Cruising back down the ridge and over the scattered lava rock, I heard that dreadful hissing sound that no mountain biker ever wants to hear.

My back tire was going flat. And so, instead of enjoying the downhill ride on the desert singletrack trail we had just climbed — about 1,000 feet to the top of Horse Ridge — we spent the next 20 minutes changing my tire.

Luckily, we had come prepared with extra tubes and air pumps — must-have items on rocky trails and, well, on pretty much any trail where the car is not a short walk away.

The trail near the top of Horse Ridge is especially rocky and technical. We had walked much of the way uphill along the rock-strewn path, finding it hard to gain any momentum on our bikes.

Going downhill was a different story, though, and maneuvering our bikes over the rocks was actually pretty fun without having to worry about climbing.

But it was not long before my tire was hissing and we were put to work on the side of the trail.

Minus the increased risk of flatting, Horse Ridge — located about 15 miles southeast of Bend off U.S. Highway 20 — is a perfect option this time of year when the snow starts falling and other trails to the west become buried. And Horse Ridge usually remains ridable throughout the winter, when many other trails in Central Oregon are inaccessible. The area provides a perfect mix of challenging climbing, technical riding, and fast downhill singletrack.

Last week, on a day when temperatures reached the 70s, Dustin Gouker and I made the trip to Horse Ridge. From the west trailhead parking lot, we rode singletrack along a barbed-wire fence that paralleled the highway. That trail offered a relatively easier climb to the top of the ridge than other trails in the area.

Conditions were surprisingly good after recent rainfall helped to quell the dust and sand that accumulate in the area during the summer. With cooler temperatures and recent dustings of snow since last week, I am sure the trails at Horse Ridge are even more ridable now.

At the first trail intersection, we turned right and began climbing in earnest up the ridge. Before long, we were on a side-hill trail that offered dramatic views of the Badlands to the north and Dry Canyon to the northeast.

The trail continued up through old, twisted juniper trees and sagebrush. Before long we came to the technical section and rode/walked our way through the jagged rocks. By the time we reached the barbed-wire fence at the top of the ridge, we were tired enough to turn around and enjoy the downhill.

Pedaling fast along the ridge we could see the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson and even Mount Hood in the distance to the northwest on the warm, clear day.

But soon came that hissing sound, and the fun was over, at least for a while. After removing the back wheel, pulling out the old tube, inserting the new one, pumping up the tire, then putting the wheel back on, we were back on our way blasting downhill along the ridge.

Problem was, every time I rode over the sharp lava rocks I was worried my tire would go flat again. I rode conservatively, not wanting to interrupt the ride yet again with more trail-side bike maintenance.

Horse Ridge is a year-round mountain biking spot, though during summer the trails become too sandy to enjoy. The area probably receives the most use from the fat-tire crowd from late fall to early spring, when many other Central Oregon trails remain covered in snow or mud.

A variety of singletrack trails and loop rides can be accessed at Horse Ridge, but I usually complete an out-and-back ride from the west trailhead that amounts to about 10 to 12 miles.

More trails and the old Highway 20 can be ridden to the east, and to the west is a trail called Sand Canyon, which does not sound all that fun.

We managed to have fun on our ride, despite the unwelcome setback of a flat tire.

At least we were prepared — which mountain bikers always should be.

Editor's Note: This is the final installment of Mountain Bike Trail Guide for 2012.

Breaking down the trail: Horse Ridge

DIRECTIONS

From Bend, drive 15 miles southeast on U.S. Highway 20. Take a right on the Horse Ridge Frontage Road. After half a mile, a Bureau of Land Management trailhead is on the left. It includes paved parking and a kiosk. (See map at left)

DISTANCE

Varies. Loops or out-and-back rides of 10 to 15 miles are possible.

RATING

Aerobically intermediate and technically advanced.

TRAIL FEATURES

Technical rocky sections as well as smooth, side-hill singletrack along the ridge. Sweeping views of the Cascades, Smith Rock, the Badlands and Dry Canyon.

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