Biking around Asheville

The Swannanoa Valley Ride
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Asheville, North Carolina, tucked away in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is one of America's best kept road biking secrets. It has all the elements that make for great cycling—year-round riding, a wide choice of terrain, and many paved, scenic backroads that see light automotive use.

Asheville is a very cycle-friendly community. A number of bike shops are located right in town, and there are plenty of local riders as well as a general acceptance of cycling among the driving public. It's easy to start a ride downtown and just minutes later find yourself in vastly different rural and scenic surroundings. Access to the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway is easy and virtually immediate. The weather, the views, the local flora and the traffic all change with the seasons, so the same route may be experienced quite differently depending on when it is ridden.

It would be impossible to describe cycling in the Asheville area without devoting some space to the topography. There are flat rides, there are rolling rides and there are mountainous rides, but don't forget—this is the heart of the Blue Ridge. Elevations start at around 1600 feet and range to as high as 6500 feet. Rides local cyclists consider "flat" are sometimes quite hilly and challenging to those used to level, lowland riding.

An equally important aspect of the Asheville area is its climate. You can ride on the road year-round, as there are few very hot or very cold days. Temperatures range widely throughout the year and can vary dramatically with changes in altitude. Sunny, 60 to 70 degree days may occur anytime throughout the winter, although the 30 to 40 degree range is more common, and a few deep freezes are always expected. Spring and fall are generally moderate and summers can be quite warm with a notable increase in humidity, but the area is significantly less humid than the surrounding lowlands. You can also expect isolated thunderstorms in spring and summer, even on sunny days. They are most common in late afternoon—appearing out of nowhere and usually passing just as quickly.

Autumn, with its cooler days, makes for delightful riding. It's also very popular with touring motorists. The "leaf season" lasts several weeks, because the changes in altitude result in color changes starting early and ending much later. An autumn ride may start in green trees and ascend through brilliant colors, topping out at bare-branches in the upper elevations. However, extra caution for riding is required since so many additional autos are on the roads and drivers are sometimes concentrating on the foliage as much as the driving.

Swannanoa Valley & Crafts

Rating: Easy/Moderate
Distance: 26 Miles
This ride is rated easy to moderate due to the rolling terrain.

Starting at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this ride takes you out to and through the town of Black Mountain—a small village known for its galleries, restaurants and craft shops. Most of the riding, though, is through typical rural Appalachian countryside, complete with the ever-present rolling mountain terrain.

Special note: Timing is important on this ride to avoid the sometimes heavy traffic on Old Highway 70. Look out for school and factory traffic early in the morning and between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon.

Estimated Riding Times:

* Beginner: 2.5 - 3 hours

* Intermediate: 2 - 2.5 hours

* Advanced: 1.5 - 2 hours

Directions to the Start

* Ride begins at Folk Art Center on Blue Ridge Parkway.
* Take the Parkway north from Tunnel Road or use any of the Highway 74 entrances.
* Be sure to park in the remote lots, away from gallery.

Ride Characteristics & Cautions

* Mostly 2-lane road with drop-offs from pavement to shoulder.
* Old Hwy 70 traffic can be heavy at times, especially early AM and between 3 and 4 PM with factory and schools.

Points of Interest

* Folk Art Center
* Black Mountain Cherry Street—art galleries, restaurants and antiques
* Warren Wilson College
* Passes near Black Mountain Bicycles

Detailed Ride Direction

0.0 Exit to right from rear of Folk Art Center onto Riceville Road.
0.1 Turn right on Old Farm School Road.
0.8 Turn left at stop sign on Grassy Branch Road. There's no sign here.
1.1 Turn right on Old Farm School Road.
2.7 At stop sign, turn right on Riceville Road. There's no sign here.
3.3 At stop sign, turn left on Warren Wilson College Road. Continue uphill past college.
4.7 Bear right on Bee Tree Road.
6.2 At stop sign, turn left on Old Route 70. This parallels the new Route 70.
8.6 Just past Grove Stone, turn left on North Fork Road.
12.7 Just past golf course, turn right on Hiawassee.
13.4 Continue straight past lake. The road name changes to Tomahawk Avenue.
13.7 At stop sign, turn left on Cragmont.
13.9 To avoid highway, turn left on Border Street.
14.1 Stop sign. Jog across New Bern onto Orchard.
14.2 At stop sign, turn right on North Dougherty.
14.3 At traffic light, turn left on West State Street (Route 70).
14.4 Turn right on Cherry Street. There's no sign here. This is the tourist section of town with galleries, stores and restaurants.
14.6 Turn right on Sutton Avenue past the Old Depot Craft Shops and up the hill.
14.7 Turn left at the traffic light on West State Street (Route 70).
15.5 Bear right on Old Route 70.
19.5 Bear right between the two schools on Bee Tree Road. This is the same way you came in.
21.0 Bear left on Warren Wilson College Road.
22.4 Turn right on Riceville Road. This is the first road downhill from Warren Wilson Campus.
23.0 Turn left at the top of the hill past the barn on Old Farm School Road.
24.6 At stop sign, turn left on Lower Grassy Branch Road. There's no sign here.
24.9 Turn right on Old Farm School Road.
25.6 At stop sign, turn left on Riceville Road.
25.7 Finish at Folk Art Center.

© Article copyright WMC Publishing. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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