Inner City Singletrack: East Coast

By Nick Legan 

When traveling to a big city there’s no reason to leave your mountain bike at home. If you find yourself near any of these places, know that your mountain bike tribe has laid the groundwork for some of the best riding you’ve never heard of. From full-blown bike parks to hidden singletrack, heading to a metropolis doesn’t mean you’re stuck in a concrete jungle. Ribbons of dirt and green spaces crisscross most urban areas.

This is just a small sampling from the biggest travel locations on the east coast. Many more exist in nearly every city. Finding it is often as easy as asking a local bike shop. 

City singletrack on Mill Mountain in Roanoke, Virginia. Not on this list, but worthy of mentioning for sure. Photo by Helena Kotala.

Richmond, Virginia

Home to the UCI Road World Championships in 2015, Richmond also has plenty for mountain bikers as well. Along the banks of the James River is an extensive network of singletrack that can be ridden as a 10-mile loop in the heart of town. The Belle Isle Skills Park, a small location with plenty of challenging features near a former quarry, lies smack in the middle of the river and can be accessed via the James River Park System. Jesse Leadbetter, co-owner of Carytown Bicycle Co., gave us the lowdown.

Top trails:

To complete the loop in a clockwise fashion starting from downtown, you’ll ride across the river and hit Buttermilk East, Forest Hill Park, Buttermilk Heights, the Dogwood Dells Loop and North Bank Trail. You can also head straight to Belle Isle Skills Park or finish your ride there before heading back downtown.

Where to park:

If staying downtown, just ride. It’s less than a mile to the Belle Isle parking lot/trailhead. Otherwise, you can access the loop at several points, both on the north and south sides of the river.

Must-hit libations:

Pre-ride:
The Lamplighter Roasting Co. serves up tasty coffee as well as baked goods—they also have a bicycle delivery service. The fact that Lamplighter also sponsors a local road-racing team makes spending your money there that much easier.

Post-ride:
For convenient post-ride beers, head to Stone Brewing Richmond on Williamsburg Avenue, less than 3 miles from Belle Isle.

If you’re a hops connoisseur, The Veil Brewing Co. is home to some of the most sought-after beer on the East Coast. Veil releases new beers each Tuesday, creating lines of up to 200 people waiting for its latest offering. Outdoor seating makes it a nice summer spot.

Bike shops:

Carytown Bicycle Co. is the area’s Yeti, Salsa, Cannondale and Specialized dealer. They offer full service and frequent group rides. They also have a rider lounge with coffee and beer, encouraging customers to hang out.

Where to stay:

Any of the downtown hotels—including the Omni, Hilton and Courtyard by Marriott—are within a quick pedal to the trails along the James River.

James River Park System. Photo by Rob Tompkins, via MTB Project.

Washington D.C.

Our nation’s capital is well-known nationally and internationally for its museums, monuments, rich history and hordes of politicos, but it doesn’t get much recognition for mountain biking. While the city center has made great strides in building cycling infrastructure, quality trails are still on the periphery of the District of Columbia. But that doesn’t keep those trails from being fantastic. In fact, IMBA’s only Epic-rated suburban trail, the MoCo Epic, is just 40 minutes from downtown D.C.

Top trails:

The MoCo Epic, near Germantown, Maryland, is 40 miles long but connects easily to an additional 20 miles of singletrack. It offers myriad ride options, including a pump track and skills area. It also hosts an annual IMBA mountain bike festival each October. Expect a lot of East Coast-style singletrack with roots and logs.

The MoCo Epic is also a connector to dozens of trails in the area and the system is both well-signed and mapped. Depending on where you stay, you can ride the C&O Canal Towpath to the trails for a warmup.

Where to park:

Schaeffer Farms trailhead is the hub for the Epic loop, accessed southwest of Interstate 270 via Germantown Road.

Must-hit libations:

Pre-ride:
A few miles from the trail is the Royal Bagel Bakery on Germantown Road in Germantown, Maryland, just off I-270, with classic New York-style bagels and coffee.

Post-ride:
Be sure to stop by the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Gaithersburg, a few miles from the trailhead. A regional brewer, Dogfish Head has a chain of restaurants that serve its tasty beers and quality food.

Bike shops:

Bikenetic, a full-service shop in Falls Church, Virginia, is a great resource for all your cycling and trail info needs. The store’s Chief Pedaling Officer, Pete Beers, is a legendary cycling advocate and long-distance cycling enthusiast. He helped connect trails that became the MoCo Epic. Easily identified by his brash cyclingwear, he’s also super keen to help any cyclist, whether neophyte or seasoned.

Where to stay:

Hotel Monaco, housed in a former post office dating from 1839, is a funky spot in an amazing location. Hotels closer to the trails are plentiful, so look around. Another option is to stay at one of the lock houses along the C&O Canal Towpath. They can be reserved through canalquarters.com which is run by the nonprofit C&O Canal Trust.

Photo by Frank Maguire via MTB Project.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh is home to Andy Warhol, the Steelers, Dirt Rag Magazine and a wide variety of mountain bike trails. Situated along the banks of the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, this city has plenty of elevation. Don’t believe us; check out the Dirty Dozen, a 50-mile hill-climb race that tackles 13 steep inclines with grades between 18 and 37 percent.

Top trails:

While several in-town trail systems exist, our top pick is Frick Park. With 8 miles of singletrack and 1,000 feet of vertical, there is plenty to challenge any rider. Expect to sharpen your root-riding skills!

Where to park:

There is plentiful free parking at the Lower Frick lot, off Hutchinson Street and Lancaster Avenue.

Must-hit libations:

Pre-ride:
Downtown, just across the Allegheny and a mile from the Priory Hotel, is 21st Street Coffee and Tea. Featuring Intelligentsia Coffee, they’ll certainly help you wake up. For a more punk rock vibe, head to the Polish Hill neighborhood and the Lili Cafe.

Post-ride:
Head to the Over the Bar Bicycle Cafe South, a bicycle-themed pub. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner with burgers, veggie options and a full bar. D’s Six Pax and Dogz is also a fun food option near Frick Park, with beef, veggie and turkey hot dogs.

Bike shops:

Thick Bikes, in the South Side Flats neighborhood, is a favorite of Dirt Rag editor Eric McKeegan.

Where to stay:

The Priory Hotel has gone to great lengths to welcome cyclists, whether heading out on the Great Allegheny Passage or local trails. Situated a few blocks from the Allegheny River Trail, this hotel has indoor and outdoor bike parking as well as several maintenance items on hand, including chain lube, an air compressor and tools. The lovely brick building is a converted Benedictine monastery from which it’s an easy walk to downtown and the Andy Warhol Museum.

Frick Park in Pittsburgh. Photo by Lee Klevens.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, “Rocky.” Few places feel more American than Philadelphia. It’s an amazing city, the largest in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with a strong cycling culture. Bordered by the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, Philly packs in the green space. The best in-town riding areas are Wissahickon and Belmont Plateau Trails in West Philadelphia, each a quick ride from downtown. Highlights include the Museum of Art and the aforementioned historic sites.

Top trails:

The Wissahickon Loop is a 10-mile must-ride, with fun, flowy and easily navigable trails in northwestern Philly. Short steep climbs, rocks and roots make up this exceptional in-town mountain bike treat. If you’re staying downtown, you can ride the Schuylkill River Trail, known locally as the SRT, right to the trailhead on Lincoln Drive.

For those interested in more-technical riding, Belmont Plateau Trails a bit south and on the other side of the Schuylkill River is a great in-town shred. Frequent log features punctuate 9 miles of rolling terrain perfect for singlespeed fun. Check with Brewerytown Bicycles for details on this labyrinthine trail network.

Where to park:

Wissahickon’s main trailhead is on Lincoln Drive, just past its intersection with Henry Avenue.

Belmont is only 1.5 miles from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous by its incredible collection and the Rocky Balboa statue running up its iconic steps, just a quick ride from downtown hotels. Parking is available near Neill Drive and Falls Road if you’re staying farther away.

Must-hit libations:

Pre-ride:
The Monkey & The Elephant is Philadelphia’s first and only nonprofit coffee shop. It offers exceptional coffee and baked goods and does it all while employing former foster youth.

Post-ride:
Some of the best wood-fired pizza in town can be found at In Riva in the East Falls neighborhood. It’s just down Kelly Drive from Wissahickon. If a quick bite after riding is in order, check out Deke’s Bar-B-Que, just across Wissahickon Creek on Ridge Avenue, past Lincoln Drive.

Bike shops:

Brewerytown Bicycles is located near the Belmont Plateau trails and features mountain bike rentals and shop rides every other Sunday when the weather is good. They’re working hard to grow ridership through beginner rides and encouraging women to get out and ride. Ask for Dylan P. when you stop in for the lowdown.

Where to stay:

Consider staying in Germantown or Chestnut Hill instead of downtown. They have better proximity to mountain biking and easy rail access to downtown for museum visits or business meetings.

The Wiss in the fall. Photo by Daniel Christianson via MTB Project.

Brevard (Asheville), North Carolina

Industry Nine’s sales manager, David Thomas, describes the Pisgah Ranger District trails nearest his North Carolina home as “rooty, wet, rugged, rocky and very seldom is one traversing a level surface.” If you’re up for that, head to Brevard.

Located less than 40 minutes from Asheville, the riding is unlike anything else in the U.S. Contradicting many trail centers, singletrack in the Pisgah Ranger District isn’t laid out in a loop and isn’t as easy to navigate as areas that are better signed. But that’s all part of the fun. (Note that there are several “Pisgah” areas in North Carolina, including the ranger district described here, the Grandfather District near Boone and the Pisgah Appalachian District near Hot Springs). Locals typically use the area’s gravel roads to gain elevation and then descend on singletrack trails that are typically old hiking trails built long before mountain bikes made their way to the woods.

Top trails:

For the best ride from town, Thomas recommends hitting Black Mountain Trail to Buckwheat to Bennett. From the Pisgah neighborhood of Brevard, this is a 17.5-mile loop. You’ll do a few miles heading northwest on Highway 276 before turning onto a smaller gravel road. From there, you’ll hit singletrack with some climbing but lots of undulations and eventually drop down a big downhill back to the town of Pisgah Forest and the intersection of 276 and Highway 64. For further details, head to one of the shops listed below.

Where to park:

If staying in Brevard, you can drive to the intersection of highways 276 and 64, park at one of the bike shops found there, and ride up the road to access the recommended ride.

Must-hit libations:

Pre-ride:
For snacks, drinks and caffeine, hit Crank Coffee, inside Sycamore Cycles, before heading out.

Post-ride:
After thoroughly thrashing yourself on the rugged trails, head to The Pisgah Tavern, located inside The Hub for cold beer and a rotating menu of food truck delicacies.

Bike shops:
Sycamore Cycles is a great local trail resource. It also shares space with Crank Coffee, mentioned above. The Hub is another good location for last-minute bike supplies and mountain bike rentals.

Where to stay:

If you want to escape it all, reserve a cabin at the Pilot Cove Forest Lodging. In addition to free Wi-Fi, full kitchens and washer/dryers in each unit, Pilot Cove offers secure bike storage and a hot- and cold-water bike wash station. If you prefer a hotel, grab a room at the Hampton Inn. Both are located at the intersection of highways 276 and 64 in the town of Pisgah Forest.

Pisgah National Forest outside of Brevard, North Carolina offers a backcountry feel while retaining all the conveniences of a large town fairly close by.

We realize there are great inner-city trails everywhere. Have stories and info about your favorite urban singletrack that you’d like to share? Email [email protected] and we’ll publish a few on our website. Please include a photo (or several) and make sure the trails you write about are legal. 

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