Editor's note: Mountain Bike Trail Guide, by Bulletin outdoors writer Mark Morical, features various trails in Central Oregon and beyond. The trail guide appears in Adventure Sports on alternating Fridays through the riding season.
I had three choices — and they all looked daunting.
Black Diamond? Don't think so. Double black diamond? No way.
Blue square was the only thing I was going to try. And I was not going to catch much air. I would simply roll over the huge jumps slowly, assuring myself of making it to the bottom in one piece.
OK, so the Lair progressive skills park west of Bend is not necessarily for mountain bikers like myself. In the four years of its existence I have not been to the Lair much. ... OK, I've avoided it like the plague.
But a trip there earlier this week reminded me of why the area exists, and why timid cross-country mountain bikers like myself can have fun there.
The Bend area has long been recognized as a mecca for cross-country mountain biking. But the Lair makes Central Oregon a destination for free riding — an increasingly popular style of mountain biking that includes riding enormous jumps, steeply banked turns, and heinous rock sections and drops, among other advanced terrain.
The Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service to build the Lair four years ago. COTA volunteers have since improved and maintained the area, logging thousands of volunteer hours during annual work parties.
The area is located a couple miles south of Phil's Trailhead, just west of Bend.
Just a few years ago, Central Oregon was lacking in free-ride mountain bike areas. Now, with the combination of the Lair, the jumps near Phil's Trailhead and the Whoops trail, riders have numerous options.
“There's a lot of jumps in Bend,” says Joe Treinen, who serves as the unofficial steward of the Lair for COTA. “Bend has actually got a pretty good scene for dirt jumps, and there's some in Redmond (along U.S. Highway 97). Dirt jumping as a whole in Bend is alive and well.”
The Lair is set up as a progression-based area, where riders can start on smaller, tamer features and work their way up. Most of the area has been machine-built with backhoes, small excavators, and skid steers. But volunteers have also used their own muscles with shovels and rakes.
The Lair is quite unlike any other section of trails in Central Oregon. Black Rock near Salem and Post Canyon near Hood River offer similar free-riding options, though those places incorporate many wood structures while the Lair is made mostly of dirt.
Earlier this week at the Lair, I followed the blue square (intermediate) Enter The Dragon trail, riding slowly and cautiously, but still managing to enjoy the flow of the trail as I cruised over the features — large tabletop jumps, bermed corners and rocky downhill sections.
The trail back to the top is the aptly named “Broken Chairlift” trail. The name makes sense, because the Lair is designed like a ski hill — riders can progress from easy runs to more advanced runs as they gain skills and confidence.
“Within the last three to four years we've just been attacking it piece by piece and changing stuff up for better flow, and adding jumps,” Treinen says. “Basically, the Lair has been improving with the skill level of the local riders.”
Like it or not, free riding is the direction in which the sport of mountain biking is headed because it's what the kids are doing — but also many adults. Treinen says the age of riders at the Lair ranges from about 8 to 50.
Bike shops are selling greater numbers of heavier, longer-travel (more shock absorption) bikes, which are made for downhill and free riding. But in Central Oregon, most enthusiasts of the Lair have a hard-tail bike with a frame geometry designed specifically for dirt jumping — smaller than a regular mountain bike with about 4 inches of suspension in the front.
“There are some bigger free-ride bikes,” Treinen notes, “but the riding scene here doesn't cater to a big free-ride bike, because we don't have the steep terrain for it like Black Rock or Post Canyon.”
It is no secret that flying off jumps and drops on a mountain bike is inherently dangerous. Helmets are required at the Lair, and body armor is recommended.
Treinen says more improvements are planned at the area, including adding more turns and jumps to the beginner and intermediate lines.
“We're still a few years away,” Treinen says, “from the Lair actually reaching its full potential.”