Motocross, Roller Derby, And Mountain Biking In Westchester
From biking—both manual and mechanical—to roller derby, if you’re looking for fun, where there’s a wheel, there’s a way.
Marc Santos Photography
We’ve all felt it. A tightening in the chest, like all the air’s been sucked out of our lungs. Fingers tap nervously. Knees bounce as if under their own volition. A cold sweat glistens on the brow, and we’re suddenly very aware of a nerve twitching under our left eye.
It’s cube-strophobia, and it’s a silent killer.
Okay, it’s not a silent killer, but it’s not great, either. Man wasn’t meant to be caged in a cubicle day in and day out. Sure, the wheels of society need to keep turning; commerce and the free market must continue, and we should probably try to stave off dystopia as long as possible. But that doesn’t mean we need to plod along toward the inevitable (that 3 pm conference call), muscles soft and brain stupefied, like so many middle-management sloths.
Instead, why not race toward our destiny (this time I mean death), legs pumping, wheels spinning—once we’ve finished that spreadsheet, of course. You don’t need to go far to find excellent sources of wheeled excitement in and around the county. Between mountain-bike trails, motocross tracks, and the fierce majesty of the roller-derby rink, Westchester and its neighbors offer a host of heart-pounding opportunities for a sweet adrenaline rush. Here are just a few.
If human-powered pedaling isn’t your bag, well, you’re missing out, but there are other options—namely motocross (dirt-bike racing, for the uninitiated). You will, however, need to expand your horizons beyond county lines for places to ride. And this is one of those pricey hobbies (motocross-style bikes, meant for track racing, run from about $3,000 to $9,000; off-road-style dirt bikes, good for learning on, run slightly cheaper).
You might, therefore, want to start by merely watching. Walden Motocross (www.mxwalden.com) in Wallkill, New York, offers racing as well as practice opportunities on multiple tracks. It’s an hour’s drive, give or take, from Westchester and a $12 admission fee on race day, to get a taste of what dirt-biking is all about. If you’re already a rider, practice sessions are available for $35/rider (check site for schedule details). Similarly, AK Farms Motocross (www.akmxfarms.com) in Modena, New York, offers racing ($12/spectator) as well as practice days (mostly Saturdays; $35/rider). Bonus: If you have an ATV, you can bring that along to practice as well.
If you do get the motocross bug, it’s advisable to take a lesson or two before hopping on your bike and taking off into the sunset/a tree/the median; visit www.dirtbikeschool.org for a list of Motorcycle Safety Foundation dirt-bike schools near you.
Ladies, we know that, at the end of a tough week, it can take a heroic effort of will to keep yourself from hip-checking the first person to look at you sideways. In such cases, you need a place to hip-check legally, and with joyful abandon. Enter roller derby. Yes, that time-honored tradition of fishnets and violence, and, as it turns out, hardcore athleticism and camaraderie. For those unfamiliar with game play, opposing packs of five roller-skaters each—made up of one “jammer” and four “blockers”—circle the track, as the jammer tries to get through the pack to score points, while the blockers, well, block (hit) opposing players to help the jammer along.
Think you can just strap on a pair of skates and get started? Think again. According to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, all members of sanctioned teams must meet minimum strength, endurance, balance, and agility requirements on the track, while also being able to demonstrate derby-specific skills like cross-overs, recoveries, pushes, arm-whips, checks, blocks, and other scary-sounding moves.
In Westchester, roller derby comes in the flat (not banked) track variety, and those flat tracks are flattened further by the ladies of Suburbia. Established in 2007, Suburbia is the county’s only derby league, and is represented by all-star traveling team Suburban Brawl, as well as the B-level Backyard Bullies and three intra-league teams. Based in Yonkers, the Brawl plays up and down the East Coast and hosts teams from as far away as Wales. Team members come from all over southern New York as well as New Jersey and Connecticut, and range in age from 20 to 50-plus. Interest piqued yet? Try-outs are held twice a year, and you can contact the league at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
In the last 20 or 30 years, mountain biking has seen a surge in popularity, says David DeLucia, avid biker, director of park facilities for the Westchester County Parks Department, and liaison to the Westchester Mountain Bike Association (www.wmba.org). The county and groups like WMBA have responded by developing and maintaining a host of trails in the region, geared toward beginner through advanced riders. Many county mountain-bike trails are shared with hikers and horseback riders, and are set against gorgeous natural backdrops.
Take Blue Mountain Reservation in Peekskill, where 20 miles of trails are set in nearly 1,600 square acres of parkland—it's a setting DeLucia calls, "absolutely beautiful and wonderful for experiencing a strong sense of environmental place. It’s one of our finest woodland trail systems in the parks system for hiking and mountain-biking.” Trails at Blue Mountain are blazed according to skill level: beginner (yellow), intermediate (orange), and advanced (red).
Maybe you’re looking for something a little more physically challenging? In Pleasantville, Graham Hills Park offers trails for intermediate and advanced riders, with about five miles of single-track trails, or trails only about as wide as the bike itself. “For a real workout—up and down, up and down—in a smaller time frame, Graham Hills is perfect,” says DeLucia. While the park offers advanced riders a workout via its plethora of climbs and descents, beginners can take advantage of a less extreme trail loop at the front of the park.
Sprain Ridge Park, tucked between the New York State Thruway and the Sprain Brook Parkway in Yonkers, is the smallest on the list at 278 acres, and trails here suit all levels with relatively flat terrain. “Flat” doesn’t mean “easy,” though, as this park’s trails come with technical obstacles like tree falls, rock clusters, and tightly winding paths. Sprain Ridge also boasts the best beginner trail, according to DeLucia—the Danny Wray Ramble, named after a late long-term employee of the park.