The hills are alive with mountain biking

UP FRONT

Outdoors: Maryland has a variety of terrain and something for every skill level in this popular and growing sport. It's not your father's newspaper-delivery bicycle.

May 27, 1999|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff

It's the thrill. It's the speed. It's even the fear. Lyndon Wesson experienced all three the first time he careened down a hill on a mountain bike, and he was sold.

"It was the exhilaration," Wesson says, explaining that magic moment six years ago. "I went down that first hill and knew then what I would be doing for the rest of my life."

Mountain biking is big and growing.

"Mountain biking is very challenging," Wesson says. "I love the exercise, the solitude and the excitement."

Wesson is a hairstylist and got involved in the sport as a fluke.

"I live downtown and bought a bike to go back and forth to CCB [Community College of Baltimore]. I went to the bike shop to buy a bike rack, and the guy who works there invited me to go out on a group ride." The rest is history.

It's not just the adrenalin rush but also spending time alone in nature that appeals to him.

"As a hairstylist, I come into contact with a lot of people," says Wesson, who is married and has a family. "But when I'm on my mountain bike, it's just me and nature," he says. And, "I recently turned 40, and I feel like mountain biking keeps me in shape."

One of his favorite locations to indulge in the sport is the Avalon area of Patapsco Valley State Park, where he took that first ride.

"There are a lot of single tracks there, it's close and it's very scenic," he says. "It is very challenging -- there are a lot of rocky sections. The trails are long, and you can go a long way from your starting point."

The Avalon area of Patapsco Valley State Park is between Elkridge and Catonsville.

Wesson also likes to visit ski resorts in the spring, summer and fall for downhill mountain biking.

There are plenty of good mountain-biking locations nearby and some a few hours drive away, says Joe Surkiewicz, a Baltimore resident and free-lance writer who finds and writes about the trails.

In his latest book, the 261-page "Mountain Bike! The Mid-Atlantic States, A Guide to the Classic Trails" (Menasha Ridge Press, 1998), Surkiewicz lists trails for different skill levels.

He did not start out as a mountain biker.

"I've been a road rider since the early '70s, probably since the first big oil crisis," he says. "I had read about this weird California sport of riding bikes with big, knobby tires, and I was interested."

So he bought a mountain bike.

"The appeal is there is instant gratification," Surkiewicz says. "You see this little trail, and you get on this bike with big fat tires and go on it."

Mountain biking "can be a very skill-intensive sport," he says, "but it doesn't have to be. There are different levels, like the NCR Trail, which is flat. The B&A Trail is paved. Both of these are easy."

The Northern Central Railroad Trail is in northern Baltimore County and can be at accessed at Paper Mill Road east of York Road and at a number of different locations. The B&A Trail can be accessed at Marley Station Mall and other locations.

"Then there is the in-between trail, like the Loch Raven jeep trails," he says. Finally, there are trails in Frederick County that are considered "totally gonzo."

The book covers trails in different parts of Maryland (including the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland), Washington, parts of Virginia and the Carolinas. Surkiewicz is currently working on a book that will cover trails near the Baltimore area, like Loch Raven and Robert E. Lee Park.

The sprawling area surrounding the Loch Raven Reservoir is in Northern Baltimore County. Warren Road and Dulaney Valley Road both run through the area. Robert E. Lee Park is in Baltimore County north of Lake Avenue and east of Falls Road.

If you are starting from square one and aren't sure what a mountain bike is, Surkiewicz explains:

"Think of the newspaper boys' bikes in the '40s and '50s," he says. "They are very stable, very heavy, with low gears and with very good brakes. With today's technology, that 50-pound bike is now a 20-pound bike. They used to all be made of steel. Now they can be made of aluminum, carbon fiber and other exotic materials." In addition, most mountain bikes have suspensions with shock absorbers and index shifting.

You generally get what you pay for. "Someone who is seriously interested in taking up mountain biking as a hobby should expect to spend at least $500. You get a lighter bike, and they don't break as much. You do not want to be out on a trail and have your bike break."

Besides reading some of the many books on mountain biking, someone interested in the sport might consider hitting the Internet to find convenient trails.

One such Web site is run by Chad Schneider, 23, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. He created the Web page about four years ago, and it gets about 50 hits a day.

"I was interested in experimenting with a Web page, and I love mountain biking," Schneider says. "So I decided to put the two of them together."

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