Our Area Has One of the Largest Communities of Mountain Bikers


By Adam Searing

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro area has one of the largest communities of cyclists who ride mountain bikes in the state. Why? We are blessed with longtime extensive trail systems on land owned both by the University of North Carolina and local governments combined with a very active community. As mountain bikes were just coming to public notice in the early 1980s, my fellow bicycle mechanics and I pioneered and developed the emerging sport of off-road riding on trails in Battle Park and Carolina North that are still in use. Fast forward forty years and I find myself a coach for the exploding North Carolina league of NICA – the National Interscholastic Cycling Association – and the largest concentration of kids riding in the league is right here in the Orange County area.

Luckily for my aging body, technological leaps over the last decade have also fundamentally improved the bicycles used to ride off road, contributing to a resurgence of the sport. The bikes are lighter, safer, more comfortable and, perhaps more important to the younger crowd, faster than ever before. This is making riding in the woods even more popular.

Unfortunately, our local governments haven’t figured out that this growth in the sport of mountain biking necessitates some adjustments in our park and greenway planning. While communities as diverse from internationally-known Sedona, Arizona to small but beautiful Mayodan, North Carolina have embraced mountain biking as an economic driver and recreation priority, the same isn’t true here.

The exception is UNC, which played an enormous role (both passive and active) in establishment and now management of the extensive system of trails on what was once called the Horace Williams Tract. However, as any mountain biker who has ridden these trails can tell you, there are no guarantees from the University that those trails will remain. Development plans for the future Carolina North campus will impact recreation uses of the Forest greatly in future years.

A storied history of local off-road riding, a fast-growing league of local teams involving hundreds of kids and parents, and indications of how big an economic driver this sport can be should have local governments making trail development and preservation of parks and forest in which to ride a priority. This isn’t happening.

Orange County has a large currently undeveloped park, Twin Creeks, now being used for hiking and extensive “informal” mountain bike trails.  The county’sexisting development plan calls for multiple soccer fields, baseball fields, and tennis courts. Preservation of forest and bike trails are not priorities.

The Greene Tract Forest, a 164 acre parcel of land jointly owned by Chapel Hill, Orange County, and Carrboro, has an extensive area that could be developed for affordable housing.  The rest of the property currently contains numerous bicycle and hiking trails among huge oaks and around scenic streams and historic sites.  County plans and a raucous Chapel Hill Town Council meeting featured maps that set aside major areas of these trails for “undesignated uses” – which could include market rate housing development and other building.

And while mountain bikes featured hugely in the private development of the Brumley Forest park in Orange County, this was not driven by governmental bodies but rather by the Triangle Land Conservancy and the generosity of the Brumley family.

There are huge opportunities around town and in our area for development of world-class mountain bike trails if only local government will make this a economic development and recreation priority.  Whether it is better use of Merritt’s pasture, a cooperative agreement to legalize and connect local informal trails with greenways, or making trail development and forest preservation a priority in our parks, there is much to do. Let’s hope local officials can hear the increasing sound of spinning wheels, shifting gears and kids enjoying themselves outside on their bikes.

Adam Searing is a lifetime resident of Chapel Hill, a mountain bike coach, and attorney. 

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2 Comments on "Our Area Has One of the Largest Communities of Mountain Bikers"

  1. Susan Attermeier | October 23, 2019 at 11:43 am | Reply

    Mountain Bikers are a curious bunch. As my home is located on Borland Road, I am quite familiar with the presence of 15-20 multicolored guys in a pack, pedaling as fast as they can up the road between Arthur Minnis Road and Orange Grove Road. This is a relatively steep section with lots of blind curves. Unfortunately they can only attain about 10 MPH so if you are behind them you might as well get out a crossword puzzle. The “Share the Road” concept applies only to drivers apparently since the bikers refuse to ride single file. There may be a reasonable explanation for this but the only reason I’ve been given is that they have the right to do it because bikes are vehicles and may use any part of the lane they choose. These explanations are – shall we say – pompous and often accompanied by a one-finger salute.

    My daughter lived in Asheville on a road that was very steep and very curvy – this was a preferred “downhill” route that left residents in fear of their lives.

    So yes – please give the boys a safe place to do their thing. But Merritt’s Pasture??? NO!

    • Yes, “Share The Road” is just a concept and only applies to motorists. The sign is actually a misguided warning message to motorists that bicyclists are using the road. Some motorists perceive the concept to mean “Share The LANE,” and are incensed that bicycle users would rather motorists change lanes to pass rather than encroach on their lane space.

      Many motorists do not realize that it is legal for them to cross a double yellow line to pass bicyclists, making it doubly ironic that they place their ire on bicyclists.

      NC § 20-150. Limitations on privilege of overtaking and passing.
      (e) The driver of a vehicle shall not overtake and pass another on any portion of the highway which is marked by signs, markers or markings placed by the Department of Transportation stating or clearly indicating that passing should not be attempted. The prohibition in this section shall not apply when the overtaking and passing is done in accordance with all of the following:
      (1) The slower moving vehicle to be passed is a bicycle or a moped.
      (2) The slower moving vehicle is proceeding in the same direction as the faster
      moving vehicle.
      (3) The driver of the faster moving vehicle either (i) provides a minimum of
      four feet between the faster moving vehicle and the slower moving vehicle
      or (ii) completely enters the left lane of the highway.
      (4) The operator of the slower moving vehicle is not (i) making a left turn or (ii)
      signaling in accordance with G.S. 20-154 that he or she intends to make a
      left turn.
      (5) The driver of the faster moving vehicle complies with all other applicable
      requirements set forth in this section.

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