Redlands, California is far from being a new mountain bike destination, but to stay a mountain bike destination, a city must evolve and stay current with trends in trail building and mountain bike culture. To earn an IMBA Ride Center tag next to your city’s name, it takes even more than just having a good trail network and a brewpub down the road.
In the 90s, Craig Kundig ran his popular Revenge of the Jedi downhill race just outside of Redlands, California in Loma Linda and drew people from all over Southern California to come out, spend a few bucks racing, grab a medal, and head home. Kundig owns Cyclery USA, one of the Inland Empire’s most well-known, and longstanding bike shops.
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Accessibility and making the race fun was key for Kundig, and Bob Hadley. Both were mountain bike racers and race organizers for some time, before they started the race series in Loma Linda, They charged $10 for folks to line up, spend their legs for an hour and a half, and then do it again the weekend after. The idea worked for them for a while, until interests from developers and home owners conflicted with the race.
Local races like this painted Redlands as a cycling destination for a long time. Like many others in California, the city has a historical connection with the citrus industry. Just an hour east of Los Angeles, Redlands sits at the palm tree lined base of the San Bernardino National Forest and an hour below the forested ski resort, Big Bear. Long stretches of road and races like the Redlands Classic every April made the city known for road biking, but the growth of trails that they’ve seen in the past few years is setting it apart as a mountain bike destination just outside a major metropolitan area.
Kundig says that the trails they used to race on in Loma Linda are still some of his favorite, but they have come a long way.
“I’m impressed when I’m out in that area with all the trail work that’s been done. So many people have put time in out there and made it a great place to ride.”
There are new trails, with multiple offshoots, and hand-built wooden features. The newest trails in Loma Linda, Redlands, and Yucaipa have a decidedly modern touch.
Redlands mountain bike advocates started working on getting the city designated as an IMBA Ride Center in the summer of 2017. They inventoried the mileage in the Inland Empire, but it wasn’t just about reaching a number; it needed to be diverse. As a whole, there should be something for anyone and everyone. An 8-year-old, first-time mountain biker should be able to ride something there, as well as as the cross-country fitness nut, and the downhill shredder.
On top of having enough of the right type of trail — a combination of shuttle-able, lift-served, and long and peddaly — the same idea goes for the town where the Ride Center is based. The local economy needs to be diverse in terms of businesses.
Redlands already qualified for a lot of what IMBA was looking for. They had trail mileage, bike shops, several different breweries, and supportive local business, which all chipped in when locals wanted IMBA to review Redlands as a potential Ride Center.
Unlike other destinations that might have robust tourism departments that can offer funding, Redlands advocates crowdsourced the review fee. “It was a lot of phone calls,” says Redlands local Jonathon Baty. Baty spearheaded the IMBA evaluation and the crowdsourcing effort to raise $11,000 from local community partners to make the review happen.
When Baty first started the process in the hot summer months, he put out phone calls and sent emails. He told folks what the Ride Center designation meant, and what it might bring. Businesses, land trust conservancies, and local government responded with $500 here and $100 there. Before they knew it, they had enough money to get IMBA out to review Redlands.
The application fee covers IMBA staff expenses to travel to a destination and review it as a potential Ride Center. Then, IMBA reviews local services and business to make sure it’s a mountain bike friendly town. Bike shops should be able to perform immediate services, and have a stock of high-quality rental mountain bikes. And, there should be a number of ways to spend a night in the city, whether it’s close by camping, or boutique hotels.
The same goes for eateries. “Mountain bikers love to eat,” says the IMBA guide on what to expect out of a Ride Center. “More than six different types of restaurants are ideal.”
Initially, Redlands didn’t pass the first review, but they weren’t far off from what they needed. A lot of the work to be done involved polishing the trails with the proper signage. The city already had access to a diverse amount of trails right from its doorstep.
“It was more about the idea of continuous signage upgrading and working on inter-agency collaboration,” says Baty.
Above Redlands in Big Bear at almost 7,000ft, there are tons of miles of trail around Big Bear Lake, with short rides, and big, all-day epics. And SkyPark Bike Park is right around the corner. There is also the Santa Ana River Trail, which can take riders all the way from Big Bear to Redlands, for a serious all-day venture with about 36-miles, and 7000ft of descending. Every year community members from the Inland Empire shuttle up to the San Bernardino mountains take this route, dubbed the ‘Bike for Bender Hell Ride’ to commemorate Robert Bender, a local athlete who died of cancer at age 26.
When the trails above are snowed out in the winter, they’re usually perfect down in Redlands, Loma Linda, and Yucaipa. With plenty of year-round local mileage, the young riders of the Inland Empire always have something to train on as well.
“Pretty much anything the kids are going to race on, we have something that’s going to replicate on the trails in our area,” says Zach Thorp. Thorp started the Redlands Interscholastic Cycling Organization (RICO), a high school mountain bike team back in 2011 with a friend, Woody Woodruff. Most of the schools didn’t recognize mountain biking as a team sport and were reluctant to accept it, but they’ve attracted a talented and hardworking group of kids.
“We found that with mountain bike racing in high school, we get a lot of kids that were used to sitting on the bench in other sports, or that aged out of other sports.”
Now RICO has about 12 high school students and 15-20 junior high students from schools around the Redlands area. Students can join whether they are homeschooled, in a charter school, or are in one of the public schools. Every year they watch kids boost their confidence by way of mountain biking.
Thorp says that mountain biking is a much easier sell to parents than road biking. A lot of parents aren’t too excited about having their teens sharing the road with cars. The team also gets students involved in stewardship and they spend time on the local trails digging, maintaining, and giving back to the community of Redlands.
By showing the future of the Redlands mountain bike community what stewardship means early on, one can only hope things gets better and better. Baty said that the Bronze designation is far from a resting place and now they have an even better idea of what it takes to make a great riding destination.
Ride Centers of the Roaring Fork Valley in Aspen, and in Steamboat Springs, Colorado have climbed the designation ladder, improving their status, as have Oakridge, Oregon and Cuyuna, Minnesota.
“IMBA’s Ride Center assessments act as a guide for creating a fantastic mountain biking destination. Our staff provides specific guidance on what the community needs to focus on to become an even better place to ride. This guidance becomes a strong tool for communities to leverage while seeking more support and more funding for mountain biking,” says Dave Wiens, IMBA Executive Director.
In the meantime though, the community of Redlands and visitors who come from all over the map will have plenty to glow over, whether it’s the trails, the accessibility and ease of planning, or all that the city has to offer.
“Two things stand out about the Redlands Ride Center: the urban experience and the diversity of community partners behind the designation,” said Weins. “Visiting mountain bikers will appreciate such simple travel logistics for an amazing backcountry riding destination. Meanwhile, the passion of so many partners shows how much local support there is for mountain biking, which is great news for Redlands residents who ride.”