The breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Parkway greet you in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by Kevin Hessler
You've perhaps heard about Asheville, North Carolina in passing, but have never made the trip because more well-known cycling destinations have taken up your mental real estate. But there is good reason why the United Healthcare pro team makes this east coast cycling jewel its home base. Asheville is loaded with cool culture, beautiful scenery, and tons of great riding.
Pave the Way
Asheville is situated within the Blue Ridge Mountains, which means if you're a cyclist, get ready to climb. The Blue Ridge Parkway, a road known for its beautiful panoramas of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding valleys, provides the backbone for many of the area's routes and is easily accessible from Asheville's city limits. The climbs on the parkway are primarily mellow, providing a nice post-travel warm-up.
If you're ready for something more challenging, head up the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, a grinder with a ripping descent down Ox Creek on the backside. If you go to Asheville and can only do one climb, make it Mount Mitchell. Easily accessible from the parkway, this tough climb will test the legs, but the view of the North Carolina Piedmont from the top is more than worth the effort.
Off the Beaten Path
Gravel riding is another part Asheville's allure, with roads both demanding and rewarding. At 10 miles and more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain, Curtis Creek is a local favorite. Or head over to Stony Fork Road, a route that takes you to the parkway via the north side and is sure to leave the legs shaky with gravel gradients of over 15 percent. More experienced off-road roadies should check out Pisgah Mountain by way of Yellow Gap Road. This epic climb has a technical descent due to an almost jeep track surface, with larger rocks pitting out of the road surface. (Find out how to pick a gravel-ready road bike.)
Gravel roads are best served with a healthy dose of epic. Photo by Kevin Hessler
Get Out and Ride!
Feel ready to give it a go? Check out some local routes mapped out by Liberty Bike's road riding guru Kevin Hessler. Hessler, a founder of the vibrant Asheville Cyclocross Series, hosted a Rapha Continental ride back in 2009 that included Stony Fork road at the end of a 100-mile route. Think you're ready for one of his epic Rapha worthy concoctions? Check them out below, all combine both paved and dirt options for a true taste of all Asheville has to offer.
Stony Fork Look - 64 miles and 6K of elevation gain
Curtis Creek Loop - 78 miles and 7.5K of elevation gain
Short Pisgah Loop - 56 miles and 5K of elevation gain (lights are needed for the two longest tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway)
For more options, check out this comprehensive route list from AshevilleCycling.com.
Pick Your Digs
Abbington Green Bed and Breakfast Inn, which boasts a local, organic breakfast each morning. If you like the idea of a cooked breakfast and homey charm, but prefer a more private room and hotel like experience, then the Princess Anne Hotel is the place you'll want to rest your head.
Coffee is a must before any epic endeavor, and the good folks at High Five Coffee have you covered with Counter Culture beans and highly trained baristas. They swear the coffee is so good, you'll high five yourself. Pair it with a blueberry muffin from City Bakery and you'll be powered up for a good day of riding. If you need a little more gas in the tank, head over to Sunny Point Café for the best brunch Asheville has to offer. Just get there early, as it fills up fast.
Asheville is known as Beer City, USA, with seven local breweries in the downtown area alone. Asheville Pizza and Brewery is popular with locals.; Wicked Weed has a tasting room that's open until midnight. If you can only go to one place, though, head to Wedge Brewing Company in the River Arts District. Surrounded by food trucks, "The Wedge" as the local call it, features some of the best brews you've ever had the pleasure of tasting. A rotation of 15-16 award winning homebrews are on tap each day, with menu changes throughout the season. Start off with a Witbier, tuck into an Abbey Ale as an entrée, and finish with a Dark Imperial Pislner for a liquid dinner of epic proportions.
Beer City, USA is also called Asheville, and The Wedge is a not to be missed icon of hops.
Soak up the Culture
There's a good reason why Asheville is often compared to Portland. The concentration of bikes is just as high, if not higher, and paired with a much lower population, it means that almost everyone who lives there rides in some manner. Recently awarded the status of Cycling Friendly Community by the League of American Cyclists, it also boasts a Complete Streets policy for the city, which ensures that transportation planners and engineers design roadways with all users in mind, including bicycles. Other advocacy efforts include a city wide Comprehensive Bike Plan that tracks every street's bike friendliness and Strive Not to Drive, a week long, citywide event that celebrates alternative methods of transportation in and around Asheville.
Asheville is a cycling town that never takes itself too seriously. Photo by Kevin Hessler
If you need some extra tubes or gloves, Liberty Bikes and Motion Makers have you covered. Both shop are also start points for numerous routes in the area, and the staff is always ready to dole out road suggestions. Industry Nine, a wheel/hub manufacturer who does everything from design to manufacturing to sales in house, also calls Asheville home, due to the fantastic singletrack testing grounds of the nearby Pisgah National Forest. If you're into handmade steel, look up Stephen Sickle, who builds under the catchy moniker ByStickle. Best known for his hardtail 29ers, Stephen is an area staple who does a mean TIG weld at a price that belies his talent.