Written by: Chris Stindt, Outdoor Recreation Alliance
As a relatively new mountain bike rider, it’s easy to take a lot for granted when you start riding. You might assume that it just means riding on a dirt path and it doesn’t really matter what bike you use. However, there is actually a lot more to riding mountain bikes!
Nearly 20 years ago, La Crosse began developing its first ‘real’ mountain bike trails. Sure, there were some cow paths, and a lot of riding on land that wasn’t exactly official, but it was very, very different from today’s trails. In 2001, a group of volunteers were given permission to develop trails in ‘Upper Hixon’ aptly named the Human Powered Trails. These volunteers used hand tools to build some narrow paths, often called single-track in the mountain biking world.
And the bikes! It’s almost hard to imagine how simplistic and brutal historic mountain bikes were. Today’s hybrids and road bikes would be better suited than the machines past riders used – rim brakes, lots of gears with no chain retention, limited and rudimentary suspension (usually only on the front of the bike), narrow wheels and tires, and in general, they were very heavy.
Today La Crosse has seen such an evolution that it is almost difficult to recognize. The original trails are still present but have slowly been rehabilitated and updated with modern trail design. After a long hiatus, new trails have been added in leaps and bounds. Professional trail building company, Rock Solid (a type of organization that wasn’t even in existence 20 years ago), created a series of trails themed after a galaxy, far, far away…. These downhill and family style trails rival anything in the Midwest; smooth, “flowy,” and fun for every type of rider! And the bikes today have also undergone a significant evolution. Only one ring in front, typically with 12 speeds in the rear, hydraulic disc brakes that could stop a car, advanced suspension technology on the front and rear of the bike, all while weighing significantly less – resulting in a more enjoyable experience.
La Crosse had a place on the mountain biking map very early on, but the pause in trail development over time started to leave the area behind. However, the recent growth has set the La Crosse Region up as a premier mountain bike destination in the Midwest. The trail management group, ORA Trails, has executed countless volunteer hours maintaining trails and continuous work with the City of La Crosse Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department to design and develop new trails. Numerous miles of new trails are weaved into the flora and fauna of Grandad Bluff in a way that enhances one of the Region’s most popular parks, to include access from neighborhoods at the foot of the bluff. It’s exciting to see the history of mountain biking and only imagine what the future holds for the La Crosse Region!