An adventure for every speed

Maryland cyclists can get off the road and onto bike trails for beginners, intermediates and even experts

May 05, 2007|By Jerry Jackson | Jerry Jackson,SUN REPORTER

May is here, the weather has warmed and many riders are getting back on the bike. With the price of gasoline as 1high as it is, some folks are even biking to work. But cycling on the roads around Baltimore can be a hazardous endeavor. Between close encounters with motorists and navigating poor road surfaces, it is easy to forget that riding a bike is supposed to be fun.

The secret to rediscovering the fun in biking may be to heed the advice hurled at cyclists from countless motorists, "Get off the road!"

Trail riding offers cyclists an escape from the traffic and allows them to enjoy the biking experience without having to worry about being run down by an SUV driver on a cell phone.

There are hundreds of miles of trails in the Baltimore area that are open to bikes. They range from paved urban greenways to rocky, root-filled obstacle courses that put your pothole-dodging skills to new use.

Beginning riders can start with the paved BWI Trail or crushed-stone-surfaced Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail (formerly the Northern Central Railroad Trail). Both are family-friendly and suitable for road or mountain bikes.

For those road bikers ready to graduate to mountain biking, trails around Loch Raven Reservoir, Patapsco Valley State Park and Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area offer some of the best off-road riding in the Mid-Atlantic.

Before hitting the trail, a little homework is needed. Make sure your bike is working properly, and learn how to fix common problems such as a flat tire or a dropped chain. Some minor mechanical skills can mean the difference between a quick fix or a long hike. (The REI store in Timonium offers a free bicycle maintenance clinic later this month.)

Know your limits. If you have never ridden off-road before, don't try to tackle the gnarliest trail at Patapsco State Park. Start on fire roads, and become familiar with your bike before trying single track. Mountain-bike skills are acquired over time, and often with a few scars. Wear a helmet. Cycling is considered a low-impact sport up until the point you hit something. Learn the trails by riding with knowledgeable riders.

Trailhead parking lots are a great place to meet other riders and find out the latest on trail conditions. There are also several area mountain-bike clubs, including the Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts ( and the Delaware Trail Spinners ( Both have very active volunteer trail-maintenance programs, as well as organized group rides.


The BWI Trail

The BWI Trail is a 12.5-mile paved trail encircling BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. Despite its proximity to civilization, the trail offers a few stretches through marsh and woodlands where you will forget that you are less than a hundred yards from bumper-to-bumper traffic. It even winds through a working horse farm.

To increase mileage, head south on the adjacent Baltimore and Annapolis Trail, which stretches another 13.3 miles to Annapolis.

There are several parking areas near the trail. Dixon Park on Dorsey Road is a popular starting point and offers great views of approaching aircraft. An eco-friendly way to get to the trail is to take the light rail.

The Torrey C. Brown

Rail Trail t_trail.html

Formerly called the Northern Central Railroad Trail, the Brown trail stretches 20 miles north from Ashland Road in Hunt Valley to the state line. It is flat with a slight uphill grade toward the state line. For a truly epic ride, the trail continues another 21 miles into Pennsylvania as the York County Heritage Trail.

The southern end of the trail gets the most use, especially on weekends, when parking and trail congestion can make you feel as if you are on the Beltway. For the best experience, park in Sparks or farther north.

Loch Raven Reservoir - Seminary Loop

There are many trails in the Loch Raven watershed that are mountain-bike friendly. The most popular is the Seminary Loop, which follows the southeastern shoreline of the reservoir between Dulaney Valley and Providence roads. The trail consists of a series of often rocky and rooty single-track paths that loop off the main fire road - about 12 miles in all.

With the large number of paths, it is easy to feel lost, but suburbia is never too far away, and all trails eventually lead to the fire road.

Park along Seminary Avenue just west of Dulaney Valley Road. The fire road enters the woods about 200 yards east of the intersection along Seminary. The first single track is on the left, halfway up the first hill.

Patapsco Valley State Park (Avalon Area)

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