Mississippi Mountain Biking
By Joey Lee
Photos by Abe Draper
Remember that feeling you had when you first rode a two-wheeler without training wheels? How much fun it was to pop a wheelie, race through puddles, jump curbs and skid on the dirt? I bet you even made ramps out of found objects and caught some major air, if only in your mind. You want that feeling back? It’s easier than you think. Grab a mountain bike and head out to one of Mississippi’s many off-road bike trails.
Mountain biking has been one of the most rapidly growing sports in the country for many years now. And as more people get mountain bikes, more trails emerge. Not too long ago Mississippi only had a handful of trails. Today, no matter where you live in the state, you’re not very far from some excellent off-road adventures.
I recently conducted an incredibly un-scientific poll to discover some of the best trails in the state. The results, as you can probably imagine, were geographically biased. The people on the Coast preferred Bethel, the people in central Mississippi liked the Ridgeland trails, the people up north liked the Clear Creek trails in Oxford, and so on. But the trails mentioned most often are as follows:
• Clear Creek in Oxford
• The Nox just north of Louisville
• Tuffburg in Hattiesburg
• Mt. Zion in Brookhaven
• Clear Springs in Bude
• Bonita Lakes in Meridian
• Butts Park in Jackson
• Bethel Trails in Biloxi
• Elvis Presley Park Trails in Tupelo
• Ridgeland Trails in Ridgeland
Each set of trails has something unique that people find intriguing, making it an individual preference. One thing that is common among all the mountain bikers I’ve talked to is the importance of “flow” to a set of trails. Unfortunately, the definition of “flow” is as varied as the people who ride.
“Flow, fast singletrack, flow, good down hills, flow, technical sections, flow, berms and jumps,” said Shane Easterling of Brookhaven when asked what makes a good trail. “For more examples of flow, see Mt Zion, Ridgeland and Clear Creek Trails, all have great flow!”
What I’ve determined is that if a trail has good flow, you don’t have to put a whole lot of thought into riding it. Good flow offers smooth corners and jumps, and obstacles are spaced to allow you to get in a good rhythm. The various sections of a course need to link up well and everything should feel natural and should be easy to follow. One rider I talked to said, “You can tell when a trail is flowy because the whole time you’re riding it, you have a huge grin on your face!”
Variety is another thing riders look for. They like to see a lot of different kinds of terrain, and most of our trails in Mississippi have good variety offering everything from tough climbs to fast downhills and flat sections to technical singletrack.
“A variety of terrain makes for good mountain biking,” said Jeremy Polk, owner of Revolution Mobile Bike Service. “Flat isn’t as much fun as going downhill at 30 miles per hour, rewarding you for going up a hill. It puts a smile on your face every time.”
Trails made specifically for mountain biking are another plus in people’s criteria for the best places to ride. “What I look for in a trail is one specifically planned and designed with mountain biking in mind,” said Brent Futrell of Biloxi. “With mountain biking we like a flowing [there’s that word again] trail without hard stops and starts. We’d prefer it not be chewed up with a lot of loose sand and dirt and with good drainage so it’s not super muddy. Tight, narrow, twisty technical features like logs, rocks, trees and water crossings are always enjoyed.”
“A trail has to have a little bit of everything,” said Mark Murphy of Biloxi. “I like more technical trails, I’m not a very good climber but I can ride the flats and downhills well.”
Mountain bikers prefer dirt over the paved roads of the state for a variety of reasons. Jeremy says, “It makes you feel like a kid again, it takes skill, takes good conditioning, it’s a full body workout and trees don’t try to hit you like cars do.”
In just a few years, Mississippi has gone from having only a small handful to well more than a dozen good mountain bike trails. If you’re looking for a full-body workout that will have you feeling like a kid again, get your bike and head to one of these trails, and get ready to have a smile on your face on the downhills.
For more information about mountain biking in Mississippi, visit msmtb.org.