Want to go mountain biking? You could travel a few hours to the Poconos or Catskills. You could go to the Delaware Water Gap, maybe, and do some adventure touring.
Or, you could stick around Philadelphia, because we have some of the most sought-after mountain-biking trails in the region.
Yes, here in Philadelphia proper.
That’s what the experts are telling me. Kate Campbell, a bike coach and athlete, has been competing in mountain bike races for the past year and a half. For Campbell, mountain biking in Philadelphia is a great way to spend a day in the wilderness with friends. Campbell sat down with us to discuss what it takes to get off the couch and onto the trails of Philly.
Campbell suggests starting out without breaking the bank. “I started out trying [cyclocross racing] and liked it. Then, a friend was selling a super-cheap mountain bike, and I just fell in love,” they say. “I’d never thought about riding a mountain bike before; I’d always done road biking, and it didn’t seem like the kind of thing you could get into around here.”
That perception would soon change.
They began riding in White Clay Creek State Park on its beginner trails. What makes White Clay—about an hour outside Center City—so great for neophytes is its lack of obstacles: Unlike many mountain-biking trails in our area, it’s not rocky, and the trails aren’t obstructed by logs.
Campbell moved onto the sand covered trails at Rowan College in New Jersey, ideal for beginners because they don’t get too muddy when it rains.
Soon after, Campbell began biking Belmont, a series of trails in West Fairmount Park originally created by some dedicated enthusiasts and now maintained by the volunteer-based Belmont Plateau Trails Alliance. Despite it’s humble beginnings, the trail is now on official city maps. Campbell found the rides addictive, and they were soon out on trails every weekend, coaching cycling and eventually racing mountain bikes.
Philly, Belmont or Wissahickon? Depends What You Want
Belmont and Wissahickon are totally different adventures, and it really depends on what you want.
“Some of the new trails in Belmont are more beginner friendly,” they say. “There are some 5-mile routes you can do without technical features—no logs or things like that.” For many of the trails, you can park at Belmont Plateau and follow the signs into the woods. Additionally, it’s easy to get to Fairmount Park via Belmont Avenue, if you’re willing to trek it along the avenue’s broken and decrepit side path (which, at this point, is best ridden with a mountain bike!).
Wissahickon, they note, is a different beast entirely. When you’re riding in the Northwest Philly park, get ready to ride over rocks, for sure, but you also may hit up some train platforms and “get ready to climb some really technical rocks,” they say. And if you want a map of the trails, Friends of Wissahickon has you covered, for a small donation.
Want to Ride with Someone? It’s as Easy as Logging On
Philadelphia has no shortage of groups to join. In addition to the Belmont Plateau Trails Alliance and the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia, Brewerytown Bikes, Cadence Cycling and other shops in the area do (separate) beginner rides every Sunday in the parks as well.
Randy LoBasso is the communications manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.