All sports have a Mecca of some kind, a place hardcore fans or participants yearn to visit, either to bask in the glory of events past or to create historic good times of their own. Alpinists have Chamonix. Scuba divers have the Caribbean. For years, mountain bikers had Moab, Utah. But recently, a new destination is vying for the crown of singletrack nirvana: Oakridge, Oregon. Located 40 miles east of Eugene, in the foothills of the Cascade mountain range, Oakridge has been quietly building a reputation as one of North America’s finest places to ride bikes off-road. Tremendous mountain views, a wealth of trails of all difficulty levels and just enough access to things like food, shelter and beer have combined to put this former timber town firmly on the map for mountain bikers of all abilities.
A big part of the area’s rise to recognition comes thanks to Mt. Bike Oregon (MBO), a three-day event that happens twice a summer, combining all the adrenaline-stoking riding you can fit in, plenty of good food, excellent company and quite a bit of the Northwest’s rightfully famous microbrews. Organized enough to run smoothly and provide shuttle access to the area’s best singletrack trails, casual enough to feel like a big camping party and welcoming to riders across a broad range of experience, MBO is a trail rider’s dream come true. Founder and organizer Randy Dreiling started the event in 2005 to showcase the area’s trails, as well as bring some new economic blood to the area. Dreiling, who has become one of Oakridge’s biggest advocates, also owns Oregon Adventures, a professional guiding service that caters to riders looking to get the local scoop on the best trails.
MBO has a refreshingly simple schedule: eat, ride, drink beer, sleep, repeat. Each night, sign-up sheets for the shuttle buses are put out for the next day’s rides, and there’s a mad scramble to sign up for popular trails like Alpine and Middle Fork. But I’ll let you in on a secret: There are no bad rides. Adrenaline junkies will want to score a slot on The Epic, but every trail in the area boasts incredible views, flowing lines and challenging terrain that stops short of brutal. When the ride is over, you can opt for a hot shower or jump in the river for a brisk camp-side rinse. After you get cleaned up, there’s time to relax, discover the latest in bike tech by visiting the various bike manufacturers who set up demo tents and get ready for dinner. Food here is excellent (Burritos! Pancakes! Awesome coffee!) and plentiful, and the beverages in the beer and wine garden are appealing and free flowing, making for easy conversations and new friends. I ride myself silly all weekend, and am amazed at the wealth of trails, vistas and pure fun I have. “I’ve been riding and racing mountain bikes since I was in college, and this was honestly one of the best weekends of riding I’ve ever had,” my friend Mat Coffey tells me on Sunday afternoon. I can’t argue with his assessment.
The trails and the instant community are the real stars of MBO, but they couldn’t exist without the town of Oakridge. For years Oakridge was a thriving timber area, but when mills closed due to the industry’s decline in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the town fell on hard times. Now, businesses like Oregon Adventures, bike shop Willamette Mountain Mercantile, the Trailhead Coffeehouse and brewpub Brewers Union Local 180 all cater to the new economic force of mountain bikers, making Oakridge an ideal outdoor destination for two-wheeled trail lovers.
Beyond the organized option of MBO, Oakridge is perfectly suited to those who are either unable to make it on MBO’s dates, or who prefer to create their own itinerary. Lodging options include the Oakridge Motel and the new Oakridge Hostel, or you can pitch a tent by the river at the Salmon Creek campground. The knowledgeable and friendly folks at Willamette Mountain Mercantile can help you sort out trail options, or you can enlist Oregon Adventures to guide you for the day (or multiple days), including shuttles to and from the trailheads. A build-your-own mountain bike adventure is as close as a couple of phone calls, a little time off and bike tune-up. What are you waiting for?