and smooth, with connecting banked corners and high–speed flow. There is a lot of classic style XC trail, with technical climbing and narrow swooping downs. There is more and more machine built, flow style trails, with big berms, floaty jumps and long connecting rhythm sections. There are a few local knowledge zones that we shuttle with DH bikes, rocky loose tracks that require a big bike. And there are a few dirt jump, slalom tracks where a hardtail is the best.
Trail respect, I went off trail to let someone past, not the done thing!
The etiquette for passing riders has been evolving a lot around here lately. The established code these days is that the uphill rider has the right of way, and the down hiller should pull to the side, leaving their tyres on the edge of the trail. There has been a big push lately for one–way trails, and hopefully we will see more implemented soon. We do have a few downhill only trails, specifically ones with built berms and jumps.
We've seen from the World Enduro Series that riders are now beginning to understand trail respect. The problem is on the French/Italian Riviera in particular is it’s a historical network going back centuries designed for donkeys and feet. Out here the trails are designed for mountainbikes only?
There are more and more mountain bike specific trails. They aren't closed to runners and hikers, but we have mountain biking in mind when designing and building. Some of my favourites however are the classic old hiking and horse trails the climb high into the mountains above our deep forests. Getting the vast views then dropping in for a five mile downhill to the river is amazing.
What kind of elevations up and down are we talking?
The town of Bend is around 3400’ and all our trails head up from there. Our highest trailhead we shuttle to is 6500’, and the trails top out around 7400’. The must do shuttle ride is called Bachelor to Bend, where we drop you off at 6500', then you climb another 800 to 7300, then ride trail all the way to town 4000 feet and 25 miles later.
The network is vast, what are the other highlights?
The main flavour for Bend riding is fast, open flow trail. Pushing dusty corner after dusty corner in the summer is just loads of fun. A fun game to play with your buddies is ‘no brake, no pedal’. It can get pretty rowdy sliding through the corners with all your fingers wrapped around your grip. There are classic loops, long shuttle point–to–point rides, jump parks and free ride zones, something for everyone.
“This is the first place that it wasn’t just me and the boys"
Mel you’ve ridden bikes all around the World, why have you settled in Bend?
Bend is the first place that I have felt completely at home. Sure, other towns had great food or people or trails or nature, but they didn’t have them all together. Here in Bend I feel surrounded by amazing like–minded people, and many women on the trail too! This is the first place that it wasn’t just me and the boys. Nothing wrong with boys, but I love riding with my female riding friends just as much! I feel very blessed to live here, one of the reasons I love to share Bend with our guests, this town makes you happy.
[part title="Sunrise to Sunset with the People of Bend Part 2"]
It all happens on the Westside of town? Good place to stay if you visit?
Having lived for years on the Eastside of town, yes, the Westside is the place to be for mountain biking and being able to walk everywhere once you are done riding. There are a ton of vacation rentals as well as hotels in downtown Bend and on the Westside. These are the places I would recommend: Alpenglow Vacation Rentals & Bend Dutch Rentals, The Mill Inn B&B, Pine Ridge Inn and Doubletree by Hilton. Those wanting to go swanky should check out the Oxford Inn.
Is there any need to venture out of town? Seems like Bend has it all.
Bend does have it all, but it is surrounded by amazing lakes, trails and nature. You could spend a whole week plus in Bend, enjoying the local trails and breweries, but there are a few amazing places I would also recommend. Firstly the McKenzie River Trail. We offer a shuttle to ride as a day ride. Amazing trail on the Westside of the mountains, dripping in moss, lava rock and follows the McKenzie River for 26 miles of technical riding bliss. This trail is on many riders bucket lists for good reason. Secondly the Cascade Mountain Lakes – Sparks Lake, Elk Lake, Hosmer. Just a short drive outside of town are amazing lakes that should not be forgotten about. Wanderlust Tours offers kayak or canoe tours on Sparks that includes transportation, Elk lake has stand up paddle board and boat rentals. A great place to enjoy a picnic, go for a swim and chill. And thirdly riding other trails outside of Bend. This includes Oakridge, Newberry Crater, Peterson Ridge trails in Sisters and the Ochoco Mountains. Central Oregon has amazing places to ride, many of which even locals don’t know about. You could spend weeks riding everything in the area!
Top things to do and places to see outside of riding in Oregon?
Breweries! McMenamin’s Turkish Bath, $5 to soak, right in downtown Bend. Cruising around town stopping to sampler beer here and there, sit by the river. Go to live music! Bend has a fabulous music community and there is always something for everyone playing somewhere in town. Get on the water, either the Deschutes River or the lakes outside of town. One of the five million festivals that happen in Bend, Munch and Music, Summer Fest, Bite of Bend, Outdoor Games, etc. Bend is very good at shutting down downtown to have festivals and live music. Always a blast.
But Bend is THE mecca for trail riding? Or is that too strong a word?
No, it is. Bend is an amazing community for bike riders. We have something for every mountain biker there is, although some would wish we had more downhill options, but those are coming. Our trail network is huge! And it keeps growing and adding more and more progressive trails. With Mt Bachelor opening this year to add more options it just adds to the fun. Beginners to expert riders will find something that they will love. And off the trails we have amazing bike shops, breweries dedicated to biking and a town full of people who love to ride. Our town doesn’t take itself very seriously, we just want to have fun and enjoy the outdoors. This feeling gets passed to those who visit and it doesn’t take long for everyone to feel the buzz.
Click through to view part two of the gallery of Bend before reading on...
How important are the breweries? I didn’t realise how amazing Oregon beer was!
Breweries are very important! We do get a few guests who don’t drink, but a majority of our guests love beer and are super excited to check out all the amazing beer Bend has to offer. The cool thing about our brewery scene is that every brewery fits their own niche and is very different. That makes it really fun to go taste beer and check each brewery out. Some have pubs with a wide variety of food and others are just tasting rooms, all different as well. Want to see beer made in a hollowed out tree, random beer equipment pieced together from other breweries leftovers or a full copper setup that cost mucho bucks and makes for great photos? We have it… and then some. Even as a local, it is great fun trying all the beer available, especially since it changes with the seasons.
“this town makes you happy!"
BRIT NELSON, BREWER AT BONEYARD BEER
“get the sparge going, pitch the tank, fire the kettle"
Brit, I was told there were lots of breweries but I arrived in town pretty unprepared as to how good the quality was, I guess you hear that quite a bit?
Ya, we do. But the awesome thing is that you hear it everywhere, not just in Bend, but all over the Northwest. We are very fortunate in Bend to have so many excellent breweries. It forces us to push each other to try to set the bar even higher.
Must be the water…
Without a doubt. Happy to be sitting atop one of the best aquifers and water sheds in the N.W. The Cascade volcanic mountain range filters the water giving us a head start making it some of the best water I’ve ever tasted.
Have to say your beer RPM changed my whole idea on how beer can be.
Thank you very much. We, along with many other west coast breweries, are always striving for that balance of hop flavour before hop bitter, with a variety of blended late additions to make a beer that’s highly quaffable.
Many beer festivals going on in Bend?
Seems like almost every weekend during the summer: Bend Brewfest, Little Woody, Oktoberfest, and Fresh Hop Fest are just a few.
The bike guiding companies seem to have tuned in to holidays with a beer angle.
You nailed that one on the head. With the introductions of the Bend Ale Trail, summertime brings bikers from around the world. You can rent bikes, and there’s even a cycle pub with a designated driver while you peddle around drinking from brewery to brewery.
Deschutes water correct?
Well actually, our water comes down from the Three Sisters. The Deschutes is used more for irrigation for farms north and east of town, as well as recreation.
You like your beer stronger but less quantity?
Well to be quite honest… that depends. We have all types for any occasion. When asked what’s my favourite my answer is always the one that is in my hand.
Talk us through a day…
Hmmm, I could ramble on for a while with that question…
“undeniably Bend is one of the greatest towns in the US"
What you up to at the minute?
This past week I finally submitted my application for graduate school in Portland and I’m hoping to get my master's degree in Environmental Management. I telemark ski and snowboard and have since I was two and a half years old. I am originally a Steamboat Springs, Colorado, native and so one of the biggest lures of Bend to me was the huge emphasis on the outdoors and being able to play in the forest year round. In the summer it is most definitely mountain biking, winter it is being on the snow, and the seasons between I try to get out and rock climb as much as possible. As exciting as all of that sounds, I am far from an anomaly here in Bend. Everyone does all of it and that's what makes it such a fun town.
To me Bend is the perfect blend of the community–oriented style of my hometown in CO and the culture and progressiveness of the Pacific Northwest. There is a huge focus on growing and supporting local businesses, and yet at the same time makes room for film festivals and big–name concerts. All everyone talks about is the beer. But what is more noteworthy to me is the seemingly endless expanse of perfect and constantly maintained trails out my backdoor. I grew up in the Rocky Mountains and, as appropriately titled, the trails are very rocky there. I had never ridden such smooth, flowy trails in my entire life until I moved to Bend. The local trail organization COTA (Central Oregon Trail Alliance) does such an amazing job keeping everything dialled and fun. There are always new trails being built, and you could ride for weeks before you rode the same trail twice.
You race downhill, a big following up there, what are the key locations?
There is not much to be said for the downhilling community here. When I lived in Portland (for college) there were some amazing trails only 30–45 minutes away, here the closest thing (other than the new bike park, which will need some serious growth before it is on most people's radar) is Skibowl on Mt. Hood and Willamette Pass. As for DH races, they take place more in Washington than Oregon, but hopefully it will begin to even out. A few key places (for the NW Cup at least) is Port Angeles, Steven’s Pass, Skibowl. Riding–wise my favourite places are Post Canyon in Hood River and Black Rock outside of Salem.
It all seems very easy going, low key... although a veneer of madness?
I am not sure how Bend could be more rad, except maybe to cap the population and build–up the DH park like crazy. Yes, I may have to leave to get my master's degree, but I can promise I will be right back here to the sunshine, the triathletes, the endless trails and truly endless supply of beer. As for the veneer of madness, it definitely exists. If you don't have a cross bike, XC bike, hardtail and full suspension and 27.5", hip commuter bike, paddleboard, rock climbing gear, AT or teleskis or splitboard with skins, a fly fishing rod, a Subaru, more dogs than kids, a Patagonia jacket and a locally–made ceramic mug to bring to the coffee shops for your morning cappuccino, then you will fail miserably here. But if you can keep up, you will have the most loyal friends and fastest rides and enjoyable life in what is undeniably one of the greatest towns in the US.
And the dog?
My dog's name is Everett Crowdog (honestly), and he turned four years old recently. We had a party.
“I had never ridden such smooth, flowy trails in my entire life until I moved to Bend"
“Bend is a very complete cycling town"
“there is so much freedom to shredding with someone who has intimate knowledge of the trails"
Want to go to Bend? Check out Cog Wild, they have it all covered.