Inexpensive hotels are abundant in Athens, but camping is scarce. Check out Fort Yargo State Park (www.gastateparks.org) a half an hour west of town. For killer pizza, check out Transmetropolitan in the heart of downtown (706-613-8773). For vegetarian food to write home about, visit The Grit, a staple of Athens cuisine (www.thegrit.com). To sample Athens’ music scene, try to catch a show at one of the two pillars of music, the 40 Watt (www.40watt.com.) or the Georgia Theatre (www.georgiatheatre.com). And no bike pilgrimage to Athens would be complete without a stop at Jittery Joes (www.jitteryjoes.com) for coffee and two-wheel camaraderie. The coffee shop sponsors a stellar pro race team stacked with local bikers who have speed (and coffee) running through their veins. Try the Crackaccino (four shots of espresso) and then tackle the Athens Crit course on your own.
If Athens, Georgia is famous for one thing, it’s the music scene. The college town, home to the massive University of Georgia, has produced bands as diverse as Widespread Panic, REM, and more recently, the Whigs. If the town is famous for another thing, it’s the even more vibrant bar scene. But the party town is also a little-known haven for cyclists drawn to the area not just for the drink specials and music venues, but for the road routes through rolling farm country, stellar off-road trail systems, and biker-friendly atmosphere.
5 ADVENTURES ON THE SADDLE
HERITAGE OCONEE PARK
Roughly eight miles of stacked loops through a dense pine forest. Red clay and pine straw dominate the trail surface, while steep, short elevation changes keep you on your toes. Forget the long climbs and descents you’re used to: this system keeps you in constant transition. Stick to the red and orange blazed trails for the best ride.
ROAD RIDE NIRVANA
The road riding around Athens has been described as epic. The roads are straight, endless, and rolling as they cruise through farm country. You could easily put a 30-mile ride together simply by pedaling around a single farm. Check out the Winter Bike League for route maps and directions.
It’s five miles of tight, twisting singletrack with more turns than your intestinal track on a privately owned farm. The landowners built the trail system to be shared by equestrians and mountain bikers, so only ride on odd numbered days. And be prepared to go slow. The climbing is minimal, but the switchbacks are frequent and the trees and roots are grabby.
DIRTY SPOKES MOUNTAIN BIKE RACE SERIES
Local race promoters put on a series of six- and 12-hour mountain bike races on the trail systems surrounding Athens. One loop around Heritage Park or the Conyers Horse Park may not be too bad, but what about ten loops?
ATHENS TWILIGHT CRITERIUM
It’s billed as the fastest hour in professional cycling. Pros stick to their big chain ring throughout this one-kilometer course, rarely braking as they corner around downtown Athens. It was the first pro night race in the U.S. and it’s still the favorite. 150 cyclists battle it out during the main event while thousands watch. April 25-26. www.athenstwilight.com. Feel free to test your personal land speed records on the course during the other 363 days of the year.
Athens has miles upon miles of illegal singletrack that meanders through the farms and forests surrounding downtown, but don’t bother asking for directions.
“You need to know the secret handshake to get info on the illegal trail systems,” says Jeremy Edge, service manager at Hub Bikes. Local trail groups spend hours maintaining the sensitive trails and keeping landowners happy. They don’t want to ruin the goodwill by letting any yahoo on two tires in on their secret stash. Short of moving to Athens and enrolling in UGA, how can you sample the forbidden fruit? “Just meet up with one of our group rides,” Edge says. “We’ll take you for a ride, as long as you promise not to tell.”
2 ADVENTURES OFF THE SADDLE
PADDLE THE BROAD
The Broad is a wide, flat river as it passes by Athens, but half an hour north, there’s a popular 6.5-mile section chock full of class II ledges and shoals including “The Waterfall,” a five-foot drop that worries and delights beginner boaters.
It’s practically the official sport of college, and it’s held in high regard at UGA. Check out the 23-hole course at Sandy Creek Park. The first nine are classic holes with wide open fairways, but once you hit hole number 13, you’ll be digging your discs out of creek beds and dense pine forests.