Mountain biking growing in popularity

By Thomas Wilson

   If you are looking to mountain biking, Carter County has the mountains -- the Hampton Trails Bicycle Shop has the bikes.
   "Mountain biking and road biking are really great around here because of the beauty you can see," said Brian White, owner and operator of the Hampton Trails Bicycle Shop on Highway 321.
   White opened Hampton Trails in July 2001 to accommodate a growing population of mountain bikers looking to ride the skylines of Northeast Tennessee and western North Carolina.
   "It is best to go to a bike shop to buy your first bike because you are going to get more personal service in finding the right bike for you," said White.
   One of the hottest sellers is the "BMX bike," a longtime bicycle favorite made popular by the XGames on ESPN. The bike features durable construction and rotating front wheels. Those bikes have proven most popular with kids and adolescents looking to take bike riding to the cutting edge.
   An avid mountain biker himself, White said that mountain biking gave riders vigorous physical exercise plus a fresh visual perspective on the area's geography.
   "I enjoy getting out in the mountains and seeing everything from a different view," he said.
   The area's mountain biking opportunities were becoming more well-known with travelers and family members looking for new mountains to ride.
   "We also offer free guided rides if riders call ahead," White said.
   Hampton Trails also stocks biking footwear, gloves, eye-wear and helmets as well as nutritional energy bars and drinks for the marathon mountain biker. White and fellow bikers frequently ride not only mountain trails but along highways into Roan Mountain State Park.
   The city of Elizabethton has allowed mountain bikers to use trails near the Hampton water spring to access mountain trails throughout the area, White said. The Virginia Creeper Trail in southwest Virginia is also a favorite destination for many bicycling enthusiasts. Bike trails in the Laurel Fork area of Carter County ranked as one of the area's most beautiful rides, he added.
   Bicycling as a sport and hobby has gained in popularity in recent years. The success of American Lance Armstrong and his story of winning the Tour de France bicycle race has also increased the sport's mainstream visibility, White said.
   Comfort bikes provide a Cadillac level of riding comfort for older riders who want to enjoy mountain trails. "No matter how old you are, there is a level of bicycling that you can enjoy," said White.