Tahoe mountain biking on national radar

Mountain biking in Lake Tahoe is getting national recognition. Photo/TAMBA

Mountain biking in Lake Tahoe is getting national recognition. Photo/TAMBA

By Jessie Marchesseau

It’s no secret that Lake Tahoe is an outdoor recreation destination. Skiers and snowboarders flock here in the winter, and visitors come to hike and play on the lake during the summer. The local economy depends on people coming here to play. However, one user group it seems Tahoe has yet to really capture is mountain bikers.

With more than 300 miles of mountain bike trails in the basin, there could be room enough for everyone. So the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association got together with Bike magazine in an effort to take steps toward bringing in more bikers.

Ben Fish, president of TAMBA, along with TAMBA member Paul Tolme, spent six months discussing and planning with Bike magazine Managing Editor Nicole Formosa the possibility of Bike doing a feature story on mountain biking in Lake Tahoe. Formosa finally made the trip to check out some trails in June.

Bike magazine is an international publication with more than 200,000 subscribers. They are known for their pages of stellar photography and focus more on where to ride than how to. Formosa said Bike tries to get to the “soul of the sport, the adventure of it” and looks for diversity in the destinations they feature. The magazine encourages readers to escape to places with beautiful scenery, a variety of trails and a location they can realistically travel to without it being too cost prohibitive.

Armstrong Connector Trail Photo/TAMBA

Armstrong Connector Trail Photo/TAMBA

“Someplace you can go and be for a few days and just explore right from your door,” she told Lake Tahoe News, “and I think Tahoe has a lot of those things.”

Fish said he believes one of the reasons Tahoe has not yet sought out mountain bikers as a valid tourist group is a misconception that if they do come, they won’t spend any money. On the contrary he says, they will stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and spend money in the community just like skiers do. Bike magazine’s demographic research suggests he is right. Bike’s readers have an average annual household income of $100,000, more than half are willing to spend more than $2,000 on their next bike and 80 percent of them say they plan on taking a mountain bike trip in the next year.

Formosa said mountain bikers are just starting to be viewed as a valid user group that takes trips and spends money.

Some places such as Moab, Utah, and Whistler, B.C., have jumped on the bandwagon, marketing themselves as top mountain biking destinations. Tolme said with the quality of trails here along with all the other amenities Tahoe has to offer, he sees potential for Tahoe becoming a world-class mountain biking destination.

“We think if they know about it, they’ll come,” he said.

Formosa spent five days here in June riding and researching for the story. Fish, his wife, Amy, also a TAMBA board member, and other TAMBA members spent the week showing Formosa around and taking her on some of their favorite trails.

They rode the Tahoe Rim Trail from Mount Rose, then the Flume trail. They took her on Powerline and up Cold Creek to Star Lake and on the new Monument trail. They rode Armstrong Pass and the new and improved Corral just in time to catch the ribbon cutting ceremony on June 14, then later checked out Van Sickle trail, and, of course, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

“She left exhausted and impressed. At least, that was my impression,” Tolme told Lake Tahoe News.

Some of the trails they rode are relatively new or recently improved. In fact, there is scarcely a trail in the basin which hasn’t been somewhat improved in the last 10 years.

Features are being built in to some of the trails. Photo/Dave Clock

Features are being built into some of the Tahoe trails. Photo/Dave Clock

“[Tahoe] trails are amazing and the work that’s going on is really encouraging,” Formosa said. “Tahoe compared to other places has a really admirable partnership with the Forest Service. I haven’t seen that in a lot of places.”

The U.S. Forest Service was instrumental in helping with the construction and funding for the recent improvements on Corral and other area mountain bike trails. Fish said they have formed a great partnership with TAMBA in the last few years and are really beginning to understand mountain bikers as users of Forest Service lands.

One of Formosa’s favorite aspects of her visit to Tahoe was experiencing the community of mountain bikers here and the partnership they have formed with the Forest Service, something she hopes is indicative of the future of the sport. She also appreciated how they were able to start pedaling right at the Fish’s back door and within a couple hours be someplace that felt completely serene and remote.

Bike magazine has already posted one story from Formosa’s visit on their website. The full feature on Lake Tahoe will appear in print sometime next year.


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Comments (24)
  1. from over the hill says - Posted: July 8, 2014

    All those bikes and they want more????

    That doesn’t leave any room for the horse back rider but then the purpose of all of this is to get them off the trails.

    Look at the first picture, it looks like a bulldozer made the trail and it was from many years of mountain bikes.

    No cow trail ever looked like that from years gone by.

  2. Dogula says - Posted: July 8, 2014

    Back in the late 80s and early 90s we were pretty serious mountain bikers. We used to shake our heads at many of our friends who wanted more trails, but when we’d ride at places like the flume, would park OUTSIDE the park on the highway so they didn’t have to pay the park fees. Yep; a huge part of the mountain bike “community” is very cheap. They do not spend money if there’s a way to avoid it.

  3. Perry R. Obray says - Posted: July 8, 2014

    TAMBA is getting well deserved recognition as is the USFS. USFS might own around 90% of the basin. I will not be surprised in the future to learn TAMBA is one of the biggest outfits(if not the biggest) in man hours for trail maintenance.
    The variety of trails is amazing. It took many years, if not decades of focus and energy to accomplish this. The kids who enjoy this atmosphere must be extremely lucky for the opportunity to have such an elevated and varied experience.

  4. B.C. says - Posted: July 8, 2014

    if there were more legit bike parks in the basin an the proper people branding them we would have no problem with gettin people up here to ride.

  5. reza says - Posted: July 8, 2014

    If we truly want to attract mountain bikers we need trails that will also work for the beginner and intermediate riders; the majority by far. Our trails for the most part are pretty technical and are best for advanced intermediates and experts. Even the Power Line, perhaps the easiest dirt/sand trail around has parts where riders have to get off and walk up.

    If the community seriously wants to pursue mountain bikers they need to build some long rolling trails. Is this part of the USFS mission and will the TRPA allow it? Need TAMBA to lobby for this.

  6. Amy F says - Posted: July 8, 2014

    Reza – All of the features that were just completed by TAMBA on Corral trail were built with the beginner rider in mind. Please check out this video.

  7. Perry R. Obray says - Posted: July 8, 2014

    The meadows in the city of SLT have great beginner trails.

  8. Ben says - Posted: July 8, 2014

    Thanks for sharing! We’re trying to help the identity of Tahoe. I’m raising a family here and feel an economy fostered by year round recreation strengthens our community and adds value to our forests and lake for future protection. Tahoe can be on par with Park City or even Whistler with a little effort. Plus we have the most beautiful lake.

  9. Tahoereader says - Posted: July 8, 2014

    Great work TAMBA, it is appreciated. Thank you!

  10. reza says - Posted: July 8, 2014

    Amy F., great video. Thanks for sharing. Good job!

  11. romie says - Posted: July 9, 2014

    Thanks TAMBA!

  12. Kevin Joell says - Posted: July 9, 2014

    Over the Hill- you are correct that that trail in the picture was built by a “bulldozer”, however when this picture was taken it was about a month old. That’s a brand new section of professionally built 50″ OHV and Bicycle trail, not worn from years of bike use. “All those bikes” is exactly why we work with our land managers for more and better quality trails. The number of riders on the trails are growing whether we help or not. Dispersing the use over more miles that are designed to require less maintenance helps accommodate all trail users. We do not have any agenda to get the horses off the trails. In fact, we are working on installing some bridges in Galena right now that are of significant size to handle horse traffic. If you’d like to help us move those heavy timbers, you are welcome to join our volunteers on a workday. You can get a hold of me through the TAMBA website.

  13. Dave C says - Posted: July 9, 2014

    Like many sports, mountain biking is growing. The need for more trails and a variety of trail levels is needed to meet this growth, at all riding levels. TAMBA and the forest service inside the Tahoe basin have answered this need and done so extremely well, especially considering the years and process it takes to just get 1 new trail on the ground. The newly done trails out in the Tahoe Mountain area helps fill that need with low technical terrain right in town no less. It is very clear that best practice in building trails using manual labor and also using heavy equipment is needed to build them correctly and make them to last a life time. Even with this technically easier terrain out in the Tahoe Mountain area, Yes more easier terrain is needed. Shorter loops are also in need to add options to the big rides we have, a good example is the freshly finished Monument Pass trail up in High Meadows. Not only do we always need more trails, but trail work days to maintain the ones we have. All of this adds up to a demand that TAMBA is filling along with the forest service. We have one of the best opportunities to show the rest of the world how it can and should be done. If this were not currently being done, then the likes of Bike Magazine would not be covering us.

    VERY HUGE kudos need to go to the TAMBA staff and especially Ben and Amy Fish for their commitment to doing the work they have done for all of us to enjoy. This is very long and tedious work for them, give them a well deserved thanks next time you can.

  14. Really? says - Posted: July 9, 2014

    I think some trails need to be hikers only. I’m not sure where hikers can go and not be sharing with bikers. Is it only the PCT or Desolation here at the South Shore? Now Mr Villanueva plans to put biking trails on both ridge lines over the Angora Road so that bikers will have three ways to access the Angora Fire Lookout and Angora Resort (both ridge lines and the rod itself) and hikers will have no quiet trail to use for that access. Couldn’t one of the ridge lines be just for hikers??? Have we gone too far in the direction of mountain bike access at the expense of hikers? Most bikers are courteous but, assuredly, not all are. A biker passed us the other day with no warning. Our four year old grandson was in front of my husband and when the biker cut back onto the trail he almost hit him. Hikers spend as much money in the basin as bikers and we don’t want the word to get out that on almost all trails hikers will be dodging bikers. Mr. Villanueva?

  15. romie says - Posted: July 9, 2014

    Where can bikers go to avoid discourteous hikers?

  16. romie says - Posted: July 9, 2014

    Oh, and Really?; it’s called Wilderness. There’s a whole, whole lot of it around here. And in addition, there’s the PCT, and Meiss, and a few trails in CA and NV State Parks, and Angora Lakes, and lots of West Shore trails, and… Plenty of places to go if you don’t feel like sharing public land.

  17. Biggerpicture says - Posted: July 9, 2014

    Hikers, bikers, and equestrians.

    Coexistance please!

    Not that hard, just be stoked that we all have a different way to enjoy our forests and trails.

    That’s why most of the trails are considered “multi use”.

  18. go figure says - Posted: July 10, 2014

    Hey romie, mountain bikes are really tough on trails. Im glad that they are not allowed in Wilderness and I hope that never changes. Ive been run off local trails by discourteous off road bikers and think it would be nice to keep the two uses seperate. There are plenty of trails available to mountain biking. Not every mile of public lands needs to be developed.

  19. Dogula says - Posted: July 10, 2014

    Actually, horse hooves damage trails a lot more than bicycles do. But let’s not let facts get in the way.

  20. copper says - Posted: July 10, 2014

    Sheez, Dog, I hate to admit it, but I actually agree with you over something. The area around South Lake Tahoe is full of examples of ankle breaking trails that have been reduced to boulder fields by horses.

    Of course, as a hiker, and a former runner (and bicyclist, I hasten to add), I have no problem sharing bike paths with bicyclists – but I know the rules of the road, which far more bicyclists understand than typical bike path strollers.

    But on trails, just as on public roads, so many bicyclists have an attitude of superiority and ownership of their perceived territory (which many seem anxious to defend “to the death”) that I’d favor limiting most of them to some sort of oversized skate-board parks.

    In my geriatricity, I’ve begun using a hiking stick. Or spoke killer, as I’ve begun to fantasize.

  21. cosa pescado says - Posted: July 11, 2014

    ‘Actually, horse hooves damage trails a lot more than bicycles do. But let’s not let facts get in the way.’

    Yeah if you compare a single horse to a single bike, and completely ignore the number of bikes compared to the number of horses.
    Your facts are BS because your analysis is half baked.

  22. Dogula says - Posted: July 11, 2014


  23. Really? says - Posted: July 11, 2014

    Maybe sticking more to the point, we should ask ourselves if mountain biking everywhere might diminish the family friendly aspect of hiking at Tahoe. A family I know in Christmas Valley no longer walks with their children to the waterfall on Hawley Grade after barely dodging fast-moving bikers coming around the corners. They feel its no longer safe to go up there with the children. In many heavily used biking /hiking areas such as Redwood Park in Oakland/Alameda, some trails are designated for hikers while still leaving most of the terrain for multiple use. Having to seek out the PCT or Desolation means for most people that they must get in a car and drive to a trail head rather than having a neighborhood trail that is designated for hiking. I think there is a lot of room for compromise here. And, yes, our family rides mountain bikes in addition to hiking.

  24. steve says - Posted: July 15, 2014

    i think its great we have all these trails. i have at least 20 i can access from my door. i don tlike having to drive to ride my mtn bike. KEEP TAHOE BLUE REMEMBER……? only paddlebaord and mtn bike in the summer to keep pollution at a low. we have AWESOME trails, kwood and northstar to ride the lifts, gnarly lines and chill lines. great for begginner to expert for sure. there is always a new one to explore….