MTB in the PNW – An Oregon-Washington Road Trip

I’ve been a Sierra snob for a while now. And a California snob too. But Lynn has dutifully, gradually opened my eyes to the Pacific Northwest – a few quick family and friend trips to Seattle, Reardan and Bellingham, and an impromptu road trip to Bend in the middle of winter.

In July, we bit off a bigger chunk of the PNW, linking together Oakridge, Bellingham, Leavenworth, Reardan and Bend with a mountain bike theme over the course of a little more than a week. That’s a lot of miles, a lot of hours behind the wheel, but also a pretty incredible swath of country outside my usual roaming territory.

Seven-plus hours in my packed flying toaster (#toasterroadtrip) on the back roads of north-eastern California and Southern Oregon delivered us to Oakridge, a small, sleepy one-time logging town that’s been the topic of a lot of talk on the economic engine that is mountain bike tourism.

Sure enough, after setting up the tent and hammock in the lush green moss-veiled forest campground just up Salmon Creek from town, we found ourselves in the local brewpub (Brewers Union Local 180) among many other Northern Californians from the Bay Area, Nevada City and elsewhere.

 

Shuttle booked for the famed Alpine Trail, we hit the sleeping pad early in a mercifully quiet campground, and woke up early the next morning.

The Alpine Trail did not disappoint. The shuttle (Oregon Adventures) grunted and bounced us up a dirt road into the soil-soaking clouds – the driver stopping a couple times to explain trail crossings and intersections. Soft, black loamy dirt and a brisk first climb delivered us to a cool, foggy meadow with views to other wooded ridges decorated in wisps of mist.

Not a technical trail like, say, the Downieville Downhill, smooth, flowing singletrack with great berms and occasional steeps and tight switchbacks quickly had me counting this as one of my favorite rides. As we lost elevation, soil occasionally gave way to loose shale or dry dirt with a few sections of steep exposure off the side. And while the majority of the 14 miles were downhill, both Lynn and I were spent by the time we were done.

Another long drive through some Portland and Seattle area traffic landed us in Lynn’s college town of Bellingham, Washington. The last trip here in February sold Lynn on her Transition Smuggler, and she was eager to bring it back to its native habitat – Galbraith. This time our loop of SST was dryer and we were both a little quicker, but I did enjoy the tackier winter conditions of our first trip. Amazing trail building really keeps you on your toes – and while I love my Trance – I did kind of miss the Transition Patrol I demoed last time. Must resist.

The drive up Highway 2, over Stevens Pass, had this Sierra snob wide-eyed on our way to Leavenworth Washington, where we met up with Lynn’s parents and friends. One of her friends, Tommy, lead us on the Freund Trail. Starting off in quickly rising temperatures and a longer, steeper climb than we’d done in a while had me doubting, but once the trail turned downhill into an endless series of berms and whoops, I took it all back. Lynn said it was her favorite ride of the trip, and while it didn’t dethrone Alpine Trail for me, it was a blast.

On the Wenatchee River. #toasterroadtrip

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After a stop in Reardan, Washington near Spokane, where Lynn grew up, we pointed south, crossing into Oregon at The Dalles, and set up the tent in a familiar favorite – Smith Rock State Park, just north of Bend. While we brought a rope, harnesses, shoes and other climbing sundry, the crowds and heat dissuaded us from tackling Smith Rock’s amazing walls. Instead, we spent our days mostly in Bend, checking out breweries, hitting up some great restaurants, and sampling the Phil’s Trail Network.

Early morning at #smithrock #toasterroadtrip

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This area was decidedly XC compared to our previous destinations. Starting up the smooth and gradual Ben’s, we cut over on Voodoo into some chunky and awkward terrain before a seated pedal “downhill” on Phil’s. I’m betting this is a network that takes some time to suss out the best stashes and sequences.

A day after getting back to Truckee and I’m already poking around the internet, looking at videos of Ashland, Oregon and Issaquah, Washington, pondering the next trip. I think I might be willing to expand my territorial range in a northwesterly fashion.

The baby bear to the momma bear in my last post. #leavenworth #pnwonderland #toasterroadtrip #latergram

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Transition Patrol Demo Review + Galbraith Ride

Transition Bikes have been on Lynn’s and my radar for a while now, not only because they’re from her neck of the woods, but because we’ve seen a lot of solid reviews and get a vibe from the company that we both appreciate – fun first.

With a trip up to Bellingham, Washington planned, Lynn called ahead to see if we could demo some bikes – for her, to find out if the Transition Smuggler was what she wanted in a 29er trail bike (we rode the Trek Remedy and Trek Fuel a while back), and for me to ride whatever awesome bike I felt like, in this case the Transition Patrol.

We walked into their unassuming warehouse on a drizzly Friday afternoon, got our pedals on, suspension dialed in and seats adjusted, then handed them $20 each that goes entirely to local trails.

That was a $20 well spent, it turns out, as Galbraith, a dense and extensive network of Bellingham trails, was awesome.

We went full enduro with clear-lensed Smith Squad MTB goggles (more on those down the road) and pedaled up the trail. This was my first time on a really slack (65 degree head angle) enduro-y bike with a super short stem and 800 mm bar, and I was curious if the archetype lived up to the hype, or if they were wasted on all but the most extreme terrain.

While I can’t speak for the whole 6-inch travel slack, long and low genre, the Transition Patrol was definitely not hype.

Climbing was a pleasant surprise, which, for my 6’3″ self at least, was largely due to the steep seat tube angle, which kept me over the cranks, not hanging out over the rear hub. The suspension always moved slightly with each pedal stroke, no matter the position of the climb lever, but never excessively, or to the detriment of forward progress.

Even the long, slack front end didn’t wander as much I worried it would. Being generally out of shape and not having a lot of time on one-by drivetrains, I was wishing for an easier gear or two, but other than that, there isn’t much to say about the way up.

Then we got to a trail named Family Fun Center on our way to SST and Golden Spike, where the fun really began. My bike, a Giant Trance 27.5 isn’t some old-school XC geometry relic. In fact it’s pretty awesome. But the stupid stuff the Patrol let me get away with left me grinning ear to ear – whether it was dipping a bar into a bermed turn or letting it roll over a steep drop without really checking out what happened on the other side.

Quick in the corners yet stable enough to save my bacon in some rough spots, playful yet burly, it would be fair to say this short ride left me impressed. Next time I’d set up the suspension a touch softer (never bottomed out on either end), and had no idea how to make a 1-point turn around a couple of switch backs at the end of the ride, but I can see how this bike could be a quiver-of-one for many riders.

Tight chainstays are all the rage these days, and while I’m no manualing monster, it made small corrections and steering from the hips a little easier than on bikes like my Trance or the Remedy.

As for the trail itself – a couple slick, muddy spots were to be expected this time of year, but the mix of tech and flow were really something. I can see why backyard trails like these shaped Transition bikes the way they have.

I’m not in the market for a new bike, but I’ll be taking some lessons away from my time on the Transition, with plans for a shorter stem, wider bars and a couple suspension tweaks in the works. If I were in the market, my usually conservative tastes might be swayed by this big goofy-fun bike.

As for Lynn, who was testing for more serious purposes – well I’m sure she’ll write up here own review, but I think the Smuggler may have unseated the Remedy for her number one contender.

Photo credit: Lynn Baungartner