The Bend Conspiracy: Riding the best trails of Oregon with Cog Wild and Sonya Looney


Update: Nov 29 with story from the great Andrew Lazenby

A Cog Wild Experience in Bend, Oregon
By Andrew Lazenby

Picture this. Carving autumn-rich trails—from wooded roller coasters to volcanic rock, from streams to waterfalls, from canopy-covered singletrack to vast viewpoints—this was our mountain bike themed weekend in Bend, Oregon, courtesy of Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours. Having never been to Bend myself, I had only heard of the incredible riding near and around town. With only a few days to explore, it was a relief to know we had such seasoned guides on our team to help us navigate through a seemingly endless assortment of trails. We followed and let it flow, without a worry in the world whether we missed a scenic point or made a wrong turn. Our Cog Wild guides delivered. And I want to go back for more.

Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours has been around since 1999, and recently taken over by Melanie Fisher and Lev Stryker in 2006. They currently employ upwards of 20 guides, depending on the season, and have a fleet of vans ready to carry bikes, gear, riders and beer (courtesy of Deschutes Brewery) to trails near and around Bend. Single and multi-day guided or shuttle packages are available. Cog Wild operates year-round (weather permitting) and their guides carefully select the day’s route based on rider ability, group size and weather conditions in the mountains. During the colder months when the trails to the west succumb to the snow and ice, the trails to the east of Bend come into play.

Cog Wild caters to all riding abilities and to those with very specific bike needs. Near Bend and around Central Oregon, it was clear there are hundreds of trails to chose from—from beginner stretches down a riverbank to advanced technical riding near Smith Rock. Also, being such a premier tour company, Cog Wild maintains close relationships with bike shops in Bend. If you aren’t able to fly or drive into town with your own wheels, Cog Wild can make some calls and have your perfect steed already loaded on the van and ready to roll when you arrive.

Although we were lucky enough to be picked up each morning at our rental home for the weekend, we did stop by the Cog Wild headquarters to take a glimpse of how the business works. Walls covered in maps? Check. Fleet of their own rental bicycles tuned and ready to ride? Check. Beer? Check. Large tables to spread out maps and get stoked for the next day’s adventure? Check. A wall full of merchandise to bring home and show off how awesome your weekend was? Check.

The Cog Wild team is local to Bend. They make their livings in and around town and are part of what seems to be a very small-town sense of community. Being locals, the Cog Wild team can help piece together a truly fun weekend in and around Bend. We were so grateful to have a touring company that treated us like long-time neighbors—from gear lists to make sure we could handle an assortment of weather to recommending a great spot for viewing the sunset over a pint. In my opinion, this is the essence of a touring company. We never felt we simply purchased a lift to the next trailhead. The whole time, it it seems like Melanie and Lev are processing data: how fast we climb, what kind of descents we like, what style of food and beer we prefer, what the next morning precipitation will bring. They take all this live data and adjust our itinerary for the next hour or for the next day. The owners and guides wanted us to share the same passion that they have for their trails and the amenities in town.

Cog Wild’s plans for the company are vast, and for good reason. It’s quite apparent that the crew wants to extend the sense of community from the town of Bend into the mountains. This year, there are plans to begin offering a camping week for families with planned rides and hikes from camp. When asked what the catalyst for this endeavor was, Melanie noted, “It’s just spreading the word that mountain biking is not scary.” Bend bicycle shops better start stocking up with small-wheeled bikes.

Our MTBR crew managed to muster for four epic days of riding. Between rides, we spent time relaxing in our incredible home provided by Victoria at Alpenglow rentals. We spent time walking into town to eat at incredible restaurants and hydrate at breweries that all served up a tasty IPA. Rather than spending pages recounting our rides and adventures in town, a brief summary of our activities follows below. Feel free to copy into your own itinerary and let the good times roll!

  • Day 1: Ride Lookout Mountain in the Ochoco range, located about 1:15 from Bend. Grab groceries at Ray’s, fill up growlers at local breweries, and serve up Alaskan caught halibut enchiladas at the house for our crew, guides and guests.
  • Day 2: Ride the McKenzie River Trail, located about 45 minutes from town. Post-ride de-mud and warm up at the Belknap Hot Springs Resort. Dinner at the Broken Top Bottle Shop in town.
  • Day 3: Ride local Bend trails (Swampy, South Fork, Whoops and Bend Trail). Sunset pint at the Crux Fermentation Project and dinner at the Riverside Market.
  • Day 4: Quick morning ride on more local Bend trails (Tiddlywinks, Larsen Trail, new Tyler’s Traverse Trail, and end on the River Trail. Lunch at the Parilla Grill. Caffeine stop at Backporch Coffee Roasters. Final tasting at Boneyard Brewery. Begin our journey home. Start planning for next trip to Bend.

Mountain bikers in Bend really do share a passion for their trails. The Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) recently finished a day long trail building project that we were lucky enough to ride not very long after (Tyler’s Traverse). Riders come together, put in a hard day’s work, finish with a party, and maintain a sense of pride in their trails that visitors reap the benefits from. Here’s an example. While riding the quintessential Whoops Trail on our third day, we had three or four riders in our group note that the trail was in poor condition due to a full summer of use and a sustained dry period that rendered trail maintenance out of the question. We almost skipped it and thank goodness we didn’t! After riding out of the final banked turn, I rode up to our guides and asked if they were joking about the trail conditions! In my mind, the trail was in perfect condition. This goes to show the pride that the riders in Bend have for their trails.

As we drove away from Bend for our long journey back home to Northern and Southern California, there was plenty of time for reflection of our fun-packed weekend. Our exposure to the trails near and around Bend, our introduction to old and new breweries around town, our new friends and journals filled with places we would visit or trails we would ride on our next trip, were all courtesy of Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours. Being a planner by nature, I like to plan my long weekend bike trips, down to the trails and a list of things to do and places to see. This time, without planning a single step, our adventure in Bend is a favorite I will remember for a long time. That is, until I book my next Cog Wild weekend. Cheers.

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.

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