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Biking ‘round Atlanta

Bill Clineburg takes advantage of the sunshine and bikes on the Silver Comet Trail on Wednesday, March 25,  2020, at the Silver Comet Trail Connector in Smyrna, Georgia. Temperatures were warm throughout the metro Atlanta area reaching a high of 72 degrees, according to WSB-TV Meteorologist Brian Monahan. (Christina Matacotta, for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Bill Clineburg takes advantage of the sunshine and bikes on the Silver Comet Trail on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at the Silver Comet Trail Connector in Smyrna, Georgia. Temperatures were warm throughout the metro Atlanta area reaching a high of 72 degrees, according to WSB-TV Meteorologist Brian Monahan. (Christina Matacotta, for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Get outdoors to spin away some stress on these six bike trails around the metro. Plus, learn tips to safely cycle during the pandemic.

Could getting back on the saddle be the perfect solution to some of your COVID-19 qualms? Well, according to this husband-and-wife cyclist pair, the answer is yes.

“The beginning part of the year started out with so much stress: kids not being in school, families trying to balance and most people avoiding the gyms,” says Kris Dunbar, who owns and operates Aztec Cycles in Stone Mountain, along with his wife Michelle. “Cycling is something you can do when you need to get out, and you can still socially distance.”

Even in the midst of the pandemic, the couple has witnessed a significant increase in demand for their in-shop and mobile bike shop services, which they say is a result of more people turning to cycling as a means of socially distant exercise and family fun.

“Mentally, it is the best stress reliever you can have,” adds Michelle Dunbar, who has also been helping teach virtual bike courses with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. “It clears your mind,

The Aztec Cycles founders say preparation can help cyclists stay safe during the pandemic.
The Aztec Cycles founders say preparation can help cyclists stay safe during the pandemic. Contributed.

Credit: Aztec Cycles

Credit: Aztec Cycles

and you can enjoy the nature around you. It keeps you emotionally balanced. Personally, it has saved my life.”

Michelle, who underwent surgery for congestive heart failure years ago, says cycling was key in restoring her heart health. With a slow return and gradual modifications, she’s now able to enjoy long rides with her husband and kids — sometimes even as far as 40-mile outings. And her cardiologist praises the remarkable difference, too. So, for the Dunbars, there’s no better endurance activity that is also fun for all ages, effective against stress and scalable for nearly every fitness level and capability.

The bike shop owners, who service a range of customers from avid mountain bikers and competitive athletes to leisure riders and first-timers (and even some celebrities), say the trick is finding the right space to cycle. And with roughly 600 miles of bike-accessible paths around the metro, there are plenty of places to ride out. So, with their help, here are a few great trails to hit around the city.

Westside Trail under Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. along Atlanta Beltline. Photo courtesy Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.
Westside Trail under Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. along Atlanta Beltline. Photo courtesy Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.

Yellow River Park

Recommended for mountain bikers, this is one of Kris Dunbar’s favorite trails. According to him, it’s never too congested—a plus, when you’re aiming to socially distance. Near Stone Mountain, the trail system spans about 10 miles, which includes flat, mixed-use portions near the beginning of the trailhead and a few adrenaline-filled portions for more experienced riders.

Dawn until dusk (unless posted otherwise); 3232 Juhan Road SW, Stone Mountain.

Silver Comet Trail

The flat, fully paved trail is a metro favorite for family bike rides and long-distance endurance training. The trail stretches to 61.5 miles, starting at the Mavell Road trailhead in Smyrna and ending at the Georgia/Alabama state line. Though quite busy on weekends, cyclists can typically find sparse crowds during early morning hours. The partially shaded trail is also more forgiving in the summer heat.

Dawn until dusk (unless posted otherwise); Mavell Road trailhead: Mavell Road, Smyrna. silvercometga.com

Stone Mountain Trail

The nearly 20-mile paved trail runs from the heart of downtown Atlanta (at the John Portman Cycle Track at Centennial Olympic Park) to the Stone Mountain Park Loop. The scenic journey connects the Freedom Parkway trail, Candler Park and Clarkston. Some portions offer pedestrian-only stretches, and other areas feature dedicated bike lanes on drivable streets. Kris Dunbar says it’s a great trail for a leisure ride, where the crowds tend to thin out along the middle stretches of the trail, and riders can enjoy the scenery at their own pace.

Dawn until dusk (unless posted otherwise; some portions open later); Stone Mountain Park Loop trailhead: 1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd., Stone Mountain. pathfoundation.org, stonemountainpark.com

Atlanta BeltLine

With public artworks, open green spaces and 33-miles of mixed-use trails, the Atlanta BeltLine trails are another popular locale for cyclists. The Dunbars recommend the 3-mile Westside BeltLine route as a more kid-friendly path since it’s relatively flat and is usually far less populated than the Eastside trail.

6 a.m.-11:00 p.m. (unless posted otherwise); Westside Washington Park trailhead: 1125 Lena St. NW, Atlanta. 404-477-3003, atlantabeltline.org.

Bicyclists cruise along the Beltline past a mural by HENSE under Virginia Avenue while taking advantage of the beautiful weather Monday afternoon May 4, 2015. Ben Gray/bgray@ajc.com
Bicyclists cruise along the Beltline past a mural by HENSE under Virginia Avenue while taking advantage of the beautiful weather Monday afternoon May 4, 2015. Ben Gray/bgray@ajc.com

Credit: BEN GRAY / AJC

Credit: BEN GRAY / AJC

Arabia Mountain PATH trail

Just 20 minutes from the heart of Atlanta, you’ll find another outdoor adventure in Lithonia. Boasting 30 miles of mixed-use trails, Arabia Mountain offers some stunning scenes to backdrop your bike expeditions. Visitors can either opt for a short, leisurely jaunt or a longer ride, where they can meander through a few challenging inclines, open fields and historic attractions.

Dawn until dusk (unless posted otherwise); 3787 Klondike Road, Lithonia. 404-998-8384, arabiaalliance.org.

Big Creek Greenway

Just north of the metro, Big Creek Greenway is another beloved family-friendly scene. Offering a 12-foot-wide path, recreationists have ample space to maneuver, especially when trying to maintain social distancing. In 2021, there are plans to connect the 8-mile Alpharetta Big Creek Greenway and the 11-mile Forsyth Big Creek Greenway trails.

6 a.m.-9 p.m. (unless posted otherwise); Forsyth Big Creek Greenway Halcyon Trailhead: 6265 Cortland Walk, Alpharetta. bigcreekgreenway.com

A family takes advantage of the summer-like weather for a bike ride on the Big Creek Greenway trail near Alpharetta Friday, March 27, 2020.   STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
A family takes advantage of the summer-like weather for a bike ride on the Big Creek Greenway trail near Alpharetta Friday, March 27, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Schaefer

Credit: Schaefer

Tips for safe cycling during the pandemic

1. Cycle with a mask or face covering in high volume areas. “If you are going to go extremely hard, keep your distance,” says Kris Dunbar, who warns that droplets of spit and sweat from a cyclist ahead can float in a slipstream back to you.

2. Come prepared with sanitizer, water, an emergency repair kit and even an extra mask or face covering. If your face covering gets wet or sweaty, replace it with a dry backup covering as needed. Additionally, the Dunbars recommend riding with a small emergency kit (i.e. patch kit, a multitool and pump) on longer rides should you have a mishap.

3. Keep safe social distancing measures in mind, but if you’re looking to try out a more secluded road, the Dunbars suggest finding a cycling club. “For hillier and for longer endurance rides, the best thing to do is to ride with avid cycling clubs. Some of these clubs go out in the middle of nowhere,” Kris Dunbar jokes. These small-size clubs meet up to ride along less frequented roads, where they are still able to spread out while enjoying more security in numbers.