The "dusty" dog days of summer are finally over for Central Oregon mountain bikers.
The fall season means less dust, less smoke and less conflict for the fat-tire crowd.
Recent rains have made local trails smoother and tackier, and the cooler weather is perfect for long rides on higher-elevation trails, which will remain accessible until heavy snowfall comes.
"It's the best time of year to ride," says Paul Thomasberg, co-founder of Bend's Big Fat Tour, a package of three long rides in and around Central Oregon in mid-October. "It's the best, most diverse riding of the whole year. Plus fall colors ... the list goes on and on."
There are also fewer hikers and bikers out on the trails - and fewer tourists.
"There's basically more solitude and fewer encounters," says Woody Starr, a board member of the Big Fat Tour. "Fall is when the locals get their woods back."
Some noteworthy loops that are best ridden in the fall include the 20-mile North Fork-Flagline loop, which starts and finishes at Tumalo Falls, and the 20-mile Newberry Crater Loop, starting and finishing at Paulina Peak.
The more hard-core cross-country mountain bikers can tackle the Big Fat Tour's "epic" ride, a grueling 100-mile test from Paulina Peak east of La Pine all the way to Sisters. The epic is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 13.
The more hard-core cross-country mountain bikers can take part in the Big Fat Tour. The Tour's "epic" ride is a grueling 100-mile test from Paulina Peak east of La Pine all the way to Sisters. The epic is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 13.
The Tour's recreational ride, set for Oct. 14, is 50 miles from Dutchman Flat Sno-park, near Mount Bachelor, to Bend. And the finale, Oct. 15, is a 23-mile route near Cache Mountain.
This marks the 12th year of the Big Fat Tour, in which riders vie for the "No Whiners" patch, awarded to those mountain bikers who complete all three rides. Last year, 25 riders earned the patch.
Organizers encourage anybody to register for the 100-mile ride, even though not all who sign up will necessarily finish. (The epic ride is limited to the first 75 who register.)
Thomasberg recommends that riders try to complete a couple of six-hour rides in the days ahead and then get plenty of rest during the week preceding the event.
"That'll give you a fighting chance," says Thomasberg, who compares a mountain biker finishing the 100-mile ride to a runner completing a marathon. "It's not a race, but the top five people want to win."
The epic ride includes a 4,000-foot elevation gain from Benham Falls near Sunriver to Three Creeks Sno-park near Sisters.
"Some people hit the wall and they're done," Thomasberg says. "One of the biggest mistakes is to stop. Slow down, but don't stop. The race is against the sunset. Sunrise to sunset, that's how much time you've got."
Thomasberg, a former professional mountain biker, says he usually finishes the 100-mile route in eight or nine hours.
Starr says that two years ago he completed the ride in 12 hours.
All three rides of the Big Fat Tour will include several biker guides and multiple aid stations with food and drink.
And the event will take place rain or shine - or snow. Last year, at the start of the recreational ride at Dutchman Flat, about six inches of snow awaited Big Fat Tour participants.
"Everybody had a blast," Thomasberg recalls. "It was phenomenal."
"We had really good communication last year," Starr says. "We told everyone to bring extra clothing, gloves and pants. There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."
The organizers say they may have to alter the routes if there is heavy snowfall, perhaps starting and finishing at a lower altitude. But the event will go on no matter what.
"We roll with it," Thomasberg says.
This year's Big Fat Tour is a benefit for the Central Oregon Trail Alliance, a group of local volunteers committed to trail advocacy and maintenance.