I met Chris Orr when I was fresh out of high school, smoking dope and working as a mechanic at VeloPro in Santa Barbara, California. Working at that shop was a truly memorable time in my life and Chris was one of the shop locals who was friends with all the employees and a regular shredder on our after-work shuttles to the top of Camino Cielo for a ripping sunset run down Tunnel Trail.
It’s worth noting that Blake, Vincent, and Tom mentioned in this interview were also employees of VeloPro at this time. For me it was an unforgettable time in a very magical place. But the years pass, and people fall out of touch. I moved from California to Portland in 2005 and it would take 10 plus years and social media for me and Chris to reconnect.
This past summer, Chris was up in Portland to work on the Adaptive trail system at Gateway Green and I was fortunate enough to have him over to my backyard for a safely distanced dinner. He has been a passionate supporter of people and community throughout his life and has a long and inspiring history of building trail systems and communities. Chris is no-bullshit.
It’s my experience that incredible people like Chris are not anomalies, that their goodwill and good deeds build the places and spaces where we find solace, safety, community, and honest enjoyment. That there are more of them in the world than we are aware and that’s a problem. It’s my belief that awareness is the mechanism for inspiration, growth, creation, community, prosperity, and peace. So please meet Chris Orr.
Chris Orr, I go by Corr in many circles. (Or wheels)
That’s easy – or complicated. Born in Lincoln Nebraska. Grew up in Omaha Nebraska and surrounding small farm towns. Moved to Austin Texas. Moved to Santa Barbara California. Then to Mammoth Lakes CA… They all feel like home in many ways. BMX’d, MTB’d, skated in everyone. Volunteered in someway in everyone. Know the trails and back alley’s in each. Can take you to the best dive bar in each too…
Living in the Los Padres National Forest about halfway between Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez California. Trails out my door…
First memory of riding a bike
Between 2 and 3 years. Trike across the street.
First memory of shredding
Slalom crash down Sprague street. Sioux City mohawk race. Schwinn scamblers with Matt in a gully, Quarterpipe wall Omaha. Building wood jumps in the front yard and then quarterpipe with Dad.
Favorite Memories of shredding
Canal Plunge with Blake, 36 mph, fighter jets. First ride down Flying Monkey w Blake. 5th day at Whistler, hanging with local pros. Following Randy Spangler through a newly built unopened big jump line at Steamboat Springs. Tunnel Trail with Shaums March. One big powder day at Mammoth with Nicole Christiani. Every time at the Tiger Bowl in ATX with Swingle, Evans, Nicholas or Clark. Jesusita in pitch black (no lights) with the best ever – Vince McGlinchy.
Was biking your first thing? What other sports are you interested in?
Skateboarding. Had a cool Aunt that started me on a skateboard with metal wheels. Bikes and skateboards all the time – still.
Other sports. Tried team sports as a kid. I couldn’t run well so I never got into them…
But the other things I did do…
Archery: started when I was 8 – 9, ended up managing/teaching at 12 during a boy scout camp. Shot competitively through College (team 3rd in the nation one year) thought about the Olympics…but bikes, boards, music, and punk rock girls were more interesting.
Snowboarding – still do it. Awesome adventures and stories…
Bikepacking, 4×4, billiards, whiskey-drinking, table shuffleboard, climbing/bouldering, some racing of cars.
We met in Santa Barbara. What brought you there?
Shorty’s Skateboards. One of my best friends at the time (Tony Buyalos) had just moved Shorty’s Skateboards into a bigger space and opened the shop, Church of Skatan. In 1993 he convinced me to move to California and set up the computers, POS system, and manage the mail order side of things.
What has kept you there?
When between jobs for a month…I could skate, bike, and snowboard all in the same day…and a couple of other things. It seems pretty good. Then you get involved in community improvement and the possibility of making change gets a hold on ya.
Tell us a little about your Santa Barbara Trail history?
In ‘96 I started going to the “Chris King Trail Daze” trail work events with a couple of riding buddies you know Vince McGlinchy and Mike Jones. Those trail work events were supported by SBMTV and I was familiar with some of that crew.
The Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers (SBMTV) was founded in 1988 (the same year as IMBA) by an awesome crew of locals and they ran a Forest Service sponsored and radio-equipped backcountry patrol unit called the “Bicycle Assistance unit”. I was recruited in 2000 and I helped restart the backcountry trail and forest care crew – the Los Padres Forest Association that same year. I was also on the board of the Santa Barbara County Trails Council. Eventually, I was hired by the City/County/Forest Service to manage area trails as the Santa Barbara Front Country Trails Coordinator.
How did you get involved with that?
In 2000, the USFS was talking about closing the Snyder Trail (Knapps Castle) to mtb’s. “Downhilling” was growing, shuttling was growing, a number of pro-DH’ers moved to SB to train (and ride with Shaums March, local). I had been riding and racing DH for a number of years and SBMTV’s then-president Chuck Anderson (we both worked at UCSB) asked to meet and talk about Snyder Trail. The result? I was in SBMTV, so I called together a couple of meetings of DH’ers/riders to discuss solutions for keeping bikes on trails. That amounted to doing a bunch of social interaction research, which included trail conflict papers and data from around the world, and this kick-started the world’s first mtb bell program. We created a new collaboration with the USFS (Kerry Kellogg) on trail signage and etiquette, tabled at trailheads for five years talking to all kinds of trail users. I traveled to trail, bike advocacy, and policy conferences across the US to learn from everybody while listening to and telling our own stories. I had the opportunity to sit down and to talk with Congresspeople and Senators about the benefits of bikes and bike infrastructure. All inspired by SBMTV mtb hero Chuck Anderson.
So then you got recruited by IMBA?
Well, yes I applied for an IMBA Trail Solutions job in late 2013 and was hired in April of 2014 as a “Trails Community Liaison” (or Trail Planner). My job was to provide reduced cost or pro-bono Trail and Bike Park Plans to communities with limited resources – to help them kick things off. That program was supported by SRAM funding for one year. From there, I moved on to a professional trail builder/educator/designer position. This basically includes everything related to trails….
But before that, I was invited to be part of a downhill / freeride panel with Wade Simmons at the 2002 IMBA World Summit in Moab UT. That lead to a speaking position at a couple of other IMBA World Summits and from there I became the Central Coast IMBA Representative from 2005 to 2011.
What projects have you worked on with IMBA?
Bike park, trail designs, trail workshops in Ohio, Kentucky (Baker Creek Preserve), Michigan, Montana, Iowa, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, New York, and California.
1. Yreka – pumptrack and trail
2. Novato – Stafford Lake Bike Park
3. San Diego – Daley Ranch and multiple trail schools
4. Groveland – trail school
5. Mt. Shasta – trail school
6. Eldorado National Forest – trail design
7. Angeles National Forest – trail school
8. Redlands Ca – Ride Center assessment
9. Santa Barbara – trail designs and schools
10. San Luis Obispo – trail school
11. Ventura – Harmon Canyon Trail design and trail school
12. Temecula – Ronald Reagan Regional Park trail design
13. Orange County…and more-
14. Mammoth Lakes – Trail Summit
Aside from more “standard” trail work you also work on Adaptive Cycling Trails – can you tell me more about that?
A good buddy of mine, Jeremy McGee founded the UnPavement Project (non-profit) a few years back to document all the trails he possibly could with the goal of providing information to adaptive cyclists. This is rating Amtb’ers know if they can ride a trail by themselves or if they need a rider or crew along to successfully ride the trail.
We both spoke at a couple of conferences together and then started talking about the possibility of working together – and we started in…
-First “job” was helping the trail staff (now gone) at Mammoth Mountain to understand how to modify obstacles so that amtb’s could ride through without the need to “dumb” down or flatten the obstacles
-Next job was planning, designing, and building an Amtb challenge trail at the newly opened Gateway Green Bike Park in Portland, Oregon. We did this in collaboration with C2 Recreation (Chris Bernhardt) and Sasquatch Trails (Jason Wells).
-We’ve been refining the Amtb rating system, discussing additions, and talking about expanding the Amtb trail consulting/building side of things.
-We set out to build trails well. Trails that we wouldn’t necessarily build if we were building for ourselves. And this is a difficulty for a lot of builders. Our goal is to build for the community, not only the current riders but future riders. This isn’t immediately obvious and I acknowledge that it’s easy to build and cater trails to the riders around you but to grow and sustain our sport this is essential to improving the community, access, diversity.
What is the history of Adaptive Cycling Trails – from what you can tell?
Good question. This is just my limited knowledge;
-Wheelchairs and other adaptive devices existed before the “bicycle”…and most places were not paved pre 1860’s so it’s fair to say that Amtb has been around for hundreds of years.
-I met an architect at a coffee shop in 2016 … we talked of trails and she told me she had designed a wheelchair obstacle course (Amtb) in Israel in 1973.
-During my stints in wheelchairs during my youth, I rode over everything I could.
-I think offroad chairs and adaptive mtb’s started to be built right after the advent of what we consider the mountain bike – when mtb parts were adaptable to the road hand cycles of the time.
-People with disabilities or maybe more appropriately “extra-abilities” adapt on a daily basis and like everyone else don’t want to be limited in what they do or achieve. So someone sees a bike, a ski, a horse, a basketball, a bow, a mountain…and sets out to conquer it!
How are you connected to Adaptive Cycling?
I volunteered at a number of adaptive sports programs over the years, most notably the program at the University of Santa Barbara California run by the awesome Rick Vanhoorn. I was drawn to the cycling part of those programs of course and I helped to get individuals on bikes outside, cruising bikeways that they otherwise wouldn’t have. It was incredible. At the time, it was the only adaptive program between LA and Monterey and participants came from all over central California. Unfortunately, the program was shut down because it wasn’t quite what the private funder wanted – in my opinion it was way more and a huge benefit to the adaptive community. All the gear has been sitting in storage for years now.
Community Service is just in me. I worked at a homeless shelter in high school – cooking food, giving haircuts, and passing out clothing. Been doing stuff like that all my life.
I’m an adaptive cyclist (aren’t we all?). I was born with one leg shorter than the other, and I am missing some toe. I had experimental limb lengthening surgeries, and one ankle is now fused. I wear a shoe lift and braces on both knees and ankles, and have broken just about everything in the body.
I’ve had to learn to walk a number of times, and I was in wheelchairs a number of times. I can’t just walk now, I have to think about where my legs are going while walking; which is something almost everyone with some sort of limb difference has to do.
I became an orthotic and prosthetic technician in 2007 for Nobbe Orthopedics in Santa Barbara, CA. There, I learned to make artificial (prosthetic) limbs (arms, legs) and orthotics (braces, lifted, shoes, back supports, etc). I learned the old school leather and metal work in addition to creating items out of thermoplastics and carbon fiber. Like Amtb’s this work helps people move, ambulate, and face challenges.
Considering adaptive cyclists what are the most important bits of info a trail builder should know to help make their trails work best for adaptive cyclists?
To build trails well, you can’t build for yourself, i.e. you can’t build exactly what you want to ride.
Some of the basics to consider for Amtb’s: width and wheelbase of the Amtb’s, the possibility of rollovers, exposure, options for challenge, need for assistance, the proximity to parking lots and bathrooms, is there informative signage, the radius of turns, the diversity in skill levels and types of Amtb’s, other users, and more. There is a lot to consider.
Ok so – Favorite style of riding?
That all depends on the day: long rides, super tech, dirt jumps, flow, front yard sessions, bike park, skate park.. Where can you do most of these things at once? Whistler, Bentonville, Tahoe, Steamboat, Sandyridge, Texas, Moab, Gooseberry, Redlands CA, the East Coast… so many places.
Advice you would share with your 15-year-old self?
Get more of your friends on bikes, get your parents on bikes, start advocating for bike access to the powers that be at this age, bug the shit out of them til they change their minds or give in. Pay more attention to the needs and wants of people around you. Meld conservation and recreation into an awesome thing that makes a better world.
Hammer away on the bias of race, age, ability, and narrow-mindedness.
Advice you would share with your current self?
Start all the shit you are doing – earlier in your life… and maybe it’s time to start narrowing your focus pal, to get some specific changes made. And find someone to fund you to do this!
Shoutouts? People, Orgs, Friends?
Mom/Dad: Dad taught me to take everything apart and put it back together. Mom would spin donuts in the school parking lot and get on the Big Wheel just to crash it. Both for supporting a kid with some physical challenges.
The ATX Duval house crew (Craig, TimS, TimC, Ed, Chance, Dapper) and anyone who skated there. Tony Buyalos – RIP.
All the bike riding sessioning buddies: Omaha: Pat and Jeff, ATX: Dylan, Scott, Jack. California: Blake, Vince, Joneser, Shaums, Merrick, Chuck, Steve, Illustrated Matt, Big Tom, Jimmy, John, Randy, Jeremy, Garret…
The founders, board, and members of SBMTV 1988 – 2015: SB Trails exist because of this crew and this is mostly unrecognized.
IMBA. IMBA has a whole lot of critics, detractors, and nay-sayers. It has its internal struggles. But MTB’ing would not exist today without the 30 plus years of the in-the-trenches work that IMBA has done. Every organization and land manager has benefited from this work and couldn’t be doing the work they are doing today without IMBA’s efforts.
IMBA has not been good (or had the time) to tell its story well in the past. MTB media has either ignored, glossed over, or has been ignorant of IMBA’s work and hand – probably because it’s been in those trenches and not an all-shiny new bike or berm blasting dirt spraying story. It’s easy to get biased, be biased, and not see the big picture or the bigger community.
Last Words / Words of Wisdom?
Never stop: Challenging, advocating, learning (especially – a big roadblock for so many people), questioning, and pushing limits, and breaking down barriers. We only have one life to live (that I’m aware of), why not do it?
And. Go ride your bike.