Bentonville has been popping up more and more on my social feeds. But with cycling towns like Breckenridge and Crested Butte just a short drive from my home in Boulder, CO, I hadn’t made the trip to see what all of the hype was about. I had been to Bentonville in 2018 for the Oz Trails Off-Road, and I remember the trails were fun and the town was pretty cool, but I was there to race. When the opportunity came to visit again, my teammate and friend Alexey Vermeulen and I packed our bikes and headed to Northwest Arkansas to really check it out.
The crew at Visit Bentonville put together a list of things to do, restaurants to visit and trails to ride. I can’t recall the last trip I took with my bike that didn’t revolve around racing or training. Having items on the agenda like museum tours and rooftop drinks was refreshing, but also threw me off a little!
The first day started with breakfast at The Buttered Biscuit. Alexey ordered beignets and I had avocado toast. Pretty standard. We then met up with Visit Bentonville’s Aimee Ross, who is also the Bike Bentonville Director, and she rode with us on some trails close to town.
The Slaughter Pen trailhead is about two blocks from the main square, and it blew our minds. The trail maps were so thoughtful and easy to understand. I quickly realized that this place is different than anything I had seen before. These trails weren’t hiking trails that you could ride your bike on, these trails were designed for mountain bikers with perfect berms and fun features you could work your way up to. A paved path ran through the entire Slaughter Pen area, with easy green trails on one side, harder blue trails on the other and bike parks scattered throughout. I kept thinking, “Is this real?”
Mid-ride we pedaled up to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. We were riding these perfect trails in the forest and all of a sudden, the most beautiful, epic museum I had ever seen appeared. I am not really a museum guy, but I went into this with an open mind and a slightly muddy bike kit. Click-clacking through the musuem in our bike shoes, we felt completely welcomed. This was when I realized just how deeply this city embraces cyclists. This was an experience I would never have done on my own, but ended up being one I will never forget.
After a fun dinner back downtown at The Hive, with Alexey eating two desserts, we headed home to prepare for what was going to be a wet day two.
Alexey and I are training for the Unbound Gravel 200-mile race in Kansas. With rain in the forecast we decided this was the best time to ride a gravel course, and headed out on the 85-mile Big Sugar route. It dumped all day, but we had a blast checking out the pristine gravel of Northwest Arkansas.
If gravel riding is your jam, Bentonville has you covered. After six hours we came back to town with pruny fingers, washed our bikes at The Meteor cafe and headed home to get ready for dinner. We met up with our new friends from Visit Bentonville at The Momentary, an art and entertainment space in a repurposed factory, which has a cool Tower Bar. Let me tell you, sipping a manhattan looking over the city after a big ride was the perfect way to end the day.
We headed back to The Meteor to start the next day with lattes and breakfast tacos. From there we rode over to Haxton Road Studios to record a podcast with Nat Ross, local mountain bike hall of famer. As guests on A New American Town podcast, we got to share our experience in Bentonville and how welcoming we found the community to be. Plus we got to talk a bit about our From the Ground Up project, which encourages new cyclists to get into the sport.
It worked out well having a busy morning, because the sun was drying up the trails as we were in the studio. We were able to get out to the newly developed Little Sugar trail system from downtown in 15 minutes, and had an absolute blast doing a 25-mile loop out there. The trails were rolling, relatively smooth and clearly built to ride. We got a great workout, smiled the whole time and snagged some fun photos as well.
We chased daylight home and finished off the day by riding over to Yeyo’s for massive burritos. Alexey ordered churros. Are you seeing a theme?
On our final day, we ate breakfast at the airport but it wasn’t what you think. Louise at Thaden Field is this perfect little breakfast spot located in a private airport. I ate more avocado toast as we watched jets and helicopters land within a stone’s throw of our table.
We then kitted up and headed out to Coler Mountain Bike Preserve. We had heard great things, and it was only a short ride from town. Being from Boulder, I’m used to hiking trails being the priority, but in Bentonville they clearly invest in cycling first. Coler had everything from rocky downhill trails, flowy jump lines and rolling cross country trails.
Our experience at Coler really drove home the idea that if you can travel anywhere in the world to ride, Bentonville should be at the top of the list. In my eyes what makes Bentonville special is the accessibility for all fitness and skill levels. I love this sport, and we need more accessible trails like these if we want it to grow.
On our way home Alexey and I talked about how Bentonville blew away our expectations. They have done so much more than just working with the terrain they have. Bentonville has redefined what a mountain bike community can and should be.
Thank you Bentonville for showing us a great time and raising the bar. This sport will forever be better and more accessible because of you. We will be back!