Bicycles have been a subject of design and development since the early 1800’s. By the start of the 20th century bicycles were a common mode of transportation around the world. Once considered “toys for children,” bicycles have seen many gyrations in popularity in the United States.
One of the first examples of bicycles modified specifically for off-road use is the expedition of Buffalo Soldiers from Missoula, Montana to Yellowstone in August 1896. By the late 1970’s to early 1980’s mountain bikes were being produced and ridden in the hills of, where else? California.
These days, mountain bike trails can be found all over the U.S. and beyond. On a local level, it is why twenty-five years ago, a club was formed to support trail advocacy and building in this area. The Western New York Mountain Bicycle Association (WNYMBA) is responsible for not only the construction and maintenance of trails, but also working with government groups and landowners to gain access to build such trails. Because of their hard work and dedicated volunteers, there are many places to ride your bike in our neck of the woods. Ellicottville alone features some of the best trails around. The McCarty State Forest is home to over 35 miles of fun, challenging and scenic single track. Those looking for an easier start can drive to the top of the access road or take advantage of the new flow trail at Holiday Valley. Access is also available through additional trails at both Holiday Valley and HoliMont. These trails - in the forest and surrounding areas - met the specifications to be considered an IMBA Epic Trail System. IMBA (International Mountain Bicycle Association) is the world authority on single track advocacy and trail building. WNYMBA has recently become a chapter of IMBA and has benefitted from their programs and training. Score!
But enough history … mountain biking is just plain fun and is growing in popularity. I think biking in general has become a more attractive recreation due to the ease of use. Once you make the initial investment, the world is your playground. And a must-ride destination - you guessed it - Ellicottville. One guy who’s been riding both roads and trails around EVL for years, is Bike and Bean owner Dennis Baldwin. Dennis has traveled the states riding and racing and has a reputation of being one of the fastest local guys on two wheels. Once the weather turns warmer and the trails dry out, Dennis gears up to lead group rides out of his downtown Ellicottville shop.
“I feel pretty fortunate to have grown up and live in Ellicottville,” said Dennis. “When I was 13 and in love with riding my bike the only singletrack we had was the FLT aka “The White Trail”. Now we have around 35 miles of linked singletrack in the State Forest and Holiday Valley with more trails on the way! Rumor has it that HoliMont may be adding some mountain bike trails this summer too.”
“It’s awesome that Ellicottville has become the hub for Western New York cycling,” Dennis continued. “With smaller areas developing within a 30-60 minute drive, Ellicottville has become a great cycling destination town. A HUGE thank you to WNYMBA. They are a big reason we have these trails. Become a member @ wnymba.org. Not just for mountain bikes; we also have some great road riding! Big shoulders on the main roads, great scenery on the country roads, nice hills and Allegany State Park is just south of here. Swing by Bike and Bean to get dialed in on the best places to ride.”
WNYMBA produces maps for the local trail systems it builds and maintains. These maps are on sale in local shops (including Bike and Bean) with all proceeds going to trail advocacy, building and maintenance. The club organizes group rides at other area trail systems as well - find information and locations at wnymba.org.
Group rides are a great social activity that help you get to know the trails, other riders and learn important tips. What makes group rides even better … most rides are followed by the ritual of sharing stories and bike talk, which are almost always washed down with beer. And with so many great choices for beer (and oh yea, food is important too), Ellicottville is a great option for group rides and after-ride meals.
Many ski area towns have embraced biking and the demographic it attracts. Bike riders are often the same folks you’ll see on the slopes during the winter months. For me, bike riding puts me in the same type of zone as making sweet carved turns on a crisp and quiet January morning. Once in the “groove” the feeling of traveling over rocks, roots and dirt becomes second nature. The thrill of speed along with the physical demands make biking a great activity for those in search of a new adventure pastime.
Another fun, but often overlooked system, is the Golden Hill State Forest. Golden Hill is a 15-20 minute drive from EVL and sports easier trails for novice riders, as well as a black diamond loop named The Whammy.
If you’re up for a challenge, there are plenty of opportunities to race your bike as well. From beginners to experts, there is a race for everyone. Racing is a great way to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, which in turn is guaranteed to lead to faster, more confident riding. There are local opportunities to race road, trails, gravel and cyclocross. Let’s break it down:
• The Finger Lakes Gravel series is a 3-race series where you can test your skills on gravel, dirt, paved and seasonal forest roads. Each race is just over 30 miles and climbs an average of 3,200 feet per race.
• Once May kicks in, the Wednesday Night Series starts at Sprague Brook Park. The eight-week series is an awesome family event with riders ranging from age 4 to 74. Sprague Brook Park is another WNYMBA trail system built in an Erie County Park, and the only park in the county that offers camping for tents and RV’s.
• Later in the summer, Heartrateup.com runs two of the oldest races in the area. First is the Raccoon Rally at Allegany State Park, Salamanca, NY. The Rally is a weekend-long event with a challenging road race on Saturday and mountain bike race on Sunday. Yes, there are a few twisted individuals that do both, but most choose one. ASP has plenty of camping and isn’t far from downtown Ellicottville.
• In July, Heartrateup sets the course for the 6 Hours of Power (6HOP) at Holiday Valley. The 6HOP is a relay style race for teams, duos and solos. If you can survive the climb to the top, the rest of the lap is a combination of classic single track that finishes on the berm-turn descent on the new Senear Valley Trail. Six hour races are a true test of physical and mental toughness and are comparable to hitting yourself in the head with a hammer … it feels so good when you stop.
Ellicottville is also a great hub for scenic road biking. The rolling country hills are a challenging and refreshing change from the concrete jungle of a city. Pad your Strava stats with some of the prettiest miles in the area. Once the weather starts tuning cold and leaves begin to change, cyclocross race season kicks in. Cyclocross combines the stamina of road riding with handling and terrain similar to mountain biking. Picture a steeple chase on bikes; riders dismount throughout the race to leap over obstacles. Cyclocross has been punishing riders since as early as 1912. HoliMont held its first ever race last fall and had over 100 registered riders. The course was a mix of mud, technical off-camber sections and climbs that made even the strongest legs whine. The cool thing about CX racing is it’s as much fun for the spectators as it is for the racers. Onlookers can cheer, heckle and offer gifts to passing racers … it can be quite the circus!
If you’re looking for a mellower bike cruise, check out the Pat McGee Trail. This rails-to-trails system is a great way to ride and relax on a sunny day. There are 5 trail heads for easy access. More information can be found at enchantedmountains.com/trails/pat-mcgee-trail.
Western New York has a plethora of bicycle riding opportunities, and Ellicottville is right in the center of all the action. Plan a trip to EVL for the day, a weekend, or longer, and find out how much fun bike riding can be!