By Kristin Butcher
The Active Times
It's been nearly 40 years since a small group of fun-loving tinkerers in Marin started racing down dirt roads on old cruiser bikes modified with fat knobby tires. Though mountain biking began as a fringe sport in the 70s, it's since evolved into an athletic outlet embraced by communities everywhere.
From the flatlands to the highlands, these top mountain bike towns are drawing riders of all kinds with amazing trail systems, bike parks, and pump tracks galore. We've called out a few classic stand-bys here -- Bend, Oregon, and Asheville, North Carolina, for example (but not Moab) -- but also found a few hidden gems that you've probably never even heard of. Click through to our slideshow to see some of our favorite places to get our tires dirty in the good ol' U.S. of A.
Designated as both a League of American Bicyclists Bicycle-Friendly Community and IMBA Ride Center, Harrisonburg is becoming a haven for anyone with a garage full of bikes. In a demonstration of partnership, the City of Harrisonburg teamed up with Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition to bring purpose-built bike trails of all levels to downtown Harrisonburg. In addition to the Rocktown trails, townsfolk can ride one of three epics, Massanutton Resort’s flow trails, or spend a day barely scratching the surface of the George Washington National Forest. The town even comes together to celebrate trails and trailwork during the annual Shenandoah Festival.
Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition
Located in the far northern reaches of Michigan, Marquette has a growing status of being a mini-mountain bike mecca. That makes living in the Upper Peninsula an appealing proposition even for those unaccustomed to 11 months of winter. Trails wind through the area's rugged terrain, undulating over rocky ridge, and through old-growth forests. Though there are plenty of beginner trails, many technical trails featuring mind-boggling wood-stunts have caused some to nickname the area "B.C. of the Midwest."
Upper Peninsula Mountain Biking
Park City is the only city qualified as a Gold Level Ride Center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, and it's a well-earned title. With a cohesive network of of city-wide bike lanes, scenic bike paths, cross-country trails, lift-access downhill runs, top-notch bike parks and freeride opportunities, Park City offers a ride experience that is perfect for anyone -- whether that means an easy cruise around the town loop, an all-day tour on the epic Mid-Mountain Trail, or flying off stunts at Deer Valley Resort.
Mountain Trails Foundation
Sante Fe has plenty in its favor. It’s an artsy town with beautiful views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and it’s more than 400 years old, which is flat-out cool. Riding past adobe architecture and galleries, riders can pedal to more than 50 miles of trail and choose whether to get lost in the 30-mile spaghetti bowl of twisty Dale Ball trails, head out for more technical adventures on the Whoops, or treat themselves to 8 miles of giggle-inducing downhill on the Windsor Trail.
Santa Fe Fat Tire Society
Situated in the Sonoran desert, Tucson is surrounded by five separate mountain ranges -- and in those mountain ranges are endless supplies of sweet singletrack. With more than 300 miles of trail, residents can head off into the backcountry, enjoy the popular Fantasy Island Network or, if they’re feeling extra adventurous, they can join the makeshift tent city and ride (or wrench) at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. Just watch out for those Teddy Bear Chollas.
Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists
Located along the Deschutes River in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Bend is what would happen if you had access to a magic mountain bike wand. With more than 200 miles of trails, there is no shortage of good rides including flowy lunchtime laps at Phil’s Trail Complex, the 3,400-foot descent from Mt. Bachelor to Bend, and Cog Wild's Bike & Brew tour of the town’s trails and 11 breweries. The hardest part of being a mountain biker in Bend is choosing which trail to ride. Thankfully, there are 300-plus days of sunshine to enjoy it all.
Louisville normally conjures images of bourbon and horse racing, but the town is working hard to add mountain biking to that list. With a vision of becoming the first metropolitan city with 100 miles of singletrack, Louisville boasts about 20 miles of in-town trails with plans for 25-40 more around the corner. Throw in the permanent cyclocross course at Eva Bandman Park, recent host of the 2013 UCI Cyclocross World Championships, and it might not be long before Louisville is known for bikes as much as bourbon.
Kentucky Mountain Bike Association
For the complete slideshow of Best Mountain Bike Towns, go to TheActiveTimes.com.
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-- America’s Best Bike Vacation Towns
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-- Fresh Gear: Spring 2013 Biking
-- A New Long-Distance Bike Trail Takes Shape