Everyday Cyclist: Off-Road Trail Paradise

I recently got a new road bike that can take pretty fat tires. After writing about the joys of “underbiking” a couple months ago, my buddies have enjoyed busting my chops about my new fat-tired road bike, which is more of an “overbike.”

My favorite rides always have some dirt element: a county road, a fire road, or a trail. With this new bike and its fatty tires, I’ve been seeking out trails more than I have in the past and I’ve been having a blast.

A couple weeks ago, I persuaded local trails and mountain bike guru, Ben Tobin, to take me on some dirt rides. Our first ride started down the familiar trails off of High Drive. I’ve explored just about all of these trails. Eventually, if you keep going south, you end up in a development off of Hatch Road, which is where we popped out. The new piece of trail that Ben showed me was across Hatch Road, on the east side. This trail sweeps around a ravine and gently swoops down to Hangman Valley Road. From there, Ben showed me more trails in the same general area.

As I mentioned, I’m already inclined to ride some dirt as part of my normal riding routine, but what I kept thinking as I rode these trails with Ben is how amazingly under-used these trails are. The day we rode around the south part of town we saw two walkers over the course of about 20 miles of trail.

I also started thinking about all the cyclists I know and how so many of them just don’t ride trials. Why?

Most of these trails are not technically difficult. There are some sections of the High Drive trails that have a distracting steep drop off, but you can walk those as you make your way to the more interior sections. Any bike with reasonably fat tires (32 mm or more) and a bit of tread would do fine on these trails. You don’t need suspension or carbon or clipped in pedals. You don’t need mad technical skills. You just need to find a local person like Ben who knows the trails and is patient and will take you out.

There are so many cyclists that are missing out a whole world of cycling. It is so beautiful and quiet and refreshing to ride through the local sections of natural areas that are either in or on the perimeter of our city.

The following week, our second ride together started at Wheel Sport South, where the store manager, Simon, let me borrow a Specialized Stumpjumper Expert. Talk about overbiking! This bike has dual suspension. The rear pivot is suspended and has—get this—a brain to control the stiffness of the suspension. Simon spent a bunch of time getting the brain, and the rest of the bike, all dialed in for me.

I’ve always wanted to ride a super bike like this on some trails. Our plan was to go hit Beacon Hill on the north side of town.

Beacon Hill is an amazing network of trails. It’s obvious that many people, Especially the Fat Tire Trail Rider’s Club, have put in a lot of work to build up and maintain this huge area. According to Ben and many online reviews, Beacon Hill has some of the best downhill riding in the northwest. It’s certainly at the top of the heap for the Spokane area. Unlike the trials of High Drive, which are swoopy with flat sections and some up and down climbing, Beacon Hill is just downhill. The trails zig zag sharply down the hill and are interrupted by boulders, large drop-offs, and many trees. If there are trails for beginners here, Ben did not take me on any. In fact, on my initial descent, I went over the bars and landed hard.

Once I got adjusted to the bike, it was thrilling to ride down super technical trails behind someone like Ben. Ben has been riding downhill for many years. He’s graceful and fast. I tried to watch for technique as he effortlessly dropped into tight corners seemingly without braking. The same corners had my rear wheel catching and slipping as I just managed to keep the bike upright. On our second run down, we took a different route.

As I traveled about 20 yards behind Ben, I saw him disappear. It was as if the ground opened up and swallowed whole. By the time I processed what had happened to him, I was shooting off the top of a boulder and dropping down to the trail below. Luckily, I didn’t freeze up and I was able to channel my inner 12 year old BMX child. I landed my first big drop. Yow.

We did three runs down the hill and they were all exhilarating.

However, at the end of the day, I think I’m more of a trails guy than a downhill guy.

There are a lot of local trails that I’ve yet to explore. I know there are trails in all parts of town. Most of these trails are not well-documented and may only be familiar to local cyclists. If you’ve not explored the trails in your area, you owe it to yourself to seek out that local trail rider and get a tour.
John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.

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