Miami-Dade County

Take a ride on Miami’s wild side: Miles of dirt and gravel trails await cyclists

Cyclists ride on a gravel trail along a canal and a farm field in South Miami-Dade during a previous Great Gator Gravel Grinder.
Cyclists ride on a gravel trail along a canal and a farm field in South Miami-Dade during a previous Great Gator Gravel Grinder. Courtesy of Gary Mendenhall

Miami streets too hairy to take your bicycle out on? Time to take a ride on the wild side.

Going for long rides on trails and unpaved roads — on gravel and dirt, in short — is the newest big cycling thing. It's growing like mad across the nation. But few know there are miles upon miles of those in rural South Miami-Dade, all along the dikes and canals that run through farmland, tucked-away neighborhoods and the edges of Everglades and Biscayne national parks.

Now two free and public events in March, which is officially Miami Bike Month, will spotlight some of the most scenic and pedal-ready for adventurous souls pining for fresh vistas.

On Sunday, the ninth annual Biscayne-Everglades Greenway ride will trace the route of a planned 42-mile bike trail that will one day link Miami-Dade's two national parks. The ride will be half on grassy or gravelly canal banks and half on pavement, with shorter routes of 22 and 14 miles also available for those not quite ready to go all the way.

“You will get away from the urban areas and see lots of nature,” promises Eric Tullberg, who’s helping organize the ride, which is underwritten by a grant from the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, for the Green Mobility Network and Everglades Bicycle Club.

You will get away from the urban areas and see lots of nature.

Eric Tullberg

The following Sunday, March 20, the even more adventuresome Great Gator Gravel Grinder will give off-road cyclists a choice of marked 32- and 62-mile rides through South Miami Dade's back country in the Redland and the Everglades.

The 4G has a bit of competitive edge with a scavenger hunt and prizes, but mostly it’s a chance for people to explore beautiful South Florida landscapes that are readily accessible by bike but not much traversed or seen, said organizer Gary Mendenhall.

“Most people don’t even know they’re there, even people who live a couple of miles from it,” Mendenhall said. “I try to showcase what’s out there, to get people out there to enjoy what’s already available to them. You can be out there anytime you want to go.”

This will be the third year Mendhall has organized the 4G, which also raises money for the Radio Lollipop charity at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, and he said participation has been growing fast. He expects a crowd of around 150 riders from across Florida.

Such gravel-grinders — distinct from mountain biking because most can be done on road-like bikes fitted with fatter, knobby tires and don’t require hills or special technical skills — are growing exponentially across the country, especially among cyclists looking for new terrain away from the stress of sharing roads with cars and trucks. Popular rides range from the hard-core Dirty Kanza 200 in Kansas to the red-dirt road Dirt(y) Pecan in North Florida.

The 4G is the longest in Miami-Dade, but it’s not the only one. A group of gravel enthusiasts has organized a few, and the Everglades bike club, which since its founding in 1976 has focused on road cycling, will soon start regular weekly trail and gravel rides, said president Sue Kawalerski.

We want to call attention to the greenway. It’s the only one between two national parks.

Tom Hudson

The Biscayne-Everglades Greenway, in the planning for a decade, precedes the gravel craze and will one day be fully paved, said the Everglades’ club’s Tom Hudson, who is helping organize Sunday’s ride. Only a few pieces have been built, including a new bridge across the L 31 E canal outside Homestead Bayfront Park and a short stretch in downtown Homestead, so much of Sunday’s route will be on somewhat rough terrain along canals. Organizers thus strongly urge fat-tire bikes like hybrids, mountain bikes or gravel bikes.

Work is scheduled to start next year on a portion of the greenway connecting Biscayne National Park, adjacent to Homestead Bayfront, to Southwest 137th Avenue, Hudson said. The project, he said, “is pretty well unknown” right now. But once it starts connecting parks and neighborhoods along the route, people will begin discovering it, he predicted.

“We want to call attention to the greenway. It’s the only one between two national parks,” Hudson said.

In the meantime, Mendenhall said, there are plenty of lonely trails waiting for cyclists to enjoy them. Just bring plenty of water, spare tubes, an inflator and basic tools, because help can be a long trudge away if a tire pops or anything breaks on your ride.

“I just love going out there. You feel like in the middle of nowhere, even though you might be just a mile or two from houses,” Mendenhall said. “It’s nice to get out there and pedal for miles and not have to worry about cars or anyone else. Mainly just nature. And sunburn.”

If you go

The Biscayne-Everglades Greenway Ride starts at 9 a.m. Sunday at the Homestead Sports Complex, 1604 SE 28th Ave., Homestead. The ride is free. Registration opens at 8 a.m. Helmets are required. Bring plenty of water. Snacks and fruit will be available at the start and three rest stops. There will be a support van and ride leaders for each distance, but organizers strongly recommend bringing a basic tire-repair kit. For more information, go to www.greenmobilitynetwork.org

The Great Gator Gravel Grinder starts at 8 a.m. March 20 at Plaza Licenciado Benito Juarez Park, 19825 SW 376th St., Homestead. The ride is free. Allow time to register before the ride. Organizers will provide snacks and water at rest stops. Basic sag support is available, but bring tire-repair kits and tools. Note that portions of the route are not accessible by motor vehicles. Hydration packs are strongly recommended. For more information, go to the event’s Facebook page at https://goo.gl/Lzie0M.

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