Years ago, IMBA’s only designation for truly excellent singletrack was the term “Epic.” Over the last several years that has slowly been changing, with new designations including “Gateway Trails,” “Flow Trails,” and “Ride Centers” being added to the vocabulary.
“Ride Centers” are areas that are truly mountain biking destinations in every sense of the word. The best ride centers have trails of all difficulties ranging from beginner to expert. They also include trails for all disciplines of mountain biking, from cross country to downhill and everything in between. Not only do they have great trails, but these areas provide great lodging, great restaurants, and great places to buy a drink.
IMBA has currently designated only seven locations as true “Ride Centers,” and even those are broken down into three categories: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Here they are in descending order:
Park City, Utah (Gold)
Round Valley Trail. Photo: pdw02.
As IMBA’s only Gold-level ride center, Park City embodies every single one of the factors that I mentioned above. It has miles and miles of pristine singletrack with gorgeous Rocky Mountain views, trails ranging in difficulty from easy to hard, trails for all different types of riders, and plenty of facilities to support the droves of people that travel from out of town.
Trailside Loop and Skills Park. Photo: gab26.
According to IMBA Regional Director Ryan Schutz, “what’s really important is that [the trails] function as a cohesive network, with signage and trail connections that create a model riding area.”
Round Valley Trail. Photo: pdw02.
Oakridge Area, Oregon (Silver)
Alpine Trail. Photo: tumbleweed14.
The communities of Oakridge and Westfir have poured considerable resources into transforming their economies from ones driven by timber to economies driven by tourism–and mountain biking plays a big part of it. With everything from close-to-town loops to all-day epics, Oakridge is sure to please both the beginners and the veteran rippers with 500+ miles of singletrack.
Middle Fork Trail. Photo: AK_Dan.
Copper Harbor, Michigan (Bronze)
Located at the tip of the Keweenaw peninsula above the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Copper Harbor is about as remote as you can get, making this a true “destination” trip. Copper Harbor is home to an ever-expanding network of trails ranging in difficulty from beginner to expert. Surprisingly, many of the trails are designed as gravity-fueled freeride trails with plenty of berms, jumps, and gnar to keep most any freerider grinning from ear to ear! Shuttles run during peak times, but if you have the legs and the bike for it, you can earn your turns as well.
Cuyuna Lakes, Minnesota (Bronze)
Cuyuna Lakes just held their grand opening this summer, but the brand-new purpose-built trail system is already a “Midwest Mecca.” Mountain bike legend Hans Rey, after sampling the trails on opening day, said, “Theyre among the best I have ridden super flowy andfun.” Coming from Rey, that’s a real compliment! The trails currently include fast, flowy sections, challenging slow-speed technical sections, and everything in between. Cuyuna Lakes is also exploring the possibilities for challenging downhill-esque descents. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this new destination!
Harrisonburg, Virginia (Bronze)
Harrisonburg, located in the beautiful Shenandoah valley, has a wealth of characteristically gnarly East Coast singletrack, with a few sections of beginner-friendly trail thrown in here and there. The community features excellent in-town singletrack, with several certified Epics just outside of town. The racing scene is alive and well in Harrisonburg, with local races of various distances all the way up to the Shenandoah 100, part of the NUE series.
Santos, Florida (Bronze)
The fact that a trail system in Florida has made it onto such a short list of world-wide ride centers speaks volumes of the quality of the riding at Santos. Santos features everything from groomed to rowdy cross country singletrack and from technical stunts to a progressive freeride/jump area, as well as the opportunity to get some serious air in the Vortex! Factor in nearby camping, bike shops, several popular festivals and races, and a thriving year-round mountain bike scene, and you have a true mountain biking destination… in Florida!
Singltrek pod Smrkem, Czech Republic/Poland (Bronze)
Photo credit: http://www.singltrekpodsmrkem.cz
According to IMBA, this “is the first purpose-built mountain bicycle trail system in continental Europe.” Translated as “Singletrack Under the Spruce,” this trail system follows the border of the Czech Republic and Poland and features 40 miles of pristine singletrack. In a place where people are accustomed to riding fire roads and old hiking trails, Singletrack Under the Spruce is a radical departure from the norm, and a breath of fresh air. Taking after popular facilities in the United Kingdom, the trailhead “boasts a comprehensive. . .facility that includes a bike shop, rentals, caf, bike wash, showers and changing rooms all situated above a gorgeous lake.”
More information about Singletrack Under the Spurce is available on their website.
Your turn: Which factors do you think are most important in a mountain bike destination? Is it just about having miles and miles of trails, or does a real mecca need to have more?
Great overview of the IMBA Ride Centers. I like to think I’ve ridden a lot of trails around the US but Santos is the only one on this list I’ve ridden.
Even with IMBA’s Ride Center definition and the examples above, I find the concept a little confusing. I mean, Park City and Oakridge are towns whereas I would consider Santos and Copper Harbor trail systems. I guess the bottom line is there needs to be a continuous network of singletrack with MTB-friendly amenities nearby.
Based on that understanding, there are plenty of other places I can imagine getting the Ride Center designation in the future. Anyone ever heard of Fruita or Moab? 🙂 Ok, so maybe the Moab trails don’t form a continuous network but the newer trails (like Whole Enchilada) are starting to link things together.
Good points, trek7k. I was wondering why Moab and Fruita weren’t on here!
Also, Crested Butte has a sizeable network of trails that is easy to connect, and with Crested Butte Mountain Resort in the mix there is plenty of DH.
And what about Whistler and other places in Canada?! It looks like this list has some serious growing to do…
Well Greg,unless it’s a trail that is really out in the boonies,I require a bathroom for my own personal prefferance for a ride center.I had to have have my colon removed(the wholw enchelatta,hahaha)and it’s a pain when there is’nt a bathroom so I ALWAYS at a trail that has bathrooms.
I think the Ride Center concept is still evolving, and I agree, it’s a bit confusing as is.
I’ve heard rumor of submitting my area (Augusta, GA/North Augusta, SC) for nomination as a ride center, but IMO we don’t meet the requirements. Yes, we have a lot of singletrack, including an IMBA Epic, we have a thriving local scene, but we’re lacking some true advanced trails, and certainly don’t have any free-ride or downhill type trails.
I too see some confusion as to the Ride Center concept. Have ridden at Cuyuna Lakes, Santos, and Harrisonburg. Cuyuna and Santos are similar in that everything is connected, and within riding distance. The trails in Harrisonburg, while all great are scattered over a wide area. Would take many weeks to ride everything within 25 miles. Months for everything within 50. So I guess that would make it a HUGE ride center. But then tha’ts part of what is great about our sport, everywhere we go it’s different.
While Cuyuna doesn’t have shuttle-style trails (yet) two trails that seem to make everyone’s favorite list, The Bobsled & Sandhog Hill, are all about downhill. Yes, you have to crank yourself to the top of both, but you will have a huge grin on the ride down.
Cuyuna is not what most people would think of when they think of “mid west mountain biking”. Its more like an “out west experience” only with lots of trees. Plus, unlike some of the other ride centers, Cuyuna has separate winter biking trails (which, should we actually get snow, would be groomed).
Singletracks.com is more than welcome to come and visit Cuyuna and do a write-up of it… 😉
What separates the “gold”, “silver” and “bronze”?
Hip Hip Hooray for SANTOS!!! It deserves some recognition for a change!! Many trails out there that still need some form of recognition though, even if it is not rated as Gold, Silver, or Bronze. Kudos to all the trails!
@Dustin Gaddis, Good points about Augusta. It does seem to require more than lots and lots of trails, because tons of different places in the nation have that.
@Road Warrior, Yes, the diversity is what keeps me in love with this sport 😀
@snowboy76, I’ll definitely try to make it happen at some point! My family doesn’t live too far from there (Central WI).
@brianW, good question, and one they don’t explicitly answer. Based on some of the articles I read about Park City’s induction, though, I guess it’s just how well each place meets the above criteria: miles of trails, continuity of trail network, diversity of types of riding, riding culture, facilities, etc. Seems more like a grade, like A, B, or C.
@Bonsai-CP, I would love to get down there this spring…
Wow, great write up. I have some traveling to do! Had no idea Santos was so cool. I’m sure I have a few friends in Florida that will let me stay for a bit 🙂
Santos has been on my hit list for a while… maybe I’ll actually make it happen this spring break??
Good Stuff – Stay tuned to Moab. Exciting things are happening here as Trailmix http://www.grandcountyutah.net/trailmix/ is developing a number of mountain bike focus areas that ultimately will be connected into a huge network of trails accessible from town via our new bike highway.