Find Your Path, Biking Through North Carolina

Rob Landwehrmann / Cycle NCFind Your Path, Biking Through North Carolina

Cycle North Carolina organizes rides throughout the year, spanning the mountain, central and coastal regions of the state

Geographically, North Carolina is a cyclist’s dream. In the mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway may have been designed with car travel in mind, but its sweeping curves, wide lanes and abundance of views and overlooks to stop and enjoy them make it one of the top touring routes in the country. In the middle of the state, an extensive network of two-lane country roads make it possible to escape the traffic associated with the state’s most-populated cities. And at the coast, endless miles of flat terrain make long rides possible for even the casual recreational cyclist.

Arguably, the best time to pedal the state is during fall (spring is much-desired, too). It’s both the driest time of year – in terms of rainfall and humidity – and the most colorful. North Carolina’s autumn color sparks in late September in the High Country and works its way to the coast during the following two months.

There’s plenty to explore during your cycling journey, whether across small towns or spanning the state.

Tours on Two Wheels

North Carolina didn’t get into the statewide bike tour business until 1999, but its signature event, Cycle North Carolina, quickly established itself as one of the nation’s best and has grown to an annual series.

Each fall, Cycle North Carolina’s Mountains to Coast Ride (Sept. 30 – Oct. 7, 2017) travels a different route from the western to eastern parts of the state, taking a week to visit towns off the main path. On the 2017 itinerary are the host towns of Jefferson, Elkin, Oak Ridge, Chapel Hill, Knightdale, Wilson, Kinston and Swansboro. Sticking to the state’s blue highways, Cycle North Carolina prides itself in giving riders a chance to truly get to know North Carolina, something that’s more effectively done at 16 miles per hour than 60.

If you don’t have time to tour the whole state, shorter tours abound, and some come with specific goals. Velo Girl Rides offers a variety of themed tours in Western North Carolina, including the Cycle to Farm, Inn to Inn, Blue Ridge Parkway Bicycle Tour and more in the mountains. Meanwhile, at the coast, Carolina Tailwinds has various excursions along the Outer Banks and along the southern coast.

Ride for a Cause

Fundraising rides offer a safe and supported way to tour. Most have route options ranging up to 100 miles, are on routes vetted by local riders and all have varying degrees of support, including rest stops every 15 to 20 miles and mechanical help along the way. Most fundraisers occur over the summer, but three of the biggest are in the fall: Bike MS: Historic New Bern Ride 2017 out of New Bern (Sept. 9-10), Bike MS: Tour to Tanglewood 2017 in the Triad (Sept. 16-17), and Bike MS: Breakaway to the Beach 2017 out of Sunset Beach (Oct. 7-8). These are two-day rides out of base camp that cover up to 200 miles.

Fundraising rides require you to raise a minimum amount of money. But the fee is tax deductible, covers your support and, most importantly, contributes to a worthy cause.

Along for the Ride

Some cyclists ride for the competitive aspects. But for those who don’t mind being at the back of the pack, these rides are great opportunities to socialize with fellow cyclists and enjoy a day in the saddle. The rides are usually run by, or coordinated with, local bike shops or clubs, the routes are safe and scenic, and the emphasis is on fun, not speed. The White Squirrel Cycling Classic (Oct. 14; 25-, 40- and 63-mile options) begins and ends at the Tasty Weasel tasting room at Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard. Or Tour de Leaves out of Tryon (Oct. 1), which accommodates both the very casual (4-mile route) and more experienced (66.3-mile ride) riders, with an emphasis on fall color. Or the Blowing Rock Fall Classic (Sept. 16), a 72-mile race that’s part of the triple crown of mountain centuries, but also provides a great first peek at autumn color.

Find more of these rides at WeeklyRides.com.

Fond of Gran Fondos

In 1970, the first “Gran Fondo” was held in Italy. As conceived, the GF was a timed race in which cyclists were given the right-of-way at all intersections. And that’s what it remained – until the concept migrated to the U.S.

Here, Gran Fondos often remain timed races, but for the most part you won’t be running stop signs and the stunning scenery will slow your pace. Gran Fondo Asheville, for instance, starts in downtown’s eye-catching, art deco Pack Square Park and pretty much holds your peepers hostage for 30, 60 or 100 miles as you pedal into the mountains and back. The same can be said for the Bookwalter Binge Charity Gran Fondo (Oct. 28), which starts and ends in Black Mountain.

Ride with the Locals

No one knows local roads better than local cyclists: They’re constantly searching for the best rides around. North Carolina has dozens of local bike clubs that regularly host rides and are more than happy to have you along. And to make it easy to find scheduled rides, most clubs publish their cue sheets online and have message boards where you can look for ride buddies.

RIY: Designated Bike Routes

For years, the NC Department of Transportation Bicycle and Pedestrian Division has worked with local cycling clubs and advocates to create a series of bike routes in the state. The routes are determined based on a variety of factors, including scenic value and safety, focusing on routes that provide the best esthetics with the least traffic.

Currently, there are nine designated state routes covering more than 3,000 miles. You want the full range of North Carolina? Check out the 700-mile Mountains-to-Sea Route bridging Murphy in the west with Manteo on the coast. Looking for a remote route with light traffic? The 400-mile North Line Trace hugs the Virginia border on its run between Eden and Elizabeth City. Explore the coast with the 300-mile Ports of Call route, or ride the Piedmont on the 200-mile north-south Piedmont Connection. Cue sheet included.

Find all nine rides at ncbikeways.com.

Joe Miller is the author of Adventure Carolinas and other guidebooks, and writes about health, fitness and adventure at GetGoingNC.com.

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