On the right track: Central PA has become the mecca of mountain biking, thanks to activists in the region


Kiosk and bicycle repair station at Derry Street Gate

Like many activities, mountain biking is kind of an all-or-nothing adventure.

If you’re not into it, you might not know much about the activity. But if you’re in it, it’s a sport, it’s a passion, it’s a way of life.

Fortunately, central Pennsylvania is home to a thriving mountain biking subculture.

There are many great bike trails in and around Harrisburg, and the local mountain biking community is supported by SAMBA’s efforts.

SAMBA stands for Susquehanna Area Mountain Bike Association, the local chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association. SAMBA’s stated mission is “to provide information, education, and support to mid-Pennsylvania mountain bikers.”

With some 320 members, SAMBA is very active in Dauphin and the surrounding counties, maintaining and designing cycle paths in the region and creating positive working relationships with land management agencies in the region. But SAMBA supports all mountain biking activities in the region, not just those practiced by its members.

“You will hear people say that mountain biking is the freedom to be outdoors on a bike,” said Nick Loftus, President of SAMBA. “For me, it’s a connection with the outdoors, combining riding and being outdoors. Some will tell you it’s an adrenaline rush. For me, it’s therapy, relaxation and recreation.

With that freedom comes the cost of maintaining the region’s mountain bike trails.

SAMBA designed, built or currently maintains the Parkway trail system, located minutes from downtown Harrisburg, as well as many others in Lancaster and Lebanon counties. In all, that’s 70 miles of clearing fallen trees, pruning brush and, sometimes, diversion.

“The goal for us is to build the trails correctly in the first place, so that we don’t have to do too much maintenance,” Loftus said. “These trails have their own life. It is an amazing place. Sometimes a tree falls, and we love it. We can either clean the tree or keep it as it is and get over it. It’s just the nature of the beast.

Mountain bikers are a special breed, and so is their equipment. With big tires, improved suspension, and high clearance, mountain bikes are built to tackle the rough terrain that riders not only encounter, but crave. Helmets are highly recommended.

“We ride on natural surface trails, with roots and rocks,” said Loftus, a 50-year-old Hershey resident. “Our bikes must be built for this purpose. “

The low

Originally formed as a club, SAMBA was founded in 2012 as an extension of the International Mountain Biking Association. As a member of this global community, SAMBA receives significant support from the parent association to advance the local mountain biking community.

“We are advocating for more off-road cycling opportunities in our area,” said Loftus. “We are trying to find opportunities for people to get out and cycle. “

For its members, SAMBA offers a handful of sponsored group events throughout the year, such as group walks, overnight camping, barbecues, seminars, and fundraisers. But perhaps, more importantly, SAMBA provides the ability to connect like-minded runners.

“Both have their merits,” said Loftus, of the perks of riding individually or with friends. “When you go alone, you can clear your head. It is the time of solitude. But it’s also a lot of fun to hit trails with runners of the same level. There are big groups coming out.

The physical and aerobic benefits of mountain biking cannot be overstated. While enjoying nature on the back of a mountain bike, exercise sort of happens.

“Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise you can do,” Loftus said. “You have to exercise somewhere. For me, I can’t stand being on a treadmill or an elliptical trainer. I must be there.

He said he had noticed an increased interest in the sport in recent years. SAMBA is both partly responsible for this increased interest and there to support it.

“It’s amazing how many people are interested in mountain biking these days,” Loftus said. “We have been on this trajectory for years. We see children riding. We see fathers and sons on horseback. It’s the old saying, “If you build it, they’ll come.” If the trails are close to the house, they will be used. We really saw it in the Harrisburg area.

There is an exploratory and adventurous element associated with mountain biking. Where you and I see trees, rocks, and mountains, Loftus and SAMBA see potential leads.

“Prior to the founding of SAMBA, bikers lost access to playgrounds in the state of Pennsylvania,” Loftus said. “At that time there were very few trails for mountain bikers. We have created many equestrian trails that exist now and are proud of them. But we continue to advocate for better access to this area. “

All it takes is some mountain biking experience. It’s all downhill after that.

For more information on the Susquehanna Area Mountain Bike Association (SAMBA), visit www.sambabiker.com.

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