Why Tennessee is America’s next cycling paradise

Time to rethink your cycling bucket list. A surprising state has entered the fray.

A photo of motorcyclists rounding a corner of farmland in Tennessee, which is trying to become America's next cycling paradise

The Volunteer State has dozens of beautiful GPS-mapped biking trails to choose from.

According to data from Statista, Tennessee is the twelfth most visited state in the US, sandwiched between Arizona and New Jersey. It hasn’t always been that way, but Nashville has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the past decade, potentially joining America’s inner circle of inevitable pilgrimages. The state records robust visitor spending year after year, and tourism in Tennessee is now a $30 billion annual business.

People come for honky-tonk, Dollywood, walks in the Smokies and distilleries. But Tennessee itself wouldn’t mind if they came for another reason: cycling.

The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development (TDTD) recently unveiled a new program called Bike Tennessee, a partnership between cycling app Ride with GPS and Chattanooga-based Velo View Bike Tours. It is both a digital campaign and a grassroots campaign to spread the gospel of recreation in Tenness, which is already a $12 billion economy for the state.

Cycling hasn’t contributed much to that pie. Shannon Burke, the owner of Velo View Bike Tours, wants to change that. She calls Tennessee a “perfect” place for cycling.

“It’s chock full of beautiful, low-traffic back roads,” she says. “(But we also have) every kind of postcard-perfect scenery: incredible mountain challenges, easy spins on flat country roads, deep forest adventures.”

TDTD recruited Burke to develop a more ambitious version of a program she had previously fostered in southeastern Tennessee. The organization was inspired by Oregon, a state more directly associated with outdoor recreation and boasts several cycling meccas.

“Oregon (has its) Scenic Bikeways program,” said Jenni Veal, Tennessee’s Rural Destination Development Manager. “It’s really well done, and I liked the idea of ​​offering trails throughout the state. Cycling is a growing sport internationally…we want to put Tennessee on the map as a beautiful place to go on holiday by bike.’

Cycling the White Rim Trail with the God of Moab

If you visit the Bike TN website, you’ll have an entire database at your fingertips, with routes through the state’s 95 counties – and Through 14 of the state parks. (This was intentional: the parks aren’t just fun to look at; they also provide reliable bathroom access.) Unlike bike rides that can cover hundreds or thousands of miles across a state or country, Bike TN has dozens of neat loops. Consider: Watauga Lake Winery Loop, Natchez Trace Parkway Loop and Sewanee Loop.

Each entry contains information about mileage, elevation gain, terrain, natural features and local attractions. There are links to bed and breakfasts, coffee shops and seasonal festivals. These routes pass through vineyards, old battlefields and small towns. All worthwhile attractions, just too far away to see people passing by regularly. “Many of our counties are at risk and in need,” Veal said. “We want to capitalize on the growing economic impact of cycling… and bring cyclists to these communities.”

It is an eye-opening look at the paradox of the tourism boom. While certain parts of Tennessee (particularly Nashville) have seen record influxes of visitors and dollars, other corners have fallen by the wayside. A 18-mile roll through the Cherokee National Forest is clearly an experience terribly A different kind of vacation than screaming “Jolene” on Broadway with your college buddies at two in the morning… but everything has its time and place, right? All TDTD can do is make sure people know these routes exist, and that they are worth considering.

It’s a smart plan all things considered, and one that other states might consider studying — just as Tennessee took inspiration from Oregon. After all, Bike TN didn’t need to build anything: infrastructure and signage were already there. Seasoned cyclists love to zip around mighty, wide-open routes, away from the dangers of motor vehicles or the traffic of too many peers. Bike TN spoils them with their choice.

And if you’re not much of a cyclist right now, but these photos still spark something in you (personally, I’m a runner, and now I’m all confused), know that Burke has made an effort to add optional features include different levels.

“One thing I’ve tried with all the routes is offering possible modifications to the primary route, making it easier or more difficult,” she says. “(That should) allow riders of different skill levels to experience each route in a way that works best for them.”

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