Mountain Biking

Ashland, Southern Oregon’s mountain biking nirvana – The Mercury News

If you like mountain biking on uncrowded trails in deep, dense forest or along pristine lakeshores, I have a secret spot to tell you about.

A half-day’s drive — or one-hour flight — north of the Bay Area, Southern Oregon may be best known for its wine scene, Rogue river rafting, Crater Lake National Park and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  But the region’s extensive network of mountain bike and gravel bike trails in the Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges are simply out of this world.

Ashland, the famed home of classical and contemporary theater and a hub of Oregonian good life, is also a magnet for Pacific Northwest mountain bikers, many of whom travel here to pursue epic, shuttle-assisted downhill rides on Mount Ashland, a 7,532-foot Siskiyou peak that looms over the town.

These trail rides start in town, where trailer-equipped vans shuttle you and your bike up to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area’s base area (elevation 6,950 feet). You whisk back down through densely forested watershed lands, dropping a whopping 5,600 feet over 13 miles and land back in town, where sips, suds and bites await. (So if you’re more of an armchair cyclist than a mountain biker, no worries. Keep reading for the eating and drinking recs.)

Stellar Siskiyou single track

I’ve been riding mountain bikes since the early ‘80s, just a few years after they were innovated in Marin County by a bunch of long-haired, jean-and-boot wearing bike enthusiasts who were determined to create better bikes for bombing down trails and dirt fire roads. Over the years, I’ve ridden the trails of Marin’s Mount Tamalpais, where the sport was born, the red rock wonderlands of Moab, Utah and the lofty mountain passes of Crested Butte, Colorado, but nothing compared to my recent downhill riding experience on Mount Ashland.

A short drive from my comfy digs at the historic downtown Ashland Springs Hotel, the Ashland Mountain Adventures shop is run by co-owners Mike “Moondog” May and Chris Herbst, both sporting a scruffy pirate/lumberjack look that seems to be de rigueur in the Pacific Northwest. Herbst, May and a third partner, Brooke Danahy, took over the business in April from longtime owner William “Wild Bill” Roussel and his wife Sue O’Daly, who started it in 2008.

The Ashland Mountain Adventures bike shop offers a Mount Ashland shuttle that takes you and your bike up to the Mt. Ashland Ski Area (6,950-foot elevation) so you can ride back down to town. (Courtesy Ben Davidson) 

The bike shop operates the Mount Ashland bike shuttles and rents mountain bikes, including a Transition Patrol downhill bike that caught my eye. Its “mullet” wheel set-up (29 inches in front, 27.5 inches rear) and 160mm front shocks are perfect for the dry, quick turning trails and occasional rock gardens of these trails.

Soon we — Herbst, Thomas Moser, a local tourism representative and mountain biker, and a gaggle of young Portland-area biker bros — were aboard the shuttle for a scenic 30-minute drive to the top or, as Moondog and Herbst say, “as high as Mother Nature is allowing on the day.” (You could ride a dirt Forest Service road up from town instead, but the shuttle is really the way to go, and it’s a bargain at $25 per rider.)

One caveat: The trails on Mount Ashland are not for everyone. You should be, at the very least, an advanced beginner. Advanced riders can pedal up from the base area another 1,000 feet to the Time Warp trail, the crown jewel of the Mount Ashland network, with 2,500 feet of vertical descent and numerous challenges.

Take an Ashland Mountain Adventures shuttle to the top of Mount Ashland, then ride the single track and multi-use trails back down to town. (Courtesy Ben Davidson) 

Forgoing Time Warp, we focused on the mountain’s east side trails, starting on the Bull Gap trail (6,440-foot elevation) and descending through a beautiful forest of fir, cedar and pine trees, then connected to trail after trail. The fast, flowy Missing Link trails led to Catwalk, a multi-use intermediate/advanced trail with a technical rock garden and swooping, hairpin corners, and on down to bike-only Lizard and Jabberwocky.

Adrenaline pumping, we finally exited the mountain and, in an almost surreal transition, arrived on the streets of Ashland. Coming to a stop never felt so good. My sore braking fingers thanked me deeply, and I was more than ready for a cold beer.

Ashland sips and bites

The classic post-ride stop for brews and pub grub in Ashland is Gils, a bike-rack equipped cafe where I enjoyed a frosty local IPA and a fresh tamale plate (only $5!). Other popular food choices are the Cubano and chicken cheesesteak sandwiches, and they have a fine, rotating selection of craft beer on 23 taps.

The classic post-ride stop for brews and pub grub in Ashland is Gils, a bike-rack equipped cafe with a fine lineup of craft beer and pub fare. (Courtesy Ben Davidson) 

After dropping off your rental bike, you’ll want to stop off at Caldera Brewery and Restaurant, a spacious brewpub with artisan pizzas and pub fare, and an extensive draft list that includes some 45 Caldera brews.

If You Go

Ashland Mountain Adventures: The shuttle season typically runs from May 1 to Oct. 31, depending on road and trail conditions. The shuttle ride up Mount Ashland is $25 per rider. Find the shop at 728 Jefferson Ave. in Ashland;

Gils of Ashland: Open from noon to 8 p.m. daily at 175 N. Pioneer St. in Ashland;

Caldera Brewery and Restaurant: Open from noon to 8 p.m. or later Wednesday-Sunday, with brunch from 9 a.m. to noon on weekends, at 590 CloverLane in Ashland;

Ashland Springs Hotel: Built in 1925 and lovingly restored, this downtown landmark is a reminiscent of small European hotels and is just a block or so from Lithia Park, restaurants and Oregon Shakespeare Festival theaters. Rooms start at $179, including breakfast. 212 E. Main St. in Ashland;