Valley Off-Road Bicycling Association donates training course to Harlingen

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Cyclists and walkers split the trail Friday, March 24, 2023, on a section of the Harlingen Arroyo Hike and Bike Trails in Arroyo Park. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

HARLINGEN — The area’s cyclists are gearing up to fine-tune their skills as city officials work with a group of riders to develop Harlingen’s trail systems into a tourist attraction.

As part of a series of projects, members of the Valley Off-Road Bicycling Association, or VORBA, are donating a $150,000 pump track to the city, planning to build the area’s first asphalt course at Arroyo Park, the park standing at the head of the city’s Arroyo Hike and Bike Trail and its 10-mile mountain biking course.

Now, the group’s working with city officials “to market Harlingen as a bicycling destination,” David Hernandez, the group’s founder and president, said.

“We’re working to expand the trail,” Javier Mendez, the city’s parks director, said. “We’ve been improving it. We’re excited to be working and coordinating this project with VORBA. I think it’s going to be the first one in our area. We chose Arroyo Park because it’s the trail head for the Arroyo Trail. We figured it was perfect.”

This month, the city’s working with the group to hold a state championship mountain bike race, drawing riders who scale the arroyo’s acclaimed steep wooded embankments.

Pump track

After more than five years of work carving the city’s mountain trail system, the San Benito-based cycling group landed a $150,000 grant from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation to purchase the asphalt pump track, a course stretching about 50 yards by 20 yards, featuring turns, berms and humps designed to help hone cyclists’ expertise, Hernandez said.

“This is definitely a nice achievement for us,” he said. “It really legitimizes the work we’re doing. Our vision was not only to build trails but to build facilities that are accessible to younger riders and people new to the sport. This is part of the educational component of our organization.”

In November, American Ramp Co., an Austin-based contractor, is planning to begin building the ashpalt track, made by Velosolutions, an international manufacturer, near Arroyo Park’s softball fields, with completion projected for May, Hernandez said.

Standing about 3-feet wide, the asphalt track, designed to mimic mountain bike trails, will feature berms rising 3 to 5 feet high, with rollers climbing up to 2 feet, challenging riders to turn the course’s sharp corners, he said.

“I think it’s going to open up a lot of new people to the sport,” he said. “They’re great for teaching basic handling skills for riders of all skills and ages. They call them community hubs because they bring out people to come ride their bikes.”

Across much of the world, pump tracks offer riders specialized courses to help them learn how to handle bikes like BMX and mountain bikes, becoming “hives of community activity,” Hernandez said.

The group is planning to make the pump track, the first asphalt course south of San Antonio, into an area attraction, he said.

“It will set the model to do similar tracks,” he said. “We’ve always felt these types of facilities are conducive to growing the sport.”

Valley Off-Road Bicycling Association President David Hernandez rides his bike down an incline Friday, March 24, 2023, on a section of the Harlingen Arroyo Hike and Bike Trails in Arroyo Park. The cycling group is working with the city of Harlingen to launch a program for an emergency alert system to help sick and injured hikers and bikers be located by emergency services. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Adaptive trail

Among its plans, the group is also working to develop an adaptive trail running 1- to 1.5-miles in a figure-eight design along Arroyo Park’s softball field, giving disabled riders a fun course to ride while also helping children learn to ride bikes, Hernandez said.

Next year, the group’s planning to apply for grants to build the $50,000 course, he said.

Hernandez believes the adaptive trail will become the first of its kind in the region.

Organizers are counting on the trail to draw families with special needs children to the city whose parks boast award-winning all-inclusive playgrounds, he said.

Mountain bike race

On Oct. 14 and 15, city officials are teaming up with cyclists to hold their second Showdown at the Arroyo, a cross-country mountain bike race that’s part of the Texas Mountain Bike Race Association’s Fall Cup Series.

The race, which last year drew about 200 racers from Texas and parts of Mexico, is helping promote the city’s trail system across the growing mountain biking circuit.

“It’s a draw,” Hernandez, the race’s director, said. “It’s a big time. It goes to show there’s mountain biking happening here in this city.”

The race drawing riders along with their families and friends is helping pump money into local hotels and restaurants.”

“It’s a fun time,” Hernandez said. “It’s heads in beds.”

Background

For more than 20 years, city officials have been working to develop the Arroyo Colorado’s trail system.

In 2000, the city opened the Arroyo Colorado Hike and Bike Trail’s first stretch, running 2.1 miles across winding banks, crossing three bridges, from McKelvey Park to Arroyo Park.

Earlier this year, the project’s second phase extended the trail 3.7 miles to McKelvey Park.

At City Hall, officials are planning the trail’s third phase — a 1.1-mile span from McKelvey Park to Hugh Ramsey Nature Park.

For more than 15 years, Hernandez has been riding the arroyo’s steep dirt banks.

In 2017, Henry Roberts, the late founder of Bicycle World, launched a project to build the city’s mountain bike trails. along the arroyo’s high embankments.

Ever since, Hernandez has been working with members of the cycling group to carve the trails.


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