This year on National Trails Day, SORBA is kicking off a 35 Year Celebration! 

35 years ago, what began as a group of trail volunteers working to create and protect places to ride became an official organization dedicated to the growth and maintenance of trail systems across the South. 

The year was 1989, and SORBA, the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association was officially incorporated after a year or more of grassroots advocacy. Mountain biking as an activity was becoming more popular, and places to ride were few and far-between. The previous year, a group of concerned mountain bikers gathered in response to the closing of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park to mountain bike use.  To help spread the word about mountain biking trail support, the first issue of the Fat Tire Times was published. The group printed copies to hand out at trailheads and social events. 

At this time, mountain biking was viewed as an extreme sport, and the stigma of being a mountain biker meant that you could be viewed as a troublemaker or a renegade. The group behind SORBA had set out to change that. They believed that mountain biking could be accessible to more people, and was a great way to enjoy the outdoors while challenging themselves and enjoying a thrilling activity.

After a substantial amount of hard work and organizing their efforts, SORBA presented “Mountain Bike Recreation in the Chattahoochee RIVER NRA,”  a proposal submitted to the National Park Service Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.  The following year, SORBA celebrated the official opening of  the Sope Creek trails, National Park Service Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. We were really gaining some traction, and held the first Fat Tire Festival at Bear Creek Trail near Ellijay, Georgia. 

By 1994, the group had grown to over 200 members, and in 1995 SORBA established its first chapter,  SORBA-Gainesville,  to address the needs and interests of mountain bikers in Hall County, Georgia.

1996 brought more momentum and change, as SORBA received two National Recreational Trail Fund grants for construction of multi-use trails at Fort Mountain State Park and in the Ed Jenkins National Recreation Center Area (Bull Mountain).  SORBA sent representatives to the first International Mountain Biking Summit at Biosphere II in Arizona.  Our attendance at the Summit  led to a long-standing relationship with IMBA and a seat for a SORBA member on the IMBA board of directors.

The 1996 Olympic Games were held in Atlanta, GA, in which mountain biking was first included as an Olympic sport.  SORBA members serve as  volunteers, race course marshals at the mountain biking cross-country event, and as mountain bikers in the closing ceremony.

In 1997 SORBA received a “Trails for Tomorrow Award” from the American Hiking Society and DuPont Cordura  for promoting and participating in the National Trails Day event held with partners REI and the US Forest Service. SORBA also became a founding member of the Georgia Association of Promoters.  GAP coordinated the Georgia Mountain Bike Series and with SORBA created the Georgia PayDirt Program.  These initiatives were helping establish mountain biking as a more legitimate activity, beneficial to communities and an exciting way to get more people interested in natural spaces.

By 1999, SORBA had established 11 Chapters and had expanded to Tennessee, beginning the movement toward a more regional presence. In 2001, SORBA hired two part-time employees to publish Fat Tire Times, manage the website, and to process membership.

In 2003, SORBA won the Award of Recognition from the US Department of Agriculture.  SORBA hired a full time Executive Director in 2008 to help create a vision for the future of the organization, and to help grow membership and community support for its 25 chapters across Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Over the next twenty years, mountain biking as an activity saw exponential growth.  SORBA also continued to grow into the influential leader it is today, with 47 Chapters across 7 states. Mountain biking had finally been seen as a family-friendly activity, while maintaining its reputation for being a challenging and exhilarating way to enjoy the outdoors.

In 2020, with the COVID pandemic allowing more people time away from their offices and schools, and more time outside, mountain biking increased by 20%, which was faster than any other outdoor activity at that time. During the next few years, SORBA expanded its online presence, established new programs, made connections in Washington DC and grew by over 1,000 members.

As a mostly volunteer organization, SORBA has grown to include 15 employees within the region,  primarily  at the chapter level as executive directors and trail staff. 

In 2023, SORBA established a new Mission Statement and reset its goals and vision for the future. In that same year, SORBA membership exceeded 10,000. 

While SORBA continues to grow and change to adapt to the changing landscape of the outdoor recreation industry, one thing remains the same: the spirit of those original volunteers to help provide access to the social, physical and mental benefits that mountain biking provides. We’re excited to celebrate the past 35 years of SORBA, and to continue moving forward as the next generation of mountain bikers steps forward.