Saturday, August 22, 2015

Biking Ocala, Florida's, Santos Bike Trails

The Ocala Mountain Bike Association built and maintains the Santos Trails on the outskirts of Ocala, Florida, located on 80th just off Highway 441. A spacious parking area (photo below only shows 10% of its size), bike practice area, and even bike wash rack with hose greet you as you arrive, along with the map below, duplicates of which are found at other areas within the maze of trails. Maps are also online here. This area abuts the Ocala National Forest and it also offers equestrian trails, a horse-drawn wagon trail, and a section of the 1300 mile long National Scenic Florida Trail.

The yellow trails are the easiest, blue moderate, and red the most technical and strenuous. The trails actually continue off this map shown below. I crossed two streets and wound up with rides of 13 and 15 miles on my rides the 7 or 8 times I've biked here while vacationing in Florida. The Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway trail runs through here as part of its 110 miles from the Gulf to the St. Johns River. Just west of Santos Trailhead is the Land Bridge that takes the trail and wildlife safely across I-75.

One of my rides was on a Sunday and the parking lot contained many vehicles, but the trail system is so vast I encountered other bikers only a handful of times, and fewer as I got farther from the main trailhead. My second ride was on a Friday and I seemingly had the whole complex to myself. The red and blue level trails are obvious, but the yellow trails are a bit indistinct in this photo, so look closely. The orange trail is the Florida Trail. The purple is the equestrian/wagon trail.

The moguls is one section of the practice or warm-up course at the parking area with a variety of obstacles to test your skill.

The singletrack trails run through beautiful pine and oak forest, but straightaways such as this are rare as curves predominate and keep you on your toes.

This post below has directional signs for all three of the trail ratings. Yellow trails (as Pine Tree) are rated easiest, but can still be twisty and run over roots and rocks. Blue (like Bunny) are moderate and involve more technical riding with more ups and downs, tight turns, and rougher trail tread. The most challenging are the red (as John Brown) and take you up and down longer and higher inclines and much rougher terrain and tread conditions. I ride the yellow and blue trails and occasionally a section of a red trail to get to the next trail I want.

This was one of numerous tight squeezes on yellow trails as the trail takes you between trees, and since the trails are not one way, you must always be on the watch for oncoming bikers and not over-ride your sight lines. I've biked trails all over the country, and this trail system is now #1 on my personal list of best mountain bike venue.

Nothing beats spending an hour or two, basically alone in the beautiful forest, peddling along with your only care being to not hit a tree or stump or root or rock in the trail.

While much of the forest is dense pine, this is Florida and suddenly you'll find yourself in a scrub ecosystem with palmettos and other shorter vegetation, and though it is Florida, you do come across rare minor ups and downs at times.

For the more hearty riders, the Vortex Freeride area is available.

Back in the forest a few miles from Santos Trailhead is this fenced off "Freeride Area" for advanced riders, the hard core mountain bikers. In order to get past the fence, you have to ride this raised ramp over the fence. I seem to recall that a few years ago it was twice as high. Signs warn of possible death and severe injury on some of the features in this area, and the area strongly suggests the use of face mask and pads in addition to helmet. The trails here are color coded black diamond and double black diamond. I bike over the ramp and through the area just to scope it out each year when I bike here. I've never hit the place when it was being used, but I have watched YouTube videos showing what these talented and bold bikers can accomplish here. Maybe if I wasn't 70 years old.......

This is actually a jump from the cliff onto the yellow dirt mound. There are several of these around.

The next two photos show some of the other obstacles available in Vortex.

This isn't very dangerous if you have good bike control and it was particularly fun. I did it several times, but since I was alone, I have no photos of doing it.

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