Note from the author: COVID-19 cases have begun to surge once again, which obviously makes the timing of a travel guide to Florida a bit inauspicious. While producing this I took several measures to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus, which included no involvement of any additional riders, and basically spending the entire week either on the trails, grabbing takeout, or working in the apartment I rented. The good news is that this guide will be especially useful once things settle and safe travel is an option for all of us. Check it out, make some plans for the future, and stay safe.
THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO RIDING IN
Words, photos, & video by Brice ShirbachPresented by Visit Tallahassee
Whenever I travel to the mountains out west, especially to places above the 8,000 feet line of demarcation, I typically need a couple of days to really feel like myself on the bike. Once I've acclimated, it's game on, but up until that point usually feel a bit off. The same can be said anytime I travel to the deep south in the summer, especially Florida. It obviously has nothing to do with the altitude either, as Florida's highest point is a hair under 350 feet above sea level. It's not the heat, it's the humidity. As a native east coaster, I am very familiar with that refrain, but Florida can lay claim to having the highest relative humidity levels behind only Alaska (go figure) in the United States. While many of us who call the east coast home are pretty familiar with that high dew point life, it's on another level here.
It only takes a day or two to acclimate, and much like adjusting to the mountains, it's amazing how good the absence of discomfort can feel. But the reason for that humidity can be directly attributed to the Gulf of Mexico, where water temps occasionally top 90 degrees Fahrenheit and prevailing winds keep things damp throughout the Sunshine State. While all of that humidity make take a little getting used to, particularly for those coming from drier climates, there are some real benefits that come from it. First, Florida is an ideal winter riding spot as it is exceedingly rare for a freeze thaw cycle to occur, even in those places that are hours from the coast. It's also green year-round, which is quite a respite from the dull grays and browns that dominate winter throughout most of the country. And there's the light show that comes at the end of each day. I arrived in Tallahassee with just enough time to get an hour-long ride in before catching an incredible sunset. Sure, the humidity takes a day or two to get used to on, but it also delivers the kind of oversaturated light show you'd normally need a filter for, so I'll take it.
// Local FlavoursAge:
Wilmington, DE, USAIndustry affiliations:
PEARL iZUMi, Pivot Cycles, Maxxis Tires, Julbo, Shimano, Dialed Health, Stan's NoTubesInstagram: @bricyclesFavorite Ride in Tallahassee:
West Cadillac to East Cadillac
A Bit About the Region
In April of 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon found himself wading in the shallow surf of what is now Florida's Atlantic coastline. He famously explored much of this new territory, and inspired many Spanish expeditions even after his death in 1521. Eventually as the Spanish moved west across the region, they encountered one of the most advanced indigenous civilizations in the southeastern portion of the continent. While the Spanish troops mistakenly called them Apalachee, the indigenous people called themselves the Alachua. The next few centuries would be defined by a Spanish and indigenous cohabitation before the English, aided by Creek Indian allies from the Carolinas, would eventually ruin everything. That violent and bloody site is now a 260-acre subdivision east of Tallahassee called Mission San Miguel, and the indigenous history of Tallahassee is preserved throughout the region through archeological sites and museums as a stark reminder of what once was.
Tallahassee serves as the capital city of Florida, and as such the State Government is the number 1 employer for the city. Florida State University and Florida A&M are the two major universities in town, with the former being one of the largest and most successful collegiate athletic schools in the country. Home football games are massive revenue events for the city as well, and the latter provides numerous cultural celebrations for the black community including the Harambee Festival which kickstarts Black History Month
. Because of the city's legislative role for the state as well as the prominent universities on either side of town, the energy in Tallahassee is constant, with numerous restaurants, bars, concert venues, and a really cool art district, all of which seem to have a ceaselessness about them.
The modest hills and rolling terrain in Northwest Florida serves Tally
well, as there are numerous parks throughout the region, as well as the sprawling Apalachicola National Forest, the largest in the state. The national forest covers 573,521 acres and includes 2,735 acres of water. There are a number of city and county parks as well, all of which have helped Tallahassee lay claim to over 700 miles of trail in the region, which includes both water and land trails. The area geography lends itself to some truly unique outdoor opportunities and the city knows it, which is why they have been making significant investments in the trail infrastructure and outdoor resources in recent years. For mountain bikers in particular the rapid expansion of trails has been impressive, and it's clear that there's a very high ceiling for Tallahassee mountain biking that will be fun to watch come to fruition in the years to come.
Like the rest of the world, Tallahassee is working to mitigate the risk and impact of the global pandemic, and you can stay up to date on the latest CDC instructions regarding COVID-19 to the safest experiences and dining options available to better explore everything Tally has to offer by checking out their dedicated website
Getting to Tallahassee
Tallahassee is an easy city to get to and from. For much of the southeastern United States, driving is the simplest and. most viable means of getting to and from town. The primary highway that serves the region is Interstate 10, which runs east to west. Tallahassee is only 10 minutes from the Georgia state line as well, and is easy enough to navigate while driving in and around the city. Drive times to other cities in the Southeast include: Jacksonville, FL - 2 hours, Atlanta, GA - 4.5 hours, Birmingham, AL - 5 hours, and Charlotte, NC - 7 hours.
Flying into Tallahassee is also an option, with Tallahassee International Airport (TLH) ten miles southwest of downtown. TLH is serviced by American Airlines, Delta, United, and Silver Airways. Daily direct flights are available to Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando and Tampa. Car rentals, shuttles, taxis, and buses are all available to help get you to and from the airport as well.
The Best Trails to Ride in Tallahassee
The area in and around Tallahassee is primed for sweet Florida singletrack. The relative proximity to the Gulf does mean that many of the trail surface is comprised largely of a sandy composition, but there is plenty of clay here as well, and a surprising amount of roots and rock to keep things lively. There are a few different trail networks that surround the city, but most are comprised of just a handful of trails so I'll refrain from breaking down each network specifically and focus on the trails from the sum total. Tallahassee is really working hard to build out an infrastructure for bikes of all types, and it's great to see that they've been deliberate and smart about it. There's an abundance of greenways that enable access to singletrack for mountain bikers from town, and they're certainly making the most of what the terrain is giving them.Key trail - Redbug: Redbug is a 4 mile long loop to the north of town at Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park. It's an interesting space that is shared with numerous baseball and softball fields, but it only takes a minute or two before the dense forest provides a much needed barrier from the crowds allowing you to really feel the immersion of this place. Technical and punchy, it's a really fun loop with a handful of purpose built optional features throughout.
Key trail - Magnolia: Magnolia is a really great trail with a couple of optional offshoots in different sections of the trail. Located in Tom Brown Park, it starts and finishes adjacent to the Velosolutions pumptrack, although it can be picked up at several different points along the trail, including multiple spots along the Goose Pond greenway. There is a great sense of flow throughout Magnolia, and it's punctuated by several nice corner pockets, skinnies, a handful of small jumps, and a really fun wallride.
Key trail - West Cadillac: West Cadillac is a 1 mile point-to-point trail that connects Tom Brown Park to Lafayette Heritage Trail Park. The trail is rockier than most in the area, and the builders seemed to have a good time creating some really fun and challenging features to keep things interesting in both directions.
Key trail - East Cadillac: This is a two mile loop on the shores of Lafayette and Piney Z lakes. It can be ridden in either direction, but I preferred riding it counter clockwise, which takes riders in the proper direction to best enjoy some jumps and drops about 3/4 of a mile in. Features include a wooden whale tale nicknamed "Nessie" by the locals, as well as a pretty cool natural ravine with numerous gap and drop options.
Key trail - Gun Range: Known by locals as "Reach Around", this is a short and directional loop off of the Magnolia trail. It offers up the most creative selection of line options perhaps in all of Tallahassee, with several jumps that can be hit at full speed, as well as some ladder drops, and a bit of natural trail jank towards the end of the loop
Key trail - Munson Hill: Munson Hills is actually comprised of an East and West loop, but they are easily combined for an 8 mile ride through beautiful Apalachicola National Forest. The trails are located on a dry sea bed, which makes for an interesting experience. The soil composition is quite sandy, which is ideal during or immediately after a rain event, which happens fairly often here. You can tack on an additional 10 miles to your ride by throwing in a lap on Twilight Trail.
Tallahassee is definitely a year-round riding location, with summers perhaps seeing the least amount of visitors to the region. Unlike most of Florida, there are 4 distinct season here, though that can vary from year to year. January is typically the coldest month of the year, with average daytime highs in the 60's, with a rare overnight below freezing. Shoulder seasons are quite pleasant, running from March through May, and September through November. Your best bet at staying dry is from November - April, with regular thunderstorms a part of life during summer months.
This is easy. It's Florida, and as impressive as the trails are in Tallahassee, anything more than a short travel trail bike is overkill and frankly will diminish the experience. You could also bring your dirt jumper for some pumptrack action and jump lines.
Local Clubs and Advocates:
The Tallahassee Mountain Bike Association
is 1 of 46 total chapters under the SORBA (Southern Off Road Bicycle Association) umbrella, 6 of which can be found in the Sunshine State. TMBA has proven to be a powerful collective, advocating for trail access and land conservation throughout the region. They have developed strong partnerships with land managers throughout Tallahassee including the City of Tallahassee and Leon County, as well State and Federal governments. TMBA utilize trail maintenance and construction methods taught and developed by IMBA for the majority of their trails.
Accommodations and Food:
Tallahassee is Florida's capital city and is home to two major universities, so yes, there are a number of lodging options in and around town. Given the current circumstances, I would heed CDC instructions
before even considering a trip, but if you are looking for a place to stay Airbnb would be my first suggestion, as there are countless options and aside from primitive camping or van-life, it allows for a convenient means of reducing contact and proximity to others. There are obviously plenty of other options available, and you can check them out here
.Breakfast: Maple Street Biscuits
is a community-centric restaurant that sources local ingredients and makes amazing biscuits.Canopy Road Cafe
offers up a massive breakfast menu, and has been a Tallahassee breakfast institution for over a decade.Smoothie Time
serves tasty smoothies (captain obvious here), as well as all day breakfast items.Lunch:Olean's Cafe
serves up soul food for lunch at an old school counter service diner, and is right across the street from Florida A&M.Mo Betta BBQ
is a barbecue food truck that has become a Tallahassee staple.Dinner:Lemongrass
offers influences from across the continent, especially Vietnam and Thailand, and have created a variety of unique, flavorful, made-to-order dishes including bánh mì and sushi.El Viroleño
specializes in Salvadoran and other Central American cuisine, such as pupusas, tamales, and tacos.Table 23
is situated under a canopy of moss covered oak trees, and offers an impressive menu and drink selection, and has an awesome covered deck and bar for dining in fresh air.
Local Bike Shops:Higher Ground Bicycle Company
: Florida's highest bike shop at 222 feet above sea level and they're right next to the trails!University Cycles of Tallahassee
: Conveniently located near the Florida State campus, these guys are knowledgable and have a solid selection of gear.David's World Cycle
: A chain of northern and central Florida bike shops, these guys are dedicated to their community and are pretty fanatical when it comes to getting people outside.
1. Check out the Murals
. I'm a pretty big believer in the power of art, and I've always felt like murals go largely under appreciated by many. They add so much character and beauty to a town, and allow for you to take a moment to stop and tune out the noise in life for a moment.
2. Head to the Gulf
. Thanks to The Office
, I have spent years assuming that Tallahassee was in fact hours from the Gulf of Mexico, when in reality it's only 45 minutes. The Gulf is a beautiful body of water and it's definitely worth carving out an evening or two for. Catch a sunset at the St. Mark's Lighthouse while you're down there.
3. Treat Your Soul and Your Stomach
. Black-owned businesses are an essential part of the Tallahassee culture, and you owe it to yourself to check some of these businesses out firsthand, especially if you've put some miles in.Tallahassee mountain biking trails