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A Guide to Gaston County's Masterpiece Mountain Biking Scene

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Gaston County sits in a spot where the smooth Western Carolina piedmont begins to bunch up to the foothills of the Tarheel State. For hundreds of years, creeks and rivers flowing through the county have carved away at the banks which surround them, further dramatizing the humps and bumps. The resulting hills and ravines, covered in a canopy of pine and hardwood forests, are the ideal palate for mountain bike trail designers to create masterpieces.

A dedicated community of mountain bikers habitat these trails. Local groups like Piedmont Area Singletrack Alliance (PASA) introduce newbies to the sport and challenge experienced riders with expert level terrain. Bike shops—the hub of the cycling communities in which they reside—fuel their passion not just with products, but with knowledge and events.

The Trails

Just across the Catawba River from Gaston County, one of the premier outdoor venues in the country holds a growing network of more than 25 miles of mountain bike trails.

With options rated green (easy), blue (intermediate), and black (difficult), the U.S. National Whitewater Center trail system is an amazing resource for every level of rider. Situated just minutes from the center’s multiple trailheads, Gaston’s quaint towns—with their variety of local restaurants and craft beer—are the ideal launchpad for adventures at the USNWC.

The Rocky Branch Trail is what grassroots mountain biking is all about. The trail was cut by hand by dedicated local enthusiasts and receives constant maintenance and upgrades. Now a part of the ever more amazing menu of singletrack under the Tarheel Trailblazer umbrella, but still cared for by the locals that love it, Rocky Branch is becoming well-known for its challenging climbs and TTFs (technical trail features). The 40 acres that hold Rocky Branch’s four miles of trail are tucked away at the end of a residential road adjacent to downtown Belmont—making a post ride beer or burger a near necessity.

The mountain bike trail system at George Poston Park in Gastonia has some of the best topography of any singletrack in the area.

Five linked loops make up the system, alternately traveling around a lake, weaving through dense, mature forest and climbing (and climbing) around Spencer Mountain. Just about every level of rider can find something to challenge them at Poston. Parts of the trail are packed tight, with quick changes and narrow runs through the forest. There’s some fantastic downhill and, as expected, a few uphill climbs. Recent upgrades in signage have improved the flow for new visitors and a few optional TTF’s change up the pace for experienced ones.

While not a true singletrack, the rolling, natural surface of Seven Oaks Preserve Trail provides a good transition for riders looking to get their feet wet, or at least dirty, riding off road. Part of the Carolina Thread Trail, Seven Oaks follows the shoreline of Lake Wylie for nearly three miles—riding the ups and downs of the forested land along the way. This wide, nontechnical trail is much more forgiving than typical singletrack, but the mild elevation change and rooty texture offer a different experience than your a city greenway.

The Groups

PASA is the driving force behind every mile of trail at George Poston Park. In partnership with the Gaston County Parks Department, PASA has constructed and maintained the trail for over a decade. The group advocates for riders in the area and maintains relationships with both government and other nonprofits, like the Carolina Thread Trail. Through their efforts George Poston Park received recognition as a National Recreation Trail through the National Park Service in 2015. Each Tuesday PASA offers a group ride on the trail for all levels of riders.

Having built and managed some 100 miles of singletrack in and around Charlotte, the Tarheel Trailblazers are among the most active mountain bike groups in the country. The Rocky Branch Trail is now affiliated with the Trailblazers.

The Shops

Making its home in the historic heart of Belmont, South Main Cycles has become a fixture in the local biking community. One of the largest stocking distributors of both Giant and Pivot brand mountain bikes in the area, the shop can outfit a casual rider or an avid trail expert. Owner Steve Pepitone stays directly involved in the local bike scene and in the greater Gaston community. He works with the team that brought the Rocky Branch Trail to life and has achieved a historic designation for the building that houses his shop—its original use being a train depot built in 1915.

In 2015, Ride-A-Bike brought their 34 years of cycling experience to Gastonia. One of the oldest bike shops in the state found a larger space and an active community in Gaston. Brantley Smith, the second owner of Ride-A-Bike, brings with him a lifelong devotion to cycling. He’s completed a cross country ride and has worked in multiple shops around the state. The focus at the shop is the lifestyle cyclist, but Ride-A-Bike has the products and knowledge to outfit the expert to the novice. Look for their T-shirt and shorts ride to begin in the spring. The weekly casual group ride is designed to help every level of cyclist feel comfortable.

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