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OPINION | KAREN MARTIN: A definitive guide on where to ride

by KAREN MARTIN | April 4, 2021 at 9:00 a.m.
Karen Martin

Finding information about central Arkansas’ road, gravel, and mountain biking trails has to date relied largely on ancestral knowledge spread intermittently by word of mouth and social media.

That’s about to change. The Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau (LRCVB) recently launched a dedicated cycling website. And, unlike some of the patchy hit-and-miss conglomerations offered with good intentions by quasi-official organizations and enthusiastic individuals who may not have vast experience with website design, it’s comprehensive.

“Our goal is to feature cycling in Little Rock, ” says LRCBV communications manager Libby Doss Lloyd. “The goal is to showcase the breadth and beauty of our trails while making it as user-friendly as possible. Many people don’t realize we have so many trails within our urban destination.” I certainly didn’t.

This tightly focused site (littlerock.com/experience-little-rock/cycling) showcases 97 trails covering 1,233 miles in and around Little Rock and central Arkansas, including road cycling routes, mountain biking trail systems, gravel paths, and themed touring routes. It is, as Lloyd says, “a fantastic combination of city amenities at your fingertips, and vast outdoor opportunities just minutes away from the metro.” Compiling the massive amount of information needed to make the site worthwhile was a team effort.

“Our first internal meeting was sometime around the end of February 2020,” Lloyd says. “It was just before the LRCVB’s Big on Little Rock branding launch, and the idea was to publish this as a physical cycling guide.

“Our content creator Seth Barlow started going to local bike shops and asking them what they felt was lacking. Almost every single person he talked to mentioned that there wasn’t a single listing of every trail in the region, so that gave him a very clear goal to shoot for.” In addition to researching cycling sites and talking with cycling clubs, the LRCVB team conducted a focus group with local cyclists, she adds.

That’s a highly opinionated demographic; the discussions with them must have been, to say the least, lively.

“The project was then put on hold until the end of August, when we switched gears to a website instead of a physical book,” says Lloyd. “The bulk of the work went on from October 2020 to January 2021, with populating the site taking until early February.

“Seth pulled trail information from various sources, drafted overviews for each individual trail, and mapped each one on the Ride with GPS mobile app. Mapping each trail with the mobile app for turn-by-turn voice navigation and offline maps has been a game-changer.” Using those mapped routes, riders can browse each trail and explore local points of interest.

Each route can be accessed via the free app for turn-by-turn voice navigation and offline maps. Garmin and Wahoo users can sync routes to their devices for on-screen navigation. Rides can also be synced with other ride and fitness-tracking mobile apps.

The site’s trails can be viewed in multiple categories including: 66 mountain biking trails within six trail systems.

24 road routes; the longest is Little Rock to Memphis through the eastern Delta region (164 miles).

19 beginner rides such as the popular Arkansas River Trail, a 15-mile loop along the Arkansas River connected by multiple river-crossing bridges including Big Dam Bridge, North America’s longest pedestrian- and bike-intended bridge.

Eight self-guided tours designed around themes such as civil rights history, President Bill Clinton’s Little Rock (7.6 miles through downtown’s East Village, Main Street, Quapaw Quarter, River Market District, and SOMA), downtown murals and sculptures, local craft breweries and distillery, local desserts, military history, and historic churches.

Five gravel trails through Flatside Wilderness.

Among some of the state’s oldest mountain biking systems are 40 miles of trails on the grounds of Camp Robinson on the north banks of the Arkansas River. The beginners’ mountain bike Yucca Trail includes two rock gardens to practice riding skills before advancing to other trails.

The newest additions are the 18-mile network of Monument Trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park—a partnership between Arkansas State Parks and the Arkansas Parks & Recreation Foundation—designed and built to accommodate multiple user groups of riders, hikers, trail runners of all levels.

Each route provides a step-by-step cuesheet with distances and climbs and a one-click Send to Device option, a free Ride with GPS route planner, and details on long rides like the 38-mile Big Dam Bridge-Roland Loop, the 38-mile Big Dam Bridge-Garrison Loop, Thornburg Loop around Lake Maumelle (68.7 miles with a 3,600-foot elevation gain), and Wye Mountain Loop (38 miles).

A significant and seldom-seen inclusion supplies invaluable Before You Ride info concerning gear and local outfitters, local cycling laws, and local clubs and rides.

“Little Rock has something for everyone,” Lloyd says. “Our cycling trails are no exception. We believe there is a trail for people of all ages and skill sets. Giving Web users what they want in an easily digestible way has been key from day one. Letting them know about local cycling clubs, laws and outfitters while they’re researching a future Little Rock adventure is important.

“This new site, which will be maintained by our marketing team, is intended to help provide the most pleasurable experience for cyclists, allowing them to fully enjoy Little Rock’s cycling trails and local amenities.” As John F. Kennedy said, “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike” — except easy access to everything necessary to amplify that pleasure, especially now that spring is here.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

kmartin@arkansasonline.com

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