Sunlight bathes the land, warming the ground and stirring an urge to escape the all-too-familiar home into the revitalizing spring air. Among the greatest ways to experience the resurgence of nature is streaking past it on a bike. Luckily, Canton and surrounding areas boast cycling opportunities for a variety of riding styles.
Outdoor activities like cycling have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. Recreational riding provides a unique perspective on the world, creates openings for safe socialization, and can improve cardiovascular and overall fitness. Biking doesn’t have to be exhausting to be fun or beneficial, making it an ideal pastime or family activity. Debbie Lehman, who runs Ernie’s Bike Shop in Massillon with her husband, the shop's namesake, is an advocate for area trails. She recommends the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath trail for casual nature rides.
The Towpath trail covers 87 miles between Cleveland and Canal Lands Park. Following the Tuscarawas River through Stark County, it’s as flat as the water itself. This makes for a relaxed cycling experience that appeals to all skill levels.
Much of the path is tree-covered and it affords a variety of scenery. Best of all, the trailheads are spaced out regularly enough that a rider is never too far from rest and rejuvenation.
“For an example,” says Debbie, “From Lake Avenue trailhead here in Massillon, where you have access to downtown, it’s only 9 miles to Canal Fulton, where there’s all kinds of restaurants and ice cream. An average rider could do that in ninety minutes, two hours at most.”
Debbie also suggests the Sippo Valley trail, running ten miles from Massillon to Dalton. An abandoned railway that has been improved for bike use, it is also relatively level and runs through idyllic farmland. It’s a favorite haunt of Stark County Bicycle Club (SCBC), which hosts group rides there every Sunday.
SCBC is a Canton-based organization with hundreds of members and thousands of organized rides under its belt. They support any riding style at any skill level, but generally focus on social road rides. This means that the opportunities for routes are nearly endless. Newsletter Editor and nearly 30 year member Dave Cardarella suggests starting in North Canton and heading east toward Marlboro and Alliance. Dave rides a tandem bike with his significant other and so prefers these flatter routes.
Member and Trustee Sally Griffiths, however, says she’s in it more for the challenge. She joins faster-paced group rides from Lake Community Park into Hartville, where the traffic is lighter and the atmosphere is serene. Griffiths applauds the camaraderie of group riding and the health benefits of cycling in general. "During my 28 mile ride, my computer told me I burned like 1200 calories. Where else can you do that?” she says.
Those who find themselves more drawn toward technical skill and handling may be interested in mountain biking. “Newcomers can head to nearby Sippo Lake Park,” says Ohio Mountain Bike Championship Series winner Lorena Brown. The designated routes there are novice-friendly, relatively brief, and provide some stunning views from the Marina side of the lake. Another trail well suited for newcomers to the sport is part of Quail Hollow Park in Hartville. At just over three miles, the short hiking and mountain biking path is a pleasant training course and showcases lovely deciduous and coniferous forests.
More challenging circuits can be found further out from Canton at Camp Tuscazoar, just outside of New Philadelphia. The full loop is more than 10 miles with an 1100 ft total change in elevation and a great mix of technical and flowing trail. West of Canton, in Wooster, is Vulture’s Knob, one of the most popular and unique mountain biking spots in Ohio. Thanks to the nonlinear format of the park. riders can pick and choose their favorite segments from a wide variety of creative and difficult technical obstacles.
Lorena stresses that riders should always be mindful of trail conditions before heading out. Riding on muddy tracks after a heavy rain can create deep ruts that pose a safety threat to other riders and will require repair.
“April showers might bring May flowers, but they also bring muddy trails, so yeah, you never know,” she warns.
Whatever the environment, enthusiasts across all riding formats are witnessing an unparalleled revival of interest in the pursuit. Every day new cyclists are discovering the joys of getting outdoors, mingling with their peers and exerting themselves. With demand escalating, new trails, events and organizations are expected to pop up in the coming years. The future of recreational riding is undoubtedly looking bright.