Cycling the Blue Ridge Mountains
Photocredit: Sycamore Cycles
On a typical drive through Western North Carolina and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll encounter many cyclists enjoying the ride.
This region welcomes many individuals who wish to experience the rush that comes with the downhill ride after the exertion of pedaling up a mountain. In addition to road biking, mountain biking on some of the available trails can be an exhilarating experience. While the bikes and the skills required are quite different, roadies and MTBers who take to the hills and mountains tend to take their disciplines seriously.
Don’t let the mountainous terrain put you off, however. Whether you are an expert or a less experienced rider, there are plenty of great rides that are not too hilly in the Hendersonville-Brevard area. You can also cycle along the French Broad River valleys in Buncombe County.
Cycling here can be a wonderful experience and quite liberating, as there are a wide range of challenge levels throughout the area and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The beauty of this area cannot be denied and a ride along the river, through the woods or Pisgah’s backcountry and wilderness areas make for some excellent adventures and day trips.
In WNC there are many enthusiastic cyclists and cycling clubs that provide support and regular group activities.
In 1974, as an outcome of a community meeting on bikeways planning, the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club (BRBC) was formed. It was decided that a club was needed to offer organized rides and to serve as an advocacy group to work on developing a system of bikeways. With little support in the early years from both city government and residents for the development of bikeways, the group turned their attention to recreational rides.
The club reorganized in 1990 and has continued to hold annual fundraisers and build on their successes, activities and events. Membership has continued to grow and organized rides for road cyclists are held weekly.
Members of the BRBC focus on networking for cycling enthusiasts, bicycling advocacy, representing cycling interests to the US Forest Service, trail maintenance and adopt-a-highway cleanups. The club supports the community and WNC through their mission to promote healthy and fun lifestyles through cycling in Western North Carolina. They do this by providing education, cycling opportunities and developing new cycling programs. They also work with health and fitness organizations, existing organizations on cycling programs and governments on transportation planning.
The BRBC also has an extensive route library that is accessible to members on the RidewithGPS.com website. Routes can be searched and selected by length, total climb and location. This is a great tool for members. To become a member, or to access their membership information, events calendar, resources, and advocacy updates, check their website at: blueridgebicycleclub.org.
There are several clubs in the area focused on mountain biking. Since 1988, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) encourages low impact riding, volunteer trail work, cooperation among trail user groups, grass roots advocacy and innovative trail management solutions. Website: imba.com
The Nantahala Area Sorba (Southern Off Road Bicycling Association) is the voice for mountain biking in Way Western North Carolina. This chapter is the primary custodian of the Tsali trails and keeps them in top shape for riders around the globe to enjoy. Check them out on their Facebook page. The Pisgah Area Sorba is part of IMBA and works to keep riding areas open and to improve riding opportunities across the Southeast. Website: pisgahareasorba.org
Trips for Kids WNC provides mountain bike outings and environmental education for children who would otherwise not be exposed to such activities. The WNC chapter is a member of Trips for Kids International and has provided outings for more than 2000 kids since it began. Website: tripsforkidswnc.com
Cycling advocacy and infrastructure
Cycling in WNC is a long time passion and the need for the city to build better bike and pedestrian infrastructure has been at the forefront of the cycling culture. Asheville on Bikes is a 501c3 advocacy program that supports and works toward empowering our community to revision and rebuild its infrastructure to yield inclusive results.
In June, Asheville on Bikes partnered with the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and AARP on a Tactical Urbanism project. The project’s goal is to design, install, and track months-long experimental changes to Coxe Avenue in Asheville, and to test street design ideas, using a community-driven process for both planning and building. The project will demonstrate a fiscally responsible test→evaluate→build approach to street design.
By coordinating with the City of Asheville, and encouraging community participation through each step of the process, the test results will directly inform the pending redesign of Coxe Avenue, which is funded and scheduled to begin over the winter of 2018/2019. For more information, check out ashevilleonbikes.com.
In addition to their advocacy program, Asheville on Bikes sponsors nearly half a dozen big group rides around town each year. These are the type of rides that are suitable for all ages, so families can bring their kids and have a great time.
Cycling and fitness
Cycling is a great way to stay fit. Many cyclists over 50 have been riding consistently for many years. Some cyclists who may be slowing down and really thinking seriously before taking that 100-mile ride have switched with their partners to tandem cycling. This can take a bit of getting used to even if you’ve been riding alongside your partner for a while. There’s a certain effort required to synchronize the rhythm of the ride since you’re riding for two.
It’s not too late to begin this activity, even if you haven’t been on a bicycle in years. There are many benefits to cycling, both physical and mental. Benefits for the body include working different muscle groups, and improving cardio, endurance and balance. You’ll also find that it sharpens the mind as you’re thinking about the process of riding, paying attention to the road and looking out for possible pitfalls like potholes, broken glass or other objects—oh, or the occasional distracted pedestrian.
Before tackling the Blue Ridge Mountains, or even some of the mountains and hills within Asheville, you’ll want to get on your road bike and start off on some flatter terrain where the traffic is fairly light. Take shorter rides to begin with and extend them as you feel you’re progressing. If you feel you are just too out of shape, you can always go to the gym for some consistent work on a stationary bike to work on those leg muscles before getting out on the road.
Above all, make it fun. Go out with a seasoned cyclist or a friend or family member who may also like to join you on the adventure. And if you’re just getting back into cycling, don’t forget to check with your doctor beforehand.
Photocredit: Sycamore Cycles
There are plenty of bike shops that offer road and mountain bike rentals.
Asheville Bicycle Company: 1000 Merrimon Ave, Asheville NC, (828) 774-5215, Website: ashevillebikecompany.com Road, mountain and town/city bicycles are available and rentals include helmets. Bicycle racks are also offered for rent. The store offers a full line of bicycles and accessories for all styles of riding. Full service repair is also available.
Biltmore Estate: On estate only (membership or entry pass required), Biltmore’s Bike Barn located on the second floor of Antler Hill Barn, (800) 411-3812, Website: biltmore.com There are many miles of biking trails available for exploring the Biltmore Estate. You can select the well-marked woodland trails for a more challenging ride, or take the paved trail along the French Broad River for a more relaxing ride.
Carolina Fatz 2.0 Cycling Center: 1240 Brevard Road #2, Asheville NC, (828) 665-7744, Website: carolinafatz2.com Offering mountain bike rentals, accessories and service. Serving WNC for more than 20 years, they re-launched in 2014. Named in 2018 as One of the 10 Best Bike Shops in NC by Best Things North Carolina.
The Flying Bike - Electric Bike Tours and Rentals: 225 Coxe Ave, Asheville NC, (828) 450-8686, Website: flyingbiketours.com This company rents Pedego electric bikes for tours, or you can venture out for a self-guided tour to explore Asheville at your own pace. Helmets, bike locks, cold spring water in reusable bottles, ponchos for unexpected rain and a rear cargo bag are included.
Kolo Bike Park: At the Adventure Center of Asheville, adjacent to the Crowne Plaza Resort, 85 Expo Drive, (877) 247-5539, Website: ashevilletreetopsadventurepark.com I Rent a bike for use at this mountain bike park or take advantage of their full rental for use off-site. Rentals can be booked online.
Liberty Bicycles: 1378 Hendersonville Road, Asheville NC, (828) 274-2453, Website: libertybikes.com I Offering a variety of road and mountain bikes for rent, their store also sells bikes, accessories and other items. Bicycle fitting as well as repairs and service, and bicycle maintenance classes are also available. Founded in 1980, Liberty Bicycles has been named the Best Bike Shop in WNC by Mountain X-press readers every year since 2007. Online bike rental reservations are offered. Check their website for an Events Calendar that lists local rides, races and more.
Sycamore Cycles: With two locations, Third Avenue, East Allen Street, Hendersonville NC, (828) 693-1776, and 69 Hendersonville Highway, Suite #2, Pisgah Forest, (828) 877-5790, Website: sycamorecycles.com I Email or book online for mountain or road bike rentals. Offering bicycles, service and repair since 2000. Named in 2018 as One of the 10 Best Bike Shops in NC by Best Things North Carolina.
Youngblood Bicycles: 233 Merrimon Ave, Asheville NC, (828) 251-4686, Website: youngbloodbikes.com I Youngblood carries a selection of hardtail, full suspension and carbon road bikes for rental. Founded in 2006, their shop offers a broad selection of bikes, accessories and maintenance. They also offer group rides every Thursday (weather permitting) that are free to join.
For a website that compiles cycling related events in the WNC area, check out ashevillecycling.com. Asheville Cycling can also help you plan a trip by providing you with cycling information or locating upcoming rides or races.
For the most current resource for navigating central Asheville on your bike (and by foot), the Get Moving Map was developed through collaboration between several local agencies and organizations. The map connects Asheville’s residents and visitors with our city’s diverse and developing system of parks, recreation centers, greenways, and on-street bike facilities. To download the map, go to myashevilleparks.org and click "Get Moving Map." The bicycle has legally been considered a vehicle in North Carolina since 1937. Therefore, bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the regulations governing the operation of a motor vehicle, where applicable. For safety reasons, it’s important to follow NC traffic laws.
So get out there and get going. Get connected to nature as you ride through the hills and mountains of WNC. And definitely, have some fun, get fit and stay safe on the roadway.