Epicenter: Ride Riverside Singletrack in Richmond

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You're never far from post-ride eats in Virginia's capital city.

Despite its location at the southern end of the East Coast's I-95 megalopolis, Richmond is one of the best places to ride a mountain bike in the Mid-Atlantic. “What makes Richmond special is the access to trails in the urban environment," says Greg Rollins, president of the local mountain bike group, Richmond Area Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (rvaMORE). "Whether you’re passing through or here on business or vacation, there are 75 miles of beginner to expert trails at your fingertips."

The James River, which bisects the city, serves as the backdrop for the core of Richmond riding. Once you get off the street, you’ll discover that the experience is full tilt, no apologies. Trails flank both sides of the river with a healthy dose of roots and rocks over ever-changing ups and downs. To balance that out, there are sections of smooth and buttery flow just when you need it. Everything is wrapped up in the pockets of lush green forest where it’s easy to feel like you’re lost deep in the woods.

Thanks to the truly urban nature of Richmond's trail systems, you’ll be a few easy pedal strokes away from plenty of good eats when you feel the bonk coming on at the end of your ride. Richmond has the range covered; from healthy and vegetarian-friendly to heavy, calorie-dense meals for the folks with diesel burning engines.

In 2015, Richmond was recognized as an IMBA Bronze-level Ride Center, a designation that confirms the city’s chops as a must-visit location for two-wheeled, knobby tire adventures.

–Ride–

The core of Richmond mountain biking is split between two areas, the James River Park System and Pocahontas State Park.

James River Park System

The James River Park System is actually five great rides that can be wrapped into one big adventure. Take on one area at a time, or link them all together for a big day out.

Dogwood Dell is a good (short) warm-up lap with smooth tread, termed turns, and long sections of small rollers.

From there, cross the bridge south and then traverse the Buttermilk Trail from west to east. Here, you’ll get a good dose of Richmond riding with plenty of big roots, rocks, and tight, twisting singletrack.

Don’t forget to detour at Forest Hill Park for some winding, classic deep woods trails that wind up and down a few small drainages. It’s short loop, but definitely worth the effort.

On the far end of Buttermilk, make your way across the rocks to Belle Isle, home to an impressive bike park and even more singletrack. The skills area was updated and expanded just this summer with some wooden wall rides, a pump track, and a teeter-totter. No doubt, Belle Isle offers hours of fun for everyone from kids to adults.

Plenty of freeride and skills features on offer at Belle Isle | Photo: Leslie Kehmeier

Once you’ve had your fill of Belle Isle, make your way back to the south side of the river and traverse bike paths and streets to the Pirate Trails. Known locally as the “Poop Loop,” the trails reflect the ingenuity of the local trail builders to make use of, um, less-desirable places. Similar to Dogwood Dell, the trails are fast and smooth on narrow singletrack, a fun respite from the rest of the rugged and technical tread found on other trails.

The grand tour finishes on the North Bank Trail on the opposite side of the river. The ultimate test here is the steep, armored wooden boardwalk climb. Master this and you’ll have some serious cred amongst your riding buddies.

Pocahontas State Park

Just 30 minutes southwest of the city is Pocahontas State Park, a system that provides enough trail for a solid day or two of riding. Between the traditional singletrack routes and the new school flow trails, all of your bases will be covered.

New school fun on Pocahontas' Bell Lap Trail | Photo: Leslie Kehmeier

Kendell Ryan, Bell Joyride Ambassador, shares her favorite way to ride at Pocahontas: “I warm-up on the Bell Lap Trail, adding in Blueberry and Morgan. From there, I head to Lakeview and ride those three loops. You can keep riding for miles and never have to get off your bike.”

Bell Lap, Blueberry, and Morgan, on the north side of Pocahontas, are recent additions to the park which include seven miles of purpose-built hand-cycle trail, a flow trail, and plenty of beginner-level, family-friendly singletrack.

–The Best–

Eat

If you're like me, and a post (or pre)-ride Nightingale Ice Cream Sandwich and cold brew coffee on draft makes you feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven, skip all meals and go directly to Outpost Richmond. This unique establishment can slap some new rubber on your rig (yes, it's part bike shop, part grocery) as you chow down on a snack and browse for sweet riding socks.

50% grocery store, 50% bike shop, 100% awesome. Photo: Leslie Kehmeier

If you require proper sustenance with three squares a day, start with coffee and an egg sandwich with house-made vegetarian sausage on the patio at Lamplighter Roasters. Find lunch at Goatacado, a delicious eatery with roots as a pop-up restaurant inside the local Carytown Bicycle Co. Goatacado specializes in what they call "happy food"–quinoa bowls, mac and cheese, and refreshing drinks like pomegranate gingerade.

Satisfying post-ride meals can be found in the Union Hill neighborhood on the north side of the river. Union Market has delicious sandwiches, wraps and local kombucha on tap. Alamo BBQ is just down the street with a full mouthwatering menu of smoked meats, sides, and a few vegetarian options. Try the Trainwreck Burrito filled with mac and cheese, cornbread, beans, and jalapeños. It seems like a bad idea, and it probably is, but you won't be able to stop eating it once you start.

Spare Parts

Helping to fund equipment purchases, new trail construction, and maintenance projects, REI's Richmond location has a strong philanthropic relationship with rvaMORE, the local mountain bike organization. The location features a full-service bike shop along with just about any other outdoor product you could need while in town.

As mentioned above, Outpost Richmond's bike shop is a good option with its prime location near Forest Park. For a more traditional bike shop, head to Carytown Bicycle Company. They have everything from bikes, spare parts, and full-service shop to great local knowledge about the best ways to link up trails.

Sleep

Along with a handful of boutique lodging options in downtown Richmond, Pocahontas State Park has camping and historic cabins to replenish your energy for the next day’s ride. Located just 30 minutes from downtown Richmond, you’ll have easy access to the 20+ miles of trails in the park and be a quick drive away from all the goods along the James River.

Rest Day

Paddlers might be interested in knowing that Richmond is the only place in the country where Class III (Class IV with above average river levels) whitewater paddling is within sight of the city’s downtown skyscrapers. If boats aren’t your thing, the James River offers plenty of other water-based activities like fishing and swimming.

Epicenter, created in partnership with PeopleForBikes, is a series highlighting communities that have invested in cycling infrastructure and grown into full-blown mountain bike destinations as a result. PeopleForBikes aims to make riding better for everyone – whether you ride trails, through the neighborhood to the store, or all the way across town.

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