UVA Mountain Biking: Going Downhill Fast

August 9, 2023 By Shannan McCance, bma6yg@virginia.edu Shannan McCance, bma6yg@virginia.edu

Susannah Allen was fairly new to the sport of mountain biking when she arrived on the University of Virginia’s Grounds last year. Now, as a rising second-year student, the Bedford native leads the beginner mountain biking clinics for the UVA Cycling Club.

“We offer beginner rides and have multiple members who started riding with our club their first year and now are competitive racers,” she said.

The growing interest in the sport at UVA tracks with what researchers noted as a boom in mountain biking that coincided with the pandemic.

NPD Group, an organization that tracks consumer spending, reported huge growth in sales for all bicycles in 2020 as the pandemic shuttered schools, businesses and many recreational pursuits. The sales of mountain bikes, in particular, jumped 92%.

So it seems logical that a lot of incoming first-year students will be ready to ride when they arrive.

That was Allen’s case when she rolled into Charlottesville. She and other relative novices to the sport have likewise increased the ranks of the UVA Cycling Club.

Her advice to new riders in Charlottesville? Join the club. Not only did she find some of her best friends there, but she was able to connect more with the Charlottesville community and discover lesser-known trails in the area to ride on.

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“The UVA Cycling Club is very inclusive,” she said.

Anyone can join, so members range from being totally new to mountain biking – or road biking, which is the larger part of the club – to being semi-pro and competing at every collegiate race.

Soren Poole, also a second-year student at UVA, is on the far end of that spectrum as a member of the Cycling Club. As a semi-pro mountain biker, he competes in races for and outside of the club, having even traveled to Europe this summer to race in the Enduro World Cup. He has been mountain biking for seven years and is a Charlottesville native, thus knowing the ins and outs of the Charlottesville mountain biking community.

“Mountain biking has definitely grown” in Charlottesville, he said.

For UVA students wanting to give mountain biking a try, Poole gives the same advice as Allen: “We always want people to join the club and share the joy of cycling.”

For people in the broader Charlottesville area and students who want to start biking before the semester begins, he recommends finding a friend who also wants to bike and exploring the sport with them. “Riding with others is a lot of why we ride,” he said.

Local bike shops such as Endeavor Cycles – the closest one to Grounds, located on Fontaine Avenue – are great places to visit. They are very knowledgeable on the specific bikes and gear one will need to ride, as well as the locations of local trails, Poole said.

As a Charlottesville resident before coming to UVA, Poole knows where the more tucked-away trails are that a newcomer, or even some experienced mountain bikers, might overlook.

Mountain bikers in the UVA Cycling Club frequent the trails at Observatory Hill, or O-Hill, which are Poole’s favorites to ride. Not only is the location convenient ­­– being so close to the University – but “I like them because they are pretty short, and you can lap them easily because the climb isn’t that long,” Poole said. “All of the trails there are super awesome and have lots of variety.”

Active biker going around a tight trail curve

Poole competes at the Enduro World Cup in Finale Ligure, Italy. He is one of the semi-pro Cycling Club mountain bikers, racing for the UVA team and for personal endeavors. (Contributed photo)

Allen agrees, citing O-Hill as her favorite trail system because it “gives you a good workout and the adrenaline mountain bikers are craving,” she said.

When asked about lesser-known trails in the area, both mentioned the trails at Ragged Mountain.

“Ragged Mountain and Heyward [Community Forest] are lesser-known trails that are super fun to ride and are expanding,” Poole said. The Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club has done a lot of work on the trails, he said, and “there are many beginner-friendly trails to ride, along with some more advanced trails as well.”

The Ragged Mountain and Heyward trails are down the road from O-Hill, about two miles from Scott Stadium, making them top picks of Cycling Club members.

Although starting to mountain bike may be intimidating for beginners, especially regarding the danger that comes with it, Poole says that “it is definitely worth it. You can do the sport without injuring yourself if you are careful and stay well within your comfort zone, but unexpected things can always happen.”

Like Allen, Poole said he met some of his best friends through the sport and has also gained incredible experiences with it.

“The coolest mountain biking experience [I’ve had] was last summer when I went on a trip to Whistler, [British Columbia, Canada] with my friends. We took a month to do so. … It was just super fun to explore new places and doing what I love at the same time,” he said.

For newcomers to mountain biking wanting to ride those trails, Allen has a final piece of advice: “Start small and start in a supportive group. Don’t get too frustrated with yourself. But be prepared to get some bruises and cuts. You’ll get better – you just have to keep riding,” she said.

Editor’s Note: After publication, Albemarle County officials alerted UVA Today that bicycles are not allowed the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. That decision is under appeal.

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