In the sagebrush hills on the Bucking Bird Ranch outside Lander is an innovative course of extremely challenging jumps, turns and tunnels that is young Alan Mandel’s mountain bike dream line.
After studying professional mountain bike trail design in Canada, Mandel returned to his Wyoming hometown this year to built his own creation on his parent’s property, a former emu ranch.
It begins on an cow trail through the sagebrush. It features three mogul-like mounds called “rollers” perfectly spaced to mimic the rise and drops of a rollercoaster and a series of jumps to fling the rider high into the Wyoming sky. But Mandel’s favorite features are two 12 to 14-foot long tunnels. One moment Mandel is vertical and then he drops to earth and plunges briefly under the surface. It provides a riding experience that he says is like no other.
In fact, Mandel, 22, says he’s never seen tunnels built on another bike track.
Mandel grew up in Lander on the Bucking Bird Ranch 10 miles south of town.
For years he was an avid skateboarder. He resisted buying a bike even as all his friends started riding BMX. When he thought of bikes he thought angrily of the rocks they deposited on a skateboard park that caused him to crash on his board. But he couldn’t keep pace with his friends on the street when they rode bikes, so at about 14 he finally bought his first two-wheeler.
“Within the first week they had me hitting dirt jumps and convincing me to jump off stuff,” Mandel said.
He was hooked.
His interested in BMX riding quickly grew to mountain biking. He’d ride the slickrock bowls of the Bus Loop Trail on the outskirts of town and was shocked out how fast and far he could get on a bike.
At the time, Lander’s mountain bike scene was still in its infancy. There were only a few trails in the area, so he and his friends started building jumps around town.
His parents initially refused to let him build a trail on their property. They worried he’d hurt himself, or leave a hole their horses might stumble into.
Off to Canada
Mandel got his first taste of bike trail design when he built Lander’s bike park for an Eagle Scout project. He also got involved in Lander’s growing mountain bike community, helping on trail maintenance days. When he graduated high school he left Lander for British Columbia, Canada, to bike competitively and study trail building. When he finished the design program, he took a job with Hoots Inc., a Canadian company that builds bike trails and parks. He also rode in competitions.
In the summer of 2015 he hit a jump in a competition in Colorado. His front tire exploded and when he landed he broke his hand. Earlier that year he’d broken the same hand and cracked a rib. He didn’t want to keep competing.
In the spring of 2016 he came back to Lander for an extended visit and after years of asking, his parents finally said he could build a bike course on their property, which they no longer used for animals.
For Mandel, trail building is art that requires technical skills. On this project he wanted to push himself creatively.
The features he included are ones he likes to ride. He wanted a nice drop where he could practice tricks, a big jump to catch air, and a tunnel, because it just seemed cool. He designed the track to the landscape, working with its natural features.
He painstakingly crafted each feature, spending a week to find beautiful-colored rocks with moss for a barrier wall. Every detail mattered.
“I wanted to take all of my experience and knowledge I’ve gained over the years and apply it to a project on the land where it all started for me,” he said.
Mandel started the project in the spring, but was sidelined by several weeks of torrential rain and flooding in the area. He finished the trail in the summer.
His months of work resulted in a trail ride that lasts only 45 seconds. Nonetheless, it’s what Mandel always dreamed of building — and riding.
Mandel is now back at work in Canada, but he’s already planning to return to Wyoming. He’s talking with staff at the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service about new trails he can help build.
As for his dream line, it still sits in the sagebrush. He offered to plough it over before he left, but his parents said to leave it. They were amazed what he could do with dirt and proud of what he built, Mandel said.
“It’s just going to chill there for a while,” he said.
He plans to ride it whenever he’s home, until it fully blends back into the landscape, reclaimed by the sagebrush.
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