A Bike Trail Runs Through ItJune 20, 2017
Untamed mountains can never be broken. But you can always have fun in the attempt — at least, that’s the spirit that propels bike riders in the New River Gorge. What’s not to like? Stacked-loop trails, demanding terrain and bicycle stores are plentiful. It’s everything a helmet-head could ever want.
Southern West Virginia’s biking scene got even better, too. Recently, 2 bike shops were recognized by the League of American Bicyclists — a national organization that promotes riding and safe roads. Follow along as we discuss the award, meet these local businesses and discover the glories of riding in the New River Gorge.
The League of American Bicyclists
Its philosophy is straightforward. The entire nation benefits when more folks exercise and pollute less. Since 1880, the League has promoted that mission with country-wide gatherings and events.
It also evaluates all 50 states every year. By ranking locations based on bike-friendly businesses, universities, and communities, the League helps knit together a “Bicycle Friendly America.” That’s where West Virginia comes into the picture.
Until recently, the Mountain State had 5 “Bicycle Friendly Businesses” — a number that bests New Jersey, Louisiana, Kentucky and several more.
But 2 Fayetteville shops upped the ante this year: New River Bikes and Marathon Bicycle Company. Based on League parameters, both “encouraged a more welcoming atmosphere for bicycling employees, customers and the community.”
Here’s what makes them so special — and why you should check ‘em out.
If it’s not worth riding, you won’t find it here. Andy Forron, the owner of New River Bikes, curates his picks with precision: Salsa, Cogburn, Independent Fabrications, Specialized. They’re a diverse bunch, but they get the job done — whether that’s tooling around the neighborhood or slogging through mud.
In fact, while some shops have a specific focus, New River Bikes embraces pretty much everything. Lithe racers share stall space with muscular mountain bikes. There are also shelves of colorful accessories for all disciplines: satchels, gloves, hats and more. Forron just appreciates riding for its own sake. As for the “Bicycle Friendly Business” award, he simply credits the area’s bike culture.
“None of us really drive,” Forron said, referring to himself and his staff.
He’s also an active member of various riding initiatives. Among other things, Forron belongs to the New River Gorge Trail Alliance, an organization that helps maintain and build paths. Such pursuits are exactly what the League of American Bicyclists likes to discover. But the owner of New River Bikes is more concerned about giving folks a good time — period.
In fact, mountain bike tours are a major feature at New River Bikes. All expeditions come with helmets, new rental bikes, water and transportation. The views are free. Forron has no trouble talking up the New River Gorge’s trails, though.
“They’re very entertaining,” he enthuses. “Very flowy and kind of fast.”
Advanced riders approach him for single-track trail rides, the most demanding — and engaging — in the region. Forron also has rides for beginners. No problem.
“Some people just like the scenic stuff and the historical aspects, like seeing old mines,” he notes.
That’s the beauty of the Gorge, a unit of the National Park Service. You can go on leisurely rides or swivel through tight switchbacks. It’s the best of both worlds.
“The Gorge is unique in that you can ride legally through a national park,” Forron observes. “That’s pretty unusual. Plus, you have a 1,000-foot canyon and miles of purpose-built trails.”
Another option is to ride solo. New River Bikes has car racks for rent, plus shuttle rides and pro advice. Forron also envisions multi-day bikepacking trips for seasoned clients. The Gorge screams for that kind of thing. It’s still in the works, though.
“Call me and we’ll talk,” he says.
Marathon Bicycle Co.
“First and foremost, this is about you, not what’s trendy,” stresses owner Adam Stephens. “We want to make sure you’re comfortable on these machines and know how everything works.”
Such consideration seems rare. These days, you expect to be rushed or pressured wherever you go. Not at Marathon. The little shop on East Maple Avenue operates on a kinder level. Its mission — “promoting a lifestyle of cycling through education and encouragement” — ensures everybody gets a fair shake.
As you hear Stephens describe his shop, you see why he earned the “Bicycle Friendly Business” designation.” But Marathon’s owner sees himself as a part of Fayetteville’s riding scene — nothing more.
“It’s a way of showcasing our area, which is really bike friendly,” he modestly said. “We just support this.”
If you visit Marathon, though, you’ll see how vital it is to the riding scene. Gleaming bikes fill the compact space, their vibrant colors contrasting with the worn wooden floor. Hard-core riders come here to talk trails or scrutinize the latest imports, which range from Scott and Santa Cruz to Cannondale and Rocky Mountain.
Stephens also sees Marathon through a beginner’s eyes. “It’s easy to feel overwhelmed,” he acknowledges. “You’re confronted with all of these wheel sizes and configurations. It’s a little mind boggling. So we want you to see what these bikes can do.”
Instead of giving you a rapid sales pitch, a staff member will help you choose the right ride.
“We want to help you avoid over-buying or under-buying,” Stephens explains. “What do you want to do with this bike?”
To answer that question, try Marathon’s “demo” program. It’s like taking a test drive, only this time, you’re feeling out different wheels and suspension lengths. You also avoid wasting money on an unsuitable bike. After all, bikes are a serious investment. Stephens appreciates that.
Marathon’s demo program comes with perks, too. A bike’s rental fee, for instance, can serve as credit towards its purchase price. The offer lasts for 90 days. And if you ultimately buy the same bike elsewhere, keep the receipt for $20 in-store credit at Marathon. It’s Stephens’ way of supporting other bicycle shops.
Marathon is a fount of insider knowledge, too. Riders often swing by for free maps to places like the Arrowhead Trail system — the most popular stacked-loop trails in the region.
“It’s the most user friendly, it’s well marked, it’s simple,” Stephens said. Riders particularly appreciate Arrowhead’s flow. What’s more, there are paths for every level. Beginners can get a taste of mountain riding, while experts have their work cut out with tight switchbacks and sheer distance.
Reach out to Marathon if you have any questions about New River Gorge trails or bikes. You can count on warm service, solid advice and awesome rides.
Arrowhead Bike Farm
Southern West Virginia’s riding community in Fayetteville has a secret. It’s not recognized by the League of American Bicyclists — at least, not yet — but until then, the headquarters might as well be Arrowhead Bike Farm.
You’ll find the red barn on Gatewood Road, a curvy lane immediately outside of downtown Fayetteville. There’s a hay loft, open porch and acres of land.
Things aren’t what they seem, though. Arrowhead Bike Farm has long since traded cows for Kona rental bikes, which you can pedal right into the Arrowhead Trail system. The barn also serves as a campsite. Perks include space for tents and RVs, firepits, picnic tables, wifi and showers.
Best of all is the biergarten. It’s perfect after a hard ride in the mountains. String lights hover over an outdoor patio, where fellow riders gather for plates of hot bratwurst, pretzels and cold craft beer. Occasionally, someone will show up with a guitar. As the sun sets over the woods, you’ll find yourself wishing such pleasures could last forever.
As one online reviewer puts it, “My only regrets are that we couldn’t stay longer and that this place isn’t closer to home.”