This past June, the Mountain mag test crew traveled to Bend, Oregon to thrash 15 of the nicest trail bikes on the market. Why Bend?
Unless you’ve been living under some decomposed volcanic rock, Bend is part of the pantheon of North American destination mountain biking locales. And seeing that we’ve already tested bikes in Park City, Moab, Fruita, Steamboat, and Sedona, we just had to cross this PNW gem off our list. Except the riding was so good that we couldn’t bear to strikethrough. Instead, Bend is now on our must ride circuit. You’ve probably heard that the local topography was formed by volcanoes. As such it features gentle inclines and a range of soil types. That terrain naturally lends itself to the development and easy maintenance of fast and flowy trails. And that type of purpose built sinuous network is exactly what the Central Oregon Trails Alliance envisioned back in 1992 when they started etching in trails for locals. Actually, they surely could have never imagined that they’d have 300 miles of trail less than 30 years later.
The place is famously popular in summer with West Coast urbanites from the north and the south traveling to Bend for the riding, trail running, pubs, restaurants, and chill lodging choices. But we came in early June to take advantage of the shoulder season ripping. In spring, the trails adjacent to town are some of the first to open (there’s also riding by nearby Smith Rock that can stay open year round). As promised, we hit it perfectly. In June, the soil is slow to give up its moisture. Meaning we rode hero dirt on the local backwoods flow trails, the serpentine stuff interspersed with rock gardens on the edge of town, and even the lower car shuttle point-to-points on the road to Mt. Bachelor. As summer progresses, mountain bikers move their way uphill until they’re riding loam in widely spaced hemlock forests broken by subalpine meadows. But, says, Lev Stryker owner operator of the mountain biking guide and shuttle service Cog Wild, “September through mid November is the best time to ride Bend. That’s when the tourists and casual riders go away and the more committed mountain bikers show up. You can ride everything, including the nearly 4,000-foot descents from up near the ski area. And the van-camping and lodges are open and accessible.”
So, Bend, as good as you’ve heard, especially if fast and flowy is your favorite terrain and/or you have some newer riders in your group that will be outgunned by rowdier destinations—or the high altitude challenges of Colorado for that matter. The riding was better than we expected—largely because we had so many generous locals to show us around. But what most surprised us was the town itself. We were expecting a mountain town and we got it, but Bend is also a destination town. As such it’s rich with amenities like—and this is important stuff to mountain bikers—taco shops, brew pubs, and killer Thai food. Oh, and more than a dozen bike shops, seemingly every one of which has a vast demo fleet on hand. The takeaway? Crawl out from under that rock and get yourself there. The views of the nearby Ring of Fire are worth the trip, but the riding will make you want to come back.
Read on for the results of our three days of hard work—shredding Bend and thrashing trail bikes. Because the bike industry now launches bikes whenever companies have them ready (the trade show is irrelevant) many of them are new to us and hopefully you. And the rest are only months old. We chose a range of offerings that we’d qualify as trail bikes—even the XC race bike has a dropper. But that’s where the similarities end. Even in the same category, bikes tend to be more unique than skis, tents, and whitewater kayaks. The trick is finding the best bike that matches up with your favorite rides, riding style, and budget. This should help.
Crow’s Feet Commons
Call it a fusion shop. When ski (Alaska), and cycling (Tuscany), guide David Marchi opened Crow’s Feet Commons in downtown Bend in 2012, he was just as keen on offering coffee, beer, and local knowledge to his customers as he was in selling them backcountry skis and custom-built bikes. Turns out he was clairvoyant. Bend was struggling to find a communal hub for the burgeoning bike scene, and Crow’s Feet, which nourished a chill vibe (think Jerry, backcountry powder, and loam) helped Bend gel into the bike town it is today. Naturally—on account of Jerry—Crow’s Feet was our shop of record for our Bend bike test. They built about 10 of the bikes we rode, recruited testers, and rode with us all three days. They have our full endorsement for the hard work graciously delivered, but more importantly, Crow’s Feet is emblematic of the type of brick and mortar stores that Mountain hopes to see more of in the future. As sales move evermore online—two of the bikes we review in these pages are available direct to consumer and Amazon is running the world—mountain shops of all stripes, but especially bike retailers, need to ditch the bad attitude, boost the customer service, and open themselves as gathering places if they want to survive. Why does this matter? A friend of the magazine’s visited Bend last fall to ride bikes on an extended road trip. In shop after shop he inquired about where to ride. He got the bike shop brush-off. That’s a slap to cycling, Bend, and bike shops everywhere. Friendly Crow’s Feet Commons, however, will soon reopen in a new location across the street from Oregon’s busiest trailhead (Phil’s) and expand its concert, beer, coffee, and cultural offerings while ramping up its bike business yet again.
In 1999, Cog Wild consisted of a single van and about three part-time guides. Today, Bend’s go-to guide and shuttle service for mountain bikers runs seven vans and employs 25 full and part-time guides in Bend and nearby Oak Ridge. Not that seasoned riders with the Trailforks app on their phones need a guide to navigate Bend’s networks—it’s easy enough to find your way around. But Cog Wild lent us their owner operator Lev Stryker for our stay and it sure made our lives easier and our riding way better. Bend’s unique topography means that to access some of the big rides up high (6,000 feet) you’d be slogging up moderate inclines for a long time. A shuttle here means you can ride 22 to 60 plus miles (with plenty of climbing on the latter) back to town. Cog Wild’s guides are also dialed on local trail conditions, so you won’t find yourself carrying your bike over a slew of blowdowns instead of riding. And, not to step on your buzz, but the outfit prides itself on getting injured riders out to the backcountry quickly and safely. The offerings include multi-day tours (staying at backcountry camps or local lodges), single drop shuttles for $15 to $20, and half day to full day tours with lunch. Private groups of five and up are available. They also cater to all rider levels: “One of the big advantages is that Bend is so accessible,” says Stryker. “There are so many trails and so many types of trails we can tailor trips to each group. What are you going to do with a beginner in Moab? Even if you just want a shuttle drop, we can help match, riders with the rides that suit them.”
LOGE Bend (it stands for Live Outside, Go Explore) is one part hipsterized motel—the ice machine sign read “Ice, Ice, Baby”— and one part basecamp. The rooms come equipped with hammocks for extra bodies. The outdoor area is rife with fire pits and Adirondack chairs. And while we were there, a trail crew was cutting in singletrack directly to the lodges. Hell, they keep Yeti coolers and headlamps in the rooms in case you forgot yours. It’s like staying at your trust fund buddy’s house—the one with extra gear, bedspace, and a van. And oh yeah, they have an entire fleet of this year’s demo bikes on the property ready to go. Better still, it’s totally reasonable, both for the room rentals and the add-ons. We ate breakfast in the lobby each morning for cheaper than we could have in town. And at night we sat by the fire drinking beers and slamming burritos instead of blowing cash. No, it’s not the Four Seasons, it’s way cooler than that, inspired as it is by 70s surf, climbing, and camping culture. They now have five LOGE Camps scattered across the West. Check one out.