Since 2020, when Bentonville proclaimed itself the mountain biking capital of the world, the city has built on that reputation.
In December 2022, USA Cycling, America’s top mountain biking government body, chose Bentonville, the home of Walmart, as headquarters for the national mountain bike team.
That announcement culminated several years of cycling-related companies — from manufacturers to retailers — opening locations in the city of nearly 60,000. And the trend has continued, as regional cycling events expand, drawing national and international visitors.
Cycling is now a cornerstone of area tourism and is such an important part of the city’s character that even the architecture pays homage. In November 2022, the Ledger, a six-story, 230,000-SF multiuse building that features external bike ramps, opened as “the world’s first bikeable building.”
Fox Racing of Irvine, California, which sells mountain bike gear and motocross merchandise, opened a store in Bentonville in May. “Bentonville has established itself as one of the places to go, and definitely the U.S., probably North America, to do mountain biking,” said Donny Perry, the director of retail at Fox Racing. “And we want to be as close to those riders as we can be. It’s a vital city for our brand to be a part of.”
Specialized Bicycle Components Inc. of Morgan Hill, California, also said it had to have a location in Bentonville. “While cycling is what attracted us to Bentonville, it’s the welcoming, passionate people that made us believe we had to be there permanently,” Mountain Bike Category Leader Sam Benedict said in a 2022 news release.
“The trail network is unlike anything I’ve seen before while the community cares deeply about intertwining riding with art, music, education, food, and dynamic outdoor life that holds its arms wide open to all people.”
Specialized opened an “experience center” in the Ledger in 2022 where it allows customers to test-ride its bikes.
Other companies are planning to come to Bentonville. “In the next coming years, you will see more cycling brands choosing to locate parts of their business within Bentonville and northwest Arkansas,” said Aimee Ross, a business development consultant for the cycling industry. Ross also does consulting for the Runway Group LLC of Bentonville, a holding company that makes investments in real estate, outdoor initiatives and businesses.
Employees of Gearhead Outfitters of Jonesboro have pressed owner Ted Herget to move his corporate headquarters to Bentonville, but he’s committed to his hometown of Jonesboro.
The University of Arkansas also offers the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program, a business incubation program focused on startups in the outdoor recreation industry, and several of those are related to cycling.
Kalene Griffith, president and CEO of Visit Bentonville, said that northwest Arkansas will continue to grow and evolve as a cycling destination. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near finished,” she said.
Walton Foundation Support
The local cycling craze is tied to some of Arkansas’ first bike trails. “We started in 2007 with 5 miles,” Griffith said.
The system has grown to a web of nearly 70 miles of trails and is connected to a 400-mile trail system across northwest Arkansas. Last year it opened a 7-mile trail called Hand Cut Hollow.
“There’s always something new, so that creates the opportunity for people to come back and see, not always ride the same trail, get a new experience,” Griffith said. “And that benefits us.”
The trail infrastructure has been supported by millions of dollars in grants from the Walton Family Foundation.
The national mountain bike team will use the network of trails and gravel for endurance fitness camps and skills development camps leading into the World Cup racing season. “Our long-term goal is for Team USA to win the gold at the 2028 Olympic Games,” USA Cycling CEO Brendan Quirk said in a news release.
Having the Olympic team train in northwest Arkansas means that more people will be introduced to the area, Griffith said.
USA Cycling will also host mountain bike and road bike camps in Bentonville aimed at finding and developing youth cycling talent. Those camps are being funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation at the direction of brothers and Walmart heirs Steuart Walton and Tom Walton. The Rob & Melani Walton Foundation and the Penner Family Foundation are also supporting the programs.
The Walton heirs’ regionally focused investment firm Runway Group also has helped place northwest Arkansas on the map as a global cycling destination.
And the city of Bentonville has supported cycling. “Our city has adopted cycling, so we have this wonderful cycling culture that makes cyclists feel welcome when they come to our area,” Griffith said. “There’s a passion within our community to support cycling.”
Number of Events Soars
The number of cycling events in Bentonville jumped from 28 in 2022 to about 40 this year.
The Bentonville Bike Fest, founded by nine-time UCI World Trials Champion Kenny Belaey, started in the fall of 2020, even as other events were canceled because of pandemic restrictions.
“We were told we were a little bit crazy by some because the pandemic was still a thing, but we ended up with 70 exhibitors our first year,” said Jessy Heard, director of partnerships for the festival.
About 8,000 people attended the event the first year. “It was really the best possible scenario that we could have had as a first-year festival, because we had no other competition,” she said.
It has since grown to 15,000 visitors in 2023. The festival is expected to attract 20,000 during Memorial Day weekend next year.
“Bike Fest brings in top talent in almost every discipline in cycling,” she said. “Bentonville Bike Fest is the only event in the States to host the UCI C1 trials competition. So we actually have world-class athletes coming from Spain and Belgium and the U.K. and France.”
Christian Callaghan, a partner at the design and architecture firm Callaghan Horiuchi of New York, arrived in Bentonville around 2018 for a meeting with a client about designing a building that would become the Ledger. Michel Rojkind, design principal and founder of Rojkind Arquitectos of Mexico City, was also there for the meeting.
Kyleton Development of Bentonville was the lead developer on the project with Blue Crane of Bentonville, a development and real estate company.
“We literally got to the hotel and we were put on bikes that first day, and that was really what made us understand and appreciate what biking meant to northwest Arkansas,” Callaghan said. “We rode down the trails to Crystal Bridges [Museum of American Art] and everything we did that weekend was on a bike.”
The design team also included Marlon Blackwell Architects of Fayetteville.
Callaghan said that the designers decided that a cycling aspect had to be included into the building. The Ledger has ramps that are 12-and-a-half-feet wide that lead to the top of the building and can be used by cyclists and pedestrians.
“The idea for the ramp came to be just because we saw the culture of biking there was so strong,” Callaghan said.