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Off-road biking season openers

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Vendors of all things bikes were on hand to show their wares at the weekend events. Demonstrations, repairs, and sales were all there for those wanting to check out the latest bike, purchase new gear, or perhaps to get some help with fixing their bike. John W. Ross photo

By JOHN W. ROSS/for The Herald  —  Two of the season’s premier off-pavement cycling events pedaled into and out of town with the weekend of weather they wanted.

Or close enough. That’s how the weather acts these days: fickle. Rafters and kayakers like it. Farmers and gardeners, not so much.

But the promoters of the Gravel Grinder ride to the east of town and Mountain Bike Oregon Festival to the west dared not complain. It was hot but could have been hotter. It was dry but could have been wetter—way wetter and certainly cooler.

Thank whatever gods were on duty, neither smoke nor fire appeared.

Weather and timing were significant factors for both events

All the planning, preparation and promotion that goes into either event seemed to come down to the one day—Summer Solstice the Tuesday beforehand—when a switch somehow flipped and cloudy and cool became sunny and sizzling. Whereupon the bikers streamed jauntily into town on gravel bike setups to camp at Greenwaters Park or with mountain bike gear to take over the open space on Westfir’s Office Bridge property.

Greenwaters Park was the landing zone for the many “gravel Grinders” that came to Oakridge over the weekend. John W. Ross photo
Gravel grinder camp 2022. Riders relax a little on the green grass and amongst the trees in Greenwaters Park. John W. Ross photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gravel bikers sheltered in tents and rocked evening hammocks as they feasted or rested between stages of their five-day ride. Miles of Forest Service and logging roadbeds had been routed for the absence of the dreaded motor vehicles with all their noise, pollutants and hard-metal fenders that wreak havoc on thinly clad cycling bodies.

As much as the gravel group adores its leveler, more-negotiable trails, the mountain bikers’ lust for the steep and “gnarly” where roots, rocks, slopes, and hairpins abide.

The graveling peloton rode point-to-point to arrive from Blue River, on leaner machines with narrower rims and tires. Similarly, they were accommodated in simpler Nylon tents. Music wafted but in moderation with riders facing 40-60 miles astride saddles the next morning.

Accommodations and services were a mixed bag

A few mountain bikers camped in tents. Hard-shell trailers, rigs, and camping units proliferated, maybe to serve younger family members. That, or the hours of slow steep climbs and downhill thrashing over narrower, hairier, single-track trails demanded more creature comforts.

Coming and going. Riders cross the North Fork to go to and come from the MBO camp. John W. Ross photo
vendors line both sides of the “main street” at the MBO event in Westfir. John W. Ross photo

Although the gravel riding gaggle did have nifty portable shower options not evident on the mountain bike campgrounds, both had easy access to respective Middle and North Fork Willamette waters, snow-fed and bracing. Some mountain bikers asked about calmer swimmable holes, the option didn’t seem of interest to their crosstown cousins.

Craft brews flowed plentifully and freely from taps at both sites helping participants unwind from the longer summer days into shorter, warmer nights and easing aches and pains and soothing tired souls of proper age and wisdom.

 

The mountain biker cluster clearly partied hardy, consistent with the “Festival” concept. They may have gotten somewhat loopier, in the carnival-style atmosphere after riding trails with more loops and hairpins punctuated by downhill bombing runs. However, crowd control at either site was not an issue.

The Westfir bike hub was used extensively during the weekend. Thanks, Westfir! John W. Ross photo

A new bike wash and repair station at the Westfir Portal

While the MBO riders mostly slept sans showers trucked into Greenwaters, the Office Bridge parking circle did feature a shiny, just-erected, firetruck-red bike maintenance station courtesy of the City of Westfir with grant assistance. Bikers had the option to hose their cycle off or use the retractable tools on a separate maintenance post for tune-ups and adjustments.

In the morning, the MBO riders were shuttled away in groups to trailheads of their choice. Gravel bikers cycled away much like they would soon end up—with buddies riding abreast, behind or up front. A timer strip tracked how speedily riders covered ground. One cyclist said he might ride hard until he was out of the running and then just settle back and enjoy the scenery.

The competitive Pioneer division rode full tilt, but by choice. The Settlers could pedal with more restraint, over shorter distances and gentler terrain.

By day three, the competition was fierce among the Pioneers with the nation’s top Mountain bike rider leading the pack and an Olympic cyclist and the rest of the pack close on his wheels. The women’s competition was proportionally intense and well-populated.

A young MBO camp follower passes time perfecting his wheelie technique. John W. Ross photo
Is that Gumby riding a pipe cleaner mountain bike? The young lady pictured seems pleased with her creation. John W. Ross photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MBO participants, by comparison, experienced a more family-style, summer-camp atmosphere that has attracted a faithful following of four hundred or so since its launch 17 years ago. Between rides, kids had an arts and crafts table for diversion, could join a riding clinic or simply hang out and work on “wheelies.”

Saturday’s MBO events were for all ages

All ages were invited to compete in a Saturday evening mini-bike circuit race. Full grown riders struggled to maintain an upright and strait-line form where smaller, younger riders handled the smaller pedaling cycles more gracefully. Vocal fans lining the short course and the finish line may have been the clearest winners, judging from their vocalizing.

Predictably, hilarity abounded, and frail pride suffered.

Grownups riding kiddie bikes? Yes! Who the winner was is inconsequential. Lots of laughter was the best prize. John W. Ross photo

Cyclists of either discipline departed by Sunday feeling somewhere between pooped and exhausted, aiming to recover by next year or next event, depending on time, money, and availability. The weather’s gonna do what the weather’s gonna do.

Though not exactly mountain bike apparel, He did seem to having a good time. Support crew, perhaps? John W. Ross photo

 

FYI from the Editor: The guy on the left is NOT the reporter. Journalists can be a somewhat weird bunch. Regardless, I wanted to get this person’s picture in the article. It just happens to be where the story’s author is generally located.

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