Scenic hills lure cyclists from around the country to Lynchburg, Virginia
By Laura Lee
The Storming of Thunder Ridge
There’s a reason 900 cyclists from 26 states flock to Lynchburg each May. Close to the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounded by seven hills, the Hill City offers some of the country’s most challenging and rewarding bike routes through stunning topography.
Choose from smooth backcountry roads, rugged mountain trails or the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Whether you come for an event or to explore on your own, the following advice will smooth your path.
The Storming of Thunder Ridge each May invites cyclists of all skill levels on a recreational ride. What began as the Central Virginia Bike Festival in the 1980s was renamed The Storming of Thunder Ridge in 2010. The event has become the largest fundraiser for the YMCA of Central Virginia.
“What I love is that it’s not a race, it’s a ride—so you can go at your own pace,” says Paula Dahl, an avid cyclist and The Storming of Thunder Ridge director. “We offer five routes ranging from 27 miles to 100 miles, so riders of all abilities can participate. The youngest rider last year was 8 years old, and our oldest was 82.”
Both the 27- and 45-mile routes follow a course of rolling hills and meandering backroads. The 49-mile route includes the long, 13-mile climb up Thunder Ridge. For those wanting a bigger challenge, the 75- and 100-mile routes include Thunder Ridge, plus another ascent to Apple Orchard Mountain, the highest peak of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway. The 100-mile route boasts more than 9,000 feet of climbing.
“The race offers some amazing routes with panoramic views,” says Dahl. “After every climb, you’re rewarded by another vista—then you get to go down!”
The YMCA provides rest stops along the way, as well as hosts a post-ride party. Indoor and outdoor camping will be available in addition to special room rates at select hotels.
Greater Lynchburg Off-Road Cyclist
For mountain biking enthusiasts, Greater Lynchburg Off-Road Cyclists, or GLOC, is an active local chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association. GLOC maintains and builds mountain biking trails in Central Virginia and hosts social events.
In Lynchburg, we have a big crossover between road cyclists and mountain bikers,” says Jason Kendall, GLOC president. “People love mountain biking for a variety of reasons. Some do it to have fun; others love the peacefulness of the woods—being out in the wilderness. And some, like me, are adrenaline junkies. There’s just something about going down the mountain at 40 miles per hour.”
Kendall says mountain biking is also a great fitness challenge. “You’re in and out of the saddle, using not just your legs but your arms, shoulders, chest and core. It’s a full-body workout.”
For beginners, a good rule of thumb is 2:1 for road miles to mountain trail. So if a cyclist normally rides 40 miles on the road, then 20 miles of mountain biking is a good goal. Mountain biking trails follow a similar system to ski runs: green is ideal for beginners, blue is an immediate level, and black is for experts.
Peaksview Park & Blackwater Creek Trails
Some of the area’s most popular mountain bike trails are at Peaks View Park, managed by volunteers at GLOC. The park features 10 miles of trails and a brand-new pump track. A favorite run is a gravity trail known as “Hamster Kitty,” named by Kendall’s children.
“It’s a funny name for a really fun ride,” he says. “It’s downhill for a quarter-mile with lots of jumps and turns. It’s rideable by almost anyone—my 10-year-olds love it. It’s like riding a roller coaster.”
The new track has attracted new cyclists to the area, from families to young professionals and college students. Kendall says the park is also a cool place visitors can hang out and watch the action.
Lynchburg Parks and Recreation manages the Blackwater Creek Natural Area featuring a greenway that winds through an urban forest. Several paved and off-road bike paths branch out from the main trail, allowing cyclists to extend their ride and explore a bit.
Liberty Mountain Trail System
While privately owned by Liberty University, Liberty Mountain Trail System is open to the public. The area’s largest trail system encompasses 5,000 acres with 50 trails. Liberty University students have access to free mountain bikes. Others can bring their own equipment or rent from a local vendor.
Cycling and Mountain Biking Tips in Lynchburg, Virginia
- Check out Strava or App Trail Forks on your smart phone for updated trail maps, or visit com.
- Wear a helmet, gloves and other personal safety equipment.
- Research your route in advance and stay within your ability.
- Rent bikes and equipment from Bikes Unlimited or Blackwater Bike Shop in Lynchburg and get any needed repairs at Scene 3.
- Interested in community rides? Join Pints after Pedals with Bikes Unlimited during the summer months every Tuesday after 6PM.
Laura Lee is a Virginia-based freelance writer who loves to explore the state with her husband, two boys, and dog, Lillian.