Communing with Nature on Two Wheels

Mountain biking offers the outdoors, fitness and community

click to enlarge Olivia Birkenhauer racing at East Fork State Park in 2014.
Olivia Birkenhauer racing at East Fork State Park in 2014.

A lot has changed in the

Cincinnati mountain bike community over the past couple of decades

for one, there is an actual community now, and a thriving one at that. There are formalized mountain bike trail systems in major local parks, something unheard of two decades ago. 

“Twenty years ago really was the time you first had legal mountain bike trails,” says Jason Reser, an owner of Reser Bicycle in Newport and a board member of the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance (CORA), which has had a big hand in formalizing the growing community of mountain bikers in Cincinnati. “Before that, no one put a name to it. Really, it was an underground sport. It was more of an informal trail network, and a lot of mountain bike trails were just people riding wherever others rode their quads.”Now, Reser says, there are tens of thousands of locals who wrap their hands around the straight bar of a mountain bike every week. These are folks of a diverse array of backgrounds who get together at trails set aside for mountain biking at parks all over the city: Tower Park in Fort Thomas; East Fork State Park in Clermont County; a new, rugged trail in Devou Park in Covington; and a training course planned in Blue Ash’s Summit Park.

It’s not just the infrastructure that’s changing. The riders are maturing as well.

“It’s kind of neat,” Reser says. “The folks riding back in the ’80s and ’90s were teenagers or twentysomethings. Now a lot of them are in their fifties or sixties and still riding. Whole families show up more at the trails. There were always women on mountain bikes, but there’s more parity now.”

Not Just a Mountain Dew Boy’s Club

Reser says the realities of the sport are far different than it is portrayed in pop culture. The image of young guys riding at top speeds alongside precipitous drops isn’t the way most riders experience the sport.

“The media is typically showing exciting product shots that grab a lot of attention,” he says. “But 99 percent of the riders are just out for the ride. It’s a trail run on wheels.”

Olivia Birkenhauer of Wilder, Ky., is a local rider who challenges that pop media profile. The 57-year-old athletic trainer is also on the board of CORA and says she enjoys sharing the sport with newcomers, especially women.

Birkenhauer organized the Greater Cincinnati/NKY Women’s Mountain Bike Collective, a local Facebook group where women of all levels meet to engage in the sport. Birkenhauer herself rides eight to 12 hours a week and says she enjoys it because she can quickly dart to remote areas of the woods for relaxation, get regular, intense workouts when she wants and avoid the hazards of road riding.

“I tell other riders I know where the ditches and the trees are, but on the road I don’t know what the cars are doing,” she says.Birkenhauer says she started mountain biking several years ago after being prompted to try it out on a family trip. She gets to see wildlife — deer, turkey, hawks and more — and enjoys the peace away from the city.

“What resonated with me immediately is I have always been an outdoors person,” she says. “Mountain biking, you have to be in the ‘now’ moment when you ride. It’s very serene, and if you are the type of person who likes to be out in nature, you get a two for one — exercise and the outdoors.”

Birkenhauer says there are many opportunities for trail adventures in Cincinnati.

“Last week, I was on five different trails in five days. We don’t have mountains, but, believe me, there’s a lot of elevation.”

Trails for All Kinds of Riders Reser says he sees the future of the sport as being more about getting from point A to point B rather than riding in a loop. “I think you’ll see people ride to the park and then on through to the other side,” he says.If you’re just breaking in your mountain bike, Reser says East Fork is a great place to get started for scenic, beginner rides. “It’s more of a destination,” he says. “You find yourself at some point a couple of miles into the ride rewarded with some beautiful lake views.”

New riders should check out local mountain bike groups to learn the basics. “If you can pedal a bike, you can learn one of the easier trails and learn the basics.

“I also like Devou Park for someone looking for a more advanced experience,” he continues. “There’s a lot of climbing and a lot of fun downhill rides. Devou is like being on a roller coaster. It’s a forest of waves.”

For more information about the CINCINNATI OFF-ROAD ALLIANCE, visit

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