March in Florida brings on warmer days and the promise of spring, which means it’s the perfect time to break the couch-potato cycle and get outside to do some cycling.
The weather is no longer lung-numbingly cold, and with this area of Florida being blessed with so many trails, from the Ocala-famous Santos Trailhead to Hernando County’s Croom Loop Trails and the 46-mile long Withlacochee State Trail of Citrus County, getting out and riding a bike is a must-do activity.
“You can’t get riding quite like this without going for quite a number of miles around the state,” Chiggy Chetwynd of Santos Trailhead Bicycle Shop says. “These are some of the best trails in Florida, and we have these fantastic facilities right at our doorsteps.”
Cycling has become more popular in the last 10 years, with thousands of miles of new biking lanes being added in the United States each year. One of the biggest reasons is the health benefits that cycling brings. An average 135-pound woman cycling at a higher speed burns 488 calories an hour, while the average cycling adventure burns roughly 300 calories an hour.
“It’s like being a kid again,” Marc Reusch of Brooksville Bicycle says. “You get to go out, get fresh air, look around; it’s a lot of fun and good exercise.”
It’s one of the easiest ways to exercise, too. You can ride a bicycle almost anywhere (except indoors—you might get yelled at) and, in Florida, at any time of the year, and it won’t cost you a fortune in gym memberships.
It’s also one of the best all-around workouts. Every single part of the body is used during an average cycling trip. When you pedal, you’re using your lower half—the quads, glutes and calves—and when you steer the handlebar, you’re sculpting your upper body. This sounds like it might be strenuous on your muscles, but cycling actually improves the muscle tone while not over exercising the muscles.
Cycling causes no joint stress and actually improves the strength of the joints; it’s better for the heart, better for the body and just better overall than some other high-impact exercises.
“Cycling is a very personal thing, and each individual gets something different,” Chiggy said. “For me, it’s the chance to get away from the stress of the workday and either get out there in the trails and lose yourself in your thoughts or get on the road and get some exercise and calm everything down.”
So, get out and enjoy the weather! Whether you’re interested in an afternoon of family exploring or are looking to join forces with others who love to bike, the following pages highlight some of our favorite biking locales and should prove a great resource to get you started.
T rails range in difficulty from beginner trails—think a nice stroll through nature—to expert trails with drops, ranges in elevations and unpaved terrain. Below is a list of some popular trails, including the ones less traveled, throughout Marion, Hernando and Citrus Counties.
3080 SE 80th St., Ocala
What’s unique? With covered and open picnic tables and grills, it’s a great place to gather for a bite to eat before (or after) riding the trails. It’s also only a couple miles from the Vortex area, which features various obstacles and large jumps.
Land Bridge Trailhead
Co. Hwy 475A, Ocala
What’s unique? The purpose of the land bridge is to provide wildlife a safe way to cross over the highway and for bikers, pedestrians and the like to continue on the Greenway without interruption. The trail is also shared with riders on horseback, so be on the lookout!
Ross Prairie Trailhead
10660 SW Highway 200, Dunnellon
What’s unique? You can make a weekend of it. The on-site campground is super convenient for those looking to plan a quick getaway.
SR 35 (Baseline Rd.), just north of SE Maricamp Rd., Ocala
What’s unique? There’s a children’s boundless playground, designed to enable children of all ages and abilities to learn and play freely together. Pack a picnic lunch (lots of picnic tables, too), bring the kids and make it a whole day’s outing.
Silver Springs State Park
1425 NE 58th Ave., Ocala
What’s unique? Along with being a bike trail, it also has a full campsite with water, electricity and 10 cabins available to rent.
Good Neighbor Trail
70 Russell St., Brooksville
What’s unique? For now, only half of the trail is paved, but there are plans to have it completed later this year. Consider it an off-road (and on-road) adventure all in one.
Address varies depending on entrance location
What’s unique? There’s a lesson to be learned here, with plenty of markers to note historical significance and native species along the way.
Croom Loop Trails
15003 N Broad St., Brooksville
12 & 35 mi.α
What’s unique? Part of the Withlacoochee State Trail, Croom trail takes you on different types of adventures, from forested ravines and rolling sand hills to low-lying forests along the river. This scenic trail is a must for all you nature lovers.
Withlacoochee Bay Trail
10201 N Suncoast Blvd., Crystal River
What’s unique? This trail follows the barge canal, and there are plenty of observation decks to stop and look at the various birds that inhabit the area.
Withlacoochee State Trail
3100 S Old Floral City Road, Inverness
What’s unique? With 46 miles crossing three counties, the trails, from equestrian to paved, change difficulty over the course of the ride.
CHARITY BIKE RIDES
If you’re looking to get out and ride for a great cause, check out some of the upcoming charity bike rides around the counties.
Clean Air Ride
Inverness Trail Head / 270 N Apopka Ave., Inverness / cleanairride.com
March 21, starts between 7am-9am (There is no mass launch of riders for this ride.) Registration is due March 18 and costs $35, which includes a T-shirt, breakfast, map and sports drink.
About The Course:The Inverness Trail Head, part of the Withlacoochee State Trail, is the longest paved trail in Florida, with four distances to choose from: 14 miles, 28 miles, 48 miles or the 100-mile-long trail. People who finish the 100-mile trail will win the “Century Challenge” and be honored with a commemorative Century Finisher Medallion.
About The Charity:Proceeds benefit the Key Training Center, an organization dedicated to serving adults with mental and developmental disabilities. The Key Training Center welcomes everyone who has a disability with open arms regardless of age, race, gender or financial responsibility.
Hammer Head 100
Land Bridge Trail / Co. Hwy 475A, Ocala / goneriding.com
April 19, 50-, 100-mile trail: 8am start, 25-mile trail: 9am start
25-mile trail: $35, 50-mile trail: $60, 100-mile trail: $75
About The Course: The Land Bridge Trail, which allows wildlife, horse riders and bikers to cross I-75 carefully, is a course designed to keep the Greenway from being broken up by the Interstate. The trail itself is full of flowing paths and scenic views, perfect for racing, riding or just strolling along.
About The Charity: All proceeds from the event go to help preserving and keeping up the trails for future riders. Efforts to preserve the trails include picking up litter, removing branches and making sure any tire skids don’t cause permanent damage.
8th Annual Frank Polack Ride for Hospice of Marion County
The Elliot Center / 3231 SW 34th Ave., Ocala / hospiceofmarion.com
May 16, 8am-2pm, $40 per rider; after May 8 the price increases to $45
About The Course: Riders choose between an 80-, 62- or 30-mile course around Ocala. The rides are escorted by the Ocala Police and Marion County Sheriff Departments.
About The Charity: Proceeds directly benefit Hospice of Marion County’s patient care. Hospice provides comfort and care for ailing people and their families to make sure their final days are less stressful and more peaceful. The event will include a breakfast in the morning, commemorative T-shirt and lunch after the ride.
Crankin’ Out Cancer Black Bear Bike
13009 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville
June 14, $35 in person at Black Bear Bike or $40 online at active.com
About The Course: This ride around Hernando County will venture into parts of the Suncoast Trail and features distances of 13, 42 and 62 miles to choose from.
About The Charity: All funds raised go to the SNUC Foundation, a local organization dedicated to raising research money for invasive sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma, an uncommon and highly aggressive form of cancer found in the neck and head areas. The event comes with a post-ride lunch at Black Bear Bike, an event T-shirt and a goody bag.
EXPOS & FESTIVALS
Expositions and festivals are ways for companies, established and new, to show off their newest products and allow potential buyers to test-ride new bikes to see just how well they respond to what they’re looking for. Along with companies, clinics are set up to teach new moves and techniques as well.
2015 Santos Fat Tire Festival & Expo
March 6-8, Santos Trailhead
The 2015 Santos Fat Tire Festival & Expo kicks off March 6 and is free and open to the public. Renee Blaney, who has coordinated the event for the past nine years, says it’s the biggest bike expo in the southeast region with people coming from as far as Colorado to ride the trails, check out the bikes and set up shop.
More than 40 companies will be represented at the expo, including mountain and road bike manufacturers, accessories dealers and clothing and bicycle-related jewelry. Food trucks, skills clinics and special shows will be available to satisfy your food and entertainment needs. And, of course, the Santos Bike Trail will be open for the weekend’s festivities. A 50-plus-mile, paid ride and a hot lunch at the Land Bridge is also on the agenda.
Brooksville Cycling Classic
April 4, festivities begin at 7:30am
Now in its fifth year, the Brooksville Cycling Classic has moved to April to help kick off the beginning of racing season. Honored with being the host of the Florida State Criterium Championship, the races will occur from morning to night to accommodate all of the age groups who will be racing. A “Get Healthy” zone will also be featured, full of healthy activities and food.
No matter what type of hobby you like to do, there is someone else out there who loves to do it, too. Clubs and associations are a great place to meet up with like-minded people. For bike enthusiasts, it could be about hopping on a trail together or even volunteering to clean up the trails you love to ride. Below is a list of the local clubs and associations in Marion, Citrus and Hernando Counties.
Ocala Mountain Bike Association
In 1993, local volunteers began building what would become the Santos Trails. The original group who built the trails also founded a not-for-profit corporation known as the Ocala Mountain Bike Association. The club was founded by request of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Greenways and Trails as a single point of contact for trail-related issues. Other than riding on the trails, the OMBA helps keep up the trails by removing any litter and repairing sections of the trail that need it.
Rails to Trails of the Withlacoochee
Rails to Trails of the Withlacoochee is a not-for-profit charitable organization that helps keep up trails around the state. The Withlacoochee Trail, which was once a 46-mile railroad track, was converted into a paved recreational trail. Rails to Trails assists the Department of Environmental Protection Division of Recreation and Parks by helping keep the trail in immaculate condition by building trail amenities, fundraising and maintenance.
ou can’t get out and ride unless you have a bicycle and the other necessary gear. Whether your old bike’s a bit rusted up or you’re just looking for a new ride altogether, specialty bike shops are the way to go. Not only do the owners love bicycles, most are avid riders themselves.
Brick City Bicycles
217 SE 1st Ave., Ocala,
Santos Bike Shop
8924 S. Hwy 441, Ocala (On the Santos Trail)
3085 SE 80th St., Ocala
Pro tip:They also sell beer for a post-ride brew and were named No. 1 in independent craft beer sales in Marion County and top 100 bike shops, according to owner Dano Kinnee.
Black Bear Bike
13009 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville,(Located in Western Way Plaza behind Carrabba’s Italian Grill)
Crank Works Bicycles
20120 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville (In the plaza near Gold’s Gym)
1110 W. Jefferson St., Brooksville
Inverness Bicycle & Fitness
130 N. Pine Ave., Inverness
322 N. Pine Ave., Inverness
Hampton’s Edge Trailside Bicycles
8294 E. Orange Ave., Floral City
What Is Rails To Trails?
Railroad tracks are all across America. It’s how everyone used to travel long distances. Now, in the modern day of semi trucks, vehicles and airplanes, trains are in use less and less. With that, many railroad tracks have been left overgrown and abandoned.
“Rails to Trails” is a movement taking place across the nation to turn these old train tracks into useful biking and hiking trails. The rails provide great ground and elevation for bikes, allowing for different levels of difficulty for all riders. Because of their locomotive past, many of the trails allow for long distance rides or walks and feature multiple entrances and exits rather than shorter loops.