Biking for beginners in Hot Springs
Word of the day: Neophyte
1. A new convert.
3. Tyro, beginner
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Neophyte. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved June 15, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neophyte
In recent years Hot Springs has jumped on the biking bandwagon with the development of the Northwoods Trails system, the Greenway and biking lanes on the roadways. Now there are even bike races held throughout the year, which serves as a huge tourist draw. But for the locals who haven’t yet discovered the recreation blowing up in their backyard, this is a “no drop ride*” and it’s not too late to gear up and hop on a bike — even if it’s been years.
Hot Springs Bicycle Touring Company Owner Coleman Gocio said beginner biking starts with removing the intimidation behind the concept, as well as removing the financial hurdles. Both are easy to do.
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"I feel like racing and bike racing in general is more intimidating for most people, and that’s the thing I want to avoid the most," Gocio said. "And then also with how I’ve tried to run my shop as well, just making cycling a inclusive sport for everybody, I think that’s really important to grow the sport, to grow the community around it, but also to make it a success."
Gocio, who opened the Touring Company in September 2019, shared the four benefits he gets from biking, which are that it provides fun, exercise, stress relief and exploration.
"Every time I get on a bike, there’s a time where I’m like, 'I feel like I’m 10 again.' Always," he said. "There’s always that moment where I’m just like 'Wee!'
"It’s the lowest impact and aerobic exercised you can do. Not to talk garbage on running, but it beats up your knees, where cycling is a lot nicer to your body. For me, it’s definitely a great stress reliever. I don’t know there’s something cathartic about exercise like that for me. And exploring: ... you can go and find these small places because you’re going a lot slower than you are in a car, and you are just more apt to stop, and explore."
Northwoods Trails Coordinator Traci Berry said they see new local faces all the time, and there is ample opportunity and space to help get them started. In the Northwoods specifically, trails are marked by color on their difficulty levels. Green is easy, blue is intermediate and black is advanced. For beginners, she suggests the green trails off of the Cedar Glades Park Trailhead at 461 Wildcat Road.
The Northwoods "Full Moon Group Rides" held once a month are also considered beginner friendly. Ride information is posted to the Northwoods' Facebook page, @NorthwoodsTrailsHotSprings.
"These are no drop rides, meaning no biker gets left behind. We stop frequently during the rides to make sure no one gets too far left behind, and if we have enough, we try to do multiple-level rides," Berry said.
The local IMBA chapter, Trail Advocacy Coalition of the Ouachitas (TACO), also started a Summer Fun series of four races this year.
"Basically what the title says is it’s a fun series, so it’s a little less intimidating," Berry said. "It’s been really cool to see the new faces that have come out for them, because, again, it’s a little bit more laid back, it’s a little less intimidating. It’s, I think, more inviting to people who may be a beginner."
Gocio has hopes of starting his own beginner friendly, inclusive bike race within the year.
"It’s going to be a race that incorporates road, gravel and single track," he said. "It’s going to be really accessible for everybody; so a race that’s more of a party, and not so much a race, that’s the plan. ... I want it to be something anyone can do on a cheap old mountain bike, or something like that."
Biking growth seen in Hot Springs
Berry said since opening the Northwoods in November 2018, its community has grown, and by May 2020 it had seen at least one visitor from all 50 states.
"We’ve had visitors from all 50 states come to our trails, as well as riders and hikers from Canada, from Mexico and across the pond," she said. "And of course our daily usage continues to be high; it really hasn’t slown down a lot, even now that we’re kind of moving hopefully out of the pandemic. So we stay super busy out there."
Berry said she has also seen an increase in women and kids riding.
"It’s not just you’re typical guy that you’re seeing out there on the trails; we’re starting to see a lot more kids and women get involved in the sport," she said.
Gocio said he has seen growth in both mountain biking, but also in the downtown area.
"Definitely the mountain biking because they (the Northwoods) keep adding trails," he said. "They're doing a really great job with maintaining them, building them (and) promoting them.
"The other thing, I think, that's where I see it changing and is definitely a lot more people on bikes downtown for sure, and seeing just, you know, all these cars with out of state plates with fancy mountain bikes on them, you didn't see that five years ago at all."
*“No drop ride” means no biker gets left behind!