Sometimes, when ideal conditions lead to unwarranted confidence, we can get a little over our heads — or over our handlebars — in our outdoor adventure pursuits.
Such was the case Sunday as I sped down the jump-laden Tiddlywinks Trail southwest of Bend. Perfect fall dirt — wet, tacky, and firm — gave me perhaps a false sense of security as I tried to float higher off every jump.
Ultimately, I landed front-tire first after launching off a medium-sized feature and was sent flying over the handlebars and onto my head.
Busted ego and busted helmet aside, I was fine and managed to enjoy the rest of the ride.
During autumn — as long as they ride under control — mountain bikers can enjoy perhaps the best singletrack trail conditions of the year in Central Oregon.
They still have possibly a few weeks to cruise on trails that will eventually be covered in snow in the wintertime. Now is a great time to get in those last few rides of the fall in the Wanoga trail network before the snow flies, as conditions are prime and the trails are not crowded.
The Funner-Tiddlywinks loop is a good option for aggressive riders who do not mind some larger freeride features.
A 4-mile climb up the Funner Trail leads to Wanoga Trailhead and the Tiddlywinks Trail.
When barreling down the Tiddlywinks Trail, mountain bikers would be wise to lower their seats and try to keep their weight back when riding off the jumps. Getting too far forward can lead to mishaps like mine.
Many other options exist in the Wanoga network for those who seek a more classic cross-country-style ride and prefer that their bike tires remain on terra firma.
On Tuesday, armed with a new helmet, I made the trip with a couple of riding partners to the U.S. Forest Service’s Cascade Lakes Welcome Station, about 7 miles southwest of Bend off Century Drive.
From there, mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners have access to myriad trails. Ticket To Ride is a relatively new loop that is good for all skill levels. COD is a more rocky, technical trail for experienced riders.
The welcome station has become a hub of sorts for mountain biking west of Bend, taking crowds away from Phil’s Trailhead off Skyliners Road farther to the north.
Our plan was to ride a 17-mile loop along the Catch and Release, Storm King, Larsen’s, and Tyler’s Traverse trails on a partly cloudy day when the temperature would approach 70 degrees. Catch and Release is a fun and flowy path that stays relatively flat between the welcome station and Storm King and parallels Conklin Road.
Once we arrived at the junction with Storm King, the climbing began in earnest. The ascent to Larsen’s Trail is fairly moderate, with a few steeper sections mixed in.
As we turned onto the Tiddlywinks Trail and then Larsen’s, the trails became increasingly firm, helped by the higher elevation and cooler temperatures.
Larsen’s Trail is just 21⁄2 miles long, yet it is one of my favorites in the area. The singletrack trail features nothing fancy, but it allows mountain bikers to pedal hard and pick up speed, and it always seems to be in superb condition with little dust.
Larsen’s led us to lower Tyler’s Traverse Trail, which includes jumps and freeride features that are generally small enough that those who wish to keep their tires on the ground can do so. Upper Tyler’s Traverse, similar to Tiddlywinks, includes bigger jumps and berms.
We sped down Tyler’s, then connected back onto Catch and Release for the ride back to the welcome station. Catch and Release is a thrilling trail in its own right. Although it has little elevation variance, the trail includes sections where riders can really pick up speed and fly over some rollers. The trail does have a couple of tricky rock sections, but they are short.
All told during our ride, the 17-mile loop included about 1,200 feet of elevation gain — and some perfect fall conditions.
While the trails in the Wanoga area will be covered with snow sometime later this fall, mountain biking is a year-round sport in Central Oregon.
As trails west of Bend become mired in snow and ice, trails to the east and north of Bend can remain ridable well into winter.
Horse Ridge is usually a good option in late fall and throughout the winter for mountain biking and hiking. Located about 15 miles southeast of Bend off U.S. Highway 20 in a seemingly desolate area where the terrain offers a stark contrast to the trails west of Bend, Horse Ridge often remains ridable year-round. But not last winter, when Central Oregon was covered in significant snow for weeks from late February through March.
Perhaps this winter will be milder, but now is an ideal time to head to Horse Ridge before the snow returns. Much of the nearly 30 miles of singletrack trail there is fairly technically challenging, with loads of lava rocks that dot the trail on certain stretches. The area also includes a fair amount of elevation gain for those looking for long climbs, as well as Cascade mountain views.
Mountain bikers looking for an easier late-fall and winter riding option can head to the Maston Area between Tumalo and Eagle Crest Resort. The area is mostly flat, making the singletrack trails ideal for all skill levels. One trail skirts the edge of the Deschutes River canyon, offering nice views of the river far below. Two trailheads for Maston are accessible from Cline Falls Highway, including the south trailhead off Newcomb Road and the north trailhead, called Juniper. Like Horse Ridge, Maston offers views of Cascade peaks.
During mid-autumn, Central Oregon mountain bikers can enjoy excellent riding conditions on the higher-elevation trails while they remain accessible. And they know they have options once winter settles in across the High Desert.
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,