The philosophy behind creating platinum adventure routes
04 October 2023
Written byRon Lewis
I was just happy to be there. Wheels crunching central Oregon dirt. It was dusty, loose, raw, exciting and different from everything I knew. A landscape of red cinder, high desert and ponderosa pine. It was my first time in the Metolius. The skyline of volcanic peaks felt exhilarating. Primordial. Ancient. Convinced there wasn't a bad road to be found, my buddies and I put a finger on the map, shrugged and off we went. Did we know where we were going? Absolutely not. It was 2016. We were new to adventure riding. Doing it wrong was standard procedure.
In our haste, we ended up making everything much harder than it needed to be. Climbing all the best descents, riding far too much of the same thing for way too long, roasting on sunbaked tarmac, oblivious to the cool, shady trails nearby. It seemed like we approached it all in the wrong direction and missed everything cool, an appropriate metaphor for our misdirected energy – all hot to trot with nowhere to go. Seven years later I would revisit the region with a lot more experience and a new route in mind. Still curious, I wanted to give it another try with fresh eyes and a revised approach.
My name is Ron Lewis. I develop and catalogue adventure cycling routes under the name omtm.cc. Along with my partner Ryan Francesconi, I’ve been staging DIY ride events, building and sharing routes throughout the Pacific Northwest for over eight years. Simply put, we aim to create and share the type of riding we enjoy – which is to say creative, visually compelling and sometimes weird, open-ended rides that fuse elements of gravel, mountain biking, randonneuring and bikepacking – which seems as apt a definition for Adventure Cycling as any I’ve come across.
The intention here is to pull back the curtain on route development to provide some insight into the ingredients and architecture behind platinum ride experiences. Routecrafting can be an imprecise affair – a dark art whose mechanics shape your experience, yet operate in the background, out of sight. I hope to share a few philosophical building blocks but leave plenty room for one’s own creativity and sense of discovery in the process.
1. First define what is good
It's a bit tricky to pinpoint exactly what makes a route good. Is it fun? Fulfilling? Revealing? Challenging? All of the above? It depends on who's asking and who it's intended for. It can be a cryptic stew of ingredients with no established formula. But when it works, you can feel it. And when it doesn't, you feel that too.
2. You’re designing an experience, not just a ride
When developing routes, you effectively arrange an experience – connecting points through a landscape, showcasing its unique character, topography and features in sequence. This progression shapes the feel of the ride. For me, the most impactful routes are built around distinctive focal points – a stretch of backcountry trail, an iconic mountain pass, spectacular ridgeline or landscape with a distinctive character. Lean into it. Make it about that thing and often the rest will simply fall into place.
3. Consider the ebb & flow
Along with the high points, also consider the opportunity to rest. Physically and mentally. Intercut the action with quiet stretches of pavement or gradual descents. Ebb and flow. Tension and release. Sections of downtime create contrast, amplifying the experience and making the highs that much higher.
4. Keep it seasonally appropriate
Seasonality will also have a huge impact on where you ride and when. Different elevations and regions will obviously be appropriate at different times of year. In the Cascades, summer is all about the high country above 4000 ft. In deep winter, dry rainshadow areas east of the mountains and lower elevations tend to be the go-to. In shoulder seasons snow lines will dictate what is possible. Rides really seem to connect when they showcase the best of their respective season.
5. Build a sense of progression
In most cases too much of the same thing for too long begins to feel like a slog. A well-paced push and pull can be the secret sauce that takes things to the next level. Consider scene changes or polarity shifts to create a sense of progression on your journey. Dense forest into wide open meadows or exposed ridgelines for example. Try including trails, paved stretches, forest paths or decommissioned roadbeds to break things up into contrasting sections.
6. Good things take time
Rarely does an amazing route come together in one go. Trial, error, repeat visits and sometimes additional error are part of the refining process. Using mistakes as learning experiences can be key to understanding what makes a region tick. Figuring out where things went wrong can open up a better understanding of spatial relationships and meaningful connection to the areas you ride.
When I eventually returned to take another crack at the Metolius, I was seven years older, it was still just as dusty and loose, but this time I was able to stitch together a rousing cross-section of lines. Every ingredient fell into place – meandering rivers, volcanic buttes, alpine lakes and prodigious stretches of singletrack. In my post-ride glow I thought ‘I can’t WAIT to come back and ride this with friends!’. If the compulsion to share is a litmus test for a good route, this one possibly qualified as great. Unlocked and absolutely stunning, the Metolius hit all the right beats that day in large part, because this time around, I knew what I was looking for and exactly how to find it – which feels an awful lot like doing it right.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, give the route a go for yourself.
Follow Ron @OMTM.CC
Visit OMTM's full route Directory HERE.