Paul Andrews

Archive for the ‘Mountain Bike Trail Reviews’ Category

NorCal trails drying out, just not fast enough

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking on February 10, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Clogged derailleur notwithstanding, the Firebird performed

Rains have abated at last and a touch of spring seems to be in the air, albeit on the cool side. (Allergies are acting up.)

At Arastradero, which I use as a benchmark indicator, it is still sloppy in parts. The ground is just too saturated on certain switchbacks and shaded sections. It sucks…figuratively and, in the case of a rear wheel trying to ride through, literally.

Even the fully exposed northern section of the park has “issues.”

Hello mudder, hello fodder...

I will say this: The Pivot Firebird is a mudder! I rode through some mucky sections in low gear that felt like climbing Alpe d’Huez, just churning to stay upright. But the Bird did not flinch or waver. The Nevis held their own as well — surprisingly, since they’re not known as a mud tire.

Before you flame, I was riding only open trails, and the damage was from horses, not mtbs.

Closed to all users! Except heron and coyotes

I did see a couple of huge majestic heron, quite unwary, meandering about the open fields. And a coyote sauntered past, barely giving me a glance. The sun was out, it was quiet and calm, and despite the mud it was a great riding day.

Weekend outlook is for more sun!

That said, I’m staying on pavement for another couple of days at least. Sunshine is supposed to hit full bore by weekend and we’ll give it another go then. Stay tuned!

Mud: A regional roundup of Northern California biking trails

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking on February 5, 2010 at 1:28 am

The Northern California rains of recent weeks have taken a grim toll on mountain biking trails. Erosion is severe in many places. Blowdowns, while not as widespread as might be expected, have kept trail crews busy. And some trails are just plain under water — a rarity for the region, but fact nonetheless.

The practice of riding in the goo has some folks, including Santa Cruz Bicycles marketing maniac Mike Ferrentino, a bit on the dispeptic side.

Riders gear up for Skeggs

Why anyone would want to defile Nature, their pivot bearings, and common sense to ride in this stuff is beyond me. What, they don’t allow bikes in the Calistoga mud baths?

The good news is that in recent days there was a marked shift in trail integrity. We’ve been riding the mid-Peninsula and Santa Cruz areas and can report that most trails were drying out nicely — before last night’s deluge, at least. In contrast to the Pacific Northwest, where we hail from, Cali trails drain pretty quickly. Sun and warmer temps help. But the soil is far more porous in California, at least in most places. Plus trails in NorCal are well built.

Upper Alpine Road trails are hurtin'

Before we get ahead of ourselves, it should be noted that California is not out of the woods yet weather-wise. Rain continues to plague the forecast like a bad case of shingles, coming and going without much notice. El Nino or Nina or Nano, whatever it is, has things all bolloxed up and down the coast. The jet stream continues to play havoc, keeping storm patterns intermittent over the next 10 days and perhaps beyond. Everyone talks about how much the region needs the wet because of recent years’ drought. I have to explain that where I come from we have 121 synonyms for rain and no synonyms for drought. Drought itself isn’t really a word. Saying it sounds strange on our lips, like that clicking sound Aboriginals make.

Bridge no longer over troubled water

It’s a shame to interrupt the trails’ recovery. We rode in Wilder Ranch State Park at Santa Cruz Wednesday and found things in great shape, especially for a rider with Seattle roots. Although the locals (a surprising number were out) complained about splatter, I explained that these trail conditions would be heaven in the Northwest as late as mid-July. Most of the trails were perfectly dry, not even leaving tracks. Only in some drop-ins, post holes and gullies was there surface water. We weren’t complaining.

Eucalyptus, Baldwin and Wilder Ridge loops were in fine shape. A bridge had been removed at one water crossing and there was evidence of erosion on the steeps, but nothing like the blocking blowdowns, fallen limbs and what have you we would find in the Northwest. Zane Grey Cutoff had some issues in a couple of the wetter switchbacks, as did the main lower trail that cuts off from the fire road climb. At one point I wheelied over a wet spot, only to land in the biggest sucking sound since Ross Perot’s flip chart. The bike just door-stopped, dumping me over the side into a grassy bank, laughing like a maniac.

Plastic flap on Baldwin Loop

Baldwin Loop was closed, kind of, with flexi-posts, but the trail was pretty well all dry. The main road loops were dry except in upper flat areas, and even there was just oozing drainage, not puddles.

As long ago as last Sunday, Forest of Nisene Marks above Aptos was equally recovering, although the tall trees and lack of light were retarding its comeback more than Wilder. I mentioned in my Titus Rockstar 29er review that a couple of places were actively running water. But most of the lower trails (riding on the uppers was discouraged by rangers) are bouncing back.

On the mid-Peninsula, Arastradero was in fair shape on Monday, although a couple of shaded trails were closed. (Check the kiosk at the main parking lot before heading out.) Arastradero has great exposure and good drainage and recovers more quickly than most.

A ride up Alpine Road to the Stevens Creek network on Tuesday was less successful. The singletrack off Alpine was really mucky and will take some time to recover. I didn’t make it across Page Mill, but from experience know that the Stevens Creek trail itself gets closed in this kind of weather. Monte Bello has much better elevation and exposure and usually fares well.

I haven’t made it to Skeggs or points north for exploration yet but will try to get to Mt. Tam and Tamarancho this weekend, weather permitting. Bryan at Fairfax Cyclery (a great shop just to drop in and schmooze) indicated that China Camp, Pine Mountain and Mt. Tam trails were serviceable, the exception being Camp Tamarancho, which got a check mark in the unrecommended column. The shame is that the Marin County Bicycle Coalition’s Dirt Bowl fundraiser is scheduled for Sunday. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Fairfax and environs don’t get slammed too bad beforehand.

As for Wilder, Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz president Mark Davidson was not optimistic and “will probably” cancel the club’s weekly Wilder ride for tomorrow (Saturday). “We don’t recommend people ride wet trails,” he said. Having formerly lived in Vancouver, B.C., where NorthShore sprouts raging rivers this time of year and mountain bikers have to fight off kayakers for trail access, Davidson qualifies as a trusted name in soil integrity. When he says “wet,” we hear “aquatic.”

There hasn’t been a really good stretch of weather in the Bay Area since the turn of the decade. That may sound worse than it really is, but for NorCal it pretty well puts things in perspective. Let’s hope for a turn for the better asap.

Top 10 Mountain Bike Trail Names of All Time

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking on January 26, 2010 at 1:42 am

It’s not easy naming trails, and it’s gotten progressively harder as the sport of mountain biking has become more respectable. Somewhat off-color or “out there” names that captured the real spirit of the trail became harder to stick with when the trails made it into print — on maps, book guides, local tourist literature and MTBR.com. Still, our general belief is that trail names have become too sanitized and boring. In the spirit of celebrating mountain biking’s early radness and illegitimacy, we hereby list our Top 10 Mountain Bike Trail Names of All Time.

Subject to change of course. And if you have any favorites we left out, by all means forward them along.

10. Tapeworm (Renton WA)

Southeast of Seattle there’s a trail that switches back and forth in such close quarters you can shake hands with a rider behind you or ahead of you going the opposite direction on a separate section of the same trail. Especially in winter, when everywhere else turns to slop, The Worm offers challenging features and a good workout. What it lacks in poetical charm, “Tapeworm” makes up for in denotational succinctness.

9. Ladies Only (Grouse Mountain, North Vancouver B.C.) This was one of the first B.C. trails we ever rode, back in the early 1990s, atop Grouse Mountain on Vancouver’s NorthShore. We took the name literally. We were fools.

8. Comfortably Numb (Whistler B.C.)

Fittingly named Foreplay for several years while it was under construction, Comfortably Numb derives from a Pink Floyd song about surgical prep, but ably describes the slack-jawed glaze that starts to flow over you after a few hours of humping this, the longest 16-mile bike ride on the planet.

7. Analectomy. (Undocumented, B.C.) How befitting of the early risks of MTBing, when riders launching hardtails snapped seatposts on landing, forcing drastic evasive measures to avoid an impromptu and unwelcome colonoscopy au naturel. This name, originally assigned a nasty B.C. Interior trail with an inadequate transition, did not last long but remains inscribed in the memory of anyone who attempted it.

6. Poison Spider (Moab UT)

It may not be Moab’s best ride, but it’s Moab’s best name.

5. Kill Me Thrill Me (Whistler B.C.)

An early Whistler favorite, before the Mountain Bike Park existed, and has remained so over the years. Often the order of execution gets reversed, which is more logical, perhaps, but less imaginative. (We can only hope that the correct sequence is what awaits us in mtb afterlife.) Lots of challenge, including a slickrock dive worthy of Moab. Once I met a bunch of Canucks at the top who offered me a toke. No thanks, I said, checking out the drop. I want to be sure I have all my faculties. That’s funny, they said, we’re trying to lose ours.

4. El Pollo Elastico (Galbraith Mt., Bellingham WA)

One of the great legacy trail names on Galbraith Mountain outside of Bellingham. “Rubber Chicken” refers to a one-time trail ornament but also describes vividly the riding technique and/or psychological demeanor you need for Galbraith’s gnarlier singletrack. (That’s me in Mongo’s photo sequence.)

3. Severed Dick (Mt. Seymour, Vancouver NorthShore)

When I mentioned this trail in an article in 1995, the editors changed it to the more clinical “Severed Penis.” At least they kept the point; the trail still exists but in today’s PC parlance more often goes by simply “Severed.”

2. Organ Donor (Victoria, Vancouver Island)

We’re forever gratified that this trail name has not been “upgraded” to something more innocuous. But we do wonder what happens when a parent brings a grommet into ER and has to fill out the line on the form designating where the accident happened.

1. See Colours and Puke (Function Junction, B.C.)

This was originally the name of the Cheakamus Challenge, a hellacious one-day mass ride from Squamish to Whistler, and one can easily understand how it got bowdlerized as the Challenge gained in popularity. It survived for a time as the name of a key trail linking the main highway with Whistler Mountain. But today signage lists the trail name as Hair Straight-Back. We will always prefer the original, as it told the truth about the trail’s unique attractions and physical charms in its own inimitable fashion.

The Black Diamond Freeride Revolution

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Trail Access on January 8, 2010 at 2:40 am

It’s funny how these things happen. The small southeastern King County town of Black Diamond was originally named after the nickname for coal. Coal mining brought big bucks and lots of people to Black Diamond in its heyday a century ago, a phenomenon commemorated by a coal car on rails at the town limits.

A memento of glory years past

Commemorative coal car at the outskirts of town

The term has far different connotations for the phenomenon transforming Black Diamond today. In extreme sports parlance, “black diamond” is a trail designation meaning, “Watch out!” It’s a measurement of degree of difficulty, an alert for skill requirement. For bike riders, “black diamond” trails mean steepness, rocks, drops and other challenges lie ahead: Ride at your own risk!

Today Black Diamond is where the lexicon and the phenom merge. While no one is going to mistake its swoopy flatland trails for Whistler or Kamloops, the area is sporting a growing matrix of increasingly challenging rides. At Summit Ridge they’re putting together a signature mountain bike freeride park, with structures, jumps and other cool stuff.

But they need your help, and here’s your chance. Beginning 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23rd, two weeks from now, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, Black Diamond Bike shop and local riders will host a day-long work party and fundraiser to build on what’s already shaping up as a prime destination for Seattle-area mountain bikers. Walter Yi will be there to add to his killer video collection, and the Facebook tribe currently numbering 330 will be well-represented.

It’s all happened pretty suddenly. But that’s just a reflection of the pent-up demand for this stuff. Freeride parks are starting to explode all over. Witness the reception to Duthie Hill, which in just a few months has come from an idea to a whiteboard to a full-blown case study in how to get things done at the local level. Galbraith Mountain continues to evolve to world-class stature, and great expectations are in store for the forthcoming Stevens Pass mountain bike park.

Last winter Jim Lyon introduced me to the Sawyer Lake network just outside of Black Diamond and we immediately saw the huge potential for the place. Some rudimentary structures had fallen into disrepair, including a wild teeter-launch combo, and trails were getting overgrown from neglect. Still, the trailheads were never empty of vehicles with bike racks, and on any given weekend you’d run into lots of locals out thrashing the trails. There’s not a lot of climbing in this area, but there’s great draining and the trails do go up and down and make you work. For winter riding it’s one of the few places you can count on not to turn to mush.

With Summit Ridge, the Black Diamond area is taking the next big step to stardom. But it isn’t just about serving the riding community. Freeride parks provide a great positive outlet for kidz, a gathering spot where good things happen, where sports and fitness blot out less attractive pursuits, and where generations intersect in a common purpose and setting.

Plus — business leaders listen up. Parks draw. Duthie Hill’s once-spacious and underused parking lot already has expansion challenges from unexpectedly huge popularity. Freeriders eat and party and visit local attractions just like normal people. If you’re looking for a shot in the arm for local commerce, you’ll want to welcome the mountain biking crowd with open arms. Back in the day, when I was a suburban reporter for The Seattle Times, I used to drop into the Black Diamond bakery for oven-baked bread unlike anything you could find anywhere. The bakery is still there, it’s bigger and better, and it’s a perfect post-ride hangout.

So mark your calendars, bring your trail gear and generosity, come on out on the 23rd and join the revolution!

Summit Ridge Freeride Park links:

Take the survey to let the city know!

Walter Yi’s rockin’ video.

Facebook page.

Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance page.

Event flyer.

Bike Intelligencer Ride Classics: Pot Peak — Not what you might be thinking

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Multi-Day Trips on January 3, 2010 at 10:33 am

In which our intrepid duo climbs the world’s longest, most boring fire road, traverses the Talus Field From Hell, and finishes in complete darkness, riding by Braille. Was this fun or what?! This btw concludes our holiday “classics” series. Happy 2010, ride safe out there!

Still basking in Sun Valley’s halo, Jim Lyon and I headed off for another multi-day adventure, this time in the Washington high country. Neither of us had ever done the Devils Backbone-Pot Peak epic, so we pointed Moby Dick toward Chelan and cruised on over. Before leaving I did a search on my BBTC [Note: Now Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance] database, dating back to the late 1990s, for tips on the ride. I was surprised to find almost no references. Jeff Mack did a partial stab last year, but this obviously is not among the club’s more popular excursions.

We got what I thought was an early start, but it took us four and a half hours to get to the Snowberry campground and mount our bikes. It was a late start, but Zilly puts the ride at between 6 and 10 hours. As long as we were on the short side, we’d finish before dark.

[Before I go further, I’d like to thank all the BBTC (Now Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance) folks who responded to my wife’s plaintive pleas for information by phone and e-mail. I have a pact with Cecile: I can pretty much go anywhere as long as I report back in after the ride. Not all post-ride environments offer cell or phone service, however, in which case Itry to remember to alert her that I won’t be able to follow the drill. In this instance, I dropped the ball. I didn’t realize how far from anything civilized we would be.

When it got late and Cecile still hadn’t heard from me, she went to code orange. I have the BBTC Web site and Yahoo! address on our bulletin board for her to check in an emergency. She started clicking away and soon had talked to half a dozen or more regulars, who thankfully reassured her that Jim and I were probably OK. Art was most helpful, telling Cecile that Jim and I had “done a lot more dangerous rides than Devils Backbone.” While this led afterwards to cross examination worthy of a John Grisham novel, it was definitely the right thing to say at the time. I should apologize for any inconvenience to club members – since obviously we’re both fine – but by the same token am encouraged that the unintentional triggering of the system worked so well. Talk about having our back! You can’t do better than the BBTC.]

The big loop begins with a long, 13-mile fire-road climb of around 4,000 feet elevation gain. That’s right, 13 miles of dirt road. Zilly suggests at least a partial shuttle, but as regular readers of these missives know I hate shuttles. Although on the long side, the ride up seemed innocuous enough on the map, and fire roads by nature aren’t all that challenging. By mile seven, however, I was beginning to question the wisdom of the long slog. Unlike most fire roads, this one had virtually no level, or “rest,” sections. It was unrelentingly up. Not steep, really, just unremitting. Think five continuous rides up Tiger and you have an idea (except that Tiger, like most normal fire roads, does provide some respite sections). [Note: What were we THINKING??]

– Keep reading…>

Bike Intelligencer Ride Classics: North Umpqua River Trail

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Multi-Day Trips on December 31, 2009 at 2:46 am

[Note: Continuing our holiday series of Bike Intelligencer’s past Classic Epics, we hearken back to a memorable triptych in 2003 covering Mt. St. Helens’ Juniper Ridge, Oregon’s McKenzie River Trail and, further south, Oregon’s North Umpqua River Trail.]

Finally the big day was imminent. After getting back to the Smith River reservoir on the McKenzie Trail I drove back to Eugene, sat in rush hour outside of Springfield, called Mire to apologize in advance for being late, and motored down to Roseburg to find the BBTC Three relaxing in the 98-degree shade outside the Bureau of Land Management headquarters. We caravanned upriver to the Susan Creek campground and found the next-to-last spot, cramming all three vehicles into one space.

Doing the full North Umpqua trail, 70 or so miles in a single day, requires a sound body, an unstable mind and a loathed shuttle. At 5 a.m. Tuesday morning Mire tapped on my window (I sleep in the van) and it was time to roll. I had pretty much packed everything the night before and was thankful for one thing: The great white whale was staying put. We would shuttle up in Peter’s 4-by, then Anthony and Mire would run him back up at the end of the day.

Mire Levy and Anthony Cree

Mire and Anthony at the top

To complete the full ride in daylight we would have to average 7 miles an hour, which seemed doable albeit rushed. “Dude,” Preston had told me before departure, “It’s a river trail! Do it in 2 days!” For Preston anything shy of a couple of hours of hike-a-bike is a river trail, but he had a point. Just because a ride is doable doesn’t mean it should be done.

Still, it seemed worth a try. Something to tell our grandkids about. Assuming we got that far. To having grandkids, that is.

– Keep reading…>

Bike Intelligencer Ride Classics: The McKenzie River Trail

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Multi-Day Trips on December 30, 2009 at 9:18 am

[Note: Continuing our holiday series of Bike Intelligencer’s past Classic Epics, we hearken back to a memorable triptych in 2003 covering Mt. St. Helens, Oregon’s McKenzie River Trail and the North Umpqua River Trail.]

Anthony, Mire, Gonzz and I had talked about doing Oregon’s legendary McKenzie River Trail after — not before — Umpqua. But life is uncertain. Better carpe limitem — to seize the trail, as Jim Lyon says. Better yet if I could cram the McKenzie in on Monday, do Umpqua Tuesday, then skeedaddle back to Seattle on Wednesday for a Microsoft briefing.

During my post-Juniper Ridge sleepover in Eugene, I talked with Mire by cell phone, and was glad I did. She suggested that I drive upriver from Eugene/Springfield about 60 miles to the Smith Reservoir, and do an out-and-back on the McKenzie’s more tech upper section. Usually you shuttle and ride the McKenzie top to bottom, around 26 miles. But I hate shuttles and in any case, with only myself on the ride…well, you do the math.

McKenzie River lava trail

Where ripping and shredding have a whole new meaning

Never having done the McKenzie before, I figured it to be a pretty tame river trail from all the publicity and tourbook talk I’d encountered over the years. But I was surprised: It’s got a lot of technical stuff, including a lava field unlike anything I’d encountered since riding the Haleakala volcano on Maui several years ago. And the sights are spectacular: a truly remarkable, glass-clear-to-the-bottom, crystalline pool that, Anthony later told me, is 60 feet deep despite looking about 3 feet shallow; a series of crashing waterfalls, and the recreational flair of Clear Lake on top. There’s also old-growth forest along the way.

At the reservoir a pickup parked alongside my van with a guy and three young women. Trail runners! They flew off before I could even say hi, but I ran into them on the way back. It was in the 90s and they were running in short shorts and jog bras, which were the only part of them working really hard. Glistening with sweat, bodies rippling, they looked like forest nymphs flitting through the Oregon grape. Maybe they were distance runners, maybe they were supermodels. Maybe I was just hallucinating from heat stroke. At the top a tourist asked me if, in my Oregon travels, I’d seen The Three Sisters yet. “Certainly,” I said. “They’re running down the trail as we speak.”

– Keeping reading…>

Bike Intelligencer Ride Classics: Mt. St. Helens’ Juniper Ridge

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Multi-Day Trips on December 29, 2009 at 1:11 am

[Note: Continuing our holiday series of Bike Intelligencer’s past Classic Epics, we hearken back to a memorable triptych in 2003 covering Mt. St. Helens, Oregon’s McKenzie River Trail and the North Umpqua River Trail.]

After a rest day in Seattle it was time to hit the road for Mount St. Helens. I hadn’t explored this area much beyond the standard BBTC [Note: Now Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance] routes, Ape Canyon, Plains of Abraham, Smith Creek and the Lewis River treks. And to be candid, I hadn’t really wanted to. It always seemed to me too remote to be worth the 3 to 4 hour drive, even before you hit the dirt roads and feeder routes. If you’re gonna go, it’s best to plan a 3-dayer at least.

You WILL bring enough water or...

Endless singletrack from Sunrise Peak

Preston had not done his usual bang-up sales job on Juniper Creek, and there’d been quite a fall-off from the original signed-up crew. Typically Preston dryly understates the brutality factor with throwaways like, you might want to bring an extra water bottle, and there may be some climbing. Oh and don’t forget the sunscreen. Translated, this means: You will enter multi-stage dehydration unless you have adequate water; you will carry your bike up loose rocky embankments for a mile or more; you will arrive home with with full-bore melanoma unless you wear sun protection.

For the Juniper Ridge epic, though, Preston was being downright portentous. There was something about water filters… and being in shape for an 8-hour ride … and “more than average” elevation gain.

Translated: We were all going to die!

– Keep reading…>

What Happens in Moab Day 7: White Rim and it’s a wrap!

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Multi-Day Trips on December 28, 2009 at 2:45 am

[Note: When the holidays slow news down, we reach into Santa’s bag of tricks for a hearkening back to our favorite rides. This week we’re featuring a 2004 expedition to Moab, Utah, America’s mountain biking mecca and an international magnet for mountain bikers everywhere.]

Planning our trip to Moab, Jim and I had talked about doing White Rim in a day. It’s about 100 miles on the full loop, but mostly fire-road flat. Doable, yes. But we’d have to get as early a start as possible, and it would be a long, grind-it-out day. Chances were it wasn’t in the cards this time around.

We checked with Poison Spider, where a wrench told us to take it out to Musselman Arch and see where we were. The arch is a great gathering place and turnaround point if you’re so inclined. So that was the plan.

We debarked from the tourist-packed Island in the Sky Visitor Center parking lot. You descend fairly gradually down toward the valley floor, where signs direct you to Moab and the prosaically named Potash, a town built around whatever commercial value potash has.There are big ugly holding ponds which have to be toxic as all getout, especially threatening to the Colorado River.

– Keep reading…>

What Happens in Moab Day 6: Moab Race Loop (Jacob’s Ladder)

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Multi-Day Trips on December 27, 2009 at 2:34 am

[Note: When the holidays slow news down, we reach into Santa’s bag of tricks for a hearkening back to our favorite rides. This week we’re featuring a 2004 expedition to Moab, Utah, America’s mountain biking mecca and an international magnet for mountain bikers everywhere.]

You might think that after riding 32-plus miles and climbing 4,000-plus feet on Porcupine Rim, a rest day was in order. But this is Moab, we’re here for only eight days, we can rest when we’re dead and besides, there’s a loop with the word “race” in it still awaiting our inspection.

The 26-mile Spring Race Loop has been around for awhile but I’d never dreamed of doing it. The high point, literally and figuratively, is Amasa Back. So why not just do Amasa and leave it at that? You can look out from Amasa and see a sizeable portion of the race course on the valley floor, and in the heat of the day it looks like something hospitable only to Ali Baba and his 40 thieves. Whenever I’d asked about it on previous rides I got blank stares.

But the word “race” is like waving a checkered flag at Jim Lyon. And this being his first trip there, he didn’t know enough yet to know that in Moab, “race” has its own idiosyncratic definition.

– Keep reading…>