BRANDON – Twenty years ago, Wes Eubank, of Temple Terrace, the founder of a mountain bike club in the Tampa area, weighed 205 pounds.
“Within six months of starting off-road riding, I dropped to 175 and have stayed there without a change in diet,” said Eubank, who founded SWAMP Mountain Bike Club in 1992.
The club has weekly off-road mountain bike rides on a network of more than 130 miles of trail spread out over five trail systems: Alafia River State Park Trail, Balm Boyette Scrub Preserve Trail, Croom Trail, Santos Trail and the Wilderness Park Trail.
“We are fortunate that the Tampa area has over 130 miles of single track featuring everything from beginner- to expert-level trails,” Eubank said. “And contrary to what most people think, this part of Florida is not flat. You will be amazed.”
In August, they will travel to higher elevations in Park City, Utah. Another trip is planned for Asheville, N.C., in the fall when the leaves are brilliant.
Upcoming local rides include one Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at 12651 Morris Bridge Road in Thonotosassa for an evening “unguided show-and-go ride.” They will be riding distances of 14 to 25 miles, depending on the group. It’s open to everyone, including nonmembers. Participants should bring bike helmets, water and money for parking.
Eubank said he founded SWAMP — the SouthWest Association of Mountain Bike Pedalers — to provide a social venue where cyclists could join together to build, and ride, off-road trails.
“I have dabbled in many outdoor adventure activities, but mountain biking has held my interest the longest,” he said. “In Florida, biking is a year-round activity that is low impact health wise, and offers enough variety to keep most anyone interested for years.”
When it comes to wildlife, Eubank said the first thing newcomers ask is whether there are dangerous alligators. He tells them they will see alligators, but they are probably not dangerous.
“It’s the same old cliche: You don’t have to be faster than the gator, you just have to be faster than the slowest guy in your group,” he said.
Ron Zajac, of Seminole Heights, the president of the SWAMP club, said he has been riding the local trails since 2000, but joined the club in 2004. He said a lot of members like the adventure.
He has had a few alligator encounters, but primarily the wildlife sightings are deer and birds.
“A lot of our members are adventurous types who didn’t think the area has these types of trails and off-road experience,” Zajac said. “We are blessed to have relic mining areas with unique elevation change under a mature tree canopy. That surprises a lot of people.”
The group gets together for trail maintenance days on four Saturdays a month at 9 a.m. The work sessions last about 3 or 4 hours. They typically work on the Saturday before a group ride at the same park.
“In simplest terms, during the summer rainy season, we try to keep the trail clear of the fast-growing plants,” Zajac said. “We also repair the trail if the rains have created ruts or if the feral hogs have rooted through them. We also build new trails or re-route old trails to make them more enjoyable.”
For group rides, he suggests people bring a decent working bike, helmet, gloves, hydration, snacks, bug spray and sun block.
“Our group rides last about three hours and they will be working hard for those three hours,” Zajac said. “Of course, if they are not in shape for that level of exercise, we monitor them and bring them back early when necessary. Obviously, the weather changes quickly in the summer. And the humidity early in the season can sneak up on people and wear them out pretty fast.”
He said there are people of all ages who participate in most of the events. For the Sunday group rides, the youngest are typically around 10 years old.
“For those too young to manage their own bikes, their parents will use a tag along attachment on their bike,” Zajac said. “I have seen 5-year-olds out on our trail in this fashion.”
For more information on SWAMP, go to www.swampclub .org or call (813) 689-5109.