Mountain bikers take their rides off road
Ploch and Ryan Pirtle battle for the lead during a 12-hour endurance
mountain bike race held at Council Bluff Lake. Organized racing
is just one way mountain biking enthusiasts take advantage of Missouri's
hilly landscape and abundant wooded areas.
All day long they
are locked in cubicles, chained to desks or perhaps operating heavy
equipment. They deal with the pressures of day care, demanding bosses
and customers who just don’t understand deadlines.
In the back
of their minds, however, is a better place where yellow leaves gently
fall to earth and jagged limestone rock shelves form exciting jumps. When the
daily grind gets to be too much they sneak away, throw a bike on the car roof
and take to the woods.
These are Missouri’s
mountain bike riders.
On any given day you can find them riding trails across the state. No obstacle
is too tough to be ridden, no drop too big to take, no hill too steep
to climb for these outdoor cycling enthusiasts.
go seven days without riding,” says John Dojoian,
an engineer from St. Charles and the founder of the Gateway Off-Road
wife knows it. If I get cranky, she gets after me to go ride.”
got into mountain biking in 1986, close to the time when cyclists first
took their rides off road. He says he was inspired by a rider he saw
every day ripping down the cobblestone streets in downtown St. Louis
on a mountain bike.
it was so cool. So I bought a mountain bike,” he says.
That first bike wasn’t much different than the road bikes being
used at the time. It had no suspension, but it did have the knobby
fat tires that let it go on trails.
That $300 bike began
a progression of increasingly more expensive and advanced bikes for
John, who was typical of the early riders. His next bike had a front
fork with shocks that helped smooth out bumps. Before long he was riding
a full suspension bike that added a shock in back, disc brakes, 27
gears and clipless pedals that lock the feet to the pedals.
its progressively more difficult system of trails, Jefferson
City’s Binder Lake is considered one of the state’s
better mountain bike rides. The Capital City Cycling Club holds
weekly group rides here.
his riding has come full circle. With a garage full of bikes, chances
are John will head to the woods on a single-speed mountain bike with
no suspension and sporting tall 29-inch wheels.
There are as many
reasons to ride as there are mountain biking enthusiasts. But nearly
every rider shares a love of the great outdoors and a desire for
not one to spend the day at the gym,” says
Karen Owens, ambassador for the Kansas City–based Earthriders
Mountain Bike Club. “A
really good friend of mine was into mountain biking so I
got into it. I just loved it from the minute I got on a trail.”
says the camaraderie is incredible. “My friendship circle
has tripled with all the people I’ve met.”
Talk to any
mountain bike rider and they will describe the rush that comes
from riding a narrow, twisting path called singletrack through
the woods, often not knowing what obstacle lurks around the next
|Mike Gibson of Defiance
takes the fastest route down the Chubb Trail’s infamous steps
on a bike designed for big drops.
what keeps me going, looking down from the top of the hill, knowing
you have to go down,” Karen
says. “And when you get to the
bottom and you make it and didn’t fall, it’s
such a rush. Or going over that rock you’ve never
been able to do before, it’s just the
While many mountain
bike riders are interested in epic rides like the Berryman Trail
or tackling parts of the Ozark Trail open to bikes,
others just want to experiment with gravity. Mike
Gibson, a downhill fanatic from Defiance, was once clocked
at 60 mph. “And there were people passing me,” he
When he’s not
riding out West or in Canada, Mike drags his heavily modified mountain
bike up the notorious Chubb Trail in St. Louis County. Despite
its suburban location, the Chubb Trail is one of
Missouri’s most technical sections
of singletrack. Riders must labor up a steep section
of rocky switchbacks to get to the Chubb steps,
a series of rock ledges and boulders that are the
For Mike and his
friends, broken collarbones, stitches and concussions are as common
as the 25-foot drops he’s landed on his
bike. At Chubb he scouts the steps to make sure
they are clear of horseback riders, hikers or
other mountain bikers who share this trail. Then
he points his bike downhill and takes the quickest
route down the steps, an 8-foot drop from the
top followed by an exhilarating downhill run.
people balk and that’s the worst thing
to do,” Mike says
after another rider crashed while trying to
gingerly pick his way down the steps. “You’re
best to just let it go. It’s a natural
reaction to reach for the brakes.”
Jefferson City cyclists prepare for a night ride at Binder Park.
The friends use powerful lights mounted on helmets and handelbars
to light up obstacles on the trail. From left are John Lanworthy,
Cary Maloney, Pete Goode and Nick Smith.
knows about crashing on the Chubb Trail.
His father introduced him to the sport of mountain
biking here 12 years ago. On the way back to
the parking lot he crashed. “It ripped the clothes off me. I was road
rash from head to foot. After I recovered I was addicted.”
bike looks more motorcycle than bike. It has a massive front fork, huge knobby
tires and a coil-spring in the back to take the shock from landing. Disc
brakes help him scrub speed when the Chubb Trail makes a 90-degree
turn on the way down.
the best part,” says
Mike of his form of riding. “That
makes it all worthwhile to climb up that
hill. This is where you get your excitement.”
Far more graceful
are the nimble cross-country race bikes that appear each fall for
the Burnin’ at the Bluff 12-hour endurance race held at Council
Bluff Lake near Bixby. Close to 100 people showed up for this year’s
race, which pitted teams of three and solo riders in several classes
in an off-road marathon.
The Council Bluff
Trail is typical of Missouri’s singletrack. It features
a 13-mile loop around a scenic lake.
The trail winds up and down hills, through cathedral-like stands of pine
and offers frequent breathtaking views of the lake.
|Many of the
narrow "singletrack" trails that mountain bike riders enjoy are
built by volunteers from cycling clubs.
Groups like the Gateway
Off-Road Cyclists and the Earthriders not only ride the trails,
chances are they built them as well. The
Earthriders, for example, have spent 1,107
man-hours and $14,000 of in-kind donations
to build a new trail at Lake of the Ozarks
State Park. The St. Louis group is responsible
for building 20 miles of new trail and doing
many more miles of maintenance work.
hosted by the International Mountain Biking Association teach the handful
of techniques used to build new trail.
you can learn in a day,” says John, who is the
Missouri representative for
the group. “It’s all designed around
water. You control the water
flow and keep it off the trail. If you do that you are going to have
good trail. You end up with a great trail that wanders through the
There are more than
60 trails open to mountain bikes in Missouri.
Brett Dufur of Rocheport rode
most of them before publishing “Show-Me Mountain Biking,
The Complete Mountain Biking
Guide to Missouri” ($16.95 from bookstores
or online at www.pebblepublishing.com).
a beginner can get into mountain biking for
around $400, the sport can
get much more expensive.
Step up to a full-suspension
bike and the cost increases to
more than $1,000. Downhill bikes
can be as much as $5,000.
One reason mountain bike riders head to the woods is to enjoy the
incredible scenery Missouri has to offer. Trails like this one at
Council Bluff Lake near Bixby follow lakes and rivers. Outdoor enthusiasts
can cover more ground on bikes than on foot.
Once bitten by the
off-road bug, cyclists tend to invest in better bike components, backpacks
to carry water on long rides, colorful jerseys and rooftop bike racks.
is definitely not a cheap sport but you really have to look at it
as an investment,” says Emery Dawson, who works at Springfield’s
Sunshine Bike Shop. “If
you can add 10 more
healthy years on your
that much more time
to spend working. You’re
going to make yourself
more money in the long
run. You can’t
put a price tag on
being healthy, in my
Karen, “Get a
decent mountain bike,
get a helmet and a
pair of gloves, find
the local bike club
and just go. If you
see someone on the
trail, stop and introduce
yourself. If you see
a local club is having
a meeting, go to it.
They are going to welcome
you with open arms.”
For more information
about mountain biking in Missouri,
write to Missouri Bicycle Federation, P.O. Box 104871, Jefferson City,