Tough Love

Harrisonburg’s abundance of technical terrain breeds a certain type of rider. Charlie Snyder drops into the overlook on Bird Knob in the northeastern quadrant of the George Washington National Forest.

Tough Love Harrisonburg's Longstanding Culture of Sweat Equity and Burly Terrain

Sitting at 1,325 feet in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Harrisonburg as little more than a blue-collar college town.

From Interstate 81, the only hint of this East Coast mountain biking hub you can actually see is James Madison University’s bluestone campus. In-town views of the mountains are overshadowed by the Cargill grain elevator, Harrisonburg’s tallest structure, rising above downtown like a cinder block tribute to the city’s agricultural roots.

The mountain bike scene in the ‘Burg is not immediately apparent, though it has been vibrant here since the dawn of off-road riding. Harrisonburg is not overrun with mountain biking tourists. Driving to the trailhead, you’re more likely to pass a Mennonite family on horse-and-buggy than a car bearing a bike rack. Of the hundreds of miles of singletrack that surround Harrisonburg, less than 10% of them are bike-optimized and only a handful are rated green for beginners. But what is here is a quietly thriving community of cyclists working to bring the region’s rugged backcountry networks to the next level.

That the ‘Burg is a place with a reputation for going big is undoubtedly a reflection of its topography. Prior to the city’s founding in 1780, Harrisonburg was known as Rocktown, and for good reason. Jagged flakes of limestone jut from the fertile valley floor as 3,000-foot parallel sandstone ridgelines hem Harrisonburg’s horizon. Massanutten Mountain and the Blue Ridge Mountains flank the city to the east while the Allegheny Mountains loom to the west. And though the city has both Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park at its doorstep, for mountain bikers in Harrisonburg, the true gem is the 1.8-million-acre George Washington and Jeffer- son National Forests.

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