Off-road rumble: Mountain biking provides thrills among the spills | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Off-road rumble: Mountain biking provides thrills among the spills

Alex Close
A mountain biker explores the terrain at Northstar. Josh Miller / Tribune News Service
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Do you love mountain biking? Is there nothing better to you than exploring the wilderness of Tahoe on your bike? Do you like going down hills at break-neck speeds? Do you enjoy the challenge of negotiating technical single track?

Do you want a real two-wheeled thrill?

Imagine rocketing down a hill via the most technical and challenging single track you’ve ever seen. Careening off of boulders and sliding around switchback corners, bouncing over stumps and rocks and launching off jumps and over tables on a bike with motorcycle-like suspension and brakes that could stop a big rig.

You’ve just entered the world of downhill mountain biking; perhaps the most radical, extreme and exciting thing you can do on a bicycle.

For anyone out there who has never been on a legitimate downhill bike, stash your hard tail for a day, get out and get on a full suspension, fat-tired, mono derailleur, hydraulic- braked mountain eater.

Maybe you like the solitude of getting out on the trails away from the hustle and bustle of everyone else. Maybe you look at downhilling as silly and stupid and only half the fun of pumping and climbing and working for your heavenly view. Maybe you think going to a resort to ride a bike is a waste of money.

Again, get out and get on a downhill bike.

The Flume Trail is a Tahoe classic by any standard is an ideal place to take in the views and is a challenging ride.

Nowhere are lake views more prominent than along the East Shore on Tahoe’s legendary Flume Trail. Pedal with relative ease into the same backdrop you’ve seen in countless photographs depicting riders negotiating a sandy traverse high above Sand Harbor’s turquoise waters and white sand beaches. Make an out-and-back ride from Spooner Lake or have a car waiting at the Ponderosa Ranch parking lot where Highway 28 heads south from Incline Village. The Flume Trail is well marked throughout the ride. After the climb to Marlette Lake most of the ride traverses a mild grade. At the Flume’s end, descend left on Tunnel Creek to Ponderosa/Incline.

Trailhead: From Incline Village, head south 10 miles on 28 to the Spooner Lake State Park on the left. Paid parking only, and shuttle services are available to get you from Ponderosa back to your car. Distance: 23 miles. Ride Time: 3-5 hours.

Northstar-at-Tahoe, which touts the biggest bike park in Northern California, opened their summer facilities last weekend with their first downhill races and 97 percent of their trails open for riding.

A place like Northstar is the perfect spot to experience downhilling for the first time. The resort is home to knowledgeable and energetic staff who will set you up on a top-of- the-line Kona or Santa Cruz downhill bike and sell you a lift ticket so you won’t have to climb one single hill all day.

Once you’re set up with your helmet and gloves and wicked bike – which is really closer to a motorcycle than a bicycle – they’ll load you up on a chair lift and send you to the top of a hill that houses more than 100 miles of trails. Of course, your bike won’t like going uphill, so you’ll stick to Dog Bone, Flameout or the outrageously extreme Karpiel.

Don’t worry, you won’t see many other folks on the trail and you won’t have to inhale anyone’s dust – the area is big enough to handle just about anything thrown its way.

Northstar’s main attraction, however, is the ease with which folks who have never downhill mountain biked before can experience the sport.

Of course, you can bring your own bike up and pedal around the entire resort, which will offer you views of the lake and Martis Valley as well as providing unbelievable trails.

However, as any avid Tahoe rider knows, you don’t have to pay to go to a resort to find that sort of thing.

The web of double black diamonds and super downhill courses accessed by the Vista chair are so technical and fraught with boulders and stumps that a traditional hardtail bike just would not do the trick. That’s what brings this whole little tale full circle.

With a well-maintained Kona or Santa Cruz downhill bike, riders who have yet to experience the downhill mountain bike world will understand what it really means to rocket off 4-foot drops and launch off stumps or jumps only to land on beds of rocks and not feel your jaws slam together or your vertebrae compress.

The most amazing thing comes when you get to the bottom of the hill and look back up at what you just came down. With a heavy sigh and a smile, a biker used to touring would think, “That was fun, I’ll have to hit that line again next time,” before continuing on their way.

However, the newly discovered radical downhiller in you will sigh and smile and climb on the chairlift for a restful ride to the top before another yehaaa-inspiring ride down the gnarliest singletrack you’ve ever seen.

If riders really want to see what it’s all about, they should pick one of Northstar’s race days to jump into the downhill arena.

Last Sunday was the downhill race series opener, and besides amateur riders of all ability levels, the mountain was littered with professional riders showing what can really be done on these bikes.

With a division for everyone, from beginner to professional, the race series brought out a little of everything.

Andrew Minc and his Santa Cruz neighbor Jamie Perugini made the trip from the coast just for the races. They took third and first, respectively, in the 19- to 24-year-old sport division.

Both riders were all smiles after receiving prizes for their efforts.

“It’s way different from Santa Cruz, where there’s no rocks and tacky dirt,” Perugini said. “Here there’s rocks and no tacky dirt, it’s really loose.”

Minc planned on doing the rest of the summer’s race series, which is open to anyone who wants to race and is willing to pay the entrance fee. He also liked the lifts.

“We have a lot of really good trails (in Santa Cruz), but you have to shuttle all of them,” Minc said.

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