Despite common belief, Florida trails far from flat

USF junior Andrew Fisher kicks up dust on a trail at Balm Boyette Scrub Nature Preserve in Lithia. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Most people wouldn’t view Florida as much of a mountainous state, but when it comes to mountain biking, riders and trail builders find a way to make use of the resources the Sunshine State has to offer.

Despite the notion that Florida is flat, it offers some unique riding options to those who are interested. 

While Florida trails aren’t going to send riders down hundred-foot hills, trail builders make use of what little elevation change there is to build trails that attract riders from across the country.

“Florida is sandier and flatter than most places, but it creates a blank canvas for trail builders,” said Jeff Lenosky, a professional rider for Giant Bicycles who has been riding for over two decades. 

“In a lot of regions, the topography and terrain dictate how a trail can be built. In Florida, the builders can be much more creative.”

Lenosky, a New Jersey native who has ridden trails in Florida for nearly a decade, travels the country doing demonstrations for Giant and rides virtually every type of trail there is.

On his YouTube channel, Lenosky has featured two Florida trails in his series “Trail Boss,” which spotlights different trails across the U.S.

Lenosky’s series has shown the jumps and climbs of  “Gravitron” in the Alafia River State Park trail system and the speed and elevation of “Ridgeline” at Balm Boyette Scrub Nature Preserve in Lithia.

A lot of the local Florida trails are built on old phosphate mines that provide short, but steep elevation change.

The SWAMP Club is one of a handful of organizations that help to maintain the various trail systems around the state.

“The soil has clay and limestone in it, so it is fairly resilient to a lot of tires,” said Ronald Zajac, SWAMP Club President. “The area has also have been around long enough that we have trees shading the trail.”

The Bay area has three main trail systems — Alafia River, Balm Boyette and Loyce Harper Park in Lakeland.

These trails have various difficulty levels ranging from green (easy) to blue (intermediate) to black diamond (expert).

The higher the difficulty, the more obstacles and steeper descents found along the trails.

“The best thing you can do is know where you’re at,” said Andrew Fisher, a junior at USF. “If you’ve never been out before, you should be starting off pretty tame. There’s a lot of stuff you should stop, walk and scope before you roll it because you can’t always see what’s on the other side.”

Fisher has been riding in the Bay area for around eight years and has ridden nearly every trail in the area. He’s also traveled up and down the east coast riding various terrains.

But to him, there’s not much that can compare with what riders find in Florida.

“Florida trails are pretty different than people would expect,” Fisher said. “People come here expecting flat terrain, but we do alright in building some pretty upper-level stuff.”

According to Lenosky, Florida trails began to innovate around five years ago, adding more wooden features to trails to add difficulty without a ton of maintenance.

In addition to the trio of Bay area trail systems, Santos Mountain Bike Park is about a 100 miles north of the USF campus in Ocala.

Santos features a broader set of terrain for riders with dirt jumps, drops and various levels of trails.

“Santos is pretty unique,” Fisher said. “It’s sort of the hotspot for out-of-state riders, and for good reason. It’s got a lot more built-up features than any other place in Florida.”

The other bonus for riders in the area is the ability to ride year-round. With trees covering most trails, the summers aren’t as sweltering as one might assume, but more importantly, there’s no snow.

In other areas such as the mountain bike Mecca of Whistler Bike Park in British Columbia or Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia, the trails turn into ski resorts for the winter and are open during the warmer months.

In Florida, it’s a 12-month season.