During the years I’ve lived in Southern California, mountain biking has become one of my favorite activities. I love the thrill of bouncing over dirt in the open air and I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to trails in the Santa Monica Mountains near where I live.
After my mountain bike adventure on the Death Road in Bolivia, I feel inspired to try mountain biking in other destinations on my travel list. This summer I headed to the Caucasus Region located on the edge of Europe to explore the countries of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. All former Soviet Republics, these independent nations are rich in history and once sat along the ancient silk road.
In Georgia, home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations and the birthplace of wine, mountain biking is a burgeoning sport. Fueled in large part by the economic lift that came after the fall of the Soviet Union, the opening of borders and rise in income levels has led to greater access to bikes. Georiders, a locally owned bike shop and mountain bike tour operator owned by Dato Chokheli is playing a leading role in the sport’s growth.
I spent a morning with Dato in his bike shop on the outskirts of Tiblisi, Georgia’s capital city to learn more.
“When I was a small child, it was the Soviet Union in Georgia,” he told me. “It was very difficult to get a good bike – we were only allowed to have Russian bikes, very heavy. After communism (fell), my father went to Germany and bought me a second-hand bicycle. This was so nice for me. I had gears and could shift. I tried biking in the mountains and was so excited.”
With his newfound love for shredding off road, Dato soon met Marab, another local who is credited with being the first mountain biker in the country. With Marab as his mentor, Dato trained and began to compete on the European stage, eventually becoming the first mountain biking champion of Georgia in 2007.
Though equally passionate and talented, the lack of access to cycling products and gear continued to pose a challenge.
“There weren’t any bike shops in Georgia (at the time),” Dato added. “We didn’t have break pads. We cut car parts by hand. To get the tires, we’d pay for second hand tires from cars and then make them into ties for our bikes.”
To solve the challenge, Dato founded mountain bike tour company Georiders and later opened a bike shop near a small lake on the outskirts of Tibilisi that is a popular destination for cyclists.
Eager to explore the terrain of Georgia by bike, I joined Georiders for a half-day ride in the mountains near Tiblisi. I arrived to the bike shop and got to spend time with Dato checking out all the gear and hearing his story. Then I got to ride with Marab. Quite the honor to roll with the country’s first mountain biker!
We rolled over green mountains and down grassy hills. Through small villages where we were greeted by cows and horses. Past the local lake, hot on a late-summers day, full of families and young adults swimming.
For those with more time, Georiders provides a range of tours that cover all of the region’s varied terrain and natural wonders. Highlights include:
- Tbilisi National Park (1 day): Located just north of the city, this park offers shaded forests and several bike trails to immerse yourself deep in nature.
- Kazbegi (4 days): Located in the mountains of northern Georgia, the village of Kazbegi is often the highlight of a visit to the country, with breathtaking slopes and local charm. Experience the beauty of the region fully with four days of riding.
- Black Sea: Batumi is another major tourist destination, located on the Black Sea. Georiders offers a 10-day tour from Tibilisi to the Black Sea that is a perfect way to get a comprehensive feel for the mountain bike terrain of Georgia.
To book a tour, visit georiders.ge.