By Matthew Kadey
North Carolina’s Transylvania County has become a highly touted two-wheeled destination for winter-weary Canadians, particularly those of us from Ontario. Many cyclists make the trip south for some early spring training as the lumpy terrain provides a perfect playground for gaining some much- needed fitness. This past April, a quartet of us including my partner Tabi Ferguson landed in the cycling hub of Brevard to spend a couple of weeks riding the best dirt and gravel the area has to offer.
More than 50 per cent of the county’s land area in public ownership – including sprawling Pisgah National Forest and a section of the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway – there are numerous riding opportunities to satisfy the big three cycling disciplines: road, gravel and mountain. We stuffed our car with both mountain and gravel bikes, knowing that it wouldn’t be hard to give both a good workout.
Pisgah National Forest
The Bracken Mountain Preserve trail system near the Brevard Music Center winds its way up and up, not far from downtown Brevard. It’s several kilometres of expertly built dirt that left us impressed, if not a bit breathless. From here, a predominantly downhill glide on a fire road took us deeper into Pisgah National Forest. Pisgah is home to roughly 500 km of trails worthy of squishy bikes. The mountain biking in Pisgah is generally not for newbies. Many trails, including Daniel Ridge, Squirrel Gap and the notorious Black Mountain,consist of steep, techy uphills and rooty, rocky downhills that make for a full-body workout. Black diamond-rated trails back home are positively fluffy compared with some of this terrain. It’s a land dominated by trail-oriented bikes with generous suspension, but we revelled in the challenge that our less-cushy XC bikes demand of us. The hardtails in our group might have been the only ones around for many miles.
Beyond rugged singletrack, Pisgah is also known for its thundering waterfalls, including the much Instagrammed Looking Glass Falls. In the midst of a particularly soggy spring, this and other cascades were heavily swollen resulting in misty vistas.
Brevard: Beyond the trails
A surefire sign that this region has gone bike crazy is that riders are spoiled for choices when it comes to local bike shops for any service needs. In the Lumberyard cultural district of downtown Brevard, Squatch Bikes and Brews provided us with plenty of trail intel. Staff also welcome all out-of-towners to join in on the shop’s twice-weekly club rides followed by cold beer.
While Brevard has plenty for mountain bikers, gravel grinders are also in a dreamland of route choices. We couldn’t get enough of testing the unpaved climbs and screaming descents in the forested lands. A journey along Pisgah’s lonely and rolling Yellow Gap Road is flat-out exhilarating. In April, the canopy starts to sprout green. The rushing streams are home to many species of salamander, such as Blue Ridge dusky and shovel-nosed. The back roads here are a bit chunkier than those in our part of Ontario, calling for fatter rubber and lower pressures. For our next visit, we made note of a gravel road that appeared to wind its way up to the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, likely a more adventurous option than the much-used paved options. A brilliant multi-use pathway that connects Brevard with Pisgah guided us back home away from cars.
Of course, lightly trafficked, squirrelly asphalt that knows no straight line is why roadies descend on this region in droves. A climb up and over the mighty Ceasars Head, just over the border in South Carolina, is a classic with a KOM/QOM leaderboard saturated with Canadian blood, sweat and tears.
In Brevard, riders have plenty of options for refuel- ling. We often loaded up on inexpensive day-olds at the Blue Ridge Bakery and looked for fresh nutrition from the Transylvania farmers market, which runs every Saturday, year-round. Magpie Meat and Three provides necessary recovery calories in the form of smoky meats and generous sides. The region has popped up a number of breweries including UpCountry Brewing, making it easy to say cheers to rides well done.
DuPont State Forest
No sojourn to Brevard would be complete without spending a day – or many – ripping around the bounty of trails at nearby DuPont State Forest. This 10,473-acre outdoor playground is a leading fat- tire destination in the eastern U.S. Here, we were offered up a potpourri of terrain to work with, ranging from flowy singletrack to testing rocky descents that required our utmost attention. Overall, these forest trails are a little more user-friendly than those in Pisgah.
One of DuPont’s most enticing rewards is the continuous 20 minutes of perfectly bermed downhill of the Hickory Mountain and Ridgeline Trails. At the bottom, I wondered if I had ever found more joy on a saddle. If you tackle the bald granite dome of Cedar Rock Trail, you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re riding in Moab. The mossy, rocky summit
awards winded riders with widescreen views. Burnt Mountain, Mine Mountain and Reasonover Creek Trails are defining examples of DuPont riding – heart-pounding climbs followed by heart-swelling downhills. Our 50-km loop left us delightfully exhausted.
Tabi couldn’t get enough of the white squirrels that leaped among the branches in our backyard – not albinos but a genetically unique type of ghostly rodent that is a fixture of Transylvania County. A stroll through downtown Brevard, where you can purchase white squirrel socks and a home from the White Squirrel Realty, makes it clear that the white rodent has become the town’s mascot. There is even a yearly festival during Memorial Day weekend devoted to the animal and a gran fondo called White Squirrel Cycling Classic in the fall.
The verdant Gorges State Park, which is on the Blue Ridge Escarpment, presented us with the perfect excuse to trade in padded shorts for hiking boots. Moody forest trails led us to raging waterfalls. A handful of the park’s backcountry roads are open to cyclists, which we put on our seemingly ever-expanding to-do list for our next visit to this cycling nirvana.
When to go
The prime cycling season in Brevard is between March and November. We loved visiting in April when the landscape becomes greener and temperatures are generally mild.
Most people drive to the Brevard area from Ontario and Quebec. If you are heading out from the other provinces and territories, look into flying to nearby Asheville, N.C
Where to stay
If you want to sleep in the great outdoors, there are plenty of camping options surrounding Brevard. We used Airbnb to secure roofed accommodation in Brevard for our two-week trip. Hotels are also available.
Bicycle shops in and around Brevard, such as Squatch Bikes and Brews (squatchbikes.com), are an excellent place to glean information on mountain, gravel and road routes. You’ll also find useful maps for Pisgah and DuPont. More cycling information can be found at biketransylvania.com