Addison County’s revamped mountain biking club is emerging and gaining members as the summer season ramps up.
Amanda Hall didn’t have much experience when she first started mountain biking.
“I only owned a department store bike so that I could ride with my kids,” she said. “I was never that into biking.”
But four years ago, she mounted a bike anyway, and soon found herself navigating the rooted and rocky singletrack mountain biking trail in the hills of Addison County, along with a group of guys (because Addison County’s bike scene is as dominated by males as anywhere else) who pushed her forward. Within three months, she started racing.
Even so, she admits, learning wasn’t easy. “My first ride with a really talented mountain biker? I went over the handlebars,” she said. “I was so upset, because I thought I could just get on and ride, and I couldn’t. I realized when I got home that I wasn’t going to let that get to me. I just persevered. It was a lot of work — I had a lot of bruises. But I’m glad that I persevered, because I learned a lot of skills.”
Now, Hall serves on the board of the newly minted Addison County Bike Club, or ACBC, and she hopes to pass her enthusiasm for learning the sport on to other beginners.
As one of seven board members, she’s helping to revive what was formerly called the Middlebury Bike Club, whose membership atrophied after its president relocated to the Mad River Valley last year. This fall, she joined a few other dedicated trail riders who banded together, hoping to excite a new crew of bikers around the county.
Since their inception, the board of ACBC has been hard at work planning trail projects, organizing events and enlisting new members. Club President Eric Berg recruits everyone he can, asking riders he meets at popular spots like Chipman Hill and Battell Woods for their email addresses.
So far, membership has grown from the 20 members who came over from the Middlebury Bike Club to almost 40. As one of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association’s 26 chapters, the main mission of the Addison County club is to build and maintain trails. That time-consuming and expensive task is much easier with a strong corps of riders.
ACBC also hopes to win grants, which will provide money that goes right back into trail building.
“We need members to show that people are committed,” Berg said. “When it comes time to apply for grants, they want to see your membership.”
Though it’s funded though the National Forest Service, not ACBC, Addison County’s first big trail project is already under way. A $40,000, two-part trail will be completed in Moosalamoo National Recreation Area in Goshen by the end of the summer.
One part will consist of a 1.5-mile flow trail — that’s a trail that runs continuously from the top of the mountain to the bottom. The second will be a pump track — a looped trail that features banked turns and lots of bumps that give riders momentum.
A builder for the project will be chosen and announced by Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) in the coming weeks.
“It’s really going to knock everyone’s socks off when it’s done,” Berg said. “It’s going to be pretty nice.”
Once built, Berg hopes the trail will become the center of a network through Moosalamoo, adding to the list of biking trails in Addison County, all of which are open to the public. Trails in Battell Woods and on Chipman Hill are located centrally in Middlebury, and other trails like Oak Ridge, Chandler Ride and Leicester Hollow exist in Moosalamoo, stretching from Route 125 in Middlebury through Ripton, Salisbury, Goshen, Leicester and nearly into Brandon.
Berg says one of his biggest goals is to build more beginner and intermediate trails within Addison County.
“Mountain bike trails evolve by the people who are building them,” he said. “Riders build them at their own level. There are some beginner trails out there, but they’re just too beginner. I’d like to try and develop more of an intermediate or family-style riding.”
Hall has another plan that she hopes will recruit beginners and, by doing so, expand the club’s mostly male demographic: clinics. In August, Hall will hold two beginner’s clinics for women, led by avid local cyclist Shelley Lutz.
“Women might need a little extra boost,” Hall said. “Mountain biking is a male-dominated sport. The men make it look so easy — they’re tearing downhill, and jumping, and falling and getting back up, and that’s scary for some women.”
Instruction will focus on basic skills like climbing, descending and balance. Limited to 15 participants per clinic, Hall hopes to show prospective members that mountain biking isn’t scary, even if at first, you flip over your handlebars.
“The thing that’s great is that we’re going to join together, 15 women, to meet each other and experience this together,” she said.
In addition, starting June 29, Hall will lead women’s group rides every other Thursday at 6 p.m. General group rides (for all genders, ages and riding abilities) will be led by ACBC board members, and are scheduled for Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. and Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. Riders must bring their own gear, but they can rent from places like Frog Hollow Bikes, owned by ACBC Vice President Carl Robinson.
Though group rides and clinics are free, Berg hopes interested riders will pay the $50 annual membership fee, which is handled through the Vermont Mountain Bike Association.
“The VMBA membership goes toward supporting VMBA, which lobbies on our behalf at the state level,” he said. “They have a lot of resources to help us with securing land and working with land owners. They keep half the money — the other half goes right back into the chapter.”
ACBC members get all the perks of a VMBA membership: free day passes at mountain resorts like Sugarbush and Killington, discounts at bike shops like Frog Hollow Bikes, two-for-one pizzas at American Flatbread and $3 pints at Harvest Brewing, and discounts on magazine subscriptions and ski tickets in the winter.
“The VMBA membership pays for itself,” Berg said.
Hall encourages everyone to give it a try — even those who have never pictured themselves cruising down a mountain on two wheels.
“It’s for anybody who wants to get out and be active,” she said. “You don’t have to be fit; you just have to have the willpower to make an effort.”
*This article was first published in the Addison County Independent.