If the new leaders of SORBA Chattanooga have their way in the coming months and years, mountain biking in this area will be heading downhill — in the best possible way.
The local chapter of SORBA, which stands for Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, elected a new slate of younger leadership at the first of the year, and the group hopes to bring new types of trails and a new generation of riders to the sport.
New President Les Warnock is quick to credit the work by previous leaders of the group, founded in 2003, but he hopes to help diversify the local trail system through new projects and initiatives.
"We're sitting on top of the shoulders of a bunch of people who have already done a bunch of amazing work, first and foremost," he says. "We're coming in as a new group and a group of younger guys. We as a group kind of have a different mindset as some previous SORBA boards have had. Typically, in the past SORBA has been more cross country-oriented, whereas most of the guys on the board now are into some more advanced-level riding, and we want to try and bring a spectrum of different riding to Chattanooga."
Warnock will be joined by Vice President Lee Friedlander, Secretary Brenna Kelly, Treasurer Will Boulware, Advocacy Director Charlie Mix and Membership Director Gaston Farmer in this new effort. The group of younger riders, most of whom are in their 30s, sees an opportunity for growth in the addition of more gravity-oriented riding, with one-way downhill trail systems that allow for more speed and jumps.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has limited some of SORBA Chattanooga’s outreach in 2020, the group is actively working on building and maintaining the W Road Project trail system. Information on how to volunteer or about other mountain biking-related events can be found on the SORBA Chattanooga website at sorbachattanooga.org.
"If you go to other areas in the country, you can see that trails are changing as bikes change and become more capable," says Warnock. "We just want to try to keep up with the times as we move forward."
Friedlander believes Chattanooga is primed to capitalize on the emerging trend of gravity riding.
"We are creating trails that are challenging the next generation of riders and giving them some high-value features to ride and to progress their skill levels and push themselves," he says. "Bikes have gotten so much better, and riders are able to do more on those bikes."
SORBA Chattanooga has begun working on meeting this need with the creation of a new trail system on the side of Walden's Ridge near Mountain Creek Road. The "Walden's Ridge Park Project" will create 8-12 miles of downhill-focused trails that will bring a new and exciting challenge to local cyclists. The project is a partnership between SORBA Chattanooga and the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy and Hamilton County Parks.
"Walden's Ridge will have the first gravity-oriented trails in Chattanooga," Warnock says. " We'll have trails that beginners can go out on and also trails that advanced riders can go out on."
He doesn't plan to stop there. Warnock hopes that he and his fellow SORBA Chattanooga members can work to create even more opportunities for riders to enjoy area trails and learn new ways to enjoy their time on the bike. SORBA Chattanooga has begun bringing together other organizations, such as the National Interscholastic Cycling Association and the Southeastern Conservation Corps, to attract younger and more diverse people to the sport and all it has to offer.
"A three- to five-year goal for me is for us to really have a broad progression in the trail system that we have around Chattanooga," he says. "Where not only people who love cross country can come to Chattanooga, but people who like more gravity-oriented riding can come to Chattanooga and have the time of their lives as well."