By Julie Winsel

The drive between Eugene and Oakridge, along Highway 58, boasts one of the best road views. It takes you alongside Dexter Lake, through forests, and past covered bridges. But while the journey is beautiful, the destination—the mountain bike (MTB) trails around Oakridge—and the MTB culture surrounding it are truly the most inviting.

“Oakridge has a strong culture of mountain biking that is some of the best in the state and [Pacific Northwest] region,” says Alex Gardner, one of three founders of the annual Trans-Cascadia race. “The steepness of the trails, moisture of the soil, and access make for a great place to ride a mountain bike… Oakridge is a special place with great trails and a friendly community; it has a place in my mind as a mountain bike haven.”

Kevin Rowell, trails manager out of the Middle Fork Ranger Station, says he also likes how progressive and inclusive MTB culture is. “Everyone’s always willing to slow down to take new riders out and show them a good time,” he says. “It’s almost like these people are your brothers and sisters because of this commonality that you have, even though you haven’t met and are meeting for the first time.”

Local businesses, too, are directly involved in the MTB culture, but none more so than Willamette Mountain Mercantile, also known as the Oakridge Bike Shop. The view from their shop alone is worth the visit. They have two maps on their gear- and bike-lined walls, both heavily dotted with flags of visitors’ hometowns. Most notable are the many flags from Australia and parts of Europe, proving that Oakridge is a destination for the “pump and stoke” community.

Richard Veatch, who has worked in the shop for the last 10 of its 14 years, says the flagged maps are popular among visitors. “It’s fun to see the Canadians where, if they recognize somebody, they’ll move them,” he says, about the flags, which are on push pins. “New Zealanders do that, too.”

Veatch is the resident expert. He’s loved bikes since his childhood in Eugene, inspired by his father, who commuted by bike nearly every day for his more than 40 years working for the Eugene School District. Veatch has carried that legacy into his own life, also commuting daily by bike and not even owning a car. He is heavily involved with the local scene between his work in the shop, involvement with his son’s racing, and captaining aide stations during all the races. He knows the culture and has seen how it has changed in the 18 years he’s lived in Oakridge.

“It’s growing leaps and bounds,” Veatch says, attributing this to the area being one of the best places in the world to come ride. “It’s going to keep growing.”

The races

Each fall, professional mountain bike racers, gear vendors, bike builders, fans, and everyone in between descend on Oakridge for the Trans-Cascadia race. The blind race (racers don’t know the route until the night before each day of racing) includes four days of backcountry racing, gourmet food and camping, bonding with the global MTB community, and appreciation for the trails.

The race started in 2015 when Gardner and his partners and fellow co-founders, Nick Gibson and Tommy Magrath, wanted to create a blind enduro race (a stage-based race where riders are timed in stages that are primarily downhill, but not uphill). Oakridge stood out from their visits to Mountain Bike Oregon, a local festival, in previous years.

“The three of us had been discussing the idea of a blind enduro stage race for many years,” Gardner says. “Our goal was to create an event around trail advocacy that showcases all the work we do in the year with the race and tell the world how great our trails and people are in the Northwest.”

They also work to make each race unique. “We try to bring a new experience each year to new and returning racers,” he says, estimating that 25 to 30 percent of racers return each year. “For 2018, I can tell you we will be on 100 percent new trails in Cascadia and to the north of our past course.”

Oakridge is also home to other races throughout the year:

  • Sasquatch Duro: Each May, racers can choose between two routes, both known for their gravel grinding opportunities: the “Hard” 30-mile loop, or the “Harder” 43-mile loop. You may even catch a glimpse of Sasquatch, who’s known to make an appearance.
  • Sturdy Dirty Enduro: Taking place mid-June (June 16 in 2018!), this race has five to six short race segments, covering about 15 to 20 total miles of riding. Racers should expect a good amount of climbing with timed downhill sections.
  • Cascade Cream Puff: This 100-mile race (all completed within one day) starts at the Westifr Portal park, covering trails that truly test your mountain biking abilities. There’s also a 50-mile “Fritter” race and, starting this year, the 25-mile “Donut Hole” course. The event is held every August, with this year’s race taking place on August 4.
  • Mountain Bike Oregon: This festival offers two different weekends to celebrate all things mountain bike. Join them either July 20 to 22 or August 17 to 19 to hit the trails with the global mountain bike community, camping at the Red Covered Bridge portal, with free mechanical support for your rides, bike demos, and women’s rides and clinics.

Races are also a time when the extended mountain biking community can come together and speak their universal language. “It’s really cool to ride with a mountain biker from France, or from some other place where many of us have never been mountain biking,” Rowell says. “The skills that they have are the same skills that we have. . . . It really is a global community, and races are the time when we get to connect with that global community.”

No dig, no ride

Throughout the year, crews are active in building and maintaining trails. Rowell says most mountain bikers subscribe to the “no dig, no ride” mentality.

“Mountain biking has always had an element of trail work as part of the sport,” he says. “To mountain bikers, the condition of the tread—that is, the dirt path you walk on—is so much more important to that user group than any other user group. Not that the other user groups don’t care, it’s just that, when your wheels are rolling over everything, that’s really important.”

This carries through beyond the Willamette National Forest, and bikers will pay their dues on their home trails before visiting others. “They might not be here in Oakridge doing trail work, but they come here on vacation and they’re doing trail work in their area,” Rowell says. “And mountain bikers from this area go to Sedona, they’re not doing trail work there, but they’re benefitting from the trail work done by those locals.”

Professional racers visiting to compete also get involved in trail maintenance. “Those are heroes to mountain bikers,” Rowell says. “It’s nice for local mountain bikers to be able to rub shoulders and actually build and maintain trail elbow-to-elbow with some of their, kind of, heroes. So, it’s cool that we can attract mountain biking talent from all over the world. . . . It’s kind of a nice time to reconnect with these people that, those of us who are mountain bikers, we admire in our world.”

Get involved:

There are many ways to get involved in taking care of the beautiful trails throughout the Oakridge area.

  • Contact Kevin Rowell, trails manager for the Middle Fork Ranger Station, 541/782-2283
  • Greater Oakridge Area Trail Stewards (GOATS),
  • Disciples of Dirt Mountain Bike Club (DOD),
  • Scorpion Crew,

Blazing the trails

With the nearly 400 miles of trails within a 40-mile radius of Oakridge, according to Veatch, it’s easy to see why it’s such a recreational hub for mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrian riders. In 2015, Oakridge even earned designation as a gold-level International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) Ride Center.

No matter how you ride, always remember that these are shared spaces. Rowell recommends that riders should always be able to stop within their sight distance, call way ahead to those who you will pass, and to imagine your grandmother around every corner. Following these basic guidelines will keep the trails from being segregated by activity, ensuring that everyone has access to the same experiences and views for years to come.

For any biker, hopping on for a ride can be magical. “The freedom,” Veatch says, is his favorite part of biking. “It takes away all the worries of the world. And the beauty. You can go to waterfalls, you can go to swimming holes, you can go get muddy.”

Where to gear up:

Make sure your gear is ready before you hit the trails. In Eugene and Springfield, check out these local shops.

Hutch’s Bicycle Store
960 Charnelton St.

Arriving by Bike
2705 Willamette St.

Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life
566 Charnelton St.

2480 Alder St.

Life Cycle Bike Shop
1733 Pearl St., Suite B

Simply Cycle
303 Main St., Springfield