Our series of articles about getting outside in the Charlotte area to be active on the Carolina Thread Trail network and Catawba River is presented in partnership with local orthopedic-care provider OrthoCarolina.
The Carolinas are home to some of the best mountain biking opportunities on the East Coast, with a ton of paths located within an hour of Charlotte thanks to a growing network of trails and greenways known as the Carolina Thread Trail.
Approximately 300 miles of Thread Trail are currently open to the public with more under development, giving trail users lots of options to explore. Mountain bikers especially, whether beginner, intermediate or expert, will find a wide variety of routes where they can both hone their skills and challenge themselves.
To help you find new ways to get outside and be active in the Charlotte area, we’ve put together a guide to some of the best mountain-biking trails on the Carolina Thread Trail based on input from trail experts.
We’ve also reached out to the team over at The Spoke Easy in Elizabeth to recommend mountain bikes for each type of rider and budget, along with winter riding gear you can purchase at the shop. Hop on a mountain bike and experience the Carolina Thread Trail.
RULES OF THE TRAIL
Hikers and bikers of all skill levels enjoy the Carolina Thread Trail year-round, so it’s important for everyone’s safety that mountain bike riders follow trail etiquette when sharing the path with slower moving users.
For starters, Carolina Thread Trail Director Bret Baronak said mountain bikers should yield to hikers, although they don’t always follow this rule, so hikers should be aware of that. Bikers should also not wear headphones while riding on the trail so they can hear people near them, and should vocalize or ring a bell while slowing down as they are approaching another person.
Baronak said trail users should be cognizant of their surroundings and communicate with each other without startling one another.
“We want the trails to be places that are friendly and where people are always happy and enjoying themselves and getting out and having that experience in nature, so you don’t need sort of contentious relationships between the trail users,” Baronak said.
Trailheads: 103 Sacco St., Belmont, NC and 700 Eagle Road, Belmont, NC
Trail distance: 1.2 miles
About the trail: Rocky Branch Trail is a wide and non-technical trail, crushed concrete trail that’s part of the 55-acre Rocky Branch Park in Belmont, about 15 miles west of Charlotte. The trail weaves through the middle of the park, covered by the tree canopy, and provides access to a network of mountain biking trails within the park. Riders will encounter many curves and several bridges that Baronak called “destinations themselves.”
Trail start: 6900 S. New Hope Road, Belmont, NC
Trail distance: 2.6 miles
About the trail: Seven Oaks Preserve Trail meanders along the shoreline of Lake Wylie and is located on 78 acres of land preserved and managed by the Catawba Lands Conservancy. This is a non-technical, natural surface trail without a lot of roots and rocks, making it enjoyable for riders of all skill levels. It connects to trails at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, so it’s heavily used by hikers. Riders should take extra caution.
Trail start: 198 Concord Road, Gaffney, SC
Trail distance: 6.7 miles round trip
About the trail: Overmountain Victory Trail encircles Lake Whelchel, about an hour west of Charlotte and just over the South Carolina border. The trail is part of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail that traces the route used by patriot militia during the Kings Mountain campaign of 1780. It’s smooth with a few bridges and not overly technical, though some steep uphills and downhills offer a challenge for bikers. Most of the trail is in the woods, except for one section that passes through open fields.
MORE TRAILS FOR BEGINNERS
MOUNTAIN BIKING WINTER RIDING
Now that the colder weather is here, that doesn’t mean an end to mountain biking, but there are some important considerations to take when riding in winter.
What to wear: Ignore the impulse to put on thick, warm garments and instead layer breathable fabrics to keep the skin as dry as possible: a long-sleeve thermal base layer; a technical snug-fitting softshell; and maybe a packable windproof hardshell for the descents or an unexpected change in conditions. Wear gloves like the Bellweather Coldfront Thermals or GORE WINDSTOPPER Thermo gloves, and winter riding shoes like Shimano SH-MW701 or shoe covers like Lizard Skins Dry-Fiant insulated booties.
Prepare your bike: Tires with a more aggressive tread pattern that are able to provide extra grip and clear mud more effectively are a good idea in the winter. If it’s snowy, try reducing the tire pressure by a few PSI to increase grip and put up a front mudguard like the MSW Splash Pad Fender if you’re expecting a particularly muddy ride.
After you ride: Wash your mountain bike with a bucket of warm water, a sponge and a brush. Don’t forget to dry it well and lubricate all moving parts with specific products, such as wet lube on the chain and lithium grease on headset and bottom bracket. Finish Line and Dumonde Tech are two brands found at The Spoke Easy bike shop in Elizabeth.
Batch The Mountain Bike – Beginner
Wheel size: 27.5 inches
What the experts say: “This is a great entry level bike for the greenways, parks and mountain bike trails,” said Dread Fiyah, manager of The Spoke Easy. “At this price, you get an aluminum frame, suspension fork and Shimano gearing. This is the perfect bike for getting your feet wet in the mountain-biking world.”
Surly Karate Monkey – Beginner/Intermediate
Wheel size: 29 inches or 27.5+ inches
Material: Chromoly steel
What the experts say: “The Surly Karate Monkey is one of my all-time favorite mountain bikes to ride. It promises a resilient and lively ride on all sorts of gnarly terrain,” said Fiyah. “Described by Surly as a canvas for whatever dirty masterpiece your brain might cook up, it can be adapted in myriad ways and will roll happily on either 29er or 27.5+ wheels. So, if looking for a bike to slay the trails on the weekend and will get you around town equally as well during the week, this is the bike for you.”
Transition Scout Alloy – Intermediate/Advanced
Wheel size: 27.5 inches
Transition Sentinel Alloy – Intermediate/Advanced
Wheel size: 29 inches
What the experts say: “The budget-friendly aluminum Sentinel and Scout are a blast to ride and keep the same clean look and frame design of the carbon versions, with the same geo and character that has built their reputation,” said Fiyah. “These bikes are nimble and fun, great on the climbs, stable in the air and rides like it is on rails on the descents. These bikes are ready to take anything you put in front of them. We have a couple race team members that ride these bikes and they love how they handle the North Carolina mountain-bike trails.”
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