backcountry epics

There have always been great places to ride around Seattle—at least for those willing to stuff themselves in a car for an hour-and-a-half. The good news is that Seattle mountain bikers are gaining more access to remote, high-country rides—considerably closer to town.

The U.S. Forest Service recently approved plans for a lift-accessed downhill bike park at Stevens Pass Ski Area that will be designed by Gravity Logic (the team behind many of Whistler Bike Park's best runs). Likewise, mountain bikers are poised to gain access to significant singletrack networks near North Bend.

CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN WHERE: 60 miles east of Seattle, on Highway 410, near Greenwater.

WHY: Amazing views of Mt. Rainier and a Forest Moon of Endor-style descent through the trees.

WHAT: Crystal Mountain ski resort is home to the North-way trail, one of the better XC-style descents in Washington. With 2,800 vertical feet of elevation gain to be earned, this gem ain't cheap, but the ridge offers stunning highalpine views and a ridiculously fun, seven-mile downhill. Ride it as an 11-mile loop or a 14-mile out-and-back.

RAINIER AREA TRAILS WHERE: 60 miles east of Seattle, on Highway 410, near Greenwater.

WHY: Thrilling downhills and breathtaking views—truly epic mountain biking. WHAT: Riding Crystal can mean bypassing a dizzying number of Highway 410 classics, including Suntop, Ranger Creek, Palisades, Skookum Flats and the White River trail. You can ride them Individually—each is a solid day's ride. Absolute masochists cram the best together into a day of magnificent riding (and suffering]. Survivors call it the "Triple Crown," and it amounts to knocking off Crystal Mountain, Ranger Creek (via Corral Pass) and Sun Top in a single day. That amounts to a 48-mile grind (about 33 miles of it on singletrack) and roughly 10,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. Not for the less-than-studly.

MIDDLE FORK SNO-QUALMIE RIVER TRAIL WHERE: 40 miles east of Se attle on 1-90, near North Bend. WHY: Singletrack through primeval rain forest. WHAT: A 15-mile singletrack winds its way along the roaring Middle Fork Snoqualmie River and, after years of being off-limits to mountain bikers, it's open again (on odd-numbered days, from June 1 to October 31).

SOUTH FORK AREA WHERE: 30 miles east of Seattle on 1-90, near North Bend WHY: A new mountain bike network is in the works. WHAT: Currently under construction, this all-new trail system could amount to 35 miles of bike-legal singletrack. Eventually a 10-mile-long trail will connect Olallie State Park with a 25-mile singletrack network on Forest Service property along the South Fork Snoqualmie River.

Singletrack? Yes. Jump lines? You bet. Duthie offers a bit of just about everything.

gradually take the shape of a future stunt that will be part of an even bigger, better series of trails at Duthie. He strips off a pair of muddied work gloves and rolls his shoulders in what looks like a much-needed stretch.

"It's gratifying to see so much happen here in a relatively short time," Westra says while watching a group of volunteers in Duthie's central clearing. "It's been a huge effort, but it's worth it. This place gets packed. We're already dealing with growing pains like too little parking, but that's a good problem to have. If anything, it just proves that there's a huge need for riding like this around Seattle. As a rider, I'm just happy to see things finally move in this direction."

Kennedy seconds that notion while preparing for a run down Dirt Corps, one of Duthie's jump lines.

"Things are definitely moving in the right direction around here." he says. "It started with Colonnade and the momentum just keeps building, because everyone in the community is pulling together. That's why you're seeing people out here after work with shovels in their hands, and why companies like Shima-no. Specialized and Diamondback are stepping up and donating time and money to this. We want these trails and we're working for them. That's what it takes." ¡E

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Many kids never leave their own neighborhood to enjoy the beauty of nature. That's why we started Trips for Kids, a national non-profit organization that provides mountain bike rides and environmental education for disadvantaged youth. You can start a Trips for Kids chapter in your area. We'll assist you, at no charge, by supplying bikes and helmets, and support based on 22 years of experience.

Or make a difference by donating money, bikes or equipment (new or used). All donations are tax-deductible. Also consider volunteering or otherwise supporting a chapter in your area.

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While the Pacific Northwest, New England and Canada are under a layer of snow and ice, the cool fog is rising off the mud on 1,000 miles of singletrack in Transylvania County. NC.

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tester's choice

From a mechanical point of view, the Santa Cruz Tallboy stands beautifully above the pack. The pivots are engineered with reliability, serviceability and aesthetics in mind. It's smart: Santa Cruz uses axles with expanding heads and conical wedges to lock them. Tightening the axle preloads the angular contact bearings (similar to adjusting a headset), and installing the wedge expands the head of the axle, keeping it from backing out. Plus, they thread cleanly into the drive-side links from the non-drive side, which means there's no need to remove the crank (or anything else for that matter) to perform a complete pivot overhaul. Thanks Santa Cruz, from mechanics everywhere. —Ryan Palmer

With all of these bikes to choose from, you'd think picking a winner would be hard. It really wasn't. On gut-check wow-factor, and considering the kind of riding I like to do these days—noodling up the trail at a leisurely pace with friends and then having fun on the downhills—I had to choose the Scott Genius LT. It is comfortable on the climbs and surefooted on the descents. It is well-balanced in the air, and its handling when thrown into turns is nothing less than inspiring. Riding it is like bringing a machine gun to a knife fight. I can't wait to ride it again. But to avoid further target fixation, the Cannondale Jekyll Ultimate, Rocky Mountain Element MSL and Jamis Dakota D29 all deserve a sincere nod. —Joe Parkin

I thought the Ibis Mojo HD was the most versatile bike of the test, despite having no cockpit levers, bells, whistles nor pre-flight checklist. The Rocky Mountain Element surprised me by being the bike I most wanted to ride inappropriately. The Tallboy still remains one of the most fun bikes I have ever ridden, and likely will go down as a classic. The Intense M9 made me feel like pummeling my eardrums with the sound of rock and root being splintered. But my favorite bike? Man, that's hard. Diving headfirst into a swimming pool full of grizzly bears would be easier. Ultimately I'd go with the Ibis Mojo HD because it looks like thunder but smells like all four seasons in one day. — Seb Kemp

It wasn't hard for me to choose a favorite from our quiver—my favorite chose me. I'm still adjusting to life without Vancouver's North Shore at my disposal, and it's true, I'm really a downhiller at heart. Now that I've traded In the wet roots and rocks of the Shore for the golden hills of Southern California, I've been lusting after a bike that can truly be pedaled anywhere, but will rip the trail to shreds when pointed downhill. The Banshee Spitfire is just that bike. Every time I throw my leg over it, excuses melt away and anything seems possible. It's true that lust has now turned into love, and it doesn't look like I'll be getting off the Spitfire anytime soon.

—Anthony Smith

With so many bikes designed for such a variety of conditions, it's really hard to choose an overall favorite. But if I were to pick the bike that brought out the broadest spectrum of emotions, it would have to be the Intense M9— a speed demon that could help even the most derelict of trailer-park trash kick their meth habits. The M9 is so relentlessly fast it forced me to ride outside of my comfort zone, and in the process I almost kept up with Seb and Anthony on our downhill track. For all-around trail riding, however, I'd be hard-pressed to choose between my two other great loves: the Santa Cruz Tallboy and the Rocky Mountain Element MSL. —Brice Minnigh

I thought this "pick your favorite bike" exercise would be easy. Surely one bike would just haul off and lay the pimp hand down on every other model in this month-long test. The truth? It was a bitter dogfight, with some models out-climbing the pack and others killing it on the descents. Still, if I had to pick just one bike, it would be Rocky Mountain's new Slayer. The bike does everything well. North Shore-style downhills? Cross-country death marches? Somehow the Slayer manages both like a champ. It scoots up climbs with gobs of traction and makes me feel far more competent on descents than I could ever hope to be. Light, burly, well-executed—this is the one. —Vernon Felton

126 photos: anthony smith


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