Janesville offers high-level mountain biking in city limits
A group of mountain bikers meet at Rockport Park for a weekly ride.
JANESVILLE Single-track trails, stump jumps, mud slicks and twisty and hilly trails are hidden in the forests and prairies of Rockport Park.
Trails are groomed in loops, barely wide enough to squeeze between trees, steep enough to make legs burn and downhill enough to open up and fly.
Large rocks, logs and even a stump pyramid create obstacles along the way. And the trees are everywhere.
For many, the park's trail system is an invisible backdrop to the swimming pool, soccer fields and pavilion. For others, the trails are much more: a mountain biking playground.
"I love it," said Scott Ward of Janesville. "When I moved here, I was kind of nervous because I didn't think Janesville had anything like this."
And that is what makes the trails so special. Most cities don't have miles of terrain inside city limits. Riders have to drive 30 minutes out of town for a ride.
The Rockport Park trails are near home, close to work and accessible for a weeknight ride or weekend workout. And bikers would never know they're in a city.
On Thursday, a group of mountain bikers met at the park for their weekly ride. They hit the trails for two hours.
Ward rides recreationally once or twice a week. Others in the group are racers.
"It's definitely a stress relief from your daily grind," Ward said. "It gets you out and gets you meeting people."
Hans Genrich, Janesville, said more riders join the group every year, a testament to the sports growing popularity.
The terrain along the trails is technical and challenging for a city park, Genrich said, and riders can travel at any pace.
Mike Bieber, Janesville, said he started riding the trails regularly two years ago. He said the trails are challenging, but riders in the group are good folks willing to help new people learn.
"There is really something for everybody. You really have to be on your game to come out and do it, but it's fun," he said. "It's easy to make friends when you're out here."
Bob Schlegel, Janesville, said he and his wife built a home near Rockport Park just for trail access.
"It means a lot to me to be able to get on my bike, ride to the trails and ride home," he said.
Mountain biking in Rockport Park is no joke
When I flew headfirst over my handlebars, I knew it would be a good night.
It was only a few minutes into my first mountain bike ride at Rockport Park when I took a header and firmly planted my face into the ground.
It would be only the first of a few wipeouts on my 10-mile ride.
I rode with the group of mountain bikers that meets in the Rockport Pool parking lot at 6 p.m. Thursdays.
It was clear from the beginning that I would be a chump.
These folks had expensive bikes, racing jerseys, spandex shorts, toe-clipped shoes for pedals and all the fancy gear.
I had cargo shorts, tennis shoes, a T-shirt, dress socks from work and a 10-year-old bike my brother gave me.
They pegged me for the slow group right away, and they were right.
Sure, I ride several times a year. But these guys were pros. I'm a Joe.
After my header, I wiped the dirt from my eyes and climbed back in the saddle.
I quickly realized this ride would be no joke.
The climbs were steep enough that I put my foot down or walked up more than once.
The trails were narrow enough that I slammed my shoulders into trees several times.
The ride was twisty and hilly enough that my hands hurt from squeezing the brakes.
The terrain had so many stumps and bumps that my arms hurt from pounding the handlebars.
Toward the end, I was dripping sweat like a leaky faucet. My legs felt like concrete blocks. My arms felt like jelly.
I wished that the end would be around every turn. I wished that my bottom would stop hurting from the seat.
Still, the ride was among the best in my life. And I couldn't believe this gem was so close to home.
The riders were friendly, offered tips and welcoming. They were polite enough to wait for me on the trails. They even invited me to join them for a beer and burger.
Maybe next time, I told them.
I'll be back.