Brevard's Booming Bike Scene

Brevard's Booming Bike Scene: Enter the Spin Zone with our insider's guide to cycling in Transylvania
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It’s a rare downtown that has a trailhead leading into a national forest. One that does is Brevard, where a mountain biker can start on Main Street, ride a municipal trail system, and then pedal into Pisgah National Forest. What’s more, Brevard’s backyard—Bracken Mountain Preserve and the Pisgah Ranger District—offers a labyrinth of single-track trails winding through 160,000 acres of temperate rainforest. East of town, DuPont State Recreational Forest harbors another 10,400 acres of trail-strewn public land. All told, 400 miles of world-class mountain biking trails abound in Transylvania County.

To road cyclists, Brevard is no less enchanting. Lightly trafficked country roads, a warm southern climate, and the far-reaching vistas of the Blue Ridge Parkway make the town a mecca for all types of riders. With epic terrain, an incredibly high density of trails, and year-round riding, Brevard’s cycling star has been climbing. In 2012, Bike Magazine called the area “America’s best kept secret,” while leading bicycle manufacturer Trek chose it as the launch pad for a new fleet of bikes in 2014. Riders have poured in while innovative bike shops and trailside microbreweries have sprung up.

These days, pros, shop rats, trail builders, guides, and coaches are planting roots and working to see the community grow gracefully and responsibly. To them, cycling is a fulfilling way of life, and one that also happens to be a boon to the local economy. Meet the leaders of the pack, the visionaries and crank-churning heroes of the Brevard bicycle boom.

The Pros

Neko Mulally {Pro Downhill Champion}

After moving to Brevard in 2013, downhill racer Neko Mulally had the best season of his young career. All winter, the now 24-year-old lapped Black Mountain, a rowdy downhill trail in the Pisgah Ranger District; he’s so attached to it that he even rakes leaves to clear it in the fall.

Mulally spent the 2014 race season ranked in the world’s top 10. After placing third at the World Cup in Australia, he entered the World Downhill Championships in Norway, but just seconds into the race, Mulally’s chain snapped. Undaunted, he charged toward the finish line and finished fourth. “It was crazy how much I rode on instinct,” he says. “I was able to do stuff I never practiced.”

Mulally says that the Brevard area “is as good as the best places, but you can ride all year round.” Moreover, the riding community here has quickly embraced him, and Oskar Blues, Brevard’s bike-centric brewery, is one of Mulally’s sponsors.

While Mulally continues to push his competitive limits, he has undertaken another mission—to grow the Southeast’s downhill scene. He built a downhill park in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and founded the Downhill Southeast racing series. He says he’d like to see the sport thrive in the region, especially in Brevard. “It’s getting pretty big,” Mulally notes. “The rising tide is going to help everyone.”

Favorite trail: Black Mountain
Favorite hangout: Oskar Blues Brewery, Brevard
Favorite beer: Oskar Blues’ Dale’s Pale Ale
Favorite restaurant: The Square Root, Brevard
Favorite bike: YT Tues

Biking at Brevard College

Mick Hannah {Pro Downhill Champion}

Two days before the Under-19 World Downhill Championships in Nevada, Spain, Australian mountain biker Mick Hannah came down with a nasty bout of food poisoning and an infection. He could neither eat nor practice. Nonetheless, he took to the starting line on race day. After blasting through the course, he came across the finish line coughing up blood. He missed first place by just two-tenths of a second, but his gutsy performance caught the attention of Martin Whitely, owner of Trek World Racing. From that day forward, Hannah’s job has been traveling the globe, racing mountain bikes.

After 15 World Cup seasons, Hannah landed in Brevard; he says it’s the first place he’s ever wanted to settle. “It’s a fun place to be a biker,” he says. “It’s got really good trails, and the industry is fresh and growing.”

Hannah, who rides for Team Polygon UR, loves long adventure rides in Pisgah Forest and cross-training with this road bike on the Blue Ridge Parkway. After a third-place finish at the World Cup in Australia last year, he says his best season is yet to come and that he’s “enjoying biking more than ever.”

Favorite trail: Bennett Gap, Pisgah National Forest
Favorite hangout: Oskar Blues Brewery, Brevard
Favorite beer: Oskar Blues’ Old Chub
Favorite restaurant: The Square Root, Brevard
Favorite bike: Polygon Collosus DH9


Matthew Busche {Road Cycling Pro}

Most cyclists cut their teeth in development programs, where riders as young as five are groomed into little pedal-churning machines. Not so for Matthew Busche: It was only once his cross-country running career at Luther College in Iowa ended that he began hunting for a new outlet. “I was trying to find a different way to keep my fitness,” Busche says. “I found the bike.”

In 2009, with just one competitive season under his tires, he placed fifth at the U.S. National Road Race Championship. In 2010, he turned pro, and in 2011, he won that championship.

As his stock rose, Busche needed to find a training environment conducive to cycling. “We checked out Colorado, California, all those places, but then we stumbled upon Brevard,” he says, and he and his wife bought a house here in 2013. Two years later, as a member of Trek Factory Racing, he won a second national championship in Chattanooga.

This past winter, Busche retired from the sport. Aches, injuries, and the feeling that cycling had become a chore led him to call it quits after seven professional seasons. Nowadays, he puts his energy toward training others, as a coach for Charmichael Training Systems and Busche Endurance, a company he founded that also offers private cycling camps.

Favorite post-ride hangout: Rocky’s Soda Shop and Cardinal Drive-In, Brevard
Favorite off-bike activities: Hiking, fly-fishing, and hunting
Favorite Coffee Spots: Appalachian Coffee Company, Brevard, and Crank Coffee, Pisgah Forest
Favorite restaurants: Pad Thai and Jamie’s Creole Brasserie, Brevard
Favorite Bike: Cyclocross

Chris Herndon {Cycling coach & former National Champion}

In the late 1980s, long before mountain bikes sported plush suspension and dropper seat posts, Chris Herndon honed his skills riding a hardtail on local four-wheeler trails. “I started riding with my dad out in Rosman,” he recollects. “That was our church on Sundays.”

Herndon began downhill racing as a teenager. After high school, he loaded up his ’82 Volvo station wagon and headed west to chase a gravity-racing dream. By 2007 he was the national champion in dual slalom racing, a gritty downhill event that puts competitors side by side.

Two years later, however, Herndon tore both of his MCLs in a motorcycle accident. After a fruitless comeback attempt, he turned to trail building and coaching. He started a Southeast development team and groomed some of the region’s best young riders. And in 2011, he oversaw the building of the Beech Mountain Trails for the U.S. Gravity National Championships.

Recently, Herndon has been instrumental in recruiting and training members of Brevard’s growing downhill community, including stars like Neko Mulally, Mick Hannah, and the Shaw brothers. For the rider who once set off into the sunset, circling back to Brevard has proved a special thing. “I’ve traveled all over the place, but I always want to be here,” Herndon says. “I’m not leaving.”

Favorite trail: Thrift Cove, Brevard
Favorite hangout: Sycamore Cycles, Pisgah Forest
Favorite beer: Holy City Porter, Charleston, SC
Favorite restaurant: The Falls Landing, Brevard
Favorite bike: Specialized Stumpjumper

Competitive Edge-Races to Keep You Pedaling

The Visionaries

Cashion Smith and Eva Surls {The Bike Farm}

If Cashion Smith was Henry David Thoreau, The Bike Farm would be his Walden. It all started in 2011, when Smith sat down at the kitchen table with his wife, Eva Surls, and together they sketched plans for a place where bikes replaced cars, garden veggies replaced junk food, and life was slow and soulful. Then they confidently pedaled after the life they had imagined.

After nearly a year of scouting the United States, the pair settled on Brevard. “There’s an incredible variety of trails, and with the length of the season, if the primary thing you care about is your mountain bike, then this might be the best town in North America,” Smith says.

After a two-year stint collaborating with Oskar Blues Brewery, Smith and Surls leased a magical property on the edge of Pisgah Forest just north of Brevard. The Bike Farm is a campground and nature retreat with a mountain biker’s bent. Santa Cruz bike rentals, guide services, coaching, maps, and other necessities are readily available to guests.

A “live simply” ethos dominates the couple’s thinking. The campground typically hosts fewer than 40 people, and Smith and Surls have no plans to expand. A small pump track, a network of trails, campsites, and four yurt-style tents are the extent of their footprint. “How can we use the bicycle to impact our local community, our global community?” Smith asks. “We are here to educate and serve.”

The Bike Farm
166 Sutton Creek Rd., Pisgah Forest
(828) 577-3673,

Favorite trail: Squirrel Gap, Mills River
Favorite post-ride hangout: Whaleback swimming hole, Davidson River
Favorite off-bike activity: Trail running with the dog
Favorite restaurant: Sora, Pisgah Forest
Favorite bike: Santa Cruz Bronson

Wes Dickinson {Sycamore Cycles}

Check out Sycamore Cycles best bikes that are good to go

Telling an 80-pound boy to push a 35-pound bike up Black Mountain Trail seems like a surefire way to prompt him to renounce all outdoor activity. But for Sycamore Cycles owner Wes Dickson, such arduous tasks were the joys that ignited a lifelong passion. “We didn’t go to Disney World,” Dickson says of his childhood in Transylvania County, “it was experience-driven living.”

At 40 years old, Dickson is an elder statesman in the Brevard bike scene. He pushed Pisgah’s potential through years of trial and error, saw opportunity where others failed to, and built Brevard’s most enduring bike shop. Dickson founded Sycamore Cycles in 2000, and as he built his brand, he nurtured a small flame through weekly group rides. “I had to rally people,” he remembers. “It took a lot more legwork to get people to ride bikes back then.”

In 2003, Dickson took a hiatus to build wheels for Cane Creek Cycling Components. Three years later, he bought Sycamore Cycles back—at a most opportune time. “In ’07, ’08, all of a sudden it stopped being a hobby and became an identifier,” he says of local cycling.

Dickson believes family-friendly bike trails should be the next step in Brevard’s evolution. “Kids are getting into it in middle school and high school; it’s a family sport now,” he says. “A lack of easy trails—that is something that is wanted and needed. Truly recreational cycling is not there yet—but we’re on the upward curve.”

Sycamore Cycles
12 New Hendersonville Hwy. Pisgah Forest, (828) 877-5790
146 3rd Ave. E., Hendersonville, (828) 693-1776

Favorite trail: Avery Creek, Pisgah National Forest
Favorite post-ride hangout: El Chapala, Pisgah Forest
Favorite off-bike activity: Swimming
Favorite beer: Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo
Favorite restaurant: The Falls Landing, Brevard
Favorite bike: Specialized Stumpjumper FSR

Jordan and Sam Salman {The Hub and Pisgah Tavern}

Find must-have biking essentials at The Hub

Having opened The Hub in 2008 and Pisgah Tavern in 2010, owners Jordan and Sam Salman are justly proud to have built a shop that unites outdoor enthusiasts, employs bikers, and cares for local trails. As Brevard College students, the couple’s dates were rock climbing, white-water kayaking, and, of course, biking. After completing their studies, they married and considered a westward sojourn, but opted to stay when offered an opportunity to take over an existing outdoor store and bike shop. “We knew we were in it for the long haul after that,” Sam says. “So we went all in on creating our dream shop.”

The Hub and Pisgah Tavern, a 9,000-square-foot building at the entrance of Pisgah National Forest, is revolutionizing the way bikers hang out. Inspired by aprés-ski, the boozy social scene common at ski resorts, the Hub follows an “aprés-bike” model, serving local beers to muddy bikers sharing in post-ride revelry. “It’s a super fun atmosphere,” Sam says. “All these cool relationships build between customers and employees.”

With increased traffic at the forest’s front door, the Salmans are concerned about the place’s future, which is why they adopted the maintenance responsibilities of Bennett Gap Trail. And they aim to leave a legacy.

“We have an eight year old, and he and his buddies are really getting into riding,” Sam says. “We try to spend as much of our free time riding bikes and spending it with the kids. Life’s real short; you might as well enjoy what you’ve got.”

The Hub and Pisgah Tavern
11 Mama’s Place, Pisgah Forest
(828) 884-8670,

Favorite trail: Black Mountain/Buckwheat Knob/Bennett Gap loop, Pisgah National Forest
Favorite post-ride hangout: Pisgah Tavern
Favorite off-bike activity: Skiing and kayaking
Favorite restaurant: Jordan Street Cafe, Brevard
Favorite beer: Pisgah Pale Ale
Favorite bike: Transition Scout and the Santa Cruz Hightower

Some of the best biking trails in Western North Carolina

Todd Branham {Blue Ridge Adventures and Long Cane Trails}

Todd Branham isn’t bashful about pointing out that Brevard didn’t garner a rating from the League of American Bicyclists as a cycle-friendly community. (Asheville and Boone, meanwhile, recently received Bronze Awards from the organization.) Connectivity, Branham explains, is Brevard’s missing link. With true connectivity, cycling can become a way of life, the means to move between businesses and neighborhoods. While the Brevard Greenway and the proposed Ecusta Trail are steps in the right direction, the self-dubbed cycling capital of the South has potential to grow its bicycle friendliness. “We are lacking what the common person wants,” Branham says.

Branham began hosting races 19 years ago when he founded Blue Ridge Adventures. In 2009, he launched one of the first mountain biking stage races in America, the iconic Pisgah Stage Race. He also heads a map company, Discovery Maps and a trail-building outfit called Long Cane Trails. His trail portfolio includes some of the best Transylvania single-track, including Bracken Mountain and Turkey Knob, as well as projects out west, in the deep South, and in Central America. Through all his experience, he maintains Brevard’s eminence in the mountain biking kingdom. Brevard, Branham says, “is made for the outdoor enthusiast,” with better topography than bike meccas like Boulder, Colorado, Portland, Oregon, and Moab, Utah.

As someone who cuts trails like a music composer, artfully and rhythmically, Branham believes in taking a step back and assessing where things are headed. Planning is crucial for Brevard to grow organically without sacrificing its southern charm. “It’s a wave; it’s coming,” he says, “but you have to wait. It’s going to ripen into a beautiful fruit. What you cannot rush is culture.”

Favorite trail: Avery Creek, Pisgah National Forest
Favorite post-ride hangout: Oskar Blues Brewery, Brevard
Favorite off-bike activity: Running
Favorite restaurant: Jaime’s Creole Brasserie, Brevard
Favorite beer: Oskar Blues
Favorite bike: Specialized Epic