While increasing in popularity, mountain biking has gotten a somewhat-undeserved bad rap in recent years as an “extreme sport.” Sure, the thrills and spills are there to be had, if you want to engage in competitions that emphasize tight turns and sudden elevation changes, stomach-dropping moguls, gravel-filled gullies, fallen trees and other horrible trail conditions. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The mid-Hudson region offers plenty of off-road destinations that make an outing on a mountain or hybrid bike a pure (and relatively safe) pleasure – and there are no trails offering more glorious vistas than those to be found in the Gunks.
If you’ve been intimidated up to now by the idea of touring those precipitous Shawangunk Conglomerate clifftops on two wheels, this Saturday provides the perfect opportunity to give it a try, with guidance from local folks who know the sport and the venue best: members of the Gunks Mountain Bike Association (GUMBA) and Fats in the Cats. It’s the fifth annual Minnewaska Mountain Bike Festival, featuring group rides for all levels of difficulty on more than 30 miles of Minnewaska State Park Preserve carriageways all day long.
Clinics will be offered on such useful topics as trailside bike maintenance and repair, custom bike and helmet fitting, proper riding technique and more. A customized skills course will be available and supervised at all times during the Festival for anyone interested in participating. Several local bike vendors will bring bicycles for people to test-ride, and select bicycle merchandise will be on display. Local eateries will provide various tasty snacks for sampling.
The Mountain Bike Festival runs from 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., but the Park opens at 9 a.m., and early arrival is strongly recommended for the best parking, since it often fills to capacity early in the day – especially if the weather is great. (If it’s terrible, the Festival will be rescheduled to Sunday, May 22.) Once the upper parking lots at Lake Minnewaska fill up, you can still park down below at the Awosting lot just off Route 44/55, but from there it’s a long, steep hump uphill to get to the starting points for the various events.
Although it is quite possible to tour safely and under control on much of the Park property, sensible precautions must of course be taken in a place whose scenic charms include abrupt dropoffs and rough terrain. So please don’t ride without your own safety helmet, and do wear appropriate clothing and footwear. And don’t forget to stay hydrated! A parent or guardian over the age of 18 years old must accompany children wishing to participate in the program.
Unless you have an Empire Passport sticker on your car, it costs $8 to park at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, whose main entrance is located on Route 44/55 about ten miles west of New Paltz. For more information about the Festival, please call the Park Preserve Office at (845) 255-0752, or visit www.GUMBA.org.