Mountain biking taking off: Sport attracts all ages who like to explore nature off road

Courtesy photos by Jarrod Burk A rider takes on a trail at the Allegrippis Trails near Raystown Lake at last year's Dirt Fest in Hesston.

Every other week or so, Adam Grow and a group of seven retired buddies hop on mountain bikes and slosh through mud, over rocks, around tree roots and splash through creeks in local mountain bike trails.

Grow, 67, of Hollidaysburg loves being outdoors with his friends, who are all in their 60s and 70s, and mountain biking is one of their favorite activities.

“We’re getting out. You’re in the woods. That’s my biggest thrill of all,” Grow said, who used to road bike, but started mountain biking in 2012. “There aren’t any cars around and you’re in the outdoors.”

While road bikes are still popular, local bike shops have seen an increase in popularity of mountain bikes — most likely because people enjoy the tranquility of exploring nature, and the adventure of off-roading, said Tom Lauver, owner of Pedal Power in Altoona.

“It’s a sport that there’s so many people doing it. We used to sell a lot more road bikes. Now we sell more mountain bikes,” Lauver said. “Mountain biking, it’s a sense of freedom. You’re in the woods. There’s no cars around. It’s peaceful, enjoyable and you’re getting exercise.”

While there aren’t many rugged trails in Blair County, there are some close by.

Beginners who just want a leisurely ride through the woods might opt for Rails to Trails in Hollidaysburg or Williamsburg, while those looking for more of a challenge would want to try the trails at Blue Knob State Park, Rothrock State Forest, Laurel Mountain and the Allegrippis Trails in Hesston.

Mountain bikers in Blair County are hoping one day Canoe Creek State Park opens mountain biking trails — though this might be in the distant future, said Bryan Caporuscio, owner of Spokes-n-Skis in Altoona.

“Mountain biking is really trending right now, and there’s just nowhere to go in Blair County as a cyclist,” said Caporuscio. “It would be great if there was something closer. There is some land in Canoe Creek that would be available to build trails. That’s what we’ve proposed that would be sustainable to weather and time.”

Caporuscio and members of the Laurel Highlands Off-road Bicycling Association are on a mission to build all-purpose trails in Blair County, which would allow for hiking and biking.

“We’re not just looking at mountain bike trails. We’re looking at all-use trails,” said Caporuscio, indicating the Allegrippis Trails in Raystown are a perfect example of something to emulate in Blair County.

With the building of the Allegrippis Trails also came the creation of a huge annual event catering to mountain bikers in 2010.

Dirt Fest in Raystown, which is May 18 to 20 this year, is a weekend-long event for mountain bikers to learn more about mountain biking, try out new mountain bikes and explore the local trails.

The event attracts about 3,000 people each day for three days, said Evan Gross, events coordinator with Dirt Rag Magazine, which hosts Dirt Fest.

“We just want to get people out on bikes and aware of mountain biking,” said Gross, explaining Dirt Fest also includes bike skills clinics for riding and maintaining mountain bikes, as well as information about mechanics of the bikes and bike trends.

Finding the right bike is the most important aspect of mountain biking, said Gross.

Some people research online, and buy a mountain bike without setting foot inside a bike shop.

This is a bad idea, Gross said, because bikes fit each person differently, and everyone has different needs.

“It has to fit right. It has to function well for you,” Gross said.

When you buy a bike from a bike shop, the owners and employees will usually ask many questions and help the buyer find an ideal bike, he said.

Mountain bikes start at about $450; however, a mountain bike that will perform well on rugged trails will cost at least $1,000, said Caporuscio.

In addition to the bike, mountain bikers might need padded shorts for comfort, clip in shoes (many bikers want this but it’s not necessary), hydration packs, helmet, gloves, bike maintenance supplies and shirts with back pockets for snacks or other supplies.

“We just try to educate the customer on what to look for if you will be mountain biking,” said Caporuscio. “There’s no better way to learn than from somebody who’s been there and has experience. It’s not just about the bike. It’s everything that comes with the bike.”