For more than a decade, IMBA has recognized trails and trail systems around the world that stand out as models for the best that mountain biking has to offer. From rugged, long-distance treks to front-country networks that challenge and excite riders of all ability levels, the Model Trails program is designed to inspire the kinds of experiences that keep mountain bikers coming back for more.
“More” is definitely the right word to describe the 2015 class of inductees. In the Epics category, the six selected rides average over 60 miles in length, and offer stout challenges — and jaw-dropping scenery — for even the most experienced trail enthusiasts. In the Ride Centers category, the interest and growth in this designation has exploded, with an record number of applications, thirteen of which are recognized here.
This 2015 class also includes IMBA’s first round of renewing Ride Centers: Each location is now required to resubmit an application every four years. To maintain a high level of consistency a reviewer from IMBA’s Trail Solutions team conducts an on-site visit to evaluate the center’s trail system, bike amenities and other criteria.
“Earning a top-tier score keeps getting more difficult,” says IMBA field programs director Chris Bernhardt. “We want to continually set the bar higher — just as riders’ abilities are always expanding and improving, so should the facilities that we recognize as the best places for mountain biking.”
All of the 2015 Model Trail honorees can be found on the trailfinder website MTBProject.com. Just search the site using the Epic and Ride Center titles listed in this article. Now on to the winners.
Armstrong to Strawberry in California, 39 miles: This 90-percent singletrack route ranges from fast and flowing to technical and chunky. Soak in the views of Lake Tahoe and views of the southern Sierra. There are dramatic views of Strawberry Valley from the top of Lover’s Leap, 1,100 feet above the deck, just before the final rip-roaring descent.
Black Canyon Trail in Arizona, 68 miles: Riding the BCT from north to south offers a long, gradually descending route with plenty of pedaling and backcountry flavor. The northern segments vary from open desert to tight canyons. The middle sections, from Bumble Bee to the Table Mesa trailhead, offer the most dramatic scenery and adventurous riding.
High Country Pathway in Michigan, 82 miles: From beautiful hill top vistas to dark, cool cedar swamps and pine plantations, the HCP provides an extended journey deep in the woods of Michigan. Home to the largest free range elk herd this side of the Mississippi, the route crosses through three counties with very little sign of civilization.
Laugavegur Route in Iceland, 54 miles: A mind-blowing, multi-day, overland route in the highlands of Iceland. On this point-to-point hut adventure you’ll ride singletrack through a multitude of landscapes including geysers, multi-colored Rhyolite mountains, bubbling mud, endless lava fields and glaciated mountain vistas. The 54-mile trip is best tackled as three long days or five shorter rides. The last day from Þórsmörk to Skogafoss is truly epic and travels between two major glaciers, across the slopes of a cooling volcano.
Ouachita NRT in Arkansas, 108 miles: Newly opened to mountain bikes, this long-distance National Recreation Trail explores remote sections of the Ouachita Mountains. Expect rugged trail surfaces and some hike-a-bike, but also rideable climbs and rowdy downhill sections. The trail also connects with the Womble Trail, another IMBA Epic in Montgomery County—string them together for a mega-Epic!
Surveyor’s Ridge Loop in Oregon, 21 miles: One of the top trails in the state of Oregon, Surveyor’s Ridge is a Pacific Northwest must-ride. This is a true ridgeline ride, with aggressive short climbs and descents to distract you from the gorgeous views of Mount Hood. Expect technical rocky sections, open alpine meadows and a mountainous vibe from start to finish.