From The Mag: Carolina In My Mind

Brevard, NC is built of bikes and beer

Text: Nic Learmonth
Photos: Ryan Sigsbey

Back when that big ol’ bike mechanic in the sky was still in his first week on the job, he started to think about the kind of terrain he’d need for his end-of-week session out on the bike. Mountains cloaked in forest: tick. Creeks and streams: tick. A temperate, ride-three-seasons kind of climate: tick, tick, tick. Oh yeah, and a tonne of mountain bike trails. Yep, got that too. Our young grease monkey named his new creation ‘western North Carolina’––‘Paradise’ was already taken, or so the story goes.

Of course, ‘western North Carolina’ might be a small corner of the American South, but it still covers a pretty big area, especially if you’re driving around in a rental car looking for a trailhead. If y’all wanted to be more precise, you’d say you were headed for a small town called Brevard.

I’ll bet you’ve never heard of Brevard––I sure hadn’t until I fell in with a bunch of Southerners last summer. I did my darndest to pick up that Southern drawl and my new friends’ colourful turns of phrase; when that didn’t work, I accepted their invite to visit them in Brevard. When I finally arrived, still groggy from the hefty two-day journey across the Atlantic, I discovered that as well as being a picturesque little town in the Appalachian Mountains, Brevard is the South’s singletrack epicentre, with the trailheads of DuPont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest just on the outskirts of town.

Though Brevard is so far east it’s on the wrong side of the Mississippi to register on the US Radar for Major Mountain Biking Destinations, it’s slowly gaining traction among dirt fanatics as a town worth migrating to as well as holidaying at. The trails in Pisgah and DuPont have such pull in the right circles, that they have drawn folk away from some of the US’s biggest established riding Meccas. Hell, the entire workshop of bike mechanics at Brevard’s Sycamore Cycles hails from either Colorado or Florida. (Shop owner Wes Dickson is the only one who isn’t an import; a born-and-bred Brevardian, Wes grew up riding the tracks around here.)

Yup, this tiny corner of the American South has everything a mountain biker could hope for: as well as that extensive network of trails over forest-clad mountains (with lots of splashy river-crossings), it’s got views that’ll bring you to your knees and two local craft breweries: Brevard Brewing and Oskar Blues. For a population of around 8000 people, that’s more than fair share.

On my first afternoon in Brevard my friend Marion Boatwright dragged me down to Oskar Blues Brewery tasting room for a pint of Mama’s Little Yella Pils. Through the heady fog of jetlag and discordant cicadas, all out of rhythm, my gaze fell upon a familiar object: a bike. A shiny hardtail with a belt drive, mounted on the wall above the bar. I looked down at the corridor running through the factory floor below, and saw more bikes like the one above the bar but scuffed and muddy, leaning in stacks against the wall. They were REEBs, with their distinctive factory machinery-quality belt drive and Oskar Blues labelling all over them. Pennies dropped and the fog cleared––this brewery was all about bikes. Was there anyone here who didn’t ride?

Later that week, I returned to Oskar Blues. I’d just finished a ride, and had a few hours before the next one with some of the lads from Sycamore Cycles. (They had promised to take me up some hills and show me some of their favourite tracks, which sounded to me like ‘flog the visitor,’ so I was trying desperately to replenish carb stores.) Anyway, I found myself talking beer and bikes with Anne Fitten Glenn. As a published craft beer historian and Oskar Blues’ resident ‘Beer Communicatrix,’ AF knows quite a bit about North Carolina’s brewery scene.

“Over the last twenty years there’s been an explosion of small breweries,” AF told me. “The Prohibition eradicated the original small breweries in the US, but this year, for the first time, there are more small breweries in the US than there were before the Prohibition.”

I asked AF how Oskar Blues, a Colorado-based company, happened to join the mountain biker migration to Brevard. “Well, the Brevard brewery is still pretty new––we only started making beer here in December 2012. Oskar Blues started brewing in Colorado in 1997. As we grew, we started looking for a place to set up a second brewery that could distribute to the Eastern United States. Dale Katechis, who owns Oskar Blues, is a huge mountain biker, and he had been coming to Brevard to ride for a couple of years. Dale has a friend here in Brevard, and was coming here to ride so often he even kept a mountain bike at his friend’s place, so Brevard was a good fit for us.

“We are big proponents of healthy lifestyle, and mountain biking is a part of our culture. We have a trail that goes from the brewery straight to Pisgah, and we make the REEB bikes. A lot of the people who work here ride. Actually, when someone has been working here for two years, we give them a REEB.

“We have weekly rides that start at the brewery, so people can park their cars here, and we support local projects and events.” AF rattles off a bunch of mountain biking and roadie events in the region––it takes a while to get through the list. But the message I’m hearing is that while Oskar Blues came here to take advantage of the local mountain biking scene, the brewery is giving back to that community at every opportunity.

Beer and mountain bikes really do go together, and for a town as small as Brevard, that kind of support means more than tourist dollars; it means Brevard and its trail network will thrive. And that’s good news for riders, because the trails here were made in mountain bike heaven.