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MOUNTAIN BIKING CLUB LETS THE AIR OUT OF STEREOTYPES

Just as most SUVs never leave the pavement, the bulk of the "mountain bikes" sold seldom venture into the woods.

These fat-tired wonders can take an intrepid venturer through field, forest and stream away from autos and ever-more-crowded bicycle paths. And they are useful (and quiet) for preseason scouting for turkey or deer.

And there is a locally active group, the Western New York Mountain Biking Association, that has mapped, built and maintains a number of off-road cycling trails and is hoping to lend its expertise and sweat equity to do more -- if public agencies will let them.

"We got started a dozen years ago, just when interest in mountain biking began to peak," said Jon Sundquist, WNYMBA president. "I think a lot of us got into mountain biking the way I did. I am a cross-country skier and this seemed a logical way to keep in shape during the summer."

Like cross-country skiing, mountain biking requires more rhythm than force. Just as a skier -- when really in the zone -- seems to swing along in perfect, coordinated rhythm, so does a good off-road cyclist move when riding a single-track through the woods.

"I can't describe it, but it is really like dancing with the trail," Sundquist said. "People start having trouble when they fight with the trail. You have to be fluid, just like skiing."

As a ski-orienteer (following map and compass while skiing part speed over an orienteering course) Sundquist also has a real love of maps and mapping and the club he helped found quickly realized that if they were going to enjoy the forests with others they had better learn about making trails, mapping them -- and sticking to them.

"Ours is not a social club -- we don't go on big group rides like the road-riding clubs do," Sundquist said, "but we do have monthly meetings and we are all about access: making and maintaining trails in cooperation with public agencies -- most notably the Department of Environmental Conservation -- and teaching riders how to ride without stirring things up."

The image of the mountain biker -- reinforced by a lot of TV ads for off-road cars and trucks -- is one of a mud-covered madman who loves to churn the earth with his gonzo passage.

"I'm sure none of us minds a little dirt, but frankly we really want the trails to be dry and hard -- better riding," Sundquist said. And his group has built some nice trails, mostly around Ellicottville, as well as maintaining trails in Allegany State Park where the annual Raccoon rally -- the state's biggest mountain bike event -- is staged every year in late June.

Although WNYMBA has maintained a section of the cross-state Conservation Trail through Hunters Creek Park, the club has not -- repeat not -- built any bike trails there.

"When Hunters Creek became a hot issue that led to the closing of all the undeveloped county parks, the word was that we had built a lot of trails through the area. Not true," Sundquist said. "We only maintain that one trail."

And while "people on mountain bikes" were often cited by off-road cycling foes they likely were unaffiliated riders.

The plethora of new trails there were largely marked out by one man, a hiker, according to sources in the Friends of Hunters Creek group.

"And the Web site that claimed there was a death-defying mountain bike trail in that park was put up by an enthusiast from UB -- he took that off his site when we asked him to," Sundquist said.

In fact, the club has about 100 members -- probably just a tiny portion of people who own and ride mountain bikes off road. The club Web site -- www.wnymba.org/index2.shtml -- lists its aims, goals and events both here are nearby for those who like competition.

"For new riders I would suggest a couple of places to ride," Sundquist said. "Closest to Buffalo is the short, easy cross-country ski trail at Sprague Brook County Park. After that, Allegany State Park has the great Art Roscoe cross-country ski trails that are open to cyclists, and the DEC has three state forests near Ellicottville -- McCarty Hill, Rock City and Golden Hill -- as well as trails in Holimont and Holiday Valley. They are all properly constructed and well drained."

His club built and maintains a lot of that state forest system and mapped it well. The maps cost $5 and can be bought at Campus Wheelworks in Buffalo, Red Door Ski and Bike in Williamsville and Ellicottville and Mud Sweat and Gears, another shop in Ellicottville.
e-mail: yvel@adelphia.net

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