Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Ormond Loop Bicycle Ride

Every few weeks or so, Bicycle Stories will re-print a Florida Travel story that might prompt you take your bike to a different part of the state and try a different route. This is a story I wrote for the Bergen Record of Hackensack, NJ that ran last November. I highly recommend this ride.

Ormond Beach -- If you enjoy bicycling and have only one chance for an out-of-town bike ride in Florida, this is the bike ride you have to take.

The Ormond Loop.

Haven't heard about this bike route? Most Floridians haven't either.

It's a 23-mile ride through old-time Florida trees, swamps and plants, starting and ending in Ormond Beach, which is about five miles north of Daytona Beach in Volusia County.

I have biked every inch of oceanside A1A and pedaled up and down the scenic hills outside of Clermont in central Florida.

But mile for mile, few bikes rides in Florida can match the Ormond Loop, which received an official state Scenic Designation label in July.

"It's a throwback to old Florida before the advent of condos on the beach and overpopulation. This is a real taste of what the land used to look like before development," said Joel Greenstein, a bicyclist and promotions company owner in Daytona Beach who rides the Loop regularly with his bicycle pals.

Even the executive director of the local chamber of commerce is a bicyclist who rides the Loop.

"It's sort of undiscovered unless you live locally. It's a lot of protected areas with cool native foliage," said Mike Del Ninno, executive director of the Ormond Beach Chamber of Commerce. "It's a hidden gem."

What makes the Ormond Loop so alluring?

Healthy stretches of the Loop run along the Intracoastal under a leafy canopy, giving bicyclists a feel that they're pedaling through a tunnel of oak and swamp maple tree foliage.

The Loop even runs through the Tomoka State Park, while the swamp maple leaves turn yellow and red in the fall. And the Loop has historic significance, too, because the ruins of 11 sugar mill plantations are along the route.

“There’s an emotional attachment to that road for me,” said Rick Smith, chairman of a local organization called, Save The Loop, which is trying to preserve the road’s scenic and environmental roots from encroaching development. “There’s not too many old Florida roads any more.”

The Loop starts from State Road 40 at North Beach Street in Ormond Beach on the mainland side of the Intracoastal. It runs north, then heads east for a short stretch before returning south along John Anderson Drive on the barrier island side of the Intracoastal. About half-way through the Loop, bicyclists enjoy a few S-curves that offer some water views.

"If you hit the Loop during a certain time of the day, the sunlight comes through the canopy and gives it that mystical type of quality," Greenstein said. ”You get a certain enjoyment of riding those S-curves. It’s just back and forth. It's very relaxing.”

A few months ago when I biked the Loop, I was part of a contingent of eight bicyclists, who rode two-wheelers that ranged from heavy mountain bikes to sleek road bicycles. That's emblematic of the wide variety of bicyclists who you will see pedaling the Loop on any given day.

"There's a certain comradery of riding the Loop. There are so many bicyclists out there that you will see someone you know and people will start riding in a group and end up joining other groups and start riding together," Greenstein said.

"It's a very social thing. I don' know any location where you get that good feeling and atmosphere," he said. "The bottom line is that everyone rides the Loop, whether you're on a beach cruiser or a high-performance road bike."

While Florida statewide is known as a dangerous place for bicyclists because of the state's narrow roads and intolerant motorists, the Loop is one stretch of pavement where bicyclist and driver share the road in harmony.

Indeed, I witnesses cars slow down behind our bicycle group and carefully pass us.

"It is a very narrow road and, for the most part, the motorists are pretty forgiving," Del Ninno said.

Greenstein thought likewise.

'"The people driving the Loop are educated about it and are aware of bicyclists. For the most part, they do make an effort to share the road. When people drive through the Loop, they’re not in the same hurry as they are on the city streets," he said. "People ride in cars to stop and smell the roses, too. There's more harmony between motorist and bicyclist."

To celebrate the Loop’s scenic designation by the state, Save The Loop members plan to hold an event at Tomoka State Park in October, Smith said.

The group was successful in winning 175-foot buffers along the Loop as part of a court settlement with Volusia County in hopes of maintaining the route’s scenic flavor, Smith said. He also noted Save The Loop is asking that the speed limit be reduced to 35 from 45 mph.

“It's a very cool place,” Del Ninno of the local chamber said. “We encourage people to come into town and enjoy it.”

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