August 31, 2007 Features & Images » Feature Story

Going Big (part 2) 

click to enlarge Downhill Mountain Biking has revolutionized the bikes now used for cross-country riding. Photo by Scott Brammer, coastphoto.com.
  • Downhill Mountain Biking has revolutionized the bikes now used for cross-country riding. Photo by Scott Brammer, coastphoto.com.

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But the Forest Service, like many of the federal agencies, still has no official mountain bike management policy. The first step towards a plan is Villanueva’s next project: The California Mountain Bike Situational Assessment will catalog the current state of mountain biking on national forest lands in the state, from general usage to illegal trails. Eventually, it will serve as the model for a national assessment.

But will today’s new gonzo mountain bikers ever be content to stick to established trails? Will their drive to push the limits and pull ever-crazier stunts drown out any inkling of a land ethic? Seeking some answers, I head out through the rumble-junked logging towns of Dallas and Falls City west of Salem, Ore. There, nestled between a church camp and a plot of Weyerhaeuser timberland, is the Black Rock Freeride Area.

Rich Bontrager, president of Black Rock Mountain Bike Association, shows me around. An affable, mustachioed 39-year-old who works for a dental supply company, he hardly seems like the X-games adrenaline-junkie type, until he’s armored in layers of plastic leg, arm and torso protectors, and pulling big air on his new Santa Cruz VP Free bike. A former motorcycle rider, he gravitated to biking a few years ago and immediately loved the thrills and camaraderie at a lower cost.

From the base of the area, Bontrager points out "skinnies"— long elevated log rides that test a rider’s balance — "roll-over" bumps, and a large tabletop jump. Up the hill, on the experts-only trails, is a 12-foot-tall curved wooden wall where bikers can test the limits of gravity and speed. Despite years of mountain biking and racing, these jumps make my stomach drop: The biggest, which looks for all the world like a bridge that has been hacked off mid-span, spits bikers a good 25 feet into a deep ravine below.

Bontrager tells me riders can really progress here, moving from the rollovers on up to the ravine drop. "It’s all about saddle time," he says. And the only way to get saddle time, is of course to ride, or in my case, just hang on for dear life.

My "hardtail" bike and unarmored flesh aren’t going to cut it here, so Bontrager lends me a pair of shin guards, a full-face helmet, and his old bike, a 48-pound Shore with 7 inches of rear travel and 8 on the front. As we push our giant bikes up a fire road, Bontrager explains the area’s history.

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