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January 23rd, 2013 MARTIN CIZMAR | Featured Stories
 

Winter Guide 2013: The Nearest Mountain

Our mountain-bike scene sorta sucks. The Lumberyard helps.

ws-lumberyard_3912AIR PORTLAND: A biker at the Lumberyard. - IMAGE: Mike Grippi
ski spots Winter Gear Not Winter Curling Lift Off Sleds Bikes Board Games Hot Toddies Intro
People move to Portland with high expectations for all things outdoors. Ask Will Heiberg. A decade ago, Heiberg, now 44, moved here from Washington, D.C., expecting the best of Western life. Mostly, it worked out. Except when it came to his hobby of mountain biking.

“It’s got this amazing reputation for being a great bicycle city, but for recreation there are these huge holes,” he says. “People continually move here and they get on the bicycle message boards and they’re like, ‘I just got to Portland, where’s the great mountain biking?’ and it’s like, if you’re looking for mountain biking, better move somewhere else.”

The problem, in short: Portland is too far from the closest Cascades trails that offer bikers a thrill. And most of the hilly parks we do have, like the trails that crisscross Forest Park, are closed to cyclists.

“It takes an hour and change to get to what I’d call really good single track,” he says. “And in the winter it’s wet and it’s dark—you have to be pretty hardcore.”

Heiberg made a solution: a 42,000- square-foot indoor mountain-bike park built in a converted bowling alley on Northeast 82nd Avenue. The park is called the Lumberyard, and it features jumps, pump tracks, a half-pipe and winding single-track trails that mimic what trail riders see out in the wild. On a rainy Sunday, the Lumberyard is pumping, hopping and spinning with riders, some of whom would probably be home playing video games, or watching the football game currently occupying a few scattered parents sitting in the Lumberyard’s bar area.

Like so many inspired ideas, it came from Cleveland. That’s where Ray’s MTB Indoor Park opened in 2004. Having read about the then-novel indoor park, which has since inspired a half-dozen imitators across the continent, Heiberg flew out to ride the place himself.

“It’s an old warehouse next to a housing development that doesn’t look like it’s doing too well, which is a lot of housing developments in Cleveland,” he says. “I went there for the weekend, and on the way back I thought, ‘I have to do this in Portland.’” 

2013-01 - Lumberyard from wweek.vimeo on Vimeo.

It took Heiberg, who wears a graying beard, glasses and a Lumberyard-branded flannel shirt, some time to put the pieces in place. In the meantime, he got more involved in the local mountain-bike scene, advocating for the new pump track in East Portland, and continued working at Liquid Development, a local company that worked on video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

Eventually, he found the right space and used his video-game design skills to create a three-dimensional map of the space he hoped to open there.

“We pretty much made a video-game level of what the space was going to look like,” Heiberg says. “So we got the most out of it.”

The Lumberyard’s rental bikes have big, knobby tires with no gears, a back brake and a seat that’s not made for sitting. “It’s a very simple tool. It’s a big version of a kid’s BMX bike,” Heiberg says. “But it’s what you need to practice your skills. And you can do the same thing over and over until you get it right without having to get off and hike back up the hill and try the trick again.”

So far, the Lumberyard has been embraced warmly by the Pacific Northwest mountain-bike scene, regularly seeing riders stop by from as far away as Vancouver, B.C., and winning over parents who want to get their kids out of skate parks, which can sometimes draw a tougher crowd.

“As a parent, I don’t like to go someplace where I have to explain, ‘No, those aren’t words we use,’ and ‘No, those are not cigarettes they’re smoking,’” Heiberg says.

“As a kid, my BMX bike was my ticket to freedom—we’d go out and do what we wanted to do,” he says. “I don’t really want my kids sitting on the couch all the time playing video games; I want them out experiencing the world.”

The scenes at the Lumberyard are decidedly mixed. Little kids barely off their training wheels roll around the easy track, marked green using the international system for ski runs, while guys in their 20s and 30s practice spins on the blue course and master the art of rolling around the 60-degree turn that’s part of one track without having to pedal. In the basement, guys who look like they were old enough to have bought the first Beastie Boys album on vinyl, roll slowly around practicing balancing tricks accompanied by a soundtrack of ’80s music.

In addition to hardcore riders getting their fix in a warm, dry space, Heiberg also sees a lot of newbies not ready to commit to an expensive bike rental and a long drive out to the sticks.

“For the price of a rental at a bike shop, you can get a whole day here and not have to worry about anything,” Heiberg says. “It’s very easy to dip your foot into the pool—it’s a zero-entry pool.”

In addition to those advantages—and the gear and repair shop that will assure no day is wasted by minor mechanical malfunction—there’s also a tavern with pizza, smoked brisket, burgers and local craft beer on tap.

Says Heiberg: “Not a lot of trailheads have a bar right there.” 

[For a review of the bar, go here.]


GO: The Lumberyard, 2700 NE 82nd Ave., 252-2453, lumberyardmtb.com. $24.95 on weekdays, $29.95 on weekends. Rental bikes are $10. 

 
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