Mountain biking is a moneymaker.
Contrary to conventional thought, mountain bikers, by and large, aren't young punks but well-heeled professionals. According to recent research by Linfield College Professor Jeff McNamee, mountain bike racers spent nearly $600,000 in Bend between last summer's High Cascades 100-mountain bike race and the USA Cycling Marathon National Championships the previous summer. McNamee also found mountain bikers tend to stay in town longer than other tourists—four days on average—and 58 percent visit microbreweries during their stay. Similarly, a report released by Oregon Bicycle Travel Survey in May went a step further, announcing Oregon cycling tourists spend about $94 per day in restaurants and bars.
All this is good news to Lev Stryker, a life-long Bend mountain biker who co-owns Cog Wild, a mountain biking tour company. Stryker's business benefits not just from Central Oregon's near-endless trail systems, but from Bend's other draws, like its breweries. And with a downhill mountain bike park in the works at Mt. Bachelor, Stryker expects even more cyclo-tourism for Central Oregon—and for Cog Wild.
"It's going to do nothing but help the economy," Stryker says matter-of-factly. "All downhillers are trail riders too. A lot of our success has to do with Bend growing as a cycling town in general."
While Stryker, 37, certainly looks the part—compact, muscular, bearded and a little gritty—he is far from the average mountain biking bro'. Sure, he's often outfitted much like any other trail rider—in baggy riding shorts, an electric blue helmet, tall socks and rose-tinted sunglasses. But the Santa Cruz transplant is as much a family man as he is a shredder. And between co-owning a business and spending time with his wife, Kirin, and their 4-year-old daughter, Nola, Stryker doesn't have as much time to train as he once did.
Rather than travel to Super D races and enduro events, the Stryker family is more likely to be found camping with their mountain biking family friends. In fact, they so often seek out trail destinations across the state with others that they've formed a group, C.O.C.K.S. (Central Oregon Camping with Kids Series), to commemorate their travels. But Stryker still gets his rides in, a non-negotiable aspect of his life. He says the fast-paced "read and react" nature of mountain biking is what keeps him coming back, year after year, as do the opportunities to explore while keeping the dreaded beer gut at bay.
Stryker, a mellow multi-sport athlete who grew up exploring the hills around Santa Cruz on a rigid steel Stumpjumper, moved to Bend in 1998 and has been an integral part of Central Oregon's mountain biking scene ever since. The well-liked rider has adopted two popular Bend trails—Whoops and South Fork—and has, with the Central Oregon Trail Alliance's blessings, cared for the trails for the past eight years. The fact that Whoops, a flowing, jump-heavy, downhill-only section of singletrack in the Phil's trail complex, is in the best shape it's ever been in is no accident. Throughout the off-season, Stryker is out there with a crew of friends and coworkers grooming the Central Oregon dust into bermed perfection.
But Stryker isn't the only one shouldering the trail maintenance load. He says while other areas are often hard up for trail volunteers, COTA work events are often flush with helpers. Stryker said it's not uncommon to see 150 eager mountain bikers at COTA's spring trail work party. It helps that Deschutes sponsors the events with kegs of beer.
The Bend mountain biker, who's equally at home on the Saturday hammerfest road ride as he is clearing doubles on Whoops, also has offered his decades of experience to Bend's mountain biking youth—a growing segment of the population, thanks to local coaching programs offered by Bend Endurance Academy and the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation (MBSEF). He says coaching is a blast and allows him to share his mountain biking enthusiasm with a receptive (and energetic) audience. Stryker remembers how important his mountain biking mentor was while coming up in Santa Cruz. Brad, an older rider who was much faster than 16-year-old Stryker, showed the young mountain rider the ropes—and for that Stryker is grateful.
"He was our full-on guru," Stryker fondly recalls. "He'd drive us to races in his clapped-out RV."
While he isn't worried about passing the torch—Central Oregon is rife with little shredders—the well-rounded rider does have a bit of advice for the youngsters: "A lot of kids just want to go jump," Stryker explains. "They need to go learn how to ride cross-country."
For his part, Stryker says he will mountain bike until his thick legs can no longer turn the pedals over; no doubt he also will be preaching the freedom and physicality of the sport for years after that. And, all the while, Bend's economy will likely continue benefiting from a sport, once seen as rogue, that is now identified as a cash cow and a lifelong pursuit. SW