I have a problem. I noticed it as soon as I saw the hazy blue peaks disappear in my rearview mirror. The problem became augmented during the 8 hour drive back to the greater Philadelphia area and the mess of a storm that was waiting patiently for me there. My co-pilot for the previous 4 days, photographer Matthew DeLorme seemed to share the sentiment as we watched the temps drop an alarming 25 degrees in a 20 mile northbound stretch of highway 81. In the three weeks or so since the trip I have had many dreams filled with amazing dirt, lush green February forests and amazing canned brews. When I wake, none of those things are a part of my reality. Well, maybe the beer is, but otherwise they remain far too distant memories. My problem is I don’t live in Brevard, North Carolina. And assuming that the onslaught of sales pitches (read: begging) to my wife to move to the south aren’t successful (a safe assumption) it’s a problem I’m going to have to live with; at least between increasingly frequent visits to my new favorite place on the east coast.
Let’s rewind a few months before I get into my obsess...er...affliction. Last December during the From Where We Stand
premier party, Neko Mulally invited me down to his new hometown of Brevard, NC to escape the cold and snowy winter of the northeast and shred some quality dirt. At that point in the winter, we had received an early season snowfall but the day itself was rather sunny and warm. In fact, the past few winters have seen very little in the way of snowy and cold days, with mild and dry winters becoming the new norm. Well, wouldn't you know it’s been a completely cold, icy and snowy mess here in the northeast so far this year. While the polar vortex-devil may be the delight of skiers and snowboarders everywhere, for those of us looking to put rubber to dirt, the forecasts have brought pain to our hearts. To say I was eager to make the trip actually is
the understatement of the year.
Located in the southwest corner of the Tar Heel state, Brevard is essentially a dream town for mountain bikers and pretty much every other type of outdoor enthusiast you can think of. Over 300 miles of singletrack? Check. Three major craft breweries within 30 miles of downtown? Check. A progressive approach to public land management? Check. Year-round riding? Check. I could check quite a few things off, but Trek World Racing’s Neko Mulally puts it this way: “When you live in a place that is this cycling oriented, it helps your mentality. There aren’t a lot of places in the U.S. where you can train year-round; there’s the southwest and southern California, but those don't do it for me. I don’t think that the terrain there provides me with the best preparation for the racing I do. Here on the east coast the terrain is much more similar to what I find on the World Cup circuit. Brevard is easily the best place in the country for my training which is why I made my decision and I couldn’t be happier.
A picturesque town of less than 8,000 with more than 300 miles of truly amazing singletrack in its backyard sounds too good to be true. In most places it would be, but not here. Outdoor recreation has become big business in Brevard and it’s not by accident. The town has a growing number of small restaurants, coffee and art shops and outdoor outfitters. More importantly, it has two fantastic bike shops. The Hub and Sycamore Cycles both employ friendly and knowledgeable staff, offer expansive gear selection and are directly across the street from one another and Pisgah National Forest. Their close proximity doesn't appear to affect business from what I can see; in fact, it’s surprising that there aren't more shops in town. “The really cool thing is how surrounded by public land we are.” says The Hub co-owner Jordan Salman. “Pisgah National Forest is right here and on the other side of town Dupont State Recreational Forest and on the opposite end of the county is Gorges State Park. There’s this big influx of recreation driving the economy. It’s bringing in more art, music and more of a mountain lifestyle
Carlos Galarza, a mechanic at Sycamore Cycles agrees. “The bike industry is the main industry since the paper mills moved out. The town sees that and it’s cool because they’re doing a lot to promote it. There was a piece of property on the other side of town called Bracken Mountain Reserve and they built a trail system that connects to Pisgah, which is a big deal because there just aren’t a lot of trail systems that you can use in town to link up to the main network. It’s a property that the town itself took the initiative to develop for trail purposes
“When there are hundreds of miles of gravel, there is no reason to really ride on the roads
.” says the other half of The Hub ownership, Sam Salman. “Plus the trails in Pisgah are just so well designed. Brevard was trying to stay off of the map for a few years. Like a lot of mountain towns, a lot of people didn’t want Brevard in the spotlight. The truth is that when you work in a shop like this or any outdoor-based business, you do want to get the word out so you can put food on your table. Then Brevard College decided to form a mountain bike team and that decision really helped to elevate the town’s status. When you look at their training grounds right outside of their door, it’s easy to see why they’re so successful. There is so much singletrack here that even on the busiest weekends you can go on a 40 mile ride and see maybe two or three other riders out there. You can start on the trails here in Brevard and ride singletrack all of the way into downtown Asheville or even go all the way up into Boone if you’d like; assuming you have a few days to to do it.
Brevard College has actually won the past three Division II Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships and their best rider isn’t even a freshman yet. Next to Brevard is another quaint and small town called Hendersonville, where a warm and welcoming family named the Shaws live. In that family are brothers Walker and Luca, and those two boys can shred. Big brother Walker will be finishing up high school this spring and will be a freshman at Brevard College in the fall. Luca has his senior year ahead of him but both have Enduro World Series, World Cup, Pro GRT, Sea Otter, Crankworx and several other races between now and then. Together they make up two thirds of the SRAM/Troy Lee Designs Racing squad and both credit growing up in this part of the country as a major factor in their success.
“I go to different places and ride all of these great spots but when I come home it’s just like ‘Bang!’ and I realize I’m pretty lucky
.” says Walker. “With the weather and all of the strong people who ride here, you can always mix and it up and it just never gets boring. Like the trail (in DuPont) we were just on? I don’t think I’ve ever ridden it. It’s the same thing in Pisgah; there are thousands of trails and we maybe ride 20 of them. There are just so many that it’s so easy to keep it fun.” According to Luca, “There are a lot of great spots on the east coast, but during the winter you can’t really go much further north without worrying about the weather. Here, we will occasionally get crap weather but you really can ride all winter with great dirt and endless trails. You can’t beat it
|I go to different places and ride all of these great spots, but when I come home it's just like "Bang!" and I realize I'm pretty lucky.|
- Walker Shaw
There’s something in the water here. No really, there is something very nice about the water in Brevard. Perhaps it explains the absurd amount of talent that is coming from these parts. Probably not, but it does explain why breweries are flocking to this corner of the continent to open up shop. In fact, the water here does have a relatively neutral PH, which means it’s fairly easy to brew with without tinkering too much. Perhaps no other major brewery is as entrenched in mountain bike culture as Oskar Blues. The Colorado-based company, whose motto “Ride Bikes, Drink Beer, Repeat
” opened up operations in Brevard in December of 2012 and it is already a cultural staple for the region.
Oskar Blues Brevard marketing director Anne Fitten-Glenn gave us a tour of the facilities and had a lot to say about the company’s connection with mountain biking. “Mountain biking is a pretty important part of who we are. We do a lot of sponsorships for all kinds of cycling events; mountain biking, road biking, etc. We are the beer sponsor for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (which took place the weekend of March 15th in Charlotte). From this brewery, we do a bunch of different rides including the Fletcher Flyer, which is a series of bike rides that has been around for 11 years. The Pisgah Omnium is going to start and end at the brewery this year. The Green River Games is a really cool singletrack ride through the Green River Gorge on trails that just opened up to mountain bikers. Last year was the first year of it and it’s going to happen again this September. We are also sponsors of Dirt Rag’s Dirt Fest this year
.” Stop by their tap room on any given night and the vast majority of people sipping on brews are likely going to look as if they just finished a ride. My kind of crowd.
For three days, Matt and I shared the trails with four of the fastest guys on the east coast in Neko, the brothers Shaw and Neko’s roommate, mentor, former pro downhiller and Super D and Dual Slalom national champion, Christopher Herndon. The days were filled with long fire road and singletrack climbs and white knuckled, forearm searing descents on trails that could go toe-to-toe with anything you’ll find anywhere else. The Pisgah riding included Bennett’s Gap, Maxwell Cove, Black Mountain, Sycamore Cove, Cove Creek, Daniel’s Ridge, Farlow Gap, Long Branch and Cat Gap. Pisgah trails are steep, gnarly, rocky and rooty.
DuPont State Forest stands in stark contrast, providing riders with a much more purpose built and flowy trail riding experience. In DuPont we spent time on the Jim Branch, Hilltop and Ridgeline trails and even found time for a long jump contest on Pine Mountain. Sure, these two areas offer an interesting dichotomy of trail styles and that’s great. Furthermore, none of what we rode and I mean none whatsoever, was anything less than stellar. The thing is, Brevard says “I’ll see your fun on a handful of trails and raise ya another 300.”
When a town embraces our sport and community the way Brevard has, it makes sense that word is going to spread quickly and consequently Brevard has become a bucket list destination for many, including our neighbors north of the border. Lori Roberts, owner of the Sunset Motel and member of the Brevard travel advisory board notes, “I bought this place in April of 2011 and I would say at the time, maybe one-in-forty cars pulled up with a bike on it. Today it’s probably one-in-four. We’ve got you guys here from Pinkbike, we have another group upstairs and next week we’re getting some Canadians in. They (the Canadians) are really starting to pour in. We really are working as hard as we can to continue the momentum; we’re currently working to connect the Bracken Mountain trail to downtown!
” Issues with the influx of two wheeled enthusiasts? “Cyclists are usually interesting people and they don’t just sit around. They’re always out doing things and it really just added a special energy to the area and I like being surrounded by interesting people
.” It certainly doesn’t sound that way and nor should it.
Brevard has taken a leap of faith for mountain biking and the riders are responding. Therein lies my problem. Brevard wants mountain bikers and by golly, I want to spend all of my time in Brevard. I find myself wondering just how many stories I can squeeze out of this small town. I’ve started to think about which races I could skip in order to spend another long weekend on the best trails I have ever ridden. I'm Googling properties and land for sale in and around the town. It ain’t healthy. I have my wife, my family, friends and a life elsewhere; but that doesn't stop Brevard from calling. As I am writing this, we're getting a friendly, late-March reminder that winter isn't through with us just yet and it's snowing at a healthy clip. I may have a problem, but I also have a solution. I just need to get used to the drive.Travel Suggestions
- The Sunset MotelDining
- The Square Root, Jordan Street Cafe, Quotations Coffee & Cafe and the Sunrise CafeGroceries
- Food Matters MarketBeer
- Oskar Blues Brewery and Brevard Brewing CompanyBike Shops
- The Hub and Sycamore CyclesTrails
- Pick a trail. Any trail.