September 2013 marked the beginning of the Southern Oregon University Outdoor Program’s newest component – mountain biking trips. With a fleet of racing quality mountain bikes and a full compliment of pedals, helmets and pads, the OP is now capable of running high quality, low cost mountain biking trips for students, by students. This new program works towards a few major goals. First and foremost, it is geared towards getting new mountain bikers out on the trails in a supportive, instructional environment that will help them gain the skills they need to continue riding on their own. In order to make this opportunity a reality for as many students as possible, we have kept the cost of these trips as low as we can, making the mountain biking experience available to a wider range of students. By introducing more SOU students to the sport and lifestyle of mountain biking, we hope to contribute towards the continued progression of the local mountain biking community. This program also offers veteran riders an opportunity to pass on the knowledge they’ve gained through their own experience, while themselves gaining valuable leadership skills. This program has been highly active so far, and promises to continue offering exceptional, accessible mountain bike trips to the students of SOU.
A year ago the SOU Outdoor Program presented it’s budget to a committee of dedicated students, including a special request to purchase a fleet of mountain bikes. This proposal moved from committee to committee as we at the OP waited anxiously. Finally, in the late Spring of 2013, we got word that our budget had passed and that we would be funded to purchase a full fleet of mountain bikes and safety gear, as well as pay a Mountain Bike Program Manager and a Fleet Mechanic.
Outdoor Program staff presenting the OP budget proposal. Huge thanks to all of the students who came out to support us and to the committee for hearing us.
Once we had secured the funding, the task of actually acquiring all of the bikes and gear that we needed before our first trip in September became very real very quickly. We began by reaching out to all of the local shops for competing bids, and also began talking directly to bike manufacturers. The breakthrough moment was when Matt Wittler, a Southern Oregon alumnus, skilled mountain biker, and good friend introduced me to Tsering Alleyne of Marin Bikes at the post-race festivities of the Ashland Mountain Challenge in June.
The post-race festivities at the Ashland Mountain Challenge
Tsering was excited about what we were hoping to accomplish with our mountain bike program, and so after working out the logistics, we began building a fleet. Tsering and his colleague Tim Tebbe helped us to get the largest number of high quality Marin Bikes that our budget would allow, and were a pleasure to work with throughout the entire process. Our fleet of Marins have proven to be extremely capable, light, and smooth-riding bikes that have been the foundation of the six mountain bike trips that we have run so far.
Click the image to see what Marin Bikes has to offer!
After we had secured a fleet, we began working with Bill and Sue Roussel of Ashland Mountain Adventures, long time friends and advisors to SOU’s mountain biking enthusiasts, who helped us source our full line-up of Kali Protectives Chakra and Amara helmets and G-Form knee pads. Ashland Mountain Adventures has played a major role in the creation of this new mountain bike program by freely offering insight and advice at every step in the process of building this new program. At Bill’s recommendation we took our first overnight trip to the Applegate Lake, which was a huge success. Sue came out to our women’s specific trip as a guest instructor and did an excellent job of coaching our nine female participants during their first Ashland mountain biking experience.
The group from our women’s specific trip in front of the Ashland Mountain Adventures van. Thanks for your support AMA!
Kali Protectives helmets looking sharp!
Deity Components, a rider owned and operated company out of Boulder Colorado was another company that was great to work with. Sadie of Deity helped get us set up with a full set of their lightweight, colorful, grippy and sturdy Compound pedals. These pedals have served us extremely well – keeping riders firmly planted on their bikes so that they can focus on riding instead of concentrating on keeping their feet in place.
Our Deity Compound pedals. Click the image to see the other high end components available from Deity
Once we had collected all of this equipment we were finally ready to put tires to the dirt and get folks mountain biking! Our very first trip was a staff outing that served to familiarize the Outdoor Program family with our new fleet, and also gave our instructor team an opportunity to fine tune their teaching points and trip layout.
OP Staff taking the bikes out for the first time!
Shortly after this training trip, we took a group of eight incoming freshmen out for a four day, three night trip to the Applegate Lake. The smooth, flowing trails at the Applegate were ideal for first timers and experienced riders alike, and the Collings Mountain trail (which included a full-sized Bigfoot trap) was a great challenge once riders had learned the basics. Especially on some of the longer rides like the Collings Mountain epic, we were very glad to have the support of Clif Bar and GU Energy, two of the industry’s most widely respected nutritional experts. At every break, riders shared Clif bars, passed around Bloks, and devoured GUs to keep their energy levels up and their bodies functioning to their full potential.
The Applegate Lake
Inside the Bigfoot trap!
For the final day of this Raider Wilderness Experience freshmen orientation trip, we decided it would be prudent to show these new students what the riding would be like right in their back yard, so Ashland Mountain Adventures gave us a lift up to the top of the mountain, which turned out to be a little on the chilly side. The riders were up for it, so we decided to brave the snow and show them the mountain!
Our team up at the Mount Ashland Lodge, sporting G-Form knee pads
Fortunately, the G-Form pads that Ashland Mountain Adventures helped us acquire double as knee warmers when conditions are cooler. These pads held up through a full four days of beginner riders trying to destroy them by running their knees into the occasional rock, root, or hard patch of dirt. Not only did the pads stay in great shape, they also turned these knee/earth encounters into short blips in otherwise smooth rides instead of trip-ending injuries. The pads harden on impact, protecting the knees when necessary, while still allowing plenty of mobility for hours of cross country pedaling. See these knee pads and others by clicking the image above.
Snowy conditions like these also made us especially glad to have Pro Gold Lubricants as a supporter. Their cleaning products helped Kurt, our master mechanic and ride leader, get the bikes looking like new in no time and the Pro Gold Xtreme chain lube has kept them running smoothly for months.
We ran a second staff trip shortly after this four day epic. It was another great opportunity for OP staff to get acquainted with the bikes, and was sponsored by Ruby’s Neighborhood Restaurant of Ashland, who provided their famous breakfast burritos in place of our standard OP wraps.
Ruby’s Restaurant on North Pioneer Street in Downtown Ashland (Image courtesy of triposo.com)
Next we put on a women’s specific trip with the help of Sue Roussel and Ashland Mountain Adventures, who was our guest instructor for the trip. Sue’s riding expertise and smooth teaching style helped make the trip a huge success. The atmosphere of the trip was highly supportive and encouraging, and led to a great day of mountain biking. Mountain biking has traditionally been (or at least been viewed as) a male-dominated sport, but we at the OP are pretty fired up about making our programs accessible to everyone and want our mountain biking program to be as inclusive as possible. Working to get more women out on the trails is one of the major focuses of our programming, and will continue to be as long as our wheels are rolling.
Sue and the gals!
The day after Halloween we put on a costumed, beginner-oriented trip back in the Ashland Watershed. We were accompanied by a group of SOU students working on a film project about mountain bikers as an important trail-user group for SOPTV. These students filmed lessons, interviews, trail segments and even lunch. That same weekend, this film crew accompanied several Outdoor Program employees on a trail work day hosted by Ashland Mountain Adventures. Over thirty riders came out to do their part towards the maintenance and improvement of our trail network here in Ashland.
32 riders out to give back to their community and trail network!
Our final trip was another overnighter out to the Applegate Lake! A clavicle injury on day two sent us back to Ashland early but we had a great time regardless and our injured rider is doing great! Several of the riders had been participants on our very first trip out to the Applegate, and it was inspiring to see how far they had progressed since the beginning of the first trip.
Our setup at the Jackson Campground on the Applegate River. Great site!
In the new year we are looking forward to putting on a staff training trip in order to increase our staff pool and keep the program rolling strong into the future. We’ll be running a second women’s specific trip and another beginner-oriented trip right in the Ashland watershed. We’ll also be putting on a mountain bike movie night and a biker breakfast in partnership with ECOS, the environmental club on campus. The Outdoor Program is excited to offer these inexpensive, beginner-oriented trips in an effort to give more students the opportunity to experience the wonders of mountain biking and potentially begin the lifelong pursuit of that special kind of happiness that only a good stretch of single track can inspire.