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A + EDay Tripper

Where to Mountain Bike In and Around Athens

Sometimes the best day trip is a deep plunge into green wilderness, coaxed along winding trails into leafy woods with an agile bicycle underneath you. As members of bike groups like SORBA (Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association) develop and maintain more unpaved bike trails through local parks and designate them for beginner, intermediate or advanced riders, more cyclists are taking on the sport. This week, Day Tripper will suggest three trail facilities for all levels of skill.  

Getting Started: Local cycling retailers say their mountain-bike business has taken off in the last few years, thanks to the abundance of local trails. “The last three or four years have been off-the-charts good,” says Jimmy Marbut, owner of Sunshine Cycles. Brian Molloy, owner of The Hub, also reports big increases in sales and adds that “families with kids” are joining in and bringing the sport to a new audience.  

The sport’s surge in appeal seems to come from its flexibility. A ride can range from a pleasant afternoon at the park for families to a high-octane workout, satisfying everyone from easygoing beginners to pumped extreme sports enthusiasts who want to “catch air” as they fly over the bumps and dips common to most trails.

Mountain biking requires the participation of enthusiast groups to create and maintain trails, and SORBA-Athens (sorbaathens.org) is the main local organizer of the sport. Its website offers information about trails, group rides, “workdays” and other events for enthusiasts.  

A good point of entry for mountain-biking beginners is a “pump track,” a short trail with typical features like “dirt jumps” and “rollers,” or big piles of compacted dirt that emulate what riders will encounter on trails. The closest pump track currently is at Pittard Park in Winterville. Seth Younger, president of SORBA-Athens, says the pump track is popular with “anyone who wants to build their mountain biking skills,” including the young members of “Little Rippers Athens,” a closed Facebook group for kids under middle-school age.   

Most enthusiasts suggest that newcomers to the sport get their bikes adjusted to fit their bodies. Molloy suggests adjusting the saddle to create a 25–30-degree angle at the knee at the down stroke. Saddle setback—the distance from handlebars to the saddle—is another important way to adjust your bicycle to fit your own frame.   

The Trails: Only two miles from downtown Athens and located inside the Loop off North Peter Street, the SORBA-built trails at Trail Creek Park are by far the most convenient for Athens cyclists. Jason Hubbard, a coach with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association and a UGA horticulturist, calls Trail Creek Park “a great beginner or intermediate trail, just long enough to be a challenge.” The well-marked trail names are a nod to the Athens music scene, with “Drive-By Truckers” for intermediate riders and “Orange Crush” for beginners. “Widespread” and “Panic” are technically challenging, “jumpy” downhill runs strictly for advanced riders, with sweeping, curving berms. Younger says there has been talk of creating a pump track at Trail Creek Park, as well.  

About 25 miles west of Athens is the popular Fort Yargo State Park, with its miles of trails, campsites, picnic areas and a 260-acre lake with a sandy beach for swimming. Athens outdoors enthusiast Allen Jones likes the scenic nature of its trails. “There is an easy trail with great views that often skirts the lake, and a much longer trail that takes you through the woods with a number of hills to get your blood pumping,” he says. “The longer route also has challenging optional detours if you want a more vigorous workout and more technical challenges.”   

Near Lake Hartwell, about 50 miles northeast of Athens, SORBA created the Paynes Creek Trail, a nine-mile single-track loop that it calls “fast and flowy.” Some cycle groups like to set up camp at the nearby Paynes Creek Campground and spend the entire weekend, taking in the trail and all that Lake Hartwell has to offer.

After a sweaty ride, many cyclists will kick back at The Royal Peasant on Lumpkin Street in Five Points, which has become an unofficial mountain-biking bar. It’s especially popular after the regular rides organized by The Hub, which is located nearby on Milledge Avenue.


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