No trip to Bentonville is complete without taking in the breathtaking natural scenery that surrounds the picturesque community. Whether that view comes astride a bicycle, in a canoe or kayak, or along a hiking trail is a matter of personal preference, but all three experiences are there for the asking.

 

Atop that list is cycling, specifically mountain biking, but also included are numerous routes for road bikes and a growing number of gravel routes. The mountain version, however, is the unquestioned bell cow because Bentonville entities have invested millions in infrastructure over the past decade. It does not take long for a local to refer to the community as the Mountain Bike Capital of the World.

 

It is a title self-awarded by the city but also one shared by many in cycling nationwide, as recent press clippings attest. In a February article, Two Wheeled Wanderer called Bentonville the “Disney World for Mountain Bikers” and delivered a raving review of the area’s rides.

 

“Over the past few years, the Walton Foundation … has poured millions of dollars into Bentonville to build world-class mountain bike trails in and around town, as well as help transform the town of Bentonville into a classy destination with amazing restaurants, museums, public urban spaces, and, yes, mountain bike trails right in town. It’s amazing,” Becky Timbers wrote.

 

“Thanks to all the work that has gone into transforming this town, it also boasts really cool bike community vibes perfect for families and outdoor lovers.”

 

That is not exactly news to locals, but it is music to their ears nonetheless. Ryan West, owner of OZ Cycling Tours, built his business on the local mountain biking scene. He said even for a local, the pace and degree of the city’s embrace of the activity is impressive.

Ryan West

“We are super fortunate here to have what we have,” he said. “We have clients all the time that come in and go, ‘Man, this is like Austin, [Texas], 40 years ago. It’s so cool. I’m moving here,’ and they do. It’s wild.

 

“A lot of my clients are like, ‘This is the best place in the United States to ride bikes.’ I forget that until I go out of town for a little bike vacation to get away, you know? Then I come back here, and I’m riding our hard-surface trail by the multi-million-dollar museum and all the awesome landscaping. We have it made here. We couldn’t really be more fortunate than to live in northwest Arkansas.”

 

West, who grew up in Bentonville, said it is something of a shock to see where mountain biking is now versus when he was growing up. It does not take a rocket scientist to identify the catalyst of the change, he said.

 

“Money, resources — there’s so much money here, and they wanted to make it happen, so they made it happen,” he said. “Cycling really became relevant in Bentonville when the Walton Foundation started putting in a few trails around Slaughter Pen Road on the north side of town. From there, we gradually started getting bike shops, Phat Tire Bike Shop being the first shop in town.”

 

West also cashed in on the cycling cottage industry with the launch of Oz Cycling Tours five years ago. The company offers customers two-wheeled tours, predominantly mountain biking and mainly for tourists.

 

“I have always wanted to be in the outdoor industry and the bike industry,” he said. “I think showing people what a great place this is and what it’s becoming day to day is an awesome adventure to show off.

 

“When I first started this, I was just kind of like, “Cool, outdoor guide riding with people,” but now I’m converted into where I realize I’m actually taking these people on their summer vacation. This is something they’re going to remember for their whole life.”

 

Helping to improve and advance Bentonville’s cycling ecosystem are several for-profit and nonprofit entities. Bike School Bentonville is a for-profit business designed to help turn beginners on to the sport, while the Bentonville Moves Coalition seeks to make the community safer for active transportation of all types.

Bentonville cycling bike

Local programs have worked to make active transportation easier.

“We’re focused around community building as part of our core programming,” said Kyla Templeton, founder of Bike School Bentonville. “We engage in partnerships across our community with other organizations and sponsor group rides and things that are open for fun and for families to get together.”

 

Templeton, who, in addition to being a longtime cyclist herself, has also been a coach for competitive youth riders in the past, said the company focuses its attention on families as a core clientele, be they locals or visitors. She sees her work as seeding the next wave of riders by giving them a curated and supervised cycling experience.

bentonville bike cycling

“One of our new offerings is Family Bike Adventure, which is a guided ride for a whole group to give them an introduction to our trails and also a little bit of skills introduction as part of that,” she said. “This helps give them the basics so they can be safe and know where to go and have a good afternoon on the trails. That’s definitely tailored to people coming into town.”

 

Templeton said one of the things Bentonville has done well to promote both cycling and cycling-related businesses is the intentionality of planning cycling routes in and around the city’s business districts. This results in a kind of cross-promotion by both activity and amenities and is one reason cycling is so popular.

Bike adventures suitable for all ages and abilities are for the asking in Bentonville.

“As we’ve built trails, the businesses are coming along and popping up alongside those trails,” she said. “The businesses see trails as an opportunity, which makes cycling more fun and social and gives people a place to hang out. There’s an appetite for that sort of community gathering in Bentonville, for sure.”

 

The Bentonville Moves Coalition takes the scenario a step farther by addressing infrastructure. Geared toward permanent residents, the aim of the nonprofit is to help make it easier for people of all ages to engage multiple means of transportation.

 

“We are not a bicycle advocacy group. We are an infrastructure advocacy group,” said Jessica Pearson, manager. “We understand that as the population of Bentonville continues to grow, and it is anticipated to double in the next 20 years, that there simply isn’t enough space to accommodate the vehicular traffic that’s going to come along with that growth.”

Jessica Pearson

The coalition was formed in 2021 in conjunction with the city of Bentonville’s adoption of the Connecting Bentonville Bike & Pedestrian Master Plan and is currently engaged with other entities to develop and build additional trails in core neighborhoods. These projects will make it easier and safer for people on foot, bike or other non-vehicular conveyance to travel to schools, parks and other day-to-day destinations.

 

“That plan received public input, went through the various public processes, including city council and planning commission approvals, and identified close to 100 miles of infrastructure to accommodate active transportation,” Pearson said. “That looks like protected bike lanes, greenways, sidewalks, connections and shared-use paths.”

 

Though officially conveyance-agnostic in its work to improve transportation infrastructure, the coalition has nonetheless been involved in several bike-specific programs, particularly as it pertains to the city’s youth. The group has also awarded grants for various projects, such as public art and murals along trails and bike paths in the city.

“We have a focus on schools and neighborhoods,” Pearson said. “We are responsible for supporting the Bentonville school district and organizing bike trails and safer routes for many of our elementary schools. We also have assisted in funding grants to support the All Kids Bike program implementation in the final three schools in the district that lacked that programming.”

 

Pearson said the work of the coalition is essential to maintaining the quality of life that has spurred Bentonville’s growth in the first place. She said businesses, local government, fellow nonprofits and even individual citizens each have an important role to play in the direction of the city’s future.

 

“We’re the Mountain Bike Capital of the World, and we have the recreational cycling, and we have the usership,” she said. “It’s not a question of, ‘If we build safe and reliable infrastructure, they will come,’ because they are already here. It’s more like, ‘If we build it, they will start using it.’

 

“We have an opportunity beyond just what we are doing now to set a precedent here citywide in what active transportation can do for the vitality and longevity of a growing community.”   

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