Breaking Away

“Florida, and especially Marion County and the Ocala area, is a very popular place for bicycling,” says Ryan Woodall, co-owner of Top Gear Bicycles in Ocala. “I’ve ridden all over the country, and in my opinion, the local trails are some of the best in the country.”

And Woodall’s opinion matters.

At 32 years of age, he has been riding competitively for almost 20 years, and his résumé is solid. Seven times he has won the USA Cycling Florida State Championship Series in Cross-country Mountain Biking, three times he has won the Southeast Regional championship in the same category, and he has stood on the podium at several prestigious national events.

“If someone is looking for a great place to ride, the Santos trails are a fantastic place to go,” he says. “Santos has something for everyone, whether you’re a first-time trail rider or a professional. I love cross-country biking, and the Santos trails are a great place to ride.”

Most of the local trails are located on the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, where cyclists share the trails with hikers and horseback riders. The largest, the Santos Trail System, contains more than a dozen trails spanning 85 miles.

Paved Trails Or Cross Country

Woodall points out that cyclists have their choice of trail types, either paved or unpaved. Paved trails can accommodate virtually any type of bicycle but are best suited for road or touring bikes. These types of bikes are designed specifically to be ridden at a moderate-to-fast pace on a smooth, hard surface. They have skinny, smooth tires and most have drop-type handlebars; although, some have flat handlebars so the cyclist can ride in a more comfortable semi-upright position.

Another popular bike for paved trail riding is the cruiser. The cruiser is made for casual riding with a wide comfortable seat and a much wider tire than a road bike. Most have coaster brakes and upright handlebars that allow the rider to ride in a completely upright position.

Area cyclists looking for a paved trail suitable for all riders should check out the Withlacoochee State Trail.

“The Withlacoochee State Trail runs almost the entire length of Citrus County,” says Grant Chance, owner of Blue Run Bicycles in Dunnellon. “It runs from the Gulf Junction Trailhead in Citrus Springs to the Owensboro Junction Trailhead just south of Trilby in Pasco County. This is one of the Rails To Trails projects and is the longest paved trail in the state. It is suitable for everyone, no matter what age or riding skill. You’ll share the pavement with families and professional riders alike.”

Chance says that all types of bikes are found on the trail and that each cyclist chooses his or her pace and distance traveled. Multiple trailheads allow riders to get on and off the trail at varying distances.

Another paved trail suitable for all riders is the Withlacoochee Bay Trail located next to the Cross Florida Barge Canal just south of Inglis. Approximately five miles long, this scenic trail meanders through hammocks and salt marsh, offering riders the chance to see abundant wildlife, including deer, bobcat, bald eagles and even dolphins swimming the placid barge canal waters. This scenic route ends with a beautiful expansive view of the Gulf of Mexico. However, the trail closes at dusk, so plan ahead.

Woodall notes that many paved trails are shared with roadways and traffic. Cyclists traversing these types of trails should make themselves aware of Florida bike laws and should have an intermediate to high degree of biking skills.

Unpaved trails can accommodate most bike types other than road bikes, but each trail has its own varying degree of difficulty. This means that prior to attempting to bike a specific unpaved trail, the cyclist should determine if his or her bike is suitable for the planned ride.

Trails that are basically flat and smooth can possibly accommodate hybrid bikes (a mix of road and mountain bikes), cyclocross bikes, mountain bikes and even cruisers. The higher the degree of difficulty, the narrower the range of bike needed to negotiate the trail. Intermediate and expert trails usually require mountain bikes or hybrids. It would be smart to ask a professional who has extensive knowledge of the local trails, such as Woodall or Chance, what type of equipment is best suited for the trail you choose.

Spring is here, and it’s a great time to either take the bike out of the garage and give it a good safety check or head to one of your local bike shops to be fitted for a brand new ride. And then… hit the trails. Whether it’s a scenic paved trail or one of the beautiful dirt trails winding through rural Marion and Citrus counties, break away and enjoy National Bike Month.

Local Trails

  • Marion County Trailheads
  • Santos Trailhead: 3080 SE 80th St., Ocala
  • Vortex Trailhead: 9150 SE 25th Ave., Ocala
  • Landbridge Trailhead: County Road 475A, Ocala
  • 49th Avenue Trailhead: 12555 SW 49th Ave., Ocala
  • Ross Prairie Trailhead: 10660 SW Highway 200, Dunnellon
  • Baseline Trailhead: State Road 35 north of SE Maricamp Rd., Ocala

Citrus County Trails and Trailheads

  • Withlacoochee State Trail, Gulf Junction Trailhead: 2233 W Magenta Drive, Citrus Springs
  • Withlacoochee Bay Trail, Felburn Park Trailhead: 10201 North Suncoast Blvd., Crystal River
  • Whispering Pines City Park: 1700 Forest Drive, Inverness
  • Dunellon Trailhead: 1279 W Withlacoochee Trail, Citrus Springs

Ryan Woodall suggests these safety tips:

  • Always wear a federally approved helmet, eye protection, colorful clothing and gloves.
  • Obey all traffic laws just as if you were in a motor vehicle.
  • Have a blinking tail light on your bike for night or day riding.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Keep your bike well maintained, and give it a safety check before each ride.
  • Always ride with the flow of traffic, and be a courteous rider.
  • Share the road.

Cullie Woodall, bike fitter at Top Gear, offers these tips for choosing the right bike:

  • Choose the bike for the type of riding you will do most. For example, road bikes are built for higher speeds on paved surfaces and comfort bikes can be ridden on all surfaces at all speeds.
  • You should have ample room to stand comfortably between the seat and handlebars with both feet on the ground.
  • Choose a seat that is comfortable for the type of riding you do most. Large seats are best for slow speeds and narrower seats are best for higher speeds. A too-large seat can cause inner-thigh chaffing when riding at higher speeds.
  • Bikes come in five sizes: extra-small, small, medium, large and extra-large. The size bike that is best for you is determined by your torso length in relation to your leg length. It is best to be fitted by a professional if your goal is to ride often and in comfort.
  • Step-through frames (once called a “woman’s bicycle”) are now called unisex frames and should be used by anyone who has trouble raising his or her leg high enough to get on a bicycle.
  • Recumbent bikes are best for persons with back pain or anyone who is more comfortable biking while in a sitting position.

Biking is Serious Business

  • Florida has twice as many bicycle-related deaths than any other state.
  • 88% of bicycle deaths are persons 20 years old or older.
  • Almost 90% of bicycle deaths are males.
  • Helmets reduce the chance of death 
by 50%
  • 2% of motor vehicle crash deaths are bicyclists.
  • 817 bicyclists died 
in motor vehicle crashes in 2015.
  • Most bicycle deaths occur in urban areas outside of intersections.
  • Florida law says that any bicycle rider or passenger under 16 years of age must wear a properly fitted and strapped helmet that meets federal safety standards.
Posted in Marion Features

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