Arts, entertainment, music, and mountain biking?! Austin is well-known for the first three, but it is also a great destination for riders of all abilities. This multicultural city offers riders great trails, great food, and great fun.
To get the lowdown on what makes Austin worth riding, I reached out to the Austin Ridge Riders. Greg Stevens, the Special Events Program Director for the club provided me with some great information on Austin’s riding scene.
Why ride Austin?
According to Stevens, Austin’s large riding scene and year-round riding weather make it a must-visit for riders. Additionally, Austin has a wide variety of trails. “It’s not considered hilly when compared to actual mountains, but many of the trails do involve climbing, especially technical climbing.” And then there are the rocks. “Central Texas trails are known to be exceptionally rocky, and they therefore appeal to riders who like more technical trails. Not every trail is rocky, but there is no shortage of them. It’s often said that if you can ride the tech in Austin, then you can ride just about anywhere.”
Stevens said that many riders who visit Austin aren’t aware that the trails there are so technical, but there are also trails suited for riders who enjoy flow. “Using the word flow would only describe a bit of Austin’s trails. Areas on the south side and at Walnut Creek would be two examples of more flowy trail systems. But even on technical trails, every trail isn’t constant, relentless tech. You do sometimes get a break from the gnar on those trails. Just be aware that you will be surprised by what we call a rock garden, as opposed to what you think a rock garden is. We have entire trails that are rock gardens!”
Stevens notes there are several hundred miles of trail in the immediate metro area. “In the South Austin Trail Network alone, there are 130 miles of singletrack, most of which isn’t technical. Just fast and fun riding.” Austin’s variety of trails is incredible too. “All the trail systems offer great riding in similar, but also very different ways. If you want hardcore technical trails, we have those. If you want more flowy, fun, and fast trails, we have those too. And since it’s Texas, it’s big. There’s a lot to choose from.”
It’s customary for local riders to show off the trails to visitors. If you let the club know you are coming in advance, Stevens says they will gladly show you around. “The riding community is very open and friendly, and locals love to show off our trails.”
When to visit
Central Texas gets pretty hot in August, so for some, it’s not the best time to visit. “If you are sensitive to heat, you might want to plan your visit outside the months of August and September, but if the heat doesn’t bother you, come on over in the summer.”
Austin has mild winters. Riding might slow down on colder days when the temperature dips close to freezing, but it never really stops. Stevens noted that it gets dark around 6PM in the wintertime, so night riding is very popular then.
Stevens pointed out that Austin’s trails are very sensitive to rain. “Austin is on a geologic division where the west of Austin is hilly and super rocky, with minimal soil and the east of Austin is a mix of hills and flat with way more clay and topsoil. The center part of Austin is a strange mix of both. Riders who visit should pay close attention to the condition of the trails. We don’t have a lot of topsoil, so we discourage anyone from riding when it rains to protect the trails from damage. Additionally, the rockier trails can get pretty spicy and even dangerous when wet.” Visiting riders should check out the Austin Ridge Riders’ website and social media pages for the latest information on trail conditions and closures.
Must-ride trails for advanced, intermediate, and beginner riders
For advanced riders, Stevens recommends Goodwater Loop. It is a 26-mile IMBA Epic trail around Lake Georgetown, 45 minutes north of downtown Austin. According to Stevens, most of it is “unforgiving gnar, so be ready if you’re going to attempt a full lap.” In addition, the Double Down, Rim, and Gnargasm trails at Brushy Creek will satisfy the most skilled riders, as will the trails at Barton Creek Greenbelt. These trails are all located within the metro area of Austin.
For intermediate riders, Stevens suggests they visit the Upper and Lower Picnic trails and the Bob Ross trail at Brushy Creek, Windy Loop, Tangle of Trails, and Endo Valley at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park; and the Maxwell Slaughter Creek Preserve.
Beginner riders can have fun on the Peddler’s Pass trail at Brushy Creek, the Point Six and Inner Log Loop Trails at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, and the South Austin Trail Network.
After the ride
Stevens notes Austin has a thriving food scene with lots of great places to eat. “Austin has a few million taco joints, so you’ll have to have some tacos when you visit.” But there are a variety of other restaurants as well. “From all manner of international food to good old Texas home cookin’ and legendary Texas BBQ, you’ll be well fed. We’ll make sure of that.”
For riders who join the Crank ‘n Drank South Austin Tuesday night rides, Torchy’s Tacos is the place to eat after the ride. On Austin’s North Side, the 4th Tap Brewing Co-Op is the destination for riders who participate in the Thursday Night Walnut rides. Additionally, Stevens recommends Oskar Blues brewery, but he says that any of Austin’s brewpubs are great. “Riders here love their craft beers and there are lots of choices for them.”
Austin also offers other great activities. “Austin is situated near Lake Travis, which is a really beautiful part of Texas. Lots of boating and water recreational activities take place there.” Visitors can also enjoy exploring the area on foot. “Being the gateway to the hill country, there are lots of places to get those hiking boots on and get out on a beautiful hike. You’ll have plenty of choices in and around the city.” Stevens suggests those who enjoy hiking make a trip to Enchanted Rock in Fredericksburg, a 1.5-hour drive west of Austin, which is the largest granite dome of its kind in the United States.
Of course, Austin proclaims to be the Live Music Capital of the World, with a variety of live music every night of the week. Austin is also the home of the South by Southwest Music Festival, held every spring, which draws all kinds of visitors to the city for the huge, international event. Riders might want to verify the dates of the festival if they are planning a trip there in the springtime to avoid crowds and higher lodging prices.
If racing is your thing, Austin has some annual events that might pique your interest. Every November, Austin hosts the Dragonslayer race, a three-lap event at Goodwater Loop that includes some extra miles beyond the trail itself, for a total of 90 miles. Stevens says it’s one of the most challenging endurance races anywhere, and draws riders from all over the place.
About the Austin Ridge Riders
The Austin Ridge Riders club was formed in 1987 and has been building and maintaining trails in and around Austin ever since. According to Stevens, the club “has always tried to be the bridge between various groups and styles of riding. Some of our members race, some never race. Some members are dirt jumpers, others never let their tires leave the dirt. We are overly inclusive of all skill levels.”
Stevens said the club is also “deeply involved with many trail building projects in the area, and have all the tools and resources to help local builders cut killer trails.” He noted that the club has “all the behind-the-scenes conversations” to get approval from local authorities for building new trails.
For more information on Austin mountain biking, see the Ridge Riders website.