Bikes and Brews: Asheville, North Carolina

The best way to bike-then-beer your way through this regional singletrack and barley pop capital

Asheville, in a word, is happening. The beer scene is exploding with approximately 700 gajillion breweries opening in the last few years. Okay, that’s a rough estimate, but it feels about right when you walk through town and find a brewery on just about every corner. And the only thing better than the beer in Asheville? The mountain biking. The town is surrounded by Pisgah National Forest, which has nearly 300 miles of trail throughout Western North Carolina. Couple that with the nearby DuPont State Forest and you’ve got a smorgasbord of singletrack.

With so many distinctly enticing breweries and equally alluring mountain bike rides, FOMO could easily get the best of an ill-prepared visitor. Fear not: We’ve paired five of the area’s standout rides with their aprés soulmates, so you can accent each serving of singletrack with a fitting brew mere minutes from the trailhead.

Black Mountain Trail + Oskar Blues

Where: Pisgah District
Distance: 8.5-mile loop
Difficulty: Difficult

If you can only ride one trail in the area, Black Mountain is probably it, thanks to a more than 2,000-foot descent and puckeringly technical terrain. But, as with all great Pisgah descents, it begins with a gravel climb—one that’s oft described soul-crushing. It’s the give and take of mountain biking where effort equals reward, and the Middle and Lower portions of Black Mountain are certainly rewarding. At the peak of the climb, trade gravel for a 2.5-mile, technical descent full of root gardens and small drops. The tread gets smoother as you make your way down the mountain, so keep your eye on the edges of the trail for big kickers and high berms. This is old school Pisgah National Forest at its best.

After you’re done, head straight to Oskar Blues, which set up an East Coast production brewery just a few miles from the bottom of Black Mountain. O.B., which hails from Lyons, Colorado, was lured to the area largely because the biking is so good, so you know you’re in like-minded company. At the industrial-chic beer garden, you’ll find burgers from the brewery’s own food truck, cornhole and plenty of Dale’s Pale Ale, the brewery’s signature beer.

Lower Sidehill + The Wedge

Where: Bent Creek Experimental Forest
Distance: 2.5-mile downhill
Difficulty: Moderate

Sitting on the edge of West Asheville, 15 minutes from downtown, Bent Creek offers the closest access to Pisgah National Forest. It has roughly 20 miles of technical singletrack, and Lower Sidehill is the cream of the crop. After a gravel climb (yay, Pisgah!) you have two miles of mostly downhill carving along the edge of a steep, heavily wooded slope. It’s pedaly, but there are log rides, rock gardens and a finale of steep switchbacks and high berms that will test your skill (and brakes).

It’s easy to link Lower Sidehill with other classic Bent Creek trails, but save time for a visit to The Wedge, which has a new beer garden in Asheville’s River Arts District. You’re drinking Julian Price Pilsner, a traditional take on the Czech Pilsner, that goes down super easy after a long ride. Bonus: The Wedge shares space with 12 Bones, arguably the best ribs in North Carolina.

Cedar Rock/Big Rock + Sierra Nevada

Where: DuPont State Forest
Distance: 1.8-miles
Difficulty: Moderate

DuPont State Forest has become famous in recent years for its butter-smooth downhills, but it also has some of the best slickrock in the South. Cedar Rock is a punishing climb that’s just shy of a mile long but has you riding a singletrack vein of granite until you reach the crest of the mountain, which is, in fact, a broad granite dome. The views are incredible, but the downhill on Big Rock Trail is even better. You’re greeted with a choose-your-own adventure path down the west side of the dome with rock drops and plenty of granite flow. Translate that flow into a game of bocce in the beer garden behind Sierra Nevada, which recently built a must-visit destination brewery and restaurant in Mills River, N.C. Go with the Pinch Flat IPA, which is light and floral with just a hint of pepper.

slickrock on cedar rock trail

Slickrock abounds on the Cedar/Big Rock linkup. Photo: MTB PRoject contributor Specialized Josh

Kitsuma + Pisgah Brewing

Where: Pisgah National Forest/Black Mountain
Distance: 9.5-mile loop
Difficulty: Difficult

So many switchbacks. So steep. So tight. That’s what Kitsuma’s best known for, but your effort is more than worth the reward: A legendary 2.8-mile grinfest of a descent. Trust me. Alas, the aforementioned challenges start right from the get-go and don’t relent until you reach the top of the climb. After that, it’s smooth sailing, metaphorically speaking, because there’s nothing smooth about the narrow, benchcut singletrack that drops almost 2,000 feet in three miles through a series of water bar drops, steep fall-line pitches and the occasional flowy stretch. The truly hardcore turn around at the bottom of the descent and start making their way back up the mountain. The rest of us cruise a five-mile, gradual climb on an old highway that’s closed to traffic back to the trailhead. After the ride, head straight to Pisgah Brewing, less than 15 minutes from the trailhead in the town of Black Mountain, for a Pisgah Pale, which was Asheville’s original canned craft beer.

Spencer Gap + Burial Beer

Where: Mills Creek, Pisgah National Forest
Distance: 2-mile downhill
Difficulty: Moderate

By now, you’re well acquainted with Pisgah’s brutally technical ups and downs, jarring root gardens and sendy rock drops. Want to flip that effort:reward ratio on its ear? Hit Spencer Gap, a two-mile, flowy downhill that contours through native hardwood forest. The tread is hard pack, with just enough rocks thrown in to keep things interesting, but the overall feeling of this ride is “wheee!” Look for challenging B-lines at the top of the descent and a fun log ride at the bottom. Naturally, the downhill requires a hump of a climb as payment, but Spencer Gap is a rare guilty pleasure in Pisgah. Follow that up with another guilty pleasure: the Skillet Donut Stout from Burial Beer, a light, but slightly sweet breakfast stout that comes with a donut on the side when you order it in the brewery’s South Slope taproom in downtown Asheville.

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