Bikes are boss in Bentonville.
I made the pilgrimage to the city of 55,000 in northwest Arkansas this spring (while on assignment for another magazine), eager to find out if the hype about the self-proclaimed “Mountain Biking Capital of the World” held air in its knobby tires.
I stayed at the funky 21c Museum Hotel, where art is as much of a focus as bedding down for the night, rented a mountain bike from one of the half dozen bike shops, and pedaled out the next morning on the All-American Trail, which starts about a block from the hotel.
From there, I zoomed downhill, scampering over entry-level features like berms and undulating mounds of hard-packed dirt, dipping on and off the 40-mile paved Razorback Regional Greenway, and pausing now and then to admire the public art, including bronze depictions of the Tortoise and the Hare and an 11-foot statue named Sassy built mostly out of bike chains.
The coolest part about Bentonville’s bike scene? Trails are easily accessible from downtown, and there’s something for every skill level. In all, more than 150 miles of trails, from smooth and flowy to pitchy single-track, cover the city like a spiderweb. And when you’re done riding, you can reboot at a fine restaurant, brewery or coffee shop.
How did Bentonville’s bike scene happen?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a lot of the credit for what’s happened here goes to Tom and Steuart Walton, grandsons of that Walton, Sam, who started Walmart. They came up with the idea to build 5 miles of trails on Walton Family Foundation land, then gifted the land to the city. Slaughter Pen, once headquarters for region’s butchering operations, was just the beginning.
Today you’ll find kids flying off jumps or cycling groups out for cruises any day of the week. And at the 300-acre Coler Mountain Bike Preserve, hotdoggers can catapult off a starting platform called the Hub, which stands like a bike-luring beacon in the woods. There are chutes and jumps, launchpads and banked turns galore throughout the preserve –– and a groovy coffee shop called Airship in the center that’s accessible only by foot or bike. (Did I mention it serves beer, too?)
The bottom line? Get thee to Bentonville, bicyclists. And if you need an excuse, check this year’s cycling calendar, which Is already packed.
Upcoming bike events
The Arkansas Enduro Series comes to Bentonville Sept. 18-19 with stage racing on a technically challenging course that requires plenty of endurance. If you’re looking for something less intense, sign up for the Fall Square 2 Square Ride, a 30-mile ride along the paved Razorback Greenway between Bentonville and Fayetteville on Oct. 2. (A 15-mile option is also available.) Choose from routes of 15, 30 or 50 miles at the Epic Rides Oz Trails Off-Road on Oct. 15-17.
And at Outerbike, which returns to Bentonville Oct. 22-24, you can test out an entire stable of demo bikes, then socialize with other bike junkies. Ride the highs and hollows of Northwest Arkansas at one of the country’s premier gravel grinds, Big Sugar Gravel NWA on Oct. 23. And just a week later, on Oct. 30, the Pedaler’s Bash –– a 45-mile race that starts in downtown Bentonville, begins. The race winds through the legendary Slaughter Pen trails into the Back 40, then finishes with beer, food and music.