Mountain Biking Texas, a new book by former Austinite Christopher Hess, guides cyclists to the best trails in the Lone Star State. Bikers, like birders, need to have their "life list" of trails they have seen and conquered, or at least glimpsed and attempted, and this guidebook is as good as any wish list of places to visit.
Hess spent the better part of three years traveling from the Red River to the Rio Grande and from the Sabine River to El Paso researching the book. That's a lot of ground to cover even in that amount of time, and he did an admirable job documenting the public trails. "Take a drive down any desert highway or along any road winding through the Hill Country and you will be utterly agog at the endless possibilities for off-road biking," Hess writes in the introduction. Texas has precious little land open to the public and unless you know where to go, finding the right trails for your experience level can be a frustrating experience.
Some landowners like Rocky Hill Ranch near Smithville, Bluff Creek Ranch outside of Warda, X Bar Ranch near Eldorado, Kelly Creek Ranch south of Hunt, and Flat Rock Ranch south of Comfort take advantage of the large contingent of riders in the state and offer exciting trail experiences unique to mountain bikers. Each of the trails in the book are rated from one to five, and although the private parks tend to be on the more difficult end of the scale, not all of them are limited to expert riders only. "Flat Rock Ranch is huge," Hess said from his home in Boise, Idaho. "It seems like you can keep going forever."
Out of the 59 rides in the book, 11 are rated as family-friendly including trails at McKinney Falls State Park, the Good Water Trail at Lake Georgetown, and Somerville Trailway at Lake Somerville. These are great places to warm-up some out-of-shape muscles or to give young legs some experience at the joys of being one with your bike and the trail.
Hess says that all of the trails included in the book were chosen because they are very useable and public. Not surprisingly, some of the best rides in the state are in the state parks. Of the 123 state-owned parks, at least 42 of them have trails open to the bikers. Hess included most of them in the book. Places like the Hill Country State Natural Area make his list of favorite places. "You have the place to yourself on most days," he said, "and it has some of the best swimming holes [off the Pasture Loop]."
Originally from Illinois, Hess moved to South Austin 10 years ago. He started riding BMX bicycles as a youngster and had "crappy" bikes during college. It wasn't until he got his first mountain bike in 1989 that he became a serious biker. Hess has worked a number of jobs in Austin, including working as a bicycle messenger and writing music articles for The Austin Chronicle. Some of his favorite trails are the Austin greenbelts. "There are tons of great rides in the Austin area," he said.
In April of this year, Hess and his new wife moved to Boise where he is working for a health publisher and riding his bicycle every day. "The mountains up here are awesome," he said. "In Texas, you wouldn't be getting out of the parking lot compared to these mountain trails."
Since it's almost Christmas, Hess gave me a list of gift suggestions, besides his book, for the bike riders on your list. He said that every bike rider could use a new road bike or helmet, that a good mini pump is indispensable (as he found out the hard way), that Egg Beater pedals from Crank Brothers are the latest thing, and that once a rider tries bike clothes they'll never go back to cotton and blue jeans. "The reason that bike riding has become so popular is because of the clothes," Hess speculated. "It's the only time grown men get to dress up like superheros -- spandex, goggles, helmet, gloves, shoes -- the whole bit."
Mountain Biking Texas is published by Globe Pequot Press/Falcon Press, $16.95.
602nd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.