Fall fun on two wheels

You’re rushing down a narrow woodland trail, eyes tearing up as foliage whizzes by.All that’s between you and the ground are 25 or 30 pounds of metal and rubber, evolved over the past couple decades to allow you to tackle ever-more challenging terrain.Vermont’s hilly landscape makes mountain bikers earn their adrenaline on downhill slopes, but that’s part of the reason why the sport is so popular here.”It’s really interesting,” executive director of Williston’s Catamount Family Center Eric Bowker said. “The terrain and the features make [cycling] pretty unique.”Until UVM dropped its physical education requirement this year, Bowker taught a popular mountain biking class for the University.Despite suffering a slight hit due to the University’s requirement self-pruning, Bowker said that the collegiate mountain biking scene is thriving.Other indicators point to the same conclusion.”I moved here in 1997 and every year the number of mountain bikes we work on has increased,” bike technician at Earl’s Cyclery in Williston Doug Costa said. “Right now they make up about 75 percent of the bikes that come into the shop.”Costa’s observations at Earl’s mirror the regional growth of the mountain biking community.One organization, Fellowship of the Wheel, has significantly expanded local trail mileage in the last decade, the Fellowship’s executive director Hans Jenny said.The Fellowship has built between 80 and 90 miles of new trail with volunteers contributing thousands of hours toward maintenance and new construction, Jenny said.The Fellowship’s website now lists 15 distinct trail networks, all within a 45-minute drive from Burlington.So for anyone looking to shred some gnar before snow’s arrival, possibilities surround Burlington.Saxon Hill, a few miles away in Essex, is the closest large riding network to UVM. The trails there were “built with an eye towards making everyone happy,” Jenny said.”You can lean the bike over and carve turns more,” he said, referring to the relatively flat sections of trail at the base of Saxon Hill itself.The sandy soil and moderate slope at Saxon is somewhat rare for Vermont mountain bike trails, Jenny said.More trail mileage awaits southeast of Saxon. Mobb’s Hill and Valley — two adjacent networks — the Waterbury trails and the Hinesburg Town Forest each offer between nine and 30 miles of single track.Jenny is a fan of Mobbs Hill, perhaps partly because he designed it.He said that he “managed to work every rock feature that’s available over there into the trail.” This was an impressive feat, since it contains some of the longest runs of bedrock in the area.The Waterbury trails are “designed primarily for advanced riders, bordering on free-riding,” Jenny said.Matt Brannen, a student at Johnson State, finds the terrain there suits his riding style well. “I like the bedrock on the Red loop and Blue is just a very fluid trail,” he said.Hinesburg is a favorite for Brooke Scatchard, trail director at Fellowship of the Wheel. For him, one trail stands out: Passing the Horizon.”It’s really long and goes through some really unique areas,” Scatchard said. “You just feel like you’re way out there. You can almost see back over [Lake Champlain] beyond the trees.”A 2005 UVM graduate, Scatchard said he enjoys both the meditative aspect of solo rides and the sociability of riding with friends.”It has a strong parallel to skiing,” he said. “You can kind of enjoy it in any way that you want, at your own pace and skill level. It’s an enjoyable way to get outside and not go too far away.”