June 2016 - MOUNTAIN BIKING
The Trail Remains the Same
Daniel’s Road State Forest
By Drew Roginski
There’s a reason it’s called: “Broken Wrist Rock.” That was fair warning being offered by someone showing me around at what was then the Saratoga Mountain Bike Association trails. It’s a drop of about four feet down a sloping boulder with a narrow ramp in the middle. Stay on the ramp and your bike rolls. Miss it and you might get a rock named after you.
For years these were the main mountain bike trails in the Saratoga Springs area. People would travel to ride there because the trails are extensive and demanding. At the end of 2014, the land was sold to the state as part of the recent state land acquisition in the Adirondacks, and became Daniel’s Road State Forest. This left many of us wondering about the future of riding in Saratoga Springs. Would we still have access? Would the trails change – maybe being dumbed-down and becoming less interesting?
First, let’s talk about a little history. As with so many trail systems, it all started with a bunch of mountain bikers poking around on whatever trails were near town. Prior to 2001, the land was leased by the Finch Pruyn paper company under a hunting lease, but mountain bikers were riding the existing trails and developing new ones. The local riders, including Chris Pitts (owner of Elevate Cycles) learned that the lease was going to be given up, and were worried about losing access. Chris leased the land and started selling memberships. For years, the trail system was known as SMBA or “The Stables” due to the Skidmore College Van Lennep Riding Center near the entrance. You were required to be a SMBA member (or be with one) to ride there, and the dues were enough to cover the lease, tools and gas for trail days, insurance, etc.
While trails pop-up on lots of bits of unmanaged forest, this is a pretty special trail system. For one thing, the topography consists of a number of granite ridges fairly well filled-in with dirt. It’s hard to notice this on the southern end because the forest is fairly dense. Many of the trails climb to the spine of a ridge, and follow it until dropping back down, and heading for the next one. At the north of the property, the Upper and Lower Canyon trails are divided by a short but impressive canyon, known as The Devil’s Den. The tree cover is also less dense here so can see the terrain and the ridges are more obvious. This topography makes for a ride with lots of little climbs and descents and offers many opportunities to take advantage of the rock features.
These rock features are the defining characteristic of rides here. The people who designed these trails said, “I bet we could ride up that boulder, across that spine and drop down the other side.” Sometimes the rises and drops are smooth, sometimes they’re rough. I asked Chris about that. He said in the early 2000s, riders were transitioning from everyone being a cross-country rider, to people riding more technical terrain. Of course changes in equipment helped. Before 2001, most people rode hard-tails with 80mm or less of travel and there were only a few fully suspended designs that worked well. Nearly all bikes had 26-inch wheels. Longer travel, more efficient designs, and bigger wheels made the difficult lines more accessible – and more riders were up to the challenge.
On the down side, there are no beginner trails. There are sections that flow but they typically connect obstacles. If you’re new to mountain biking or you’re looking for smooth, sit-and-pedal singletrack, there are now other trail systems a short drive away that have easier trails. But at Daniel’s there are intermediate trails – with some expert features you can walk if you choose to – and expert trails with a few features I’ve never even been tempted to ride.
The first time I rode the Dragon’s Back it wasn’t even intentional. I was new to the area and hooked-up with a group of guys who invited me to tag-along on a night ride. At one point I was tight on the wheel of a guy on the Putnam Dam Trail, and could only see him and the few feet of trail between us in my lights. Suddenly he rode up the side of a boulder and onto a ridge of granite. I managed to ride up the boulder and stay on his wheel, but now the rock was dropping out of sight on both sides of me. Again, he rode up a ledge with a rock placed like a ramp in front of it. I tried not to tense-up, lifted my front wheel, and kept pedaling until the granite brought me back to dirt.
I didn’t ride the Dragon’s Back for at least a year after that. In the day time, when you’re not stupidly stuck to a stranger’s wheel, you can see that it rises 10 or so feet from the forest floor, and is sloped enough on either side that you’re not likely to die if you fall off. I can attest to that since I’ve fallen off both sides! But in the dark, lifting over ledges with nowhere to put your feet if you have to dab can have an impact. I’ve ridden it many times since, but only when I’m “on” and the tires are sticking. Also the moon has to be aligned with Venus, I need to have sprinkled chicken blood over white candles, etc.
For some of us, these challenges are a big part of why we ride. I’m glad to say that the trails remain bony and technical. As well, the DEC has built a proper parking lot at the clearing, and resolved an access road dispute with a neighboring land owner. SMBA remains as official DEC trail stewards to maintain and potentially build in the forest. The Daniel’s Road trails are the same and now there’s better access. I’ll call that a win-win!
Saratoga Mountain Bike Association also stewards the Pittstown State Forest trails, and the Poestenkill Community Forest trails are being established by the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance (teamed with SMBA) – both trail systems are about 15 miles east of Troy. SMBA membership dues have been reduced, since we no longer have to pay a lease and riders are no longer required to buy a membership to ride the trails – although we still have expenses so please do buy a membership at saratogamtb.org. Join us for SMBA’s Grafton Rocks Mountain Bike Festival on Saturday, June 11 at Grafton Lakes State Park in Grafton with group rides, demo bikes, activities, food vendors and raffles.
Drew Roginski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a stay-at-home Dad/trophy husband in Saratoga Springs. He is also currently the SMBA Vice President North.