Courtney and Ann pull onto the town square late on a crisp fall evening in early October. They’ve been talking about visiting Bentonville for six months, and finally found a long weekend on the calendar. So they loaded up the bikes and hit the long road down I-44 for OZ… Check in at 21C Hotel, unload, a quick look at Google maps, and three minutes of pedaling later are sitting on the back patio at the iconic Pedaler’s Pub with a pint and a smile, planning their Friday…
This is the Mountain Bike Capital of the World; flat bars only. Wait – strike that – who’s rolling around on drop bars? The folks riding the endless, winding ribbons of dirt and gravel through hollers and tree covered canopy, along rivers and streams, farmland, with punchy inclines and descents rivaling any gravel terrain in the entire United States. That’s who. Gravel riding is the fastest growing segment of cycling in the nation, and OZ has some of the best.
Friday morning comes quick, and a short walk down to the Airship at the Pumphouse for caffeine and pastries at the newest trailside hotspot in town. The place is awash with spandex, business meet ups, laptops, and cargo bikes filled with a days worth of kids’ play accessories. Bike racks are full, car spaces empty. Courtney and Ann spend the day pedaling the gravel roads of Benton County (and a little southwest Missouri). A big day in the saddle, and it warms up just enough for a water cool-off below a low water bridge crossing, and for good measure a few catches of crawdads (catch and release of course). There are donkeys and hawks and deer and horses, cattle, open fields on high points with vistas, smooth hard pack and chunky terrain to challenge the legs.
Rolling back into town Ann jumps on a few smooth singletrack connectors for kicks, as Courtney follows from a distance not yet comfy with that dropbar trail riding but smiling from ear to ear. Skipping the hotel, they ride straight to The HUB Bike Lounge for the best frozen margarita in town, on the patio, with countless of other dirty, happy folks who’ve been out all afternoon doing the same. Making new friends by the handful, bike parking and souls full.
Morning comes with four tired legs, but when in Rome… It’s only Saturday. A sunny patio hang at Onyx Coffee Lab, followed by a walk around the farmer’s market. Fruits and vegetables, live tunes, knick knacks, local meats, art, ice cream, cinnamon rolls, and a thousand waves and “hellos”. It’s noon before they’re kitted up and ready to roll, and this time they’re headed west to have a go on a route they found on the Rural Recreational Roads (RRR) site named The Righteous Gemstones – 35 miles of mixed terrain, steep inclines, a little rural and a little urban, through some obscure gravel roads in the neighboring town of Bella Vista. Challenging, face melting fun. The last few miles, rolling back into town on the bike path through Slaughter Pen Trail System, is a maze of dodging every conceivable trail rider on earth – XC spandexers, whippers, junior shredders, first timers, families, one wheelers – you name it, they’re playing. Waving, smiling and “hello”-ing is not optional, it’s mandatory. You can feel the fun in the bones.
A shower, a bite on the patio a block away at Pressroom, and they find themselves on the lawn relaxing for the evening at the Momentary, watching a local bluegrass band, staring up at the clear sky and imposing Tower Bar, tempting with some of the best cocktails in town. It’s a short walk back to the hotel, and the cocktails beckon. Another car-less day in OZ.
Sunday. Rain. The Meteor Cafe soothes with cappuccinos and breakfast tacos and professional bike racing on the tv screen, beautiful bikes/accessories on display and great bike service. Linger a while, have another espresso shot. The rain stays, and the play is a quick jaunt over to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art – one of the best in the world. Stunning architecture, art, exhibitions, and always free. The experience is unparalleled, and the rain has subsided by early afternoon. Local word is that the gravel holds up to water, so it’s off to ride. Another RRR route, another unforgettable ride in OZ. Wait – strike that – an unforgettable weekend in OZ.