Growing up in the Tennessee Valley, most kids learn to ride a bicycle in elementary school, a necessary skill to chase down—in hot pursuit—the next-door neighbor as a pretend police officer and a would-be speeder. A new Huffy with airbrushed flames and an array of reflectors was always top of the Christmas list.
Fast-forward 20 years, and those same kids that raced down the block are now zipping past trees, meandering streams and scenic views on trails once thought of only for hiking.
The sport of mountain biking is hot; some 40 million Americans participate in the sport each year, according to the International Mountain Biking Association. And some of the best terrain in the country can be found in the Tennessee Valley.
TVA partners with mountain bike clubs like the Knoxville and Chattanooga chapters of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association and with local cities and counties to provide some of the best trails in the southeast, including TVA-maintained trails on Raccoon Mountain near Chattanooga and at Loyston Point on Norris Reservoir. Most have multiple trails for different skill levels—even beginners.
Clay Guerry, TVA Natural Resources recreation strategy specialist and an avid mountain biker, recommends making a family outing of it. “Trail builders, as well as bike manufacturers, have bought into the importance of getting kids in the woods with their families at an early age,” he says.
By all means, grab a bike and hit the trails—but before you go, consider these pointers:
Get the Right Bike: If you're a beginner, there’s no need to invest in an expensive bike (and they can cost as much as $12,000), but it is important to get one built for off-road biking. Look for the characteristic chunky frame and thicker, rugged, high-volume tires that can handle rocks and roots.
Fit the Bike to Your Bod: Just as important as the model is the fit. There are three typical frame sizes: small, medium and large. If you’re between 5’4” and 5’10”, consider a medium, which is in the 16- to 18-inch range; if you’re 5’10” to 6’4”, a choose a large, which will typically run between 19 to 21 inches. Let your local bike shop tailor the fit of the seat and handlebars for you to get the smoothest ride and best balance.
Keep Your Head About You: Non-negotiable for every trail rider: Wear a helmet. Uneven ground ups your chances for crashes, so you want to keep your best asset covered. Expect to pay at least $50 for a good one; look for brands such as Giro, Fox, POC, Troy Lee Designs and Uvex. Consider protecting hands and eyes as well.
Ride with a Friend: Riding with friends or bicycling groups makes for good company—and great safety. You’ll have shared experiences and treasured memories if all goes as planned. If not—and accidents do happen—you’ll be in a position to get or give help.
Have a Drink on You: Trail riding is hard, thirsty work. Never let dehydration become an issue. Take water with you; better yet, have your bike fitted with a water bottle holder.
You Do You: Never ride trails you aren’t comfortable on, or push yourself beyond your limits. Start slow and built your experience. And, needless to say, if you’re out with your kids, stay at their level. There is a life lesson here for them: Slow and steady wins the race.
It’s always a good time for fun on the Tennessee Valley’s lands and waters. Not sure where to start? We have you covered! Check out some of the best recreational activities on our reservoirs. While you’re enjoying the lakes, trails, picnic areas and campgrounds, share your own stories and photos on Instagram using #TVAfun.
Get the all the latest news and inside information about recreation on TVA public lands and lakes.
There are many trails on TVA public land available for mountain biking, including 16 trails on Raccoon Mountain alone. Here's a list to help you find one near you; it includes difficulty level and distance:
Honeycomb Trail—difficult—9.3 miles
Nottely Dam Trail—moderate—2.5 miles
Chatuge Dam Trail—easy—1.5 miles
MUSCLE SHOALS TRAILS
—Jogging Trail—easy—3.13 miles
—Rockpile Trail—moderate—2.67 miles
—Waterfall Walk—easy—0.18 miles
—Bicycle Trail—easy—1.48 miles
—Old Railroad Bridge Trail—easy—0.18 miles
—Reservation Road Trail—easy—2.6 miles
RACCOON MOUTAIN TRAILS
—Chunky Freeride—difficult—1 mile
—East Rim—easy—1 mile
—Electric Ave. 1—easy—1.6 miles
—Electric Ave. 2—easy—1.7 miles
—Grindstone Ridge—moderate—1.7 miles
—High Voltage—difficult—3.4 miles
—Laurel Point—moderate—2.6 miles
—Live Wire 1—difficult—1.8 miles
—Live Wire 2—difficult—3.1 miles
—Lower Chunky—difficult—0.8 mile
—River Gorge—moderate—1.5 miles
—Six Flags—difficult—0.5 mile
—Small Intestine—moderate—3 miles
—Switch Yard—easy—1.5 miles
LOYSTON POINT TRAILS
—Loyston Loop Trail—moderate—5.4 miles
—Mill Creek Loop Trail—moderate—7.3 miles
—Point 19 Trail—moderate—1.5 miles
—Clinch Trail—1 mile miles
For more information about these trails, including location and driving directions, visit TVA Trails.