Mountain biking in Central Oregon

Bend's Kirt Voreis is an influential mountain biking ambassador

By Mark Morical / The Bulletin / @MarkMorical

Published Sep 7, 2012 at 05:00AM

Drugs were a way of life for Kirt Voreis' parents.

His father died in a motorcycle crash while high on cocaine when Kirt was just 5 years old. He recalls how his mother raised him among methamphetamine addicts in Fontana, Calif., and became addicted to the drug herself, working nights to support her son.

Kirt remembers fighting off his mother's heroin-addicted boyfriend when he was just 10 years old.

He was determined not to follow the same tragic path as his parents.

“I grew up around a lot of Hells Angels and stuff like that,” Voreis says. “Meth is big now, but when I was a kid it was life. My mom got hooked on it to work and feed me. Most of my adolescence, it was me going and finding things on my own. It was a crazy environment to grow up in. I wouldn't change it for anything, but ... I put a lot of my effort into sport. For me, it was about jumping down streets on my skateboard.”

Voreis — who is now 38 and has lived in Bend for seven years — took up skateboarding at the age of 15, and dabbled in biking when he could find a friend's bike to ride.

“I broke a lot of kids' bikes,” Voreis recalls.

That can happen when you attempt things on bikes that have never been done before.

Those early days on borrowed bikes were the start of Voreis' path to becoming a pioneer of downhill and freeride mountain biking. He is now known as one of the best all-around mountain bikers in the world, and a driving force in the rapid evolution of the sport.

Voreis travels across the nation each spring and summer on his AllRide Tour, promoting all disciplines of mountain biking and introducing kids to the sport. He also volunteers more than 100 hours a year helping build and maintain trails here with the Central Oregon Trail Alliance.

When Kirt was still a teenager, his mother remarried, and his stepfather encouraged Kirt to follow his passions and escape his troubled childhood.

“He changed me,” Kirt recalls. “With his tutelage and him opening my mind, he had passion. I didn't realize I had passion for these sports.”

By the age of 17, Voreis had moved on from skateboarding competitions to cross-country mountain bike racing. He became a professional downhill racer in 1994 after sending a tape of himself performing back flips on his BMX bike to the owner of Yeti Cycles.

In 1996, Kirt had blossomed into a top World Cup downhill and dual slalom racer. (Downhill races are time trials held on steep terrain, with high-speed descents and extended air time off jumps and other obstacles. Dual slalom races are head-to-head competitions down a course of berms, jumps and drops.)

From 1998 to 2000, Voreis raced for the Mountain Dew/Specialized team alongside his friend and freeride legend Shaun Palmer. The two created a rabid following with their colorful personalities. By 2001, mountain bike racing had grown stale for Voreis.

“I thought those guys didn't have skills, they just pedal,” he says.

He reinvented himself by making a video called “Evolution,” which features him racing on the World Cup circuit AND performing freeride tricks. It was released before freeride videos became commonplace.

As mountain biking began to shift toward freestyle riding in 2002, Voreis won several freestyle/dirt jump events and was filmed in many cutting-edge videos. Evolving with the sport, he re-branded himself as a freerider while he continued to race World Cup events.

“By 2002, I was racing and traveling the world and making a lot of money,” Voreis says.

In 2003, Voreis started the AllRide Tour. The tour is now sponsored by Specialized, and Voreis says he averages more than 30,000 miles on the tour's van each May through September.

The goal of AllRide is to promote Specialized products — but also to get people into mountain biking.

“Each year I get 400 to 600 people on bikes to test my products, and we have a junior racing team,” says Voreis, who quit racing in 2005.

That same year Voreis and his wife Lindsey moved to Bend from Southern California. Lindsey — who handles most of the business behind the AllRide Tour and guides rides for Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours in Bend — was raised in Portland, and would travel to Black Butte for vacation when she was growing up. When she introduced Kirt to Central Oregon, he knew he had found home.

“I realized what mountain biking should be — it was accessible to people,” Voreis says. “Other places are too steep. The trails ... we all work together and there's a community.”

Voreis is still an avid skateboarder, and he also enjoys snowboarding and kayaking. His favorite mountain bike trails include the McKenzie River Trail, South Fork, Flagline, and the slalom play loop at Phil's Trailhead, which he builds and maintains.

“There's something about Bend, with everything here,” Voreis says. “I change my mind a lot, so it's good.”