I recently explored a newly opened forest area on Whidbey Island that happens to be close to my house. After an easy 2 mile ride there on the mountain bike, I had high hopes that the trails would be single-track and awesome. They were, and it was!
Sometimes I do something that jump-starts my love of cycling all over again. 25 years ago, it was a ride on my first borrowed mountain bike up near Whistler, BC – felt like a total kid flying over railroad grade grapefruit size rocks, and nearly losing control. That led to a 10 year segment of regular rides in the local Seattle rooty, muddy mountain trails.
After a few months of putting all my miles in via commuting (a worthy endeavor if you live in a car-choked city like Seattle), I got out for my first mountain biking since Moab a few years back.
My pal John brought his new Jones Plus up – A bit about John’s bike – it’s a steel frame 27+ mid-fat bike with a very different geometry. I’ll put my notes on this below.
We headed up to Fort Ebey State Park and the Kettles trail system near Coupeville, WA. It’s an easy 25 miles north from the Clinton Ferry.
John had ridden this area 20 years ago, but I had never been there, so we found our way into the middle of the biking trails and started on what we wanted to be a large loop around the area. There are roughly 25 miles of trails, but a loop is about 5-miles around. The trails turned out to be nice and moderate. Soft forest singletrack with a few rooty spots here and there. We had a few steep climbs and descents to test our dusty skills and bikes.
There was a really nice stretch out of the gun battery that threaded along the edge of a bluff overlooking the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Beautiful! After this, we joined the Hokey-a-do-do section – probably the most fun we had on a nice descent down to the Kettles trail.
Bikes. I grabbed my 90’s Kona Hei Hei for its virgin voyage in the dirt. I really loved the light simplicity of the bike. It allowed me to climb some steep tech stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise make it up. The bike has a single front 32t chainring, and a 10-speed rear with a 34t big ring. I found plenty of torque on this trail. It was actually nice not worrying about a front derailleur. One place to shift.
John had his Jones. That bike was a revelation. One of the things I like about mountain biking on singletrack is the sensation of skiing through the woods in the off season. This bike actually accentuated that feeling as I was very upright in my riding position. I felt like I was standing up floating down the path. No feeling of diving down a steep descent. Pretty cool. The bars were wide, but I didn’t have any trouble clearing the few tight spots I encountered. It’s also a traction beast! He rode right over the roots and up the loose gravel without any trouble.
I was able to climb a bit better on my Kona, but I only attribute it to the weight. It required more technique in picking my path during one of the ascents which had loose gravel in the middle of the trail. I had to stay to the edges while climbing to avoid losing my grip.
I will definitely be getting out to this area more. Only saw a few trail runners the whole day. And this was on a sunny summer Saturday – prime time!
Snow Kona, a set on Flickr.
I got a good snow ride in this year. We don’t get snow often in Seattle, but every few years, there is enough to accumulate. For these precious moments, I keep this bike around. It’s an older (’96?) Kona AA hardtail. The tires are Hutchinson mtbs with machine screws in every few knobbies at about a 45 degree angle. They don’t contact much when I’m bolt upright, but in a turn, then really dig in. Talk about riding on rails – more like riding on nails. Fun stuff. The only problem I have is the drops are too low for comfort. Ah – a tweakable moment…
When I started biking seriously in Jr. High, ten-speeds were all the rage. My first real bike was a Raleigh Reliant of ’82 or ’83 vintage. I proceeded to ride a two day MS 150 from the Twin Cities to Duluth, but mainly just rode around the area I lived (suburban St. Paul, MN). I brought the bike with me when I moved to Washington state in ’91, and did some bike commuting.
On a summer trip to Whistler, I got my first taste of Mountain Biking. A friend had just bought a Diamondback, and suggested i take it up the jeep road for a spin. After struggling up the rocky road, all the while marveling that I could even stay upright, I found a smooth dirt path that was fairly level. This led to a steep ravine down ‘n up that was covered in 2-3’ chipped stones. My tires barely touched the ground as I sailed down it the first time, and I nearly came off the bike. I was laughing so hard at my near death experience, I had to repeat it a few more times before returning to camp. I felt something that I had forgotten about. I felt like the kid I had been in the seventies riding my bike everywhere – dirt, field, or road. Soon after getting home, I bought my first mountain bike.
Looking back, what I discovered wasn’t so much a different class of bicycle, but just the joy of riding a bike on rough dirt/rock trails. Big tires made it easier, but it could have been any bike in that setting, and others like Grant Peterson of Rivendell, or Chris Kostman of Adventure Corps who needs a MTB? maintain that there are many ways to ride off-road.
I renewed this love again this summer at nearly the same place it started for me with a short ride in the hills surrounding Whistler Village. I went for a ride with a friend and encountered some great singletrack. I had the same feeling of being a big kid in the dirt even though i was riding an old bike with drop bars and smooth (albeit fat) tires.
My daughter and I recently went to a more local venue near Seattle called Duthie Hill. We had an incredibly fun time doing the beginner loop and really enjoyed the smooth, flowing sections. It feels a bit like skiing at times. Just one continuous smooth flowing ride down a hill through the trees. We saw a lot of guys with modern kit like full face helmets and pads riding monster travel full suspension bikes. Great stuff for the more technical trails, but not necessary for our fun ride.
I will always love riding the dirt, and some of the best is here in the NW!
Nothing like it!