Word of Birdsboro first came to me while riding on my local trails. I stopped to chat with a friend headed in the opposite direction about some Vermont trail recommendations when the conversation shifted to my own weird ambition of the summer: To explore all of the trails within a 60-minute radius of my home. Until this point, while I had found quite a few places that were good fun, my favorite trails within those parameters were the ones closest to my home.
“Have you had a chance to get up to Birdsboro yet?” he asked me.
“No, I haven’t. I’m not sure I know where Birdsboro is.” I questioned.
“It’s up near Reading. They’ve been putting in a lot of work there. I think you’d really like it.”
“Huh,” I said. “I can’t believe I haven’t heard of these before.”
After the ride, I took a look at Trailforks to learn a little more about these “mystery trails.” Sure enough, they were very well represented on the app and were decidedly less mysterious and more “in plain sight.” The trails were built around the Birdsboro Reservoir, and a quick check on Google Maps confirmed that they were indeed within the hour-long radius of adventure rule I established, so of course, I had to oblige.
Birdsboro is a small Pennsylvania municipality about 8 miles south of Reading and 50 or so miles northwest of Philadelphia. Driving through town, you are reminded constantly of the community’s past, anchored to the now-defunct coal and iron industries, with empty mills and factories serving as relics of a bygone era. The Schuylkill River runs through the area, with Birdsboro marking the midway point between its start and finish from Pottsville to Philly. The entire watershed for the river is located in Pennsylvania, including the largest contiguous forest in Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Hopewell Big Woods. The forest spans 114 square miles of hilly and rough-hewn terrain. That same rough-cut landscape is where the Birdsboro Reservoir trails are, and as it turns out, they make great use of it.
The Birdsboro Preserve trails are effectively split into two distinct sections by Hay Creek/Hay Creek Rd, with roughly half of the trails to the north of the split and the other half to the south of it. The southern portion is built around the Birdsboro Reservoir, and the forest is quite open with very little in the way of undergrowth beyond a beautiful blanket of ferns below the tree canopy. The northern half is a denser forest with Mountain Laurels and other small trees filling the void below the old-growth canopy above. Most of the southern half is XC-oriented, while the northern portion tends to be a bit more geared towards directional travel. All of it is rocky, rooty, and rough, and your entire body will feel worked after a few hours of riding here. In Pennsylvania, there’s a saying that “they grow more rocks than plants,” and while the green tunnel is thick and thorny in these parts, the rocks are equally relentless.
I filmed three different trails for this edition of Underexposed: Ramble On, Pirate Jet, and Zed’s Dead. Ramble On is a ¾ mile-long rip that comes on the heels of a steep and technical climb. Get your wits about you quickly, though, and keep those fingers off of the brakes as best you can, as this trail has amazing sightlines, some incredibly fun senders, and a handful of chicanes that are practically begging to be blitzed. Both Zed’s and Pirate are on the north side of Hay Creek and have quite a few more corners, jumps, and gaps to play on while not getting up to the eye-watering speed of Ramble On. The latter two trails combine to equal roughly the same length as Ramble On. All three are a blast, and the relatively short nature of the runs makes for a whole lotta fun in a fairly condensed package. Though most of the terrain here is defined by its rocky and rooty nature, where there is dirt, it’s rather good, and it’s often right where you want it for traction and cornering confidence.
For a while now, Birdsboro and really much of Berks County have been getting lost in the shuffle of industries imploding and communities trying to make sense of the proverbial rubble left behind. As the world continues to shift away from extraction-based enterprises, towns like Birdsboro are left scrambling to find a new direction. Yes, the landscape here has been shaped by centuries of abuse, but it’s never too late to stop taking and start giving. The mountain bike community is leading the way by working with the land instead of against it, and it shouldn’t take too long for the rest of the community to take note and follow suit.
Berks County is home to two different mountain bike advocacy organizations: Berks Area Mountain Bike Association (BAMBA) and Berks Trail Works (BTW). While BAMBA have been leading the way in Reading and neighboring Mount Penn, both of which are certifiable east coast destinations, BTW focuses much of their efforts on Birdsboro and the surrounding trails. Berks Trail Works is a brand spanking new organization, having become a 501(c)(3) earlier this year, and yet their membership numbers have skyrocketed to well over 100 active members. That speaks to both the appetite for trail work among the local contingent, as well as the power of momentum, and that’s exactly what they’ve been building throughout the year. Berks Trailworks was really born out of a need to provide support and connective tissue for the trailbuilders in this particular part of Berks County who, for nearly twenty years, didn’t really have this kind of an organization to help organize and go to bat for them. Learn more about Berks Trail Works and how to support them.
The proximity to Reading works well if you are looking for a hotel and city with some cultural resources. Pottstown is also quite close and offers up several options for a variety of budgets. Birdsboro has little to no lodging options, but camping is available at French Creek State Park, which is adjacent to the Birdsboro Preserve trails. In fact, you can connect both parks via singletrack!
Okay, here’s the thing about “PA Rocks”: they’re brutal. There are plenty of rocky places to ride your bike in North America and plenty of places to damage your rims and pop your tires. The thing about Pennsylvania is that because the landscape is so old, and erosion has had such a heavy hand in it, the trail surface is littered with square edges and “baby heads” in ways that you simply won’t find anywhere else. Pay attention to your suspension settings, crank the PSI in your tires, bring some tire plugs and a spare tube, and go ahead and toss in a rim protection system if you have it. There’s nothing worse than having to hike a bike to the car over slippery rocks and roots because you were unprepared for the inevitable wheel and tire thrashing.