In the Flemish Region of Belgium, categorically referred to as “Flanders,” biking is an inextricable part of the culture. More than ten million search results return in a Google query for biking in Belgium. A significant portion of those results yield a cross-curricular interest in Belgium other’s cultural stalwart: beer. Thousands of beer drinkers and cyclists pedal through Damme and Bruges and Ypres as well countless little Belgian hamlets in search of a pint to satiate their thirst after a ride.
There’s something connotatively elegant in this. We picture leisurely bike rides along the coastal plains just east of the North Sea and then through the low valleys and slight inclines of Wallonia in the south, all while stopping for a pour of Trappist beers.
It should make sense, then, that in America, our vision of the cross-pollination between biking and beer is a tad different. It would make sense that the relationship here is a little more, well, extreme.
Mountain biking became of a part of American culture in the mid-1970’s, it’s genesis part of a twisted genealogy that could claim roots in California or Colorado. It was an Oregonian outdoorsman, though, who is believed to coin the name “mountain bicycle” in the 1966. Though the sport occupied in niche in American culture, bike companies have been making mountain bikes since the 1980’s and the sport achieved mainstream status in the early 2000’s.
This follows a similar trajectory as the craft beer industry. Dreamers and pioneers in the west tinkered with traditions – like their brethren did on the bike paths – to create a different set of norms in the beer they drank. Today, thanks is large part to the industrious trailblazers like Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada and Jack McAuliffe at New Belgium, who began their operations around the same time mountain trails were being blazed by bikes, the American beer scene is dramatically different.
Now, there are a number of breweries across the United States who are combining their passions for extreme outdoor activities and well-crafted beers. It’s inscribed into their company’s ethos, a part of the culture, and it’s easy to find a place to spend a day dialed in, shredding down a mountain side before saddling up to a tasting room barstool and downing a flight of beers.
Longmont, Colorado; Brevard, North Carolina
The cross-continental recommendation is born out of one name: Dale Katechis. Katechis, founder of Oskar Blues, has long blended his affection for bikes and beer, so much so that it’d be an outright crime to mention mountain biking and beer without his name (and brewery) being the first one listed. The brewery founder also started REEB Cycles, whose Dikyelous model was called by GearJunkie a “dream bike.”
While cans are becoming ubiquitous in beer again, Oskar Blues was on the forefront of that charge, no doubt because canned beer is (a) better for the environment and (b) easier to pack in a backpack for a ride out on the trails. If you’re out in Colorado, the best bet might be a town away on the North Border Loop, but fear not, OB’s Tasty Weasel Tap Room is only about 20 minutes away.
In 2014, Oskar Blues created REEB Ranch just outside of their Brevard, N.C. digs in nearby Hendersonville. Straight up route 40 is Asheville, one of the country’s best beer cities. Or just saddle up to the bar at Oskar Blues. After all, if you need anymore convincing, consider what REEB is spelled backwards.
Bend, Oregon might be the best mountain biking city in the country. Situated on the drier side of the Cascade Range, Bend is home to a little bit of everything topographically, from rocks and narrow ledges to easy climbs and full-concentration descents. What makes it better, as a Bend brewer told me, “People come to Bend for the outdoors and to drink beer.” Nowhere is that more apparent in Bend than at GoodLife Brewing, who even named their brown ale 29”er, when 29” wheels were a craze a couple years ago.
“We are a brewery at heart, but we are also a lifestyle,” said Chris Nelson, marketing director at GoodLife. “That lifestyle is is trying to promote people getting outdoors and exercising then finishing their activity with one of our Adventurous Ales.”
Nelson estimates that 80% of their employees are on their mountain bikes four days a week, eight months a year. “We even just sit at random trailheads handing out cold beers to people when they finish riding,” said Nelson.
Just like bike paths (try Phil’s Trails or the Mt. Bachelor park, both within city limits), you can’t throw a stone without it hitting a brewery in Bend. Try 10 Barrel or Bend Brewing or Boneyard. The list goes on and on. Check out a partial list for each of our regions on the navigatable map below.
Salt Lake City/Park City, Utah
There may be no place in the country that’s as picturesque than the state of Utah. Home of five breathtaking National Parks, the Beehive State is buzzing with outdoor options. In Salt Lake City and nearby Park City (just a half hour or so to the east), mountain biking has found a home. Explore Park City and it’s almost 7,000 foot Mid-Mountain Loop or the 100-mile long Park City Mountain Resort then hit up Salt Lake City. Or, stay close to the action in Salt Lake City and go for a ride at the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, just four miles from Epic Brewing, and even closer to Toasted Barrel Brewing, which is opening this summer.
There’s no shortage of breweries in SLC, including Uinta, Fisher (food trucks!), and Red Rock Brewing Company. Uinta even designed cans around their affinity for the outdoors (in fact, the outdoors is a significant part of the company’s ethos), packaging their Golden Ale in cans commemorating the aforementioned Utah National Parks. Not a dig at the current administration, Uinta’s Community Marketing Manager Jeremy Worrell told me, but a can design timed in perfect coincidence.
East Burke, Vermont
As a native New Englander, I simply cannot let the western half of the United States get all of the love. In Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the Kingdom Trails offer 110 miles of “something for everyone,” according to the website Singletracks.com. It’s a highly-rated network of trails in a part of the country that’s decidedly beautiful during the open-season (May through the end of October).
As for beer, well, it’s Vermont, home of more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the United States. The nearest to Burke is the best, though. Hill Farmstead, whose beers are consistently rated at the top of every list, is a picturesque 25 miles away from East Burke’s trails. Order anything, literally (I’m partial to the farmhouse ales), and take in some of the best views America has to offer. From there, there are endless amounts of breweries to try from Lost Nation to the Alchemist, home of the famed Double IPA Heady Topper.
Not a bad way to end a day of riding.
After snapping some shots at the top of the Mt. Helena Ridgeline, fly down the iconic MacDonald Pass before saddling up to the bar after your ride. Helena’s mountain biking is accessible to both serious riders and families trying to spend time outdoors away from the distractions of technology.
At the eastern foot of Mount Helena Park rests popular craft beer spot Blackfoot River Brewing, named for one of Montana’s best spot for fly-fishing for trout. Sarah Lesnar is the taproom manager at Blackfoot River.
"The simple answer is beer tastes good after working hard, it is gratifying, cold, and refreshing,” she said. “[Beer] also stimulates the same feel good endorphins as exercise. As they say beer is happiness."