Gallery: Fat biking the Oregon Dunes

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On the central Oregon coast, about three hours south of Portland, you’ll find more than 30,000 acres of windswept sand towering in some spots to more than 500 feet above sea level. Author Frank Herbert found it in the 1950s and the experience inspired his seminal work of science fiction, Dune.

Long the bastion of high-octane motorsports, the areas off-limits to vehicles are largely untraveled, as most hikers through the area tend to stick to the marked course from the entrance to the beach. A fat bike is the perfect vehicle to explore the unending ebb and flow of the dunes’ natural evolution.

I recently joined a group from Portland for a weekend of exploring. Arriving late on Friday we first ventured out well after dark, and seeing the looming shapes and valleys lit only by natural light was intimidating. Like Herbert’s fictional planet of Arrakis, the experience was otherworldly.

As Saturday arrived and we got to see the expanse for the first time, the feeling was replaced with childlike glee as we sped down the valleys and carved sweeping turns into the hillsides. The hard rain the day before left the sand in optimal condition as the ultra-low air pressure in our tires barely left a track. We quickly learned the lighter shades of khaki were firmer, and better suited to climbing, while the areas surrounding vegetation were softer with less wind exposure to shape them.

As we made our way to the ocean we greeted by a double rainbow (what does it mean?!) and some debris washed up from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. While we sessioned the natural jump lines from the dunes down to the beach, a rogue wave led to a mishap that reminded us that nature was still in charge here, and not even huge tires can conquer all.

We also made some friends in nearby Lakeside, where the patrons of the Up the Creek Tavern are starting to get used to those funny looking bikes piled up out front. But please, no arm wresting.

Watch for more as we’re already planning another trip in search of melange—or at least a chance to dune it again.

Special thanks

This trip wouldn’t have been possible without Portland Design Works, Oregon Bikepacking, Fatback Bikes, On One Bikes, and 21st Avenue Bikes. Thanks!

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