Mountain biking started on hiking trails, then trails were later built with bikes in mind. The latest evolution in bike trails is commonly known as a “flow” trail, which enhances the riders’ experience as much as getting them from Point A to Point B, or around a loop.
If you haven’t ridden one, you’re missing out on an exciting ride that is not only fun, but will improve your mountain biking skills.
There are a variety of these trails in the Treasure Valley and beyond, and it’s worth a road trip to ride them, especially with the heat arriving here.
There is no exact definition of what constitutes a flow trail, but it typically features bermed corners, rollers (a mound you can roll over or launch off) and jumps.
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A flow trail is also downhill-oriented and designed so riders can descend it with minimal pedaling and braking. Some flow trails are solely constructed from dirt, and others incorporate man-made structures such as wooden ramps, bridges and berms.
There’s a lot of variations to a flow trail, and builders put their creativity and touches into them. Flow trails are usually designed with most skill levels in mind, so an expert can ride fast and catch lots of air, while less experienced riders can enjoy them while keeping their tires firmly planted in the dirt.
Another fun thing about these trails is that you can ride them repeatedly in a session. They’re typically fairly short, so you can ride back to the top in a reasonable amount of time and effort, ride a chairlift or use a shuttle service, such as at Jug Mountain Ranch near McCall.
Some trails built years ago, if not decades, also have similar qualities, even though they aren’t considered flow trails by modern standards.
You can find cool flow trails and similar ones throughout Central and Southwest Idaho from McCall to Eagle to Sun Valley.
“There’s some great new-school riding opportunities,” said Greg Randolph, a former professional mountain biker and director of Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce.
With Foothills trails getting hot, dusty, sandy, crowded or all the above, it’s definitely worth heading out and discovering some new riding areas.
Plan on spending a weekend and hit several of them, and mix them with traditional cross country trails to get the full mountain biking experience.
Here are some to try:
Sun Valley recently unveiled its “Saddle Up” Trail on top of Bald Mountain, which is lift-serveddaily throughout the summer for mountain bikers.
The trail starts at 9,100 feet elevation and drops about 1,300 vertical feet in less than 4 miles. There’s some disagreement among mountain bikers whether this strictly qualifies as a flow trail because it has numerous short, steep uphills so you will be pedaling some sections.
But it’s also stuffed with an arm-cramping amount of berms, rollers and jumps.
“It’s one trail with a variety of experiences for riders of all ability levels,” said Julian Tyo, director of summer trails for Sun Valley.
Riders should remember the trail was recently completed and there are still some pretty loose sections. Sun Valley’s bike trails are also a work in progress, and Tyo said the company is committed to creating a first-class riding experience for mountain bikers.
He also points out that if the new trail doesn’t live up to their expectations, riders have 30 miles of trails accessible from Baldy’s lifts, so there are lots of other riding options, as well as about 400 miles of singletrack in the Sun Valley area.
For more information and trail maps go to sunvalley.com.
Jug Mountain Ranch
Jug Mountain near McCall is a mountain biking gem in the Central Idaho mountains. It’s a privately owned development that welcomes the public to ride and enjoy its trail network for free.
Because it’s on private land, Jughandle’s trails can be designed however they see fit, and it has some really exciting ones.
If you’re an advanced intermediate or expert rider, check out “Double Shot.”
Jug Mountain describes it as a “half mile of pure downhill-only bliss.”
It has a mixture of rocks, wood features, table tops and berms to create “the perfect trail to get your flow on.”
Riders without the skills to tackle Double Shot can ride north and south elk loops, which are “undulating” trails through rolling terrain.
You can ride uphill on Main Line and then head downhill on sections of those trails, then repeat or explore one of the many other trails at Jug Mountain.
The company is also offering bike shuttles every other weekend for $15, or through private bookings for groups. Shuttles run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and Aug. 16-17 and 30-31.
For details call 634-5072. For directions, trail maps and more information, go to jugmountainranch.com.
Eagle Bike Park
You could easily argue the park ushered the whole “flow” thing into the Treasure Valley with its professionally designed trails, jump lines, pump track, and in-progress flow trail, which is still waiting on a bridge to connect the lower section.
The bridge is expected to be completed this summer, and possibly this month. In the meantime, you have other options.
Mike Wieser of Boise is an expert “enduro” bike racer sponsored by the Wild Rockies Series. Enduro is where racers compete on trail bikes, but on downhill-oriented courses much like a flow trail.
He said aside from the newest flow trail at Eagle, “Feeling Lucky” has most of the qualities of a flow trail.
It’s short and with easy access back to the top for multiple runs, and it’s a good example of what a flow trail feels like.
Although not solely a downhill trail, Junkyard has some really fun, tight, bermed corners and rolling terrain where you can catch air or keep the tires grounded.
Beware of other trails at the park that are more jump oriented and experts only, such as Stormin’ Mormon.
Bear Basin (McCall)
The Bear Basin trails are pretty unique, because they’re like a bike park in a National Forest without a ski resort or any other entity directly tied to them.
But what really makes them unique is the Upper and Lower Drain trails, which are expert-level trails that provide a white-knuckle, downhill-only ride.
While they’re designated as expert trails, intermediate riders can also enjoy them if they watch their speed and stay grounded.
Ride the trails slowly the first time so you know what you’re getting yourself into, then let it rip as fast as you feel comfortable.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself going a little faster the next time and occasionally slipping the bonds of gravity.