by Michelle SchmidtMountain biking is about the journey, not the destination. That’s what local riders say. Even then, a ride has to start somewhere.
For those on the Palouse, Moscow Mountain is nearby. Biking in a traditional mountain setting requires a drive for Valley residents, but there are alternatives. In recent years, Hells Gate State Park and the Army Corp of Engineers have developed a trail system.
“It may not have trees, but Hells Gate is the only place north of Boise that you can ride in the wintertime,” said Scott Jackson.
Jackson owns Ride On Bikes in Lewiston and coordinates Idaho Fat Fire Fanatics, an advocacy group that works to develop bike trail systems.
“There’s a lot of variety there,” said Jackson in regards to trail difficulty. “My son’s been riding out there since he was 7, but there are trails I won’t take people on unless they’ve had three years of mountain biking experience.”
Matt Minick is employed at Follett’s Mountain Sports in Lewiston and trains for downhill racing competition on those trails. They must work, because he’s currently Idaho’s fastest downhill mountain biker. Minick also coordinates a Sunday group ride on the trails.
Many Valley riders, like Minick, head up to Moscow Mountain when the temperature rises. Not only is the heat in Hells Gate uncomfortable, but the ground gets dry and dusty, making for a difficult ride.
But unlike the Hells Gate trails, those on Moscow Mountain are not on public land, which makes things a bit more complicated when it comes to trail use and development.
It’s a complication that has been tackled by relationships. About 15 years ago, bike enthusiasts began conversations with land owners about putting trails on the land. A group formed — MAMBA (Moscow Area Mountain Biking Association) — and since then, more than 55 miles of trail has been developed on land with owner permission, at least as best as they can tell.
“So far it’s been a very symbiotic relationship,” said Scott Metlen, president of MAMBA.
MAMBA members pay a $15 membership fee and enjoy use of the trails. Landowners benefit because the members help keep the mountain clean and watch for vandalism and fire.
Metlen, now 60, says he started mountain biking at 8 when got his first bike … even though it took another 30 years for actual mountain bikes to be introduced. And with the mountain just 10 minutes away and snow melt now opening up the trails, Metlen is up on it four to five times a week.
“It’s whatever work and your body will let you do,” Metlen said. “It’s a full body workout, so you have to have a strong core and your arms have to be strong. You’ve got to have good balance.”
On the mountain, the ride is not about distance: a 20-mile ride generally means climbing 3,000 to 4,000 vertical feet and is going to take a good part of the day. But there are shorter loops that might only take an hour and newbies can start off riding on the roads and as they increase their skill level. Either way, it’s a great place to ride.
“You’re in the woods, you’ve got views, it’s incredible. You have to stay focused, so it’s a stress reliever,” said Metlen.
But he issues a warning: when you’re looking at those views — beautiful sunsets, seasonally changing vistas, mountain wildlife like bobcats and turkeys — make sure you’re not moving.
“You watch that moose at the bottom of the hill when you’re riding, and you’ll be tumbling down to see him,” said Metlen. “Your bike will go where you look.”
Like most anything that is fast and fun, injury is inevitable, even when you’re not watching that moose.
“I swear the trees have legs,” Metlen said. With steep hillsides and wet ground or roots, most wrecks aren’t too serious. But a head-over-heels-over-bike tumble down the hill can do a bit of damage to both body and bike, making basic safety and bike repair skills a necessity.
Safety precautions should begin before even hitting the trails. The roads on the mountain are commercial logging roads that are still in use, so drive with caution and park a safe distance off the road.
To get more information about basic riding safety, ethics of private land use and MAMBA membership, visit bikemoscow.org.
if you go
What: Mountain Biking Group Ride
When: Sundays at 10 a.m.
Where: Hells Gate Trails
Admission: Free, if using Army Corp of Engineers parking lot
More information: Talk to Matt at Follett’s Mountain Sports in Lewiston