Sign warns of a fast downhill section
Riders are warned at one of the toughest sections of the course at Van Dorn park. Photo by James Manning/NNS

While Lincoln’s bike trail system is extensive, containing over 134 miles of paved or crushed rock paths that can offer cyclists solid recreational and commuter options, the same can’t be said for off-road options. 

Currently, the city’s off-road trials can be anything from simple, singletrack dirt paths to full-blown, carefully designed ramp features. Until 2020, the city had never had an official off-road trail. 

That changed when a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student asked city officials for permission to develop a 2-mile, single-track loop in Van Dorn Park near Van Dorn Street and Nebraska Highway 2. The loop, which has been well-received by Lincoln cyclists, makes efficient use of the gently rolling terrain present in the area.

The location had been used for races through mowed grass trails, and are still used for races on the dirt. There are notable elevation changes uphill and downhill, with embankments of dirt on some of the faster sections providing additional traction for riders. The course is flexible enough for a casual rider, and some areas can be “charged hard.”

“I was pretty excited because that’s an easy bike ride from my house,” said Jared Chulufas, a Lincoln resident and BMX enthusiast. “It’s deceptive. By my third loop I was feeling confident and lost the tires on that last big right hander.” 

With the Van Dorn location officially a success, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department identified several parks as potential future sites to create new dirt trails. Those include Standing Bear, Jensen, Arnold Heights, Roper East parks and and Holmes, Oak and Bowling lakes.

According to Ryan Hansen, director of the Outdoor Adventure Facility at UNL, the city may create a variety of features that appeal to enthusiasts and families alike. 

A survey released by Lincoln Parks and Recreation on Sept. 22 asked residents to identify what they want or expect at potential venues, requesting information on things like parking, lighting, restrooms and frequency of use. 

“What appeals to dedicated riders and a family will be different,” Hansen said.

Chulufas said he likes one park on the list in particular but also thinks there’s a park notably missing. 

“That list needs Pioneers Park, man,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential on either side of Pinewood Bowl. Good hills. Arnold’s a no-brainer, that is steep by Lincoln standards.”

With future development becoming a possibility, Lincoln has its own history with what the Parks and Recreation Department calls “renegade trails.” These are volunteer-driven, out of sight trails and dirt ramps.

These off-the-beaten path features are maintained by devoted riders looking for a place to ride.

“All you need is a shovel, dirt, some rain and a couple buddies,” Chulufas said.

The dirt is usually readily available in the area. Hauling in water is easier said than done. Dry, cracked dirt is hard to shape, and mud is a non-starter.

“The day after a decent rain is go-time,” Chulufas said.

The upkeep of these trails is cyclical, seemingly dependent on the motivation and interest of area riders to put in some shovel-time. Smooth elevation changes, up or down, become worn after repeated use. Erosion can cause certain areas to wash out. Vegetation can take over a path. All of which require manual labor to fix.

One such renegade trail near Tierra Park is in decent shape. There are a few gentle, bump-style ramps. The center-piece of the site is a visibly crafted “stump and bump” that provides riders a few different approach angles down a smooth and steep slope. Beyond that, corner embankments or berms are marginal to non-existent. Another up-and-down valley has a challenging, felled tree to duck under. Trash litters some segments of the small area. But it is clear that someone has worked on the area.

Fallen tree over Tierra trail 300x225 - City of Lincoln considers future trail sites for mountain bikes
A fallen tree is in the way on a trail near Tierra Park. Photo by James Manning/NNS

Another renegade area can be found near Vine Street, northwest of Gateway Mall. Chulufas called this trail “once proud,” and it’s easy to see why. Remnants of former ramps exist, but have almost entirely given way to cracked dirt fissures caused by erosion and vegetation that has long since claimed fading pathways. 

“This was a different place in 2010,” Chulufas said.

Bicycle mechanic Ryan Moseman said most of his riding is done on gravel roads and occasionally on single-track trails at Lincoln’s Wilderness Park. He said the shop he works at is eager to see what the city may do in the future.   

When someone thinks about mountain biking, Lincoln is not going to be the first place to come to mind, but the city appears interested in improving that perception.

The survey closed Oct. 12, with results expected next April.