Horde of cyclists heading our way

Paul Clark
Black Mountain News


Many cyclists in the Cycle NC Mountains to the Coast Ride plan their vacations in the towns they stay in.

As many as 1,100 cyclists are expected to push off from downtown Black Mountain in September during the 2018 Cycle N.C. Mountains to Coast Ride, providing a huge boost to shops, restaurants and motels.

North Carolina Amateur Sports, which designs the tour every year to promote the state’s rural beauty, announced Black Mountain as the starting point a few weeks ago. Riders during the tour Sept. 29-Oct. 6 will spend nights in Black Mountain, Morganton, Mooresville, Archdale, Southern Pines, Dunn and Elizabethtown before reaching Oak Island.

Cyclists spend a lot of money in the towns they stop in, organizers say.

The Saturday start in Black Mountain means that riders and their family and friends will be camping or checking into local hotels the day before, said Bob McMurray, executive director of the Black Mountain Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce. The tour happens during “a good time for us,” he said, because it comes at the end of summer and before leaf season begins. “We just hope we have really nice weather.”

Twenty years old this year, the mountains to the coast tour has left from Boone, Blowing Rock, Asheville, Jefferson, Brevard and other mountain towns. The routes vary every year and are designed to showcase rural North Carolina’s natural beauty, said Chip Hofler marketing director for N.C. Amateur Sports, a nonprofit organization. The tour left from Black Mountain in 2008 and came through town in 2010.

The annual Cycle NC Mountains to Coast Ride has taken off from Asheville, Waynesville, Boone and, as of this fall, Black Mountain twice.

Host towns like Black Mountain can expect to see a $100,000 boost in sales at restaurants, shops and motels, Hofler said. Towns at rest stops along the way typically also have big days as cyclists shuttle or walk into town to eat, shop and sightsee. The average rider, between 60 and 69 years old, has money to spend and family to spend it on, Hofler said. “The economic impact is pretty good,” he said.

“Each overnight stop by Cycle North Carolina generates some of the largest days of sales for that years for restaurants, hotels bed and breakfast inns, visitor attractions and other businesses in the overnight towns, Wit Tuttle, executive director of Visit North Carolina says in a video at “Cycle NC events generate millions of dollars in economic impact each year for numerous small North Carolina communities.”

The Cycle North Carolina mountains to coast tour is the state’s only fully-supported cross-state ride. Created in 1999 by a public-private partnership, Cycle North Carolina was developed, its website states, “to promote North Carolina’s scenic beauty, heritage tourism, visitor attractions, historic sites, state parks, fitness, healthy lifestyles and the benefits of bicycling.” In its 19 years, Cycle North Carolina riders have overnighted in more than 100 towns and visited more than 700 communities.

The route changes each year. The 2018 cross-state ride begins “on the front porch of North Carolina – the Little Town That Rocks,” Tuttle says in the video, citing Black Mountain chamber’s slogan. McMurray is in the video. In it he plugs the Valley’s three dozen restaurants, three breweries and dozens of art galleries and shops, all within walking and biking distance of riders’ motels and quarters.

In an interview last week, McMurray said that many riders will camp as they go. In Black Mountain, they may be camping on the playgrounds at Black Mountain Primary and Elementary schools, if permission can be obtained from the county school system. Downtown Black Mountain can handle some 1,100 riders and support people, he said, because it does often when conference groups are in town for meetings at Montreat Conference Center and YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly.

Finding places for the riders to park in Black Mountain won’t be as daunting as it sounds, McMurray said, given that some of the cyclists will have left their cars at Oak Island and shuttled to Black Mountain. For those who leave their cars here, the chamber is hoping to line up parking at the town’s new space at the old Carolina Foam Fabric and Home Décor and some private lots downtown. The chamber is trying to arrange an evening of entertainment for the riders, possibly on Sutton Street, where the town holds its festivals and fairs.

Allan Hightower, owner of Epic Cycles in Black Mountain, has done several of these cross-country rides. Like the name of his business, the horde of riders that descend on a town is epic, he said.

“All the restaurants get hit, and the (convenience stores) too to get Power Bars, Gatorade and beer,” he said. “They’re all thirsty and want to grab something to eat. I’ve done (rides) when there were thousands of people, and they literally wipe a town out. They’re like a swarm of locusts that goes from one town to the next.”

He'll likely have lots of extra business as cyclists and supporters come in for nutritional supplements, socks and inner tubes. He doubts his mechanics will get many requests for tune-ups. “Most of these people plan their vacations around this, so they get most of that stuff done before they head out,” he said. It will be a big weekend for stores that sell T-shirts and hats with Black Mountain’s name on it, Hightower predicted.

Organizers start planning the next year’s ride as soon as the previous one concludes, Hofler said. Last year’s schedule indicates how complex the logistics are. The ride started in West Jefferson, near Boone. Riders who were camping could use the portable shower trucks and eat pre-ordered meals. They had to load their luggage onto luggage trucks, which shuttled their stuff to the next camp.

Riders were on the road by 9 a.m. each morning. At the next town, local vans shuttled riders and others to restaurants, shops and accommodations. Campers and others who ordered meals through the ride chowed down about 5 p.m., and by 9 p.m., local entertainment options ended so that campers could get back to camp by 10 p.m.

Rides were generally over by noon each day and included rest stops whose sites were selected not only for their abundance of bathrooms but also because they’re quirky, fun and have things to do. During last year’s ride, riders could sign up for tours (wineries, farms, historic sites, cookie factories), get massages, join in some yoga and shuttle into town for meals and shopping.

Camping will be inside gyms, on ball fields, at recreation centers, nature centers and parks. For those on a tighter schedule, there is a ride for the western and eastern parts of the state. At the end of the rides, shuttles take riders and their bikes back to where they left their cars. For the western and cross-state rides, that likely means another big night for merchants in Black Mountain.

Want to ride? Register at