Winter biking in Central Oregon

Mild temperatures, dry weather good for cycling

By Beau Eastes / The Bulletin / @beastes

Winter rentals are big business at Bend’s Sunnyside Sports, especially through the holiday season.

On New Year’s Day last week, Sunnyside co-owner Susan Bonacker rented out the store’s entire fleet — of mountain bikes.

Central Oregon’s wacky weather has been a nightmare for area ski enthusiasts. But it has been an extended blessing for mountain bikers and road cyclists.

“I had to go grab (the bikes) from upstairs, we’d put them away for the season,” said Bonacker on Friday, adding that her shop is rolling with the unexpectedly long riding season. “Usually only hard-core cyclists are riding in the wintertime, but we’ve been renting out bikes to entire families. It’s been so nice and the trails are definitely in good shape, particularly east of town. … People are making the best of what is beautiful weather.”

Trails east of Bend such as Horse Butte and Horse Ridge and the Maston network between Tumalo and Redmond are always popular during the winter months, Bonacker explained. But even if the trails are free of snow and ice, cyclists usually have to battle arctic temperatures. That was not the case this holiday season, as the average high in Bend between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3 was 51 degrees. Precipitation levels have also been historically low in Central Oregon this winter. Readings taken by the National Resources Conservation Service at the Three Creeks Meadow snow station show just 7 1⁄2 inches of precipitation — essentially snow or rain — from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1. That is 10 inches below the 30-year average for the area in the same time block between 1980 and 2010.

With less snow and ice, road bikers have also been quick to take advantage of the prolonged cycling season. Roads outside of Bend — and away from sanding — are riding like late fall, Bonacker said.

“Anything toward Redmond is beautiful right now,” she observed. “It tends to be warmer up there than in Bend. And we’ve heard good things northwest of town, too. Basically anything out in the open that is flat is lovely if there’s not too much wind.”

Of course, if you are looking for an entirely new two-wheel experience, fat-tire bikes may be the way to go. Mountain bikes with wheels almost 5 inches wide, fat-tire bikes are typically used on groomed snow trails or sand.

“We’re seeing a lot of those go out the door,” said Simon Elston of Hutch’s Bicycles in Bend. “They’ve been around a little bit, but this is the first year they’re really taking off. We’re seeing people who normally wouldn’t ski, maybe who would hang out inside, going out on these bikes.”

Snow quality is of little concern for fat-tire bikes, which makes them ideal for Central Oregon’s current unseasonable winter conditions.

“Go up to any of the sno-parks and head out on the cross-country (ski) or snowmobile trails,” Elston said about where to ride fat-tire bikes.

With temperatures in and around Bend expected to be in the mid-40s for the coming the week, area cycle shops have no plans to put their bikes up just yet.

“From the global perspective, ‘Holy cow!’” said Bonacker, who said she is seeing more bikes being sold at her shop’s annual end-of-the-year sale. “Global warming’s not something to take lightly. And from the business end I have a lot of ski inventory I’d like to turn. But we’re very likely to have a full winter tilt here shortly. … When the weather changes, you’ve just got to be prepared to do the next thing.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0305; beastes@bendbulletin.com.