South Lake Tahoe mountain bike scene celebrates good times
Hundreds of mountain bikers hit the dirt trail network surrounding the Corral Trail in Meyers Saturday and Sunday for the third annual Meyers Mountain Bike Festival.
Some brought their own bikes, while others checked out the latest available from vendors.
On Saturday, shuttles ran from the staging area halfway up Fountain Place Road, off Oneidas Street, to various trailheads surrounding Corral and Armstrong Connector trails. Both allow bicyclists to bank and swerve downhill.
South Lake Tahoe resident Ralph Wenziger said the trail network used during the festival is a blast. It’s one he’s used for years.
“The trails are great and well-maintained,” Wenziger said during a brief rest at the Corral trailhead. “There’s a great variety of switchbacks and swoopy turns.”
The Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association, a group that has helped maintain the trails in the Lake Tahoe Basin, has done a great job pushing for development, he added.
Sunday, riders kicked off early from the Divided Sky on a 30-mile ride covering 5,200 feet of elevation on the Tahoe Rim and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride trails. As riders rolled in around noon, the festival was setting up. The festival included a display of classic mountain bikes by bike shop owner Gary Bell.
The two-day event underscored the development and growth of mountain biking at Lake Tahoe over the last 20 years, including a year of firsts, according to TAMBA president Ben Fish.
“This is the first time the U.S. Forest Service issued a permit for a mountain bicycle event,” Fish said Saturday. “For TAMBA to get that is a huge development.”
Jeff Marsolais, Forest Supervisor for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said the permit is just the start.
“It’s part of a growing partnership with TAMBA in the South Lake Tahoe area,” Marsolais said. “It’s absolutely necessary to maintaining our trails in Lake Tahoe, but in a way that is sensitive to the needs of the users.”
The number of trails has grown over the years, especially since TAMBA reformed in 2010. The organization originally formed in 1988 and has pushed for development of trails.
In 2014 alone, 363 people have contributed 3,905 hours to developing the trail networks for mountain biking in the area, including the development of jumps, switchbacks and swoops. In June, TAMBA and the U.S. Forest Service upgraded Lower Corral Trail to include additional jumps and turns.
Pete Fink, a TAMBA officer and an avid bicyclist, said the trail networks have improved in the last few years.
“The partnership with the Forest Service has allowed us to focus on building, which is why we have Lower Corral,” Fink said. “It’s really opened the door for making some areas to be more mountain-bike specific.”
The increased partnership has increased safety, Fink added.
Prior to development of places like Lower Corral, Fink said bike enthusiasts would set up illegal gap jumps, leading to injuries. U.S. Forest Service protocol requires the removal of such illegal or non-authorized trails.
Fink said that, since the Tahoe Rim Trail has been completed, TAMBA and other organizations have focused on creating connections from other areas.
“The community always wants those connections because the Rim Trail is such a stellar attractor in our area,” Fink said. “Those connectors are good for everybody.”
Fink said current and future connections to other trails will open up new opportunities that didn’t exist 30 years ago.
Bell, the owner of Sierra Ski and Cycle Works in South Lake Tahoe, said the biggest push began in the late 1980s, around the time he, Kathlee Martin and others formed the original TAMBA in 1988. At the time, the bicycle technology wasn’t present at Tahoe, bell said. There wasn’t much interest in riding the trails.
“Initially, we were trying to ride road bikes and big cruisers on dirt baths,” Bell said. “Once we got some gears on our bikes and moved around on the trails, people started seeing what we were doing and interest grew.”
He and others took ideas from Don Koski in South Lake Tahoe and from Marin County bicycle shops and integrated them into their own bicycle designs, Bell said. Mountain biking took off in the early 1990s, while road cycling took a back seat.
“There was this 10-year period where people just really got excited riding trails,” Bell said. “That’s neat because that momentum continues today.”
While bicycling at Lake Tahoe has gradually gained traction over the years, Bell agreed the area has been slow to respond to development in the past.
“I think it has just taken time to realize how many people are going to ride,” Bell said. However, as more people began to hit the trails, it’s led to development and refinement of the infrastructure.
Bell, along with the Bike the West, has helped kick start events like America’s Most Beautiful Ride, an annual fundraising event that has run since 1991, and the Tour de Tahoe, which celebrates its 13th ride in September.
Those events, and cycling in general, have a positive economic impact.
“It brings so many riders, their families and friends, into town,” Bell said. “They all eat and sleep here and buy Lake Tahoe stuff. They’ve actually had to limit the number of people in some events because it’s brought so many people.”