Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Off-Road Cycling On Florida's NE Coast

It's no secret I love cycling. I'll take it in any form I can get really. The speed, the risk, and the scenery get the adrenaline pumping. And that's convenient because adrenaline is my drug of choice. "Hi, My name is David and I'm an adrenaline junkie."

Though I've dabbled in many different forms of cycling, r
oad cycling has been the go-to for most of my life, until recently. After years of hammering pavement I needed an escape from the smog and near death experiences caused by riding with angry drivers so I've begun seeking out roads less traveled.

In Northeast Florida there is virtually no opportunity for elevation gain that doesn't require riding back and forth on a bridge for hours, and the singletrack and mountain bike options are limited. I have to ride pavement in order to get anywhere but with the right bike I can use it only briefly to connect my off-road adventures.

If you live in or are visiting NE FL and you're ready for some off-road grinding here is what you will need to know.

What You Ride:

You will need a Cyclocross or Mountain bike. My current fix comes from my Bianchi Zolder Disc Cyclocross bike that I purchased this past summer. I put more than a thousand miles on it in the first 3 months, with 60-70% being off road. I don't even drive my car that much.

This bike is perfect for riding off road and will get you going for any cyclocross races you want to take on. But if you're not racing and you want to take advantage of endless beaches and gravel/sand roads through local parks you will want to make a few adjustments. I started by swappping the stock 32c tires for something wider. I suggest 36c-40c, depending on what will fit on your bike and how much stability you are looking for on softer terrain.

Always inflate your tires according to the terrain you plan to ride that day. For my
Clement X'PLOR MSO 40c tires I may run as low as 45psi, or as high as 80psi if I'm going to hammer with the roadies before getting in some trails. Clement offers a tubeless ready version of these tires if you want to avoid those pinch flats that come with riding gravel.

If you're visiting and need to rent a bike there are many local shops. One of my favorites is Open Road Bicycles in Jacksonville Beach.

When To Ride:

Florida is called the Sunshine state for a reason, the sun is almost always shining. However, I prefer the sunrise/sunset time for off-road riding, primarily due to the heat. Florida's summers are brutally hot and humid.

Some routes will have time restrictions if they pass through private property or a state or national park but if you're like me you will occasionally have to satisfy that nocturnal urge to ride. And remember that the beach is always open, even in the dark. Just don't forget to check the tide before heading out. It's nearly impossible to ride the NE FL beaches at high tide, no matter how wide your tires are. With the right tide schedule I can get 20 miles of riding on the sand before work, and take in an incredible sunrise at the same time.

I should warn you though, if you are the first morning rider on singletrack through the woods in NE FL you will encounter some monster spiders. I'm not a fan of Banana Spiders crawling across my face or down my kit while tearing through the woods at dawn. 

Where To Ride:  

Here are a few rides that you should consider if you're in the area. 

If you're looking to join an off road group ride I have a cautious recommendation for you. There are some dudes that get together on the weekends (year round), and after dark (winter months) for some grueling off road riding. These aren't your every day dudes though. They're ugly, they will ride you ragged, and they may leave you to die in the woods, so ride at your own risk because if you get dropped you're on your own. 

  • Dirty Boar Ride - The group leaves from Open Road Bicycles in Jacksonville Beach on Saturday mornings at 7:00. Tide permitting, the ride first hits the beach for 10 miles, then takes a few miles of paved roadway until you reach Guana River Wildlife Management Area. Then you're on fire roads, gravel, firm pack, and unforgiving soft sand for 15 miles until you turn around and do it all again coming back. It's 45+ miles total and you will hate yourself most of the time.

    Oh, and did I mention the boars? Yeah, they have tusks, and a temper. And then there are the bears, snakes, alligators, and fire breathing Game of Thrones dragon mosquitoes?
    Have fun!

Thank you for visiting my blog today. Enjoy the rides and if you're ever in the area and need some advice feel free to reach out to me at info@elevationexpeditions.com.

Here are a few more pictures for your viewing pleasure.

- David West

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