Ride Like a Local: Northwest Arkansas [Podcast #293]

Ride Like a Local is a podcast and article series dedicated to exploring the best mountain bike destinations in the world through the eyes of the riders who call these places home. We’ll find out about the must ride trails and the groups that maintain them, and also where to find pizza and beer after the ride.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the complete interview using the player above.

Anya Bruhin is a Northwest Arkansas local who has lived and worked in Fayetteville and Bentonville for 25 years. She’s also the education program manager for Bike NWA.

How did you end up in Northwest Arkansas?

I was forcibly brought here at the age of four. We moved from Texas when I was four to a little bitty town, just west of Fayetteville. It’s like the one town west of Fayetteville. And I grew up on a farm out there and as soon as I was old enough, I moved out and moved to Fayetteville where things happened past 8:00 PM. And I’ve lived here ever since.

Have there always been like mountain bike trails and things like that to do in Fayetteville? I mean, how did you get started mountain biking?

So it’s funny… When you live on a farm, you kind of always mountain bike, but you don’t really call it mountain biking because you’re just riding around the farm. So at like eight, I tried to downhill on this hill that was like the, our houses at the top and then our farm was at the bottom and I remember going, “What is this like if I don’t use brakes?”

Wow.

It was not good. I was on a pink Huffy and it had coaster brakes and I tried to go downhill without brakes. And I ended up launching over the bars like you will when you’re eight, but that wasn’t the end of biking for me so that worked out okay, I guess. You got to get those scars over early.

So mountain biking has not always been a thing here. The first trails were actually built in Devil’s Den in 1997, I believe, or ’96 right around there. And I remember I was like a high school student, we would go up there and hike. And then a couple of friends of mine were like, “Oh, did you know you can bike this too?” And I was like, “Y’all are crazy. I don’t know why you would want to.” And so way back then it was like some fire roads and people were riding these crazy bikes and these huge long stems and like cages around their feet and it was so sketchy. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll just hike that.”

Devil’s Den trails in 2015. Photo: Singletracks member GTXC4

But then I started mountain biking in 2005-ish and did a few rides around town. At that point in time, there was another trail in town near where I live around Lake Fayetteville. And again, it wasn’t what it is now; it’s so different now. But we rode a little bit then, and then I spent a lot of time riding around on the Greenway and then like in 2016, again, when NICA came to town I was kind of known at the school that I worked at as the bike lady. So they were like, “Hey, do you want to start a mountain biking team?” And I went, “Okay. Yeah, I guess I’ll do that.” I was a track coach at the time, so I thought, “If I can run, I can ride.” So we started picking that up again and then I learned some techniques and that there are skills that you can break down and there’s instruction and stuff and it makes it a much better experience.

Since then I’ve just been riding all over and now I work in bikes and I still coach the NICA team and my son’s on it now, which is really cool.

And no more pink Huffy?

No more pink Huffy. I kind of wish I still had it because I just think that that’d be a really cool thing to look at, but yeah, no more pink Puffy. I’ve got a big girl bike now.

Well, just like your bike has been upgraded and evolved over time, obviously the trails in Northwest Arkansas have too, and at this point, most people certainly in the US and I’m sure internationally too, have heard about all the trails that are being built and just the whole sort of industry that’s popping up around that part of the country. What to you think makes Northwest Arkansas stand out among mountain bike destinations?

So I remember the moment that I realized people knew about what we had. I thought it was so weird because we were just like… We’re just here in Arkansas and then people would come in from out of town and they’re like, “Yeah, we heard you’ve got this huge thing here.” And I went, “You heard of that, really? Okay.”

So there has been some serious momentum for the last little over like 15-ish years. There’ve been a lot of momentum going on here. And so I think the fact that there was a vision from the beginning and not just some gritty dudes in the woods with a couple of Maddocks and McLeods just scraping out a line that they want to ride. There was a little bit of star power behind it and a little bit of a long vision, like what we want to make this area. And along with that vision, there’ve been a lot of people imported from all over the world to come in here and help make that a reality.

And so now we call it Tuesday, whenever we just roll through town and we just roll up on somebody with a Red Bull helmet somewhere and some other teams somewhere that’s doing a training camp or a film crew that’s doing some video for something and we’re like, “Oh, okay. So that’s Tuesday here.” So it’s become just kind of part of the culture, which is really crazy because it’s happened almost… I mean, it feels like from a local’s perspective, I grew up here. It feels like overnight, suddenly all of these people that really didn’t pay much attention to bikes are like, “Oh, bikes are a thing. And now we all need to be a part of it.” So, I mean, it’s the overall vision.

It’s like, if you had a chance to build a town before all of the roads get put in and plan it out exactly how you want it, when it’s big enough to hold all of these people; it’s that kind of thing where we were so lucky that we had all of these different pieces of land that weren’t really being used for anything. And then this overall vision to be able to build it into like a destination for mountain biking. So the trails have a really close proximity to the towns. I’ve heard people who go out to like Moab and stuff, they’re like, “Man, we miss the tree cover [in Arkansas].” Because it’s shaded so we have a ton of trees, which seems weird, but the tree cover is big. It’s big deal.

There’s variety, there’s different styles of riding, there’s different levels of riding, there’s huge community buy-in, now there’s this whole bicycle industry that lives here and there are all of these people whose career is bikes. And there are other things to do besides that. So now they are world-class art museums and kayak parks and advocacy, there are different advocacy groups that take care of the trails. And so it’s this whole interconnected holistic bubble that is supporting all the different types of biking that you could do.

As a local who has been around for a while, do you still feel like your voice is a part of that conversation? Or is it kind of like you guys are along for the ride sort of, and there’s this big vision and you just kind of get to enjoy the fruits of that?

Well, I was a former board member in the clubs here, the Ozark Off Road Cyclists and they are involved in a lot of the projects that go on within their jurisdiction area. And the same thing with the other in the club that’s here, Friends of Arkansas Singletrack, FAST. So as advocacy groups for mountain biking, they’re involved a lot, especially when it comes to maintaining trail and bringing new people into the organizations and trying to get community buy-in on projects. Even sometimes when there’s like a hard surface project that goes in like, “Hey, we want a Greenway connector,” they’ll call on those local advocacy groups to come in and sit in on the meetings.

Because you can’t really do it without some grassroots involvement; otherwise you’re doing things at people instead of with people. And so yes, I do feel like there are organizations like the one that I work for, BikeNWA, which helps to create advocates within the whole scope of Northwest Arkansas. So we do a lot of work with underserved communities that haven’t been brought to the table and are not already a part of the bike community. And again, we try to do things with them or for them, but not at them. So it’s all about asking a lot of questions, which is what the different advocacy groups try to do.

It’s just hard to imagine the scale of what’s being done and what’s already been done in Northwest Arkansas. As someone who maybe is involved in a local club, the club might be thinking, “Oh man, it would be great if we could build this 20-mile loop,” while the folks with the money and the foundations, they’re like, “No, actually we’re thinking 250 miles.” And so I could see where maybe that vision would get ahead of what the mountain bikers even thought was possible. And so it is good to know that there’s like a nice interplay between the folks who are getting things done, more the grassroots, with that much bigger vision, which seems pretty unique in Arkansas.

I’m not from anywhere else so don’t know if it’s unique or not. I do know that it’s pretty great. When I went out to Seattle, we would hear people from there and from Santa Cruz and different areas that saying, “Man, we can’t do any of that. It takes so much more jumping through hoops to be able to do what you guys have done out there.” We let e-bikes ride on all of our trails and there are no restrictions to that.

But it’s not without its moments of conflict and differing visions and changes and realization that something needs to be changed because of the proximity or the level of difficulty or the user group that was intended. Sometimes trail builders get out there and they want to build what they want to run and so stuff gets a little spicy, but it needs to be maybe medium or mild and it’s not without its conflict and it’s not without having to redo stuff. But it’s been pretty cool to be a part of it; not exactly from the beginning, but in the beginning-ish.

There’s a ton of trail being built and that already exists in Northwest Arkansas. It seems like every month there’s a new trail system opening up, and not just a small ones either. So it’s kind of hard as an outsider to keep up with all that and to know like, “Okay, if I go to Bentonville or if I go to Fayetteville or somewhere else in Northwest Arkansas, what are the trails I need to hit?” So what in your opinion are the two or three must-ride locations that people are going to want to make sure they experience?

That’s such a loaded question because “must ride” depends on what style of riding you love best. So I’ll give you a couple of suggestions based on my preferences. And I really like a little bit of both. I love to pedal because I’m small and it’s really the only advantage I have, but I like to take a break every once in a while and feel that quad burn as you’re going downhill too. So I live here in Fayetteville and Kessler and Centennial are two of my absolute top favorites, especially now that you can kind of get to one from the other.

Centennial Trail. Photo: Bob Robinson.

One of the great things about Centennial is it has this beautiful little chip and seal loop called Pop Rocks. And I actually went out there right after a rain storm when everything else was muddy, we could still ride that. And so we were doing like laps on this little chip and seal track that’s pumpy and you can go either way and it’s really good fun. And it’s one of those things you can take kids to. It’s going to be fun for a few miles to do that when we can’t really ride a whole lot of anything else because it’s wet.

Kessler’s an old favorite of mine because it was one of the first ones in Fayetteville. A lot of it was hand cut. It’s got some great views, beautiful rocks, and it’s one of those ones that the Ozark Off Road Cyclists kind of, it’s their like heart trail. So they spend a lot of time on that and a lot of love on it and so that’s another favorite. Eureka Springs is great because Eureka Springs is just a funny little town. For those of you from Colorado, it kind of reminds me of Manitou Springs because it’s got that little funky vibe to it. But it’s also got some great trails out there around Lake Leatherwood.

There are, I think, six downhill lines on there, plus cross-country around Lake Leatherwood. And then over at the Passion Play are a bunch of other trails of varying levels that a lot of people really like. I’ve only seen them, I haven’t ridden them, but due to their proximity to Leatherwood, Eureka Springs is a great place to go. And then Devil’s Den, which was the first mountain bike trail in Arkansas at Fossil Flats has recently been added to. Some of the work out there has been redone by a building group called Rock Solid and it is amazing. We just went there on Friday and it’s wonderful.

There are a couple of creek crossings so on a hot day you can splash through a creek. They’re like mid-calf high, so it’s a little bit of work to get through, made me feel really accomplished. You ride under a waterfall and it’s-

Wow. That’s cool.

Yeah, it’s really special. It’s pedally you’re going to work for it, but I think that’s one that you really can’t miss.

You mentioned a pump track at Centennial. Are there other sort of family-friendly trails that you would recommend to folks like maybe flow trail stuff without a whole lot of climbing perhaps?

It’s a little bit of a song of up and down here. So I like to say when I ride with kids, you got to get up to get down. So there’s not really any way that you can do down without also going up some, but there are some that are preferential one way or another. And a lot of the trail systems and I think this is one of the goals in the areas to create within the trail systems, certain trails that are appropriate for new users, younger users, people that are not quite ready for the spice or even like they don’t want to ride for fitness.

So at Slaughter Pen, which is one of the first trail systems up in Bentonville, there’s one trail called All American, which leads from downtown and goes all the way, almost to Bella Vista. You can follow that trail all the way down. Some parts of it are two way, there’s not a lot of heavy obstacles or rocks or roots on it, it’s got a lot of flow. And so that’s a good one. Kids love that. And they can just ride down that and then head back up the Greenway and ride down again and they really enjoy that.

There’s one in Fayetteville called Gregory Park, which I call like a pocket park. So it’s only like 21 acres, but it’s got a mile perimeter trail and then two flow lines that come down it. And so that’s one of those ones where you can just take your whole family. Somebody can post up there at the pavilion and then the kids can go up and down and up and down and up and down. And you can’t really lose them in the woods because they’re just right there in this pocket park.

Centennial has that great line. When you go up to the top of the park, there’s some other trails up at the top of the park. And gosh, there are two Velosolutions pump track parks that I can think of. One is the Railyard up in Rogers, which has some slope style lines as well as the jump line at the back of the parking lot mulch jump. So that’s a great place to take kids and you can actually ride that any time really, because it’s paved. And then Runway Park in Springdale is another one that was built. And that’s where the Pump Track World Championships just were last month. And then they have a couple of skills lines too, and there’s one part where you can actually ride through a helicopter, which is really cool.

There are a lot of little places that have that we call bicycle playgrounds. So they’re sprinkled all throughout Northwest Arkansas as sort of Strider-friendly places where you can take kids on balance bikes and they can tool around. So the idea is to have a place for everybody at each of these trail systems.

Tell us about some of the more challenging rides in the area. I’ve seen a lot of photos of big jumps and gaps and things like that. I’ve also seen photos of really technical rocky trails and then there’s even backcountry stuff too. So maybe not technically challenging, but stuff that’s going to challenge you physically. So, tell us about some of those rides that are going to be for the more experienced mountain bikers.

Back in April, the OZ Pro Cup, which was an Olympic qualifier cross country race, was held at the Centennial trails. So some of the video that you saw probably came from that, there’s a lot of rock work up on Centennial. There are a couple of lines on there that are getting really challenging and have got some really cool stuff. There’s actually a trail on Centennial where you can jump over an old truck that was found in the woods that just became a part of the trail.

So for tech and rocks, we’ve got Centennial in Fayetteville, Fitzgerald in Springdale was another trail system that was opened up, oh gosh, maybe three years ago. Devil’s Den, I already mentioned has some techie stuff in it. Eureka Springs out of the Passion Play, there are a lot of lines out there that are pretty spicy. There’s a new trail system that’s not quite open yet; it’s called Keystone up in Bentonville. There’s some great downhill lines there. Coler Mountain Bike Preserve in Bentonville has several jump lines out there.

And then if you’re looking for a fitness challenge, we’ve got the Back 40, which is, like I said, sort of a song of up and down where you are working really hard. Little Sugar trails up there as well on the opposite side of the freeway. Hobbs State Park has a lot of cross-country style stuff out there so you’d be peddling, peddling, peddling. There’s a lot for all different skill levels. There’s certainly a lot of stuff that I don’t have aspirations to ever ride, but I’ll happily go watch other people do it.

Back 40 Trail. Rider: Nathan W. Photo: Greg Heil

One of the things that does make a trail physically challenging, I guess, is the climbing. So if someone did a really big ride on Back 40, how much climbing would they be doing? And what’s sort of the mileage that you could get out of that without doing a lot of doubling back?

The Back 40 loop itself is about 20 miles. And then the Little Sugar loop… Gosh, that one’s like, if you do the whole thing, I think it’s like 28 and there’s more being added. So the elevation, I think the last time I was out at Little Sugar I did 13 miles and had… I’d have to look at it, it’s a lot of climbing; probably 1900 feet of climbing and 13 or 14 miles somewhere around there.

Oh, wow. That’s a lot.

And it’s not all straight up you have little breaks, but it’s up and down. The way they’ve laid this out is there are easements where there’s non-buildable land, so you can’t build houses on it. So we build mountain bike trails on it because it’s not really used for anything else. And so it weaves in and out of these neighborhoods along these easements. And it’s kind of brilliant because when you put people out there, then the land is like kept a little bit nicer; people don’t dump things on it or anything like that. And so it’s actually kind of brilliant that it’s used that way.

Yeah, that’s cool. And if they do dump stuff like cars, then the mountain bikers just use them as obstacles. So that’s always a bonus.

That’s something that happened in one case that I know of, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening currently somewhere and I just don’t know about it.

One person’s trash is another person’s trail art. So we’re looking forward to seeing more of that. What are some of the lesser-known trails where mountain bikers can maybe get away from the crowds? Are there crowds? Are there times when you’re like, “Oh, there’s too many people on this trail.”

I thought that that question was really funny because we have so many trails that it’s rarely ever so crowded that you just don’t want to do anything. There is a little bit of congestion which happens up in Bentonville on the Slaughter Pen trail system, just because it’s so close to downtown and people want to session and go up and down and up and down. And there are some places that it’s two-way and the old story where one person’s going down and the other person’s going up and somebody gets upset; that happens sometimes, it’s not massive problem. And just because it’s an issue today doesn’t mean that it isn’t something that’s being worked on right now to kind of alleviate that, but we don’t have the kind of congestion that most people think of when they think of congestion.

Saturday at Slaughter Pen is going to be busy on a nice day, especially if the weather has been crap for a long time and it’s the first dry day. But there are a lot of trail systems that even people who live here and have lived here for a long time, haven’t been on yet. So there’s a little trail out west of Fayetteville called Lake Lincoln and it is a beautiful little rocky trail. And Lake Lincoln is brilliant because you can kayak it. You can rock climb there because there are rock climbing areas there and you can ride. So if you love those three things, you can go out there and do all of your favorite things in one place. And it’s never super crowded out there.

Wedington, Twin Knobs, that’s an out and back with a beautiful overlook; that’s another one where you can kind of get away from everybody. Devil’s Den again, I’ve never been out there and it’s been crowded, not ever.

The Buffalo Headwaters is an IMBA Epic trail that is on national forest land so it’s dispersed camping and you can go out there and ride 30ish miles of trails. You are probably not going to see very many people at all. And there is no cell phone service, so you can definitely get away out there.

I’ve heard of Buffalo Headwaters, like you said, it’s an IMBA Epic and good to know that it’s still like something you can go out and experiencing and still have that backcountry feel and not feel like you’re at Disneyland with a bunch of people all over the place.

Oh, yeah. You can forget that there are people if you’re out there.

You mentioned a number of organizations that are working to build trails and maintain trails in the area, so let’s talk about them now. Who are the main groups that are building and maintaining trails in Northwest Arkansas?

So there is an organization called the NWA Trailblazers who manages a lot of different projects and they will contract and bring in different companies from all over. So we’ve had Progressive Trail Designs, Rock Solid, Rogue Trails, Flow Ride, Gravity Logic, Veloslutions, Singletrack Trails; there are more, I’m sure that I’m not thinking of. There are lots of projects and so again, it’s a variety. And so having the same trail builder do everything doesn’t really make sense. And then of course there are the IMBA clubs; FAST does a lot of maintenance in their area. And then OORC is a little bit unique because they actually do build, they build hand-cut and they do a lot of rock armoring and things like that. They don’t do any machine building.

They are just volunteers. I say ‘just volunteers,’ which is actually kind of more badass than being paid for it because they’re volunteers and they just go out there and schlep rocks. I mean, these guys, it’s crazy the amount of rock that they move around just with their bare hands.

It’s so fun to watch which is mostly what I do when rock work is involved; I just watch. But then we also have a lot of projects where we bring in the NICA teams for stewardship and giving back is a big cornerstone of NICA. And so sometimes there are projects that are sort of built for the kids and we like to involve them as much as possible. So a project that I worked on at the school that I used to work at was to build a little trail on campus. And so we brought out all of the volunteers from the OORC and then NICA, and they kind of worked together where the OORC was kind of leading it and then NICA came in and the kids were learning how to maintain a trail and how to use McLeods and all the different tools.

So it’s a lot of public private partnership. There are some cities that have dedicated trail maintenance people. There are some cities that don’t yet, but are kind of exploring that option. Once you get a certain amount of trails, there’s really only so much that an advocacy group or a volunteer group could do. And it’s time to kind of look at what the economic value of these trails are, what they’re bringing to the area and what budget you can dedicate to making sure that they’re still world-class. So the trouble is, there’s such a small team of five who work on trails and then bill Bella Vista and Coler. And they work to train people from FAST, OORC and NICA; they work with them periodically. So yeah, it’s a lot of everyone, it’s all hands on deck to look after everything.

What are the funding sources that these groups are using? We’ve heard that there are countless, like you said, countless trail builders in Arkansas working kind of year round, and it’s just seems crazy that there’s that much work available and funding available. So where’s the funding for a lot of this coming from?

Grants, and it’s not from one source. It’s largely funded by grants from the Walton Family Foundation as part of their vision to create this world-class mountain biking destination. But, as other organizations, as other businesses are seeing the value of this, there’s partnership from other areas as well.

Is there much government funding that’s available as well? I know that’s big in certain areas.

Government funding at the state level?

Yeah or the federal, like Recreational Trail Funding and a lot of those sources that IMBA helps clubs connect with to get trails built.

Not being one of the grant writers for that, I couldn’t say definitively one way or another. I do know that there is funding available for hard surface which is more like transportation and connectivity, things like that. But that plays into it as well, because if you could ride your bike to a place rather than having to go somewhere and park, it’s all kind of part of it and it’s super interconnected. And the organization that I work for is definitely an advocate for creating that connectivity. And sometimes connectivity’s dirt, sometimes connectivity is a paved surface. So I know that there is funding out there for it, not being one of the grant writers I couldn’t say specifically how much for where it comes from.

A lot of mountain bike destinations, particularly ski resorts, are places where you would expect to be able to find plenty of bikes to rent for people coming out of town. Is that something that’s available in Northwest Arkansas right now?

Absolutely. Yep. All of the major shops rent bikes now. It wasn’t always so, but they’ve recognized that is something that their client base has been asking for. So Mojo Cycling, Highroller, Spoke Adventures, Phat tire, the Bike Route, Gearhead Outfitters, all those guys have rental bikes. I would recommend that you call ahead of time and maybe reserve one just in case. Just so you can make sure you have the one you want or the size that works for you. I think some of the cities even have a few rental bikes as well, and they may not be the hardcore type, but they do have bikes if you need to get around.

Is there a variety of bikes that shops are renting? It sounds like there are trails for everything. I mean, you could ride hardtails, plenty of places, you could probably also use a downhill bike at a few of the spots. So is there a certain style of bikes?

I don’t know if anybody runs downhill bikes. I know you can rent a trail bike. Probably an enduro bike, I haven’t seen any downhill bikes yet. When I say downhill, it’s not like your Rocky Mountain range downhill; it is downhill, but it’s not necessarily something that’s going to require a massive amount of travel. You might want to ride it that way, you might not. Generally the bikes that we see around here that the locals ride are enduro or trail bikes. There are a lot of cross-country riders as well and you could get something in the middle range and have fun on everything. That’s basically what I have.

There are a couple of places that you can even rent a gravel bikes because gravel is a big thing around here now, too. Of course, we have a lot of great dirt roads. The only sad thing about gravel is they’ll never be as many dirt roads as there are now because sometimes they get paved. So unless somebody’s cutting new roads up there somewhere, which is not super often; we have what we have and we try not to send too many cars on it.

Are there any local tour operators or perhaps even clubs that visitors can connect with if they want to ride with some local folks or have someone show them around?

Both of the IMBA clubs host rides; FAST does a standing ride every Wednesday, unless weather conditions don’t allow for it, which means like an active thunderstorm. The Ozark Off Road Cyclists, I think they do their rides a little bit less periodically and more pop-up. 37 North Expeditions does a gravel tour and I think they’re starting to do some more mountain bike things as well. They also do combination stuff. So you can go do a gravel ride and then take a kayak out. So they’ll do like a pedal/paddle, which is super fun.

Slaughter Trail Guides is another really good one, they do shuttles as well. So if you wanted to go out to Eureka and shuttle they’ll take you out and they’ll shuttle you. Ozark Cycling Guides will kind of tailor it to whatever you want to do. So there’s a lot of great stuff. And they are Facebook pages for the two clubs where you can just go on and see who’s riding where, and just jump in with them and they are always very welcoming.

So after the ride, where do people hang out, are there like certain bars or breweries that the mountain bikers tend to prefer over other places?

If you are up in Bentonville, you can hit The HUB and it is one of those places that actually was created by a trail building company to kind of have all their friends hang out. So they have food and beverages. It’s a favorite of ours. Right next door to that is Pedalers Pub, where you can go get pizza. Airship Coffee has a coffee bar in Coler Mountain Bike Preserve that you can only get to by walking or riding your bike. There is no drive up.

Wow, that’s cool.

They have food and coffee and beer, and they do like DJs out there every once in a while. So it’s a good time. Bike Rack Brewing is another really great one; that’s at a place called 8th Street Market in Bentonville. One of my faves down here in Fayetteville is Fossil Cove. They are right on the Razorback Greenway and a lot of rides start and end from there, especially end. The Odd Soul another favorite of mine in Springdale. They’re just off the downtown area, just down from that runway bar park that I talked about, Natural State Brewing.

There are a couple of good live music venues too, that are right on the Greenway; one’s George’s Majestic, which is like 80-some-odd years old and has had some major names come through there, really great place. Another one is Prairie Street Live, which has a wonderful outdoor venue right off the Greenway.

And the Greenway actually connects all the towns. Well, not all of them. They are more towns that are on it, but the four major cities that are right with each other, each with trail systems in Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, and Bentonville, you can ride from Kessler all the way up the Greenway to Blowing Springs. So if you had the legs and the time, you could ride your mountain bike around Kessler, head up the Greenway and then go hit Slaughter Pen and come back if you wanted to.

It almost sounds like you could show up and if you’re staying in the right spot, you could get around on your bike pretty much the whole time. So is there a spot you would recommend for folks who want to do that? Who want to just like park the car and ride to the ride and ride to get beer and pizza and listen to music and stuff, are there spots that, that are good for doing that sort of thing?

So there’s camping at Devil’s Den, where you can go ride that Fossil Flats Trail and everything that’s over there. They’re camping at Coler which is up in Bentonville. Blowing Springs has camping and all of these places, you can either tent camp or you can car camp, it’s up to you. Blowing Springs has a huge RV spot. So if you wanted to RV, you could go to Blowing Springs. Hobbs has new camping, which is hiking camping, or biking camping, and they are the most beautifully constructed architectural pieces of like trail jewels.

And then of course, down at the Buffalo Headwaters, you can do dispersed camping out there and there are a couple of really great spots. We get a lot of van lifers; they come up here or down here, depending on where they’re coming from. And there are a lot of different places that are not on that list that you can also do. And there are a couple of hacks out in the van world; I know that they know what those things are. We get a lot of those too.

What about if you’re looking for something a little more like in town, are there like hotels or Airbnbs, that are going to be accessible to trails?

So 21c is just across from All American Trailhead and it is a bike-friendly hotel. It is also a museum inside, it has a private collection of art which is shared between all of the 21c hotels in the US; so I think there’s one in Louisville, one in Durham and they share this art collection. So there’s that, which is an added bonus. I love going in there, they have some of the coolest, weirdest art anyway. The Graduate in downtown Fayetteville’s another bike-friendly hotel; it’s right on the square; so it’s like a couple of blocks from Greenway access, which can take you either north or south, whatever trail system you want to get to.

Hampton Inn is right at the base of Centennial, which is kind of cool. If you’re looking to book that for the Cyclo-cross World Championships in 2022, you better get on it and it’s probably sold out honestly.

And there are loads of Airbnbs and more and more every day. And a lot of the Airbnbs are actually getting on board with bikes and a lot of the hotels, honestly, too. There are more than what I mentioned but it’s something that the whole population in the area is getting on board with. And they’re like, “Okay, we get it. This is a thing and we’re all going to get on board with the thing.” And even some smaller towns in the area. They’re like, they’ve seen what has happened in the last 15 years to some of the downtown areas that have had connection through a bike path to other towns and they want a piece of it. And so they’re smaller towns that are getting on board as well.

You mentioned the Cyclo-cross Worlds event that’s coming up next year. Are there other events and races that people can plan to attend? And are there better times of the year to visit, to ride mountain bikes than others?

Yes, there’s so much happening. In March, the lights flipped on and all of the events came back and now it’s almost every weekend that there’s something going on for bikes in one discipline or another, if not directly then nearby. And so all of the different organizations convene and try to figure out who gets which weekend but there’s always going to be something. Some of my favorites are the Devil’s Den Mountain Bike Festival, which has been going on, this last year was 32nd year. And it’s a little bit grassroots, much smaller. You’ll see like the old school builders that were out there in the beginning and it’s the first weekend in April.

And it’s all free, if you want to insert yourself into one of the first mountain bike events in Arkansas, that’s the one. I said, of course the Cyclo-cross World Championships, the Arkansas Enduro Series goes through May to September. A couple of weekends ago, we just had the one in Bella Vista on some of the trails that I didn’t even mention at the Huntley Gravity Zone over there.

We have the Bentonville Bike Fest that’s coming up this weekend. That’s Kenny Belaey’s project. That is a three day festival that’s got everything from races on All American to an Enduro race, to a gravel event, there are trials shows. I think there’s like a jump show as well. Strider is doing a Strider race. It’s a big, big thing and it’s this weekend so if you’re in town in June, that’s the weekend to come and it’s super duper. Most of the events for that are free. There are experiences that are a little bit more instructive, so registration is required for those, but for the general access it’s free to attend.

Another one of my favorites that was started by locals is the Buffalo Headwaters Challenge, which is at the end of January. This one is in the dead of winter and that was created to basically keep the forest from eating the trail because you got to get tires on it. So once a year they convene riders out there on the Buffalo Headwaters trails to just ride them in.

Good to know that you can ride year round in Northwest Arkansas.

You can, there are times when freeze-thaw kind of starts happening and we really want to protect the more vulnerable trails from that. But we have a couple of trail systems that are built on the type of rock that you can really ride all year. And even in the rain or immediately after the rain, we have a few trail systems that get a lot of use when the weather’s crap.

Those are just a few of the events, there are ton more and those are just the mountain bike specific ones. The Cyclo-cross World Championship isn’t mountain bike specific, but most of us would need a mountain bike to ride those courses.

You mentioned most of these events are either completely free or mostly free. And I’m just thinking about Northwest Arkansas as a destination, it seems to be unique in terms of how accessible and affordable a trip there would be compared to going somewhere more resort-style, where people are going to spend a good bit more to stay and to access the trails and all that kind of thing. It seems like Arkansas is set up to be much more affordable and accessible.

I think so. I’ve been to other places and I know that sometimes you get to pay to get a shuttle and passes for the lift. We don’t have any lifts, so you don’t need passes. We just need legs.

Yeah. Or you can bring your e-bike.

You can.

That’s unusual as well for a lot of destinations.

You can and you should bring e-bike.

So if you need a shuttle, you bring your own and you’ll be fine. What are some of the bigger or more interesting projects that are coming up in the future?

They’re always expanding. Like I said, areas outside the main corridor are potential for getting in on the action. There was a system at Mount Nebo that just opened up recently. And then of course there was an Enduro race that happened there, pretty close to that opening. Little towns like Huntsville… I love Huntsville, it’s beautiful and mountainous like some of the other places wish that they were and that a lot of it is undeveloped private land. There’s a huge potential in that area.

It’s always on the horizon to try something new, to try something different. A lot of these projects are where some of these companies kind of cut their teeth and learned to do what they do and so going back and reworking those projects as they have new techniques or new ideas that they to try out. It’s always expanding, it’s never not, there’s a lot of momentum for creating even more family-friendly places where there are all of the amenities that a family would want; bathrooms, changing areas, plenty of water, parking, multiple level trails, bike park kind of things. And just trying to create the best iteration of what a family would want out of one space. There’s always room for improvement and there are some crazy ideas out there.

The sense that I get is that at this point there’s plenty of mileage and that’s not to say that big trail projects aren’t still being opened and I’m sure there are more being planned, but it seems like what I’ve seen also is just more of these kind of, as you alluded to there, they’re more like show pieces for the builders and doing things that are really unique, like riding through a waterfall or like through a helicopter or whatever, stuff that you’re not gonna find anywhere else. And kind of also filling in the gaps, making sure that there is something for everyone.

Yeah. There’s a long-term vision of what could this trail be used for? Is this an appropriate place for a NICA race? Is this an appropriate place for an Enduro race? Is this an inappropriate place for a family to come if they just want to spend one day in the area? And trying to visit this piece of property and look at it through all of the different user groups who could use it and trying to maximize it for that rather than this is a downhill trail, or this is a cross country trail, or this whole system is specifically for this use. We find that we get more community buy-in, more interest if the system is treated like something for everybody.

Is there anything else that mountain bikers need to know before visiting Northwest Arkansas?

So there’s one thing I did want to mention when you were talking about places to rent bikes, we have something pretty unique here, and that is a place where you can rent kids bikes.

Oh, cool.

There is a shop called Buddy Pegs that has bikes for kids all the way up to like nine, 10 years old, maybe even a little bit older. And I think they also have e-cargo bikes that you can rent. So if you wanted to rent an e-cargo bike to take your family from one place to another, you totally could. If you wanted to rent a 24-inch full suspension bike for your kiddo, you can totally do that. And that is something super unique that I know not a lot of places have.

So couple of things; if you come here you need to bring your fleet, because you can do all the different types of ridings, so bring your gravel bike, your full suspension and your cross-country, or find one that you think is going to rule them all and try it. We did just have a race here called the Rule of Three, which was singletrack, gravel, and road that you do on the same bike.

We do have some rocks in the area that can do a little bit of damage. At the Oz Off-Road Epic a few years ago there were a lot of flats, especially immediately after the rain. So bring durable tires.

For more information and resources visit bikenwa.org.

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