By Mike Gramajo
OVIEDO, Fla. — Riding with an army of 350 strong bikers, most would think that these people are your ordinary street bikers.
But they’re not.
Meet the Central Florida Mountain Bikers, or the Facebook group to say nonetheless, but an army of dedicated bikers that ride mile after mile just to find that memorable thrill. And out of that group belongs a veteran, whose been biking for 35 years given he’s in his early 40s, so it’s clear to say he’s been biking his whole life.
“It’s the adrenaline rush, the outdoors,” Ken Carhart explains why hasn’t stopped biking for most, if not, his life. “It’s exercise, my girl and I share it, and it gives me an identity. I am a mountain biker that cooks for a living.”
Carhart works as a professional line cook in the Orlando’s service industry, and is one of many mountain bikers that hold average every day jobs. They just like to mountain bike on the side.
Whether it’s the dirt paved tracks, rocky treads or even steep hills, it’s never a challenge for the 35-year veteran. And believe it or not, experience always has the edge over age. The leadership group of the CFMB? There really isn’t. The Facebook group forum serves as a place where mountain bike enthusiasts share related topics, create dialogue for future group outings, and even a platform to sell bike parts.
“We do group rides, post equipment for sale, and answer questions,” added Carhart. “Really good bikes cost approximately $1,000, however, extremely good bikes like mine, cost close to $3,000. It isn’t a waste of money, mainly because they actually do last long and are meant for riding in tough terrain. It’s an investment I could afford.”
However, injuries or even tragic incidents can occur and according to Carhart, he’s endured some notable injuries.
“I made the jump from novice to expert with a few over the handlebar crashes, which resulted in sore ribs and a sprained shoulder,” said Carhart. “A friend of mine from the group had his shoulder reconstructed and was out for eight months. Most common is a collar bone injury and that happened to my brother.”
Minor injuries they may seem, but Carhart added that a longtime biker Charles Murray, who broke his neck, resulted into him passing away in 2010. A memorial was built to pay tribute to him, and was funded by donations from fellow mountain bikers, signaling that the bond these bikers have is somewhat like family.
Little Big Econ State Forest / Snow Hill is the closet park for several central Florida mountain bikers. But some of these bikers travel to extreme lengths to seek that thrill. Markham Park in Miami is another well-known range where bikers from across Florida travel to.
23-year-old John Leddy, who has been biking for only four years, still feels like he has a long way to go. A native of Apopka, Fla., Leddy practices in Snow Hill before he even thinks about making the trek to either north or south Florida.
“It isn’t easy as it looks,” said Leddy. “The whole notion of experience over age definitely plays a factor into this, and with time I think I will only better myself. Sometimes I’m not as consistent as the other guys since I work 35-40 hours a week, so I would go two or three months without riding, so it feels great to get back on the track after a long sit out.
“I work as a truck driver for Publix, so that job requires me to miss out on biking for lengths of time. I’d like to say that I’m still a novice, but don’t factor out that my job is a reason why. I bike when I’m working 35-40 hours, but stop biking when I’m still working those hours, so it’s all mental. It’s something I should work on.”
Florida isn’t the extract state where you see mountain ranges, but that isn’t stopping Leddy, nor Carhart from doing something they love doing.
“A lot of people say ‘how do you mountain bike in Florida f there is no elevation?’ a lot of parks are either an old quarry or phosphate mine with a lot of steep changes in elevation,” adds Carhart. “Believe it or not, Florida has little mountains called ridges, so to mountain bike in this state is possible, and it’s even better when you run into wild life.”
You can’t go into the woods of Florida and not expect to find alligators, snakes and all different types of wildlife, so it’s no different when these bikers go in to do the same. According to Carhart, he’s run into 700 pound alligators and wild boars, or wild pigs.
“Me and my girl ran into a wild boar one time, and that was more scarier than running into a gator,” said Carhart. “You can outrun a gator in a bike, but a boar? No way! Those pigs run fast and when they get you, they aren’t so friendly. They will tackle you, bite you, you’r technically bait and a goner if you aren’t lucky.”
When asked what do you do if you ever encounter a boar, he said: “Stop, try your best to avoid starring at it, walk away slowly so it doesn’t think you are a threat and slowly turn around and bike away, don’t antagonize it or else.”
According to a research study from the University of Florida, wild hogs can weigh 100 to 200 pounds and are part of Florida population boom with an estimate population of 500,000 wild hogs living in Florida while approximately 2 million live in the Southeast alone.
“Wildlife is supposed to be wild,” said Carhart. “I’m used to seeing it, but I never let it stop me from having fun biking. Just keep your guard up whenever you encounter a gator or a hog.
Most importantly, have fun. Mountain biking is a thrill ride that doesn’t stop, and I don’t want it to stop. Like I said, I’m a mountain biker that cooks for a living and I wouldn’t have it no other way."