OZ Trails has put Northwest Arkansas on the international radar of cyclist. Ever wondered what started the transformation from no-bike trails to over 480 miles of cycling trails in just a little over 15 years? Here’s how one journalist tells the story. Sam’s grandson Tom Walton came up with a plan to hand-cut five miles of single-track trail for mountain bikes. He recruited his brother Steuart and some friends to help. Together they hand dug five-miles of trails of twists and turns through the rocky heavily wooded hillsides. The completed trail was donated to the city of Bentonville, by the land owners, the Walton Family Foundation.
Right Time Right Place
In 2020, Northwest Arkansas has over 484 miles of bicycle trails called “Oz Trails” for the Ozark Mountains. Some of the trails are paved such as the Razorback Regional Greenway. Others are single-track trails for mountain bikes. A system like ski trail ratings is used to label trails beginners, intermediates, and experts. Between 2015 and 2020, Northwest Arkansas trails saw an increase of 36% in cycling use and 13% increase in pedestrian activity. Two to three new miles of soft surface trails are being added per week. City leaders have staked their city’s claim as Bentonville “Mountain Biking Capital of the World™”.
Nationally Ranked Biking Cities
Biking trails in Northwest Arkansas cities have put the cities on several “best” biking/cycling lists. In 2020, Rogers #6, Fayetteville #10 and Bella Vista #14 were selected among the 20 best cities for bicycling by People For Bikes. In 2019, Places For Bikes ranked Bentonville #11, Fayetteville #15, Springdale #19 and Bella Vista #22 in its nation’s best cycling cities list. Fayetteville ranks 6th in the number of Bike Friendly Businesses by The League of American Bicyclist (“The League”). In addition, the University of Arkansas earned Gold Status as part of the Bicycle Friendly University program awarded by The League. The Slaughter Pen trail in Bentonville was included as one of a dozen bucket list rides for 2020 by People For Bikes. In 2017, Bentonville was named one of America’s 20 Best Mountain Bike Towns by National Geographic.
Cycling in the area is so popular that Northwest Arkansas Community Colleges has added a new program to train bike mechanics.
OZ Trails Gets International Media Buzz As Well
Northwest Arkansas is the first-ever International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) Regional Ride Center. Bentonville (Silver Level), Fayetteville (Bronze Level) and Hot Springs (Bronze Level) have all earned the title of IMBA Ride Center.
In addition, Fayetteville has been designated as a Bike City by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). It’s the first city in the US to receive the label joining 14 cities or communities, including Copenhagen and Paris.
Professional and Amateur Cycling Events:
This year on April 9-11 and 16-18, Fayetteville was the site for the inaugural OZ US Pro Cup. U.S. and international riders, both men and women, competed for critical points and a spot in the Tokyo Summer Olympics. The OZ Trails U.S. Pro Cup also amateur racing for any rider who wanted to test ride the track.
Kenny Belaey, winner of multiple Elite World Championships, and an avid mountain biker made Bentonville his U.S. basecamp. His brainchild of a women focused event developed into Bentonville Bike Fest. The 2021 event will be held June 18-20.
On August 26-29, Fayetteville will host the Joe Martin Stage Race. It’s one of the top stage races on both the US Cycling Pro Road Tour and the UCI America Tour. Over 750 athletes and teams from 27 countries and all 50 states will be participating in the race.
Arkansaw High Country Race is gaining the reputation as one of the most challenging cycling backpacking routes. Last year, ultra-endurance cyclist from 10 states competed in the self-supported 1,000+ mile backpacking race. In addition, this year a Short Circuit 240-mile route is available.
On October 13,2021, Fayetteville hosts the third annual FayetteCross and its first cyclocross World Cup Event. The race will have over 200 of world’s top cyclocross racers from over 25 countries.
Fayetteville was selected to host the 2020 Pan-American Cyclocross Championship on November 7-8, 2020. Unfortunately, this event was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Fayetteville, it will host the 2022 Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Cyclo-Cross World Championships. This is only the second time that the cyclocross championships have been held in the U.S.
Cycling NWA with Professional Outfits and Local Cycling Groups
With all the miles of trails in Northwest AR and the large increase in cycling use, it’s natural that numerous biking groups/clubs were created. There are lots of cycling groups/clubs, and several cycling teams. In addition, there are local and regional cycling related non-profits. If you’re interested, you can most likely find one that clicks.
Biking for every day and weekend
The cities in Northwest AR have worked with planners and businesses to build as much trail as close as possible to the downtowns. The idea is to have trails you can access before work, after work or even in the middle of the workday. The Walton Family Foundation and the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) have launched an Arkansas League. 27,000 students are participating in the local schools. The paved trails of the Razorback Regional Greenway make it possible for kids to get around without having their parents drive them all the time. In addition, it enables many people to get to work if they don’t have a car. The mountain bike trails are easily accessed from the downtown.
The Razorback Regional Greenway connects six downtowns; three 3 hospitals; 23 schools, the University of Arkansas. In addition, one can ride to the headquarters of Walmart, J.B. Hunt and Tyson. Cyclist can also ride to entertainment sites, shopping areas, historic sites, parks, playgrounds, lakes and neighborhoods.
Get outside and enjoy this bicyclist’s guide to riding in Northwest Arkansas!
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