Bikes + mountains = year-round thrills

Clark County gains reputation as prime mountain-biking area as sport grows in popularity

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

Get out there:

Lacamas Park map

Tarbell/Bells Mountain map

Three Corner Rock map

Clark County, Yacolt Burn info

Local biking groups:

Cold Creek Mountain Bikers

Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance

Vancouver Bicycle Club (mostly street bicyclists

Eric Albers used to think skiing was the perfect sport.

After all, it's a great way to get outside, enjoy the crisp air and find a few thrills.

But he was wrong, Albers said, there's something far better — and you don't need snow to enjoy it.

"Mountain biking is like year-round skiing," said Albers, 38, president of the Cold Creek Mountain Bikers. "You don't need to wait for good snow, and there's stuff to do in each season. You just adapt with it and change how you ride your bike."

Clark County is gaining recognition as a prime area for mountain biking in Washington, he said.

In the Yacolt Burn area, where they ride, Albers' group has created the state's first legal downhill trail specifically for mountain biking.

The county has two relatively new youth mountain bike racing teams, the Lacamas Freedom Riders and Vancouver Mashers, that play as part of the Washington Student League.

And many adult Clark County riders participate in races with the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association under the umbrella of local stores like Camas Bike and Sport, said owner Ed Fischer, who also runs the Lacamas youth team.

"Mountain biking, you're not contesting with traffic," Fischer said. "I prefer it for youth because of that. I also like mountain biking in winter, because the speeds are slower (compared with road biking), so you get less cold."

Forest canopy also helps shield cyclists — sort of, anyway — from the rain and cold, he added.

"And it's just a great way to explore our natural beauty around here," Fischer said.

Most of the touted mountain biking areas in the county are suited to intermediate to advanced level riders, but there are also some good spots around for beginners that want to learn the ropes, the two men said.

Local cycle shops often offer mountain bike rentals for new riders, with discounts if they decide to buy a bike. They also put together organized rides, as does the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, a statewide group that is merging with Cold Creek Mountain Bikers.

"For beginners, especially those that are older, I'd recommend finding some moderate riders to introduce you," Fischer said. "You don't want to start out with the more extreme riders. Lacamas Park is a good place to start because it has a wide range of (trails) that you can progress through."

The park, at 2700 S.E. Everett St. in Camas, has a six-mile network of pathways that run through an area with dense forest, waterfalls and a lake.

Trails at the park vary in composition — some are gravel and some are dirt — but most of the area is perfect for beginning to intermediate riders, Albers said.

"I've taken my kids there, and they loved it," Albers said. "A lot of the riding around here is advanced, which is a center of the scene, but one thing we want to do is grow the community and build more beginner and intermediate trails."

Young beginners in middle and high school can also join the county's two Washington Student League teams this spring. The league just began training over the last week of January and the first race is May 19, Fischer said.

Riders can learn more about the teams and sign up through the league website.

Winter can be a bit rainy for some bikers, Albers admitted. But even getting out and doing some road biking right now can be a big help if you want to push into mountain biking come spring.

"A rainy day ride can be fun," Albers said. "You just have to have the appropriate clothing and make sure you're prepared. Besides, right now it's training season. You have to keep your base level of miles up or you get crushed in spring."

The Cold Creek group has been around for more than 10 years and has both young and mature members. The group built the Thrillium trail at Larch Mountain, which is becoming well known across the state as an advanced downhill trail.

"It's a steep trail, but there are no death traps," Albers said. "The rider defines the trail, the trail doesn't define the rider. That's how we made it legal and how we maintain it."

The trail is part of the Tarbell Loop in Yacolt Burn State Forest, a 24-mile stretch that has both intermediate and advanced riding.

"Mountain biking in this state is absolutely exploding," Albers said. "Around here, it's a really good community. People are open to giving suggestions, helping other riders when they get flats. Even though we're competitive, we're an inclusive, more-the-merrier sport."

This year, the Cold Creek group decided to merge with the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, which has been more Seattle focused. The Evergreen group wanted to expand its range into Southwest Washington, and the Cold Creek group wanted to offer more skills classes and networked rides like those the Evergreen club often provides, Albers said.

"We're hoping we'll have classes here within the next year, with offerings for advanced-level riders," Albers said.

The groups are also hoping to build more trails together for all levels of riders, so more people in the area will learn to love mountain biking, he said.

"I come back from a ride and my frustrations are gone," Albers said. "I got to experience being outside and going fast. What's better than that?"

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457; http://www.twitter.com/col_suevo; sue.vorenberg@columbian.com.