There’s no denying northwest Arkansas is becoming a major destination for mountain biking. My brother and I have guided groups from surrounding states and typed a book’s worth of Facebook comments filled with tips on where to ride and which direction. Now that our family has moved away from that, I miss that and other things–so much that I made a list of the Top 10 Reasons I am Glad I Became a Mountain Biker in Northwest Arkansas.
1. Two great nearby trail systems for the beginner and the intermediate to advanced rider. Slaughter Pen in Bentonville and Blowing Springs in Bella Vista–about 10 minutes apart by car or bicycle–served as great places to learn the sport and to bump up the challenge after acquiring basic skills. When we bought our house in Bella Vista, I had no idea I was a 3-minute bike ride from local Blowing Springs.
2. Mojo Cycling in Bentonville. Owner David Neal, a longtime resident of northwest Arkansas, bought the shop several years ago. A former Utah resident, he had a long history of mountain bike experience on some of the best trails in the country. The shop-sponsored rides on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and Saturday mornings, provided ample opportunity to socialize and to improve as a rider. There’s nothing quite like watching real people ride the elements that have been taunting you. Plus, Mojo’s staff always does oustanding mechanical work, and their knowledge helps get folks on the right bike for their purpose with every single sale.
3. Local Internation Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) chapters Friends of Arkansas Singletrack (F.A.S.T.) and Ozark Off-road Cyclists (OORC). These two organizations excelled at bringing riders together for play and for work. I got involved with both and got to know a wide variety of people with a passion for the sport.
4. The building of the Back 40 in Bella Vista and Coler Creek Preserve. While I was there, several firms combined to build about 37 miles of singletrack in Bella Vista, a city that started as a retirement village but morphed into an incorporated city hosting the working, the retired, and many who love to get on the trails with or without a bicycle. Remember how close I said I was to Blowing Springs? I could pedal out of my garage and be on the Back 40 in under two minutes.
5. The IMBA World Summit 2016. Held every two years, the IMBA World Summit is a gathering of mountain bike advocates from around the globe. They learn about various aspects of the sport–from riding technique to trail building to lobbying–and enjoy bike demos, organized rides, and exhibitions from huge names in the industry. In 2016, trials riders Ryan Leech, Hans Rey, and Danny MacAskill gathered for a show nobody will forget. The Back 40 got its first major public exposure, and those who paid for the privilege got a sneak preview of Coler Creek Preserve, a system that features rowdy jump lines, challenging rock climbs and descents, and XC-style singletrack that holds its own against other trails in the area.
6. Lunch Hour Rides. There was nothing like getting on my bike on my lunch hour and hitting the Back 40. It was the perfect midday stress-relief, and kept up my conditioning without my realizing it.
7. Fayetteville and Eureka Springs trails within easy driving distance. Often overshadowed by the notoriety Bentonville has gained from being Wal-Mart’s headquarters, the outskirts of these towns feature outstanding mountain bike trails. Mt. Kessler’s Spellbound is like Blowing Springs on steroids, and Rock City (since closed) features iconic scenery and some of the most challenging technical riding anywhere. Crazy Mary finishes Mt. Kessler perfectly. Mt. Sequoyah and its recent upgrades offer a ride for those who prefer to stay closer to town, and it features some of the same rocky terrain you find at Mt. Kessler. For those wanting to stay close and have a smoother ride with less intense climbs, Lake Fayetteville fills the bill. A little west of there is Lake Lincoln, with unique rock formations and technical trail features scattered throughout. A dip in the lake refreshes summer riders. Lake Leatherwood in Eureka Springs offers challenging singletrack and a downhill course with a rock drop that makes the average rider pucker.
8. The Upper Buffalo Headwaters (UBH). No, you don’t have to live in northwest Arkansas to enjoy this area, but there’s nothing quite like only a two-hour drive to put your tires on dirt that’s nowhere near civilization. When you ride the UBH, you have no doubt you are mountain biking. You pack in extra water, that first aid kit you always plan to but never quite bother to carry, and extra food. You take all the tire repair supplies you could possibly need, and an extra pair of socks for those 10-plus water crossings. There are no resorts and no lifts. You don’t go alone, because your phone will not work.
That last two I left not because they are less important than the others, but because they are more personal. I didn’t want to lose folks with the shmaltzy stuff right away.
9. It reunited my brother and me. I don’t mean we had been estranged, but that we only saw on another at family holidays because of our locations. Our move back to Arkansas fixed that, and taking up mountain biking gave us an activity to share. As children we learned how to ride bicycles together, so it only makes sense we would learn how to ride mountain bikes together. He and I kept each other in the loop for group or duo rides, and joined several of our closest riding pals for an epic trip to Moab, Utah. There isn’t much else I can say without dipping my toes into Hallmark territory.
10. It gave me yet another amazing thing to share with my son. We already had ridden many miles from the donut shop and back during his first 6 years as a bicycle rider, but combining our love for the outdoors with riding bikes was perfect. He didn’t ride with me as often I asked him, but my smile was always bigger when riding with him than with anyone else. Ask my riding buddies–I told them.