Pedals and Pints: Bike Trail Breweries Appeal to Cyclists

Feature by | Aug 2016 | Issue #115
Photo by Shelby Moore

For many cyclists, enjoying a cold beer is no longer just a reward for finishing a challenging ride, it’s the purpose of the journey itself.

“Craft beer appeals to cyclists’ sense of independence and adventure,” says Bill Watts, an experienced cyclist who has completed long-distance rides all over the country. “These are people who get places on their own, and they appreciate a product that is made without artificial enhancements and shortcuts.”

He has a point. Good beer has long been the preferred fuel for cyclists and now, from Ashburn, Va., to Sebastpool, Calif., breweries are popping up along the nation’s bike trails, appealing to riders and reaping the benefits. In fact, more than a few brewery founders—Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman and Cycle Brewing’s Doug Dozark both come to mind—are themselves advocates for two-wheeled transportation. Plus, in recent years, cities have added bike lanes and bike sharing systems almost as fast as new beer companies have appeared. The argument could be made that America’s brewing renaissance has developed alongside a renewed interest in cycling.

“In the early days of brewpubs and local breweries, I would treat them as a destination, and ride out to them,” Watts says. “I’ve ridden several times to Lafayette Brewing Company [in Lafayette, Ind.], which out and back makes for a nice 100-mile ride.”

Arcadia Canal Path | OHSO
On a gorgeous weekend afternoon, it’s not unusual to see as many as 200 bikes locked up alongside the Arcadia Canal Path that runs behind the Outrageous Homebrewers Social Outpost (OHSO), says manager Summer Wright. So, it’s no surprise that bikes are a prevailing theme in the thriving Phoenix nanobrewery’s décor. Many of OHSO’s tap handles are repurposed bike pedals and a row of bikes atop the back fence with fans for wheels cool patio patrons. And, not only does the brewery’s back patio have a number of lockable racks, riders can take advantage of a built-in repair station to tighten a few bolts or pump some air into their tires, too.

On the tap list, which includes numerous offerings from other Arizona breweries, the lighter Handlebar Hefe is a favorite among riders. Twice a year, OHSO hosts a bike-in beer festival, featuring live music, food trucks, and lots of guest taps.

Little Miami Scenic Trail | Fifty West
Few breweries are as connected to their local cycling community as Fifty West Brewing in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Little Miami Scenic Trail, a 78.1-mile route, links with the parking lot, and marketing director Tommy Hemmer estimates a third or more of their customers arrive on two wheels. So many, in fact, that Fifty West is currently installing even more bike racks to meet demand. The marriage has been so successful that they even opened a full-service high-end bike shop on the property and have been designated a gold-level Bike-Friendly Destination by the Queen City Bike organization.

“Our whole brand is built around the idea of a road trip from coast to coast using Route 50, so we try to convey a message of travel and self-exploration,” says Hemmer. Several organized weekly rides also start and finish at the brewery, including a women’s ride and another primarily for staff.

Pisgah National Park | Oskar Blues
At Oskar Blues Brewing Company, cycling and beers have been intertwined since Dale Katechis founded the business in 1997; it also may be the only brewery with its own in-house bike brand, REEB Cycles. So when the Colorado-based company decided to expand, it chose Brevard, N.C., the undisputed Shangri-La of East Coast singletrack mountain biking. Nearly every day, hundreds of thirsty riders travel the dirt and cinder trails that lead from downtown Brevard and the popular Davidson Campground in Pisgah National Park to the brewery.

After conquering Pisgah’s rocky and challenging terrain, weary riders often cool off with pints of Dale’s Pale Ale and Pinner Session IPA and stock up on Oskar Blues-branded bike jerseys, socks, and other bike gear. (Pro tip: Make sure the brewery’s ChubBurger food truck is open before you find yourself three pints in.)

Walking into Oskar Blues is “the best confirmation you survived Pisgah,” says Tim O’Donnell, an avid mountain biker who builds custom steel bikes under the Shamrock Cycles moniker. “The brewery perfectly captures the vibe of the trails and the town of Brevard. Stopping there after a ride feels like having an awesome trailside beer with your buddies, but you have a waitress to bring you more.”

Photo by Robert Annis

Photo by Robert Annis

W&OD Rail Trail | Old Ox
When the founders of Old Ox Brewery decided to launch their 30-barrel brewery, they immediately honed in on a spot in Ashburn, Va., just off the 45-mile Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Rail Trail.

“We recognized the opportunity that the trail offered,” says president Chris Burns. “There wasn’t much for riders along this stretch of the trail. From day one, we made sure we had signage on the trail, a clear view of the brewery from the trail and a nice path to our door. It’s actually easier to find Old Ox from the bike trail than it is from the road.”

Burns knew attracting cyclists would be paramount to the success of his brewery, so he added bike racks, pumps, and basic tools for customers arriving on two wheels. Old Ox even offers cold water and restrooms for trail riders when the brewery is closed. Word quickly spread among the cycling community, who now account for 40 percent of business on weekends.

And the 2-year-old, family-run company has more cycle-centric plans for the future, including a refreshing bike-themed Radler that should debut this summer. It’s also organizing a brewery-to-brewery social ride with Caboose Brewing Co. 13 miles away in Vienna, Va., with proceeds benefiting the local trail organization.

Photo by Tim Bottchen

Photo by Tim Bottchen

Katy Trail | Augusta Brew Haus
One recent weekday in Augusta, Mo., Augusta Brew Haus co-owner Terry Heisler noticed only two cars in the parking lot, but counted more than 30 bikes parked outside in the racks. Meanwhile, he says, 80 percent of weekend customers arrive by the Katy Trail just outside the brewery’s back door. The 225-mile pathway stretching from Sedalia to St. Charles brings in tourists from all across the country, as well as local patrons who keep coming back for draft options like the popular Espresso Porter, which combines two passions shared by many avid cyclists: beer and coffee. Heisler says business is so good that he tripled Augusta’s brewing capacity since taking over ownership six years ago.

The pet-friendly Brew Haus is also well served by partnerships with two bike shops in town. Pop A Wheelie next door services bikes, but it takes care of riders with a sweet tooth too, doubling as an ice cream parlor. Heisler runs a joint special with Katy Trail Bicycle Rental 7 miles down the trail, offering a flight of four beers with every bike rental receipt.

Monon Rail Trail | Broad Ripple
With more than 200 miles of greenways and bike lanes crisscrossing metro Indianapolis, it’s incredibly easy to find a brewery within a few pedal strokes of a trail. The oldest of the bunch is Broad Ripple Brewpub, which actually predates the Monon Rail Trail located across the street. But since the 18.1-mile trail was built in the late 1990s, it’s had a significant impact on business—manager Jessica Beutien estimates that more than one in five patrons arrive by bike.

“Some of the staff know bikes pretty well and ride into work,” Beutien says. “[And] a lot of our cyclist customers like being able to have a pint (of our signature Lawnmower Pale Ale) and geek out on bike parts with someone.”

The brewpub is a frequent stop on the popular Thirsty Thursday Urban Ride Downtown (TTURD) that leaves from the Bike Line, a full-service bike shop located just two doors down on Cornell Avenue. It’s also not unusual for shop employees to help brewery customers with their problem vehicles gratis.

“I love stopping there when I’m riding on the Monon,” says Kevin Whited, a cyclist and executive director of the IndyCog bicycle advocacy group. “John Hill, the owner, really supports cycling, making sure early on there was plenty of bike parking for all the riders. But most importantly, they have really good beer.”

Joe Rodota Trail | HopMonk
Located at the start of California’s 8.5-mile Joe Rodota Trail, HopMonk in Sebastopol offers a great launching point for a bike tour of some of Sonoma County’s most popular breweries, including Russian River in Santa Rosa and, further afield, Bear Republic in Healdsburg. General manager Bill DeCarli estimates that about 10 percent of the clientele ride to the brewpub, with many pedaling directly into the expansive outdoor beer garden that has plenty of space for locking up bikes. With 14 taps, including four house beers, there’s usually something for everybody, but the HopMonk IPA, with a hoppy, citrusy flavor, a moderate ABV, and just the right amount of bite, is a popular choice among riders.

Randy Johnson runs Getaway Adventures, a bike-touring company in Santa Rosa that specializes in wine- and beer-tasting rides. He currently visits HopMonk about twice a week, but expects that to increase along with the number of microbreweries in the area. “The ease of getting to HopMonk via the bike path is great for people looking for more of a stress-free ride,” Johnson says. Clients “love the low-key environment. The staff often take the time to teach new beer drinkers about their offerings, telling them what they can expect to taste and why.”

TART Trail | Right Brain
Just a block off the TART trail that winds through downtown Traverse City, Mich., Right Brain Brewery is already a popular destination for tourists and local endurance athletes. But it might become even more crowded when a proposed expansion of the 10.5-mile paved corridor around Boardman Lake brings joggers, walkers, and cyclists to the brewery’s back door within the next two years.

“As an endurance athlete myself, I like enjoying a 10 percent Bourbon Barrel Stout knowing I truly earned it,” says production manager Jeff Houser. “We [at the brewery] all love to swap war stories and be social. Sitting around with a good beer, that’s what it’s all about.”

Right Brain also sponsors teams like Hagerty Cycling, who often use the brewery as a post-ride gathering place.