Gravel ride across Oregon likely to roll into Prineville today
Crook County proving popular for bikepacking and gravel riding
By Beau Eastes / The Bulletin / @beastes
James Good expects the first Oregon Outback riders to reach his Prineville bike shop, Good Bike Co., some time today.
The Outback, the 364-mile unsanctioned and unsupported off-the-grid gravel ride/race that starts in Klamath Falls and concludes in the Columbia River Gorge, kicked off Friday in Southern Oregon. While most of the 200 to 300 bicyclists participating in this year’s event will take five to seven days to complete the ride, a handful of hard-core “bikepackers” — camping via bike — will be shooting to finish the whole trip in around 24 hours.
With his shop located in the only full-service town on the route — the Outback riders also roll through the booming metro areas of Silver Lake, Fort Rock and Shaniko, to name a few — Good is planning on helping cyclists 225 miles into the Outback any way he can.
“We’ve got a map room, coffee, beer, a lot of different resources,” said Good, who last summer opened his bike business in a former service station on U.S. Highway 26 right in the heart of Prineville’s downtown. “We’re in an old gas station, so we try to help people refuel, whatever way that means to them.”
Cycling is becoming more prevalent in Crook County, which in the past has been known more as a ranch and ag area than a place supportive of spandex and singletrack.
In less than two weeks, on June 4, Good’s shop will celebrate its grand opening in conjunction with the official introduction of the Lower 66 mountain bike trail network on the west side of Prineville. Later this summer, Prineville hopes to break ground on a BMX bike park, and the Central Oregon Trail Association recently adopted several mountain bike trails to maintain within the Ochoco National Forest.
City and county officials are working on earning a scenic bikeway designation from the state for a ride south of town in the Crooked River Canyon. And Prineville has long been a stop on the TransAmerica Bike Trail, the road cycling route that starts at the Pacific Ocean and ends at the Atlantic.
But the regional surge in bikepacking and gravel riding may be where Crook County truly makes its mark in the cycling world. The county is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of gravel and dirt roads.
“The Ochoco (mountains) and gravel roads are five to 10 miles from town,” said Good, who in August is putting on the inaugural Ochoco Gravel Roubaix, which will offer 10-, 45- and 120-mile gravel races. “There’s a lot of designated and primitive camping in the Ochocos that you can turn a beautiful ride into a fun, short weekend experience.”
The incredible growth of the Oregon Outback highlights the soaring interest in long-distance bikepacking trips. After organizing a handful of gravel rides around the state, off-road enthusiast Donnie Kolb put together the unpaved beast that would become Oregon Outback in 2014. He figured he would have a hard time attracting more than 50 people on a ride that climbs more than 14,000 feet over 360 miles. To his astonishment, he had to shut down registration after 400 bikers signed up. Slightly more than 100 cyclists actually completed the first running of the Outback. This year that number was expected to be closer to 300.
“The riding in Central Oregon is spectacular,” said Abraham Sutfin, who owns the bike shop Abraham Fixes Bikes in north Portland. “It’s some of the best in the state.”
Sutfin, who has done long-distance bike tours all over the Pacific Northwest and even New Zealand, says the allure of gravel riding is the chance to get off the grid and provide for yourself.
“It puts cyclists in a place where they don’t have to rely on state parks and bike hostels,” said Sutfin, whose latest project is to find a rideable route along the Deschutes River from its conflux with the Columbia all the way to Bend. “In Oregon, you can pull off on the side of any dirt road and camp and not bother anyone. … Getting off paved roads, it brings people to places where they don’t have to rely on civilization.”
Even Travel Oregon, the marketing arm of the state, is getting in on the gravel craze, publicizing popular gravel rides around Oregon.
“This isn’t just a fad,” Good said about newfound popularity of bikepacking and gravel riding. “Yeah, they’ll be some ebbs and flows … but I just see it growing.
“There’s something to be said about Prineville,” he added. “It’s still very Western and real life. It’s refreshing for folks. The area’s not this big, hyped up place, but instead it’s real and fun and you can have a unique experience out here that’s hard to find.”