In our time covering the emergence of gravel riding, we’ve visited a plethora of small towns across the country, some more welcoming of the Lycra clad masses than others, but few as well-equipped and tangibly friendly as we’ve found in Bentonville, Arkansas.
It was hard to explore the town without spotting a cyclist riding to the nearest gravel road or one of the bike paths and trails that criss-cross the city. More-so than the common cyclist sightings and ever-present cycling infrastructure is the number of cycling-themed establishments that dot the downtown district and surrounding streets.
The Meteor, a cafe and coffee shop, was a top choice for a pre-race coffee, while The Pedaler’s Pub and The Hub were a popular choice for an evening aperitivo and post-race meal. Many of the local restaurants offered some sort of cycling related decor.
But why Bentonville?
Bentonville is best known as the location of Walmart’s headquarters. Valued at over 370 billion dollars, the supercenter chain began when Sam Walton bought a small general store in 1945, but it wasn’t until 1950 that Walton opened up Walton’s Five and Dime in downtown Bentonville, just a block away from the finish line of Big Sugar. That store is now the Walmart Museum. As Walmart transformed into a multinational corporation the Walton family looked for ways to invest in the local community and initiated a series of cycling related projects. Of the nearly 500 miles of cycling infrastructure in Northwest Arkansas, the Walton Family Foundation is responsible for funding 72 miles of paved paths and 208 miles of dirt trails since 2000.
In addition to the favorable cycling conditions, there’s a rich and thriving art culture in town. From the murals on main streets and alleyways to works of fine art from the like of Dale Chihuly and Nancy Rubins in total there are of over 100 pieces of publicly available art on display. The Crystal Bridges Museum houses works from Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Warhol and Norman Rockwell; best of all admission is free, try finding that in Emporia!
We had a chance to stay at The Bike Inn during our time in town for the race. Located two miles from downtown, the cycling-themed abode is a renovated motel with a cozy Americana feel. With a mantra of “Bike, Sleep, Repeat” we’d be hard pressed to find a more accommodating location to stay. There is a repair station onsite with an air compressor and tools for quick fixes and dedicated bike storage in each room.
Culinary options are impressive as well with quite the variety of dishes available. One can have pizza for lunch and Indian food at dinner one day and authentic burritos and Asian fusion the next. We found ourselves stuffed after indulging in the generous portions provided by Yeyo’s food truck nestled along a quaint alley in downtown.
Getting around Bentonville is easy by car but best done on bike. Although the main streets lack bike lanes, drivers are friendly and more often than not, pass in the next lane over. While towns in Colorado or Europe are often touted for being the friendliest for cyclists, we felt safer than just about anywhere getting around by bike in Bentonville.
Just a short trip down the Razorback trail outside of downtown is the Slaughter Pen trail system. A selection of Black and Blue level trails offer a variety of riding experiences with a handful of flowy features that pushed our handling limits on a gravel bike. A hidden gem of the Slaughter Pen is the Oracle (above), a sculpture by American artist Sanford Biggers, that was a nice surprise as we made our way around the slightly challenging Hand-Cut Hollow loop. For us, the highlight of the Slaughter Pen was the ride down the Schroen Train. It’s a quick loop with a handful of features and berms that are easy enough to ride on a gravel bike.
More info: www.visitbentonville.com
Featured image: Life Time