At first glance it would seem that "Mountain Biking in Florida" is an oxymoron, like a slogan for a comic T-shirt on the order of " I Climbed Mount Dora". Florida doesn't have any mountains but it does have sand, sand, sand -- something cyclists dread more than mud and pick-up trucks.
The rush of wind on your cheeks as you glide and turn through sun and shade, hopping logs and roots, is an experience you can find in Florida's parks and forests, though. By checking at park headquarters or referring to the trail-head signs, you will find that quite a few of these are open to bicycling and a few have surfaces good enough to make biking pleasurable; old logging roads or rail trams, horse trails, some single-track trail and even a few hills (but no mountains).
The six day Florida Springs bike tour is a good round-about through central Florida. And here's a sampler of other good places to check out for off-road biking in Central Florida:
Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area near Christmas in east Orange County. Biking is allowed on all roads in the park and on the orange-blazed trail. (White-blazed trails are for hikers only.) This is a big place with wildlife and plenty of room to roam. Bring lots of water and food if you plan to explore here.
Orlando Wilderness Park also near Christmas, offers 15 to 20 miles of easy, scenic riding on elevated trams above an artificial wetland. The bird-life there is spectacular, especially in the winter. The park is open Feb. 1st through Sept. 30th, dawn to dusk.
Lower Wekiva State Preserve off S.R. 46 near the Wekiva River - One mile of trail and many miles of old logging trams (which you'll share with equestrians).
Rock Springs Park State Reserve off S.R. 46 in Lake County is the future site of a 20-mile bike trail. Until then you can wander park roads and logging trams. Very hot in the summer in the pine flats; bring lots of water and food.
Tosohatchee and Rock Springs allow hunting in the fall, so call first to find out if there is a hunt scheduled.
If you're interested in the Suwannee River, see Cycling the Suwannee: Gar Pond & Big Shoals on GORP.There is a controversy brewing both nationally and locally over the issue of bicycle use of hiking trails. In Central Florida, bikes are banned from most of the single-track trails on our public lands. However, some land managers are beginning to realize that cyclists are a sizable user group and are not a threat to other trail users. Cycling, if done properly, is no more injurious to the trail surface than hiking and far less damaging than horse-back riding. The best things off-road cyclists can do for their sport are ride on open trails only and ride responsibly: Don't ride when it's wet, don't skid or carve turns, and treat other trail users with friendship and respect.
Petition land managers and state agencies to allow cyclists on single track trails. Joining a local bicycle advocacy group such as the Florida Freewheelers and volunteering for one of their trail clearing expeditions would also be helpful.
Many thanks to the Florida Department of Transportation for information used in this piece.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication