With gasoline prices high and waistlines stretched, summer is a great time to ditch the car and grab a bike.

With gasoline prices high and waistlines stretched, summer is a great time to ditch the car and grab a bike. For those who prefer to venture beyond the cul-de-sac, central Ohio has a variety of bicycling options, from paved paths through parklands to urban trails and even racing tracks. And unlike other sports that leave parents on the sidelines, the whole family can suit up and go for a ride--together.

Central Ohio greenways
Long before Columbus was committing to be fit, the 12.75-mile Olentangy Bike Trail got people pedaling. Today, this popular trail stretches from Worthington through Clintonville and the campus area, and ends south of downtown at Whittier Street.

This granddaddy of Columbus bicycle trails is just one trail in the Central Ohio Greenways system. Founded in 1995, Greenways is a network of trails stretching throughout a 12-county region.

"The Olentangy bike trail was really the only one at that time," said Erin Miller, director of the Center for Energy & the Environment at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, which oversees Greenways.

More than 12 years after its inception, Greenways now encompasses 76 miles of trails in Franklin County, Miller said, with more than 100 miles completed in the multi-county region. Together with local governments and park districts, Greenways is planning nearly 200 additional miles for future development.

Aside from the Olentangy trail, bicyclists can trek several others, such as the Alum Creek Trail in southeastern Franklin County; the Scioto Trail, which follows the river south and west of downtown; and the Blacklick Trail in the Reynoldsburg area.

If you go: Several entrance points lead to the Olentangy Bike Trail, including Worthington Hills Park, Antrim Park, and Whetstone Park from the north; or Confluence Park from the south. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the parks. While there, take time to explore the park scenery, such as Whetstone's Park of Roses, and the river's wildlife. The observation deck at Ohio State's Olentangy River Wetland Research Park is another sure favorite with the kids for wildlife watching.

For a map of all Greenways trails, visit www.centralohiogreenways.com

Metro Parks trails

Several trails within the Greenways system start as bicycle trails in Franklin County Metro Parks, such as the Three Creeks Trail, which connects to the Alum Creek Trail. "You could ride that [trail] from the main picnic park off Bixby Road to Livingston," said Peg Hanley, Metro Parks public information manager.

Altogether, the park system has some 40 miles of multi-use trails, which include bicycling. The 12-foot-wide paved paths also accommodate in-line skaters, walkers and runners.

Hanley said park rangers frequently patrol the trails, making them family-friendly. "To me, it's really kind of a safe place to trail," Hanley added. Cyclists are likely to see wildlife including deer, osprey, turtles and even beaver or mink.

If you go: Hanley suggests riders discover the five miles of multi-use trails within Glacier Ridge in Union County. There, children can learn about wind and solar power or discover the park's wetland from the 23-foot observation tower. Another popular path is the Heritage Rail Trail that can be accessed from Heritage Park and Trail in Hilliard. For more information, visit metroparks.net.

Off-roading it

For Tyler and Ashley Jutte, bicycling isn't just exercise, it's a sport. The children compete at the Central Ohio Bicycle Racing Association's (COBRA) Heer Park, where they enjoy a 1,000-foot-long serpentine track with jumps and turns. "It's like his life. He loves it," said 6-year-old Tyler's mom, Kerri, a COBRA board member.

During outdoor racing season, which runs from May through October, boys and girls of various ages and abilities compete in weekly competitions. Some 350 registered riders compete at the park annually, Jutte said.

If you go: Heer Park will host an open house from 1-6 p.m. on Saturday, June 28. Volunteers will show newcomers how to participate. Children can also compete in mock mini races. For more information, visit heerparkbmx.com.
Several communities and organizations host bicycle races, charity rides, tours and other activities. More information about such events can be found on the Ohio Bicycle Events Calendar www.ohiocycling.info, or through the Columbus Outdoor Pursuits website www.outdoor-pursuits.org.