Bikes and barbecue make a great combination in my opinion. Sure, most of you prefer to eat burgers or pizza or even Mexican food after a ride, but give me a big plate of BBQ with all the sides any time. There’s just something about discovering a local ‘cue joint when traveling to ride new trails that puts a satisfying cap on a day of adventure.
Over the years I’ve taken mental (and actual) notes of the BBQ restaurants I’ve visited so I can share these spots with friends the next time I’m in town for a ride. The thing is, it’s rare to find both great mountain bike trails AND great barbecue in the same place, so I’ve grouped these picks into three different categories. This isn’t meant to be a list of food reviews or trail reviews. It’s more like a collection of stories and tips for mountain biking the BBQ trail.
Great BBQ, so-so trails
We lived in Durham, NC for a few years and while the area bike clubs TORC and the North Raleigh Mountain Bike Association have done a great job building and maintaining trails, there just isn’t a lot to work with in terms of terrain. Durham isn’t a place I would recommend visiting to ride mountain bikes, but it’s definitely worth the trip for the BBQ!
In fact, the North Carolina Barbecue Society even put together a Historic BBQ Trail map to help folks experience all that the state has to offer. While the best mountain biking in North Carolina is generally found in the western part of the state, the best BBQ is definitely located in central and eastern Carolina.
All photos courtesy their respective restaurant websites. Bottom right: Tommy Bullock.
It’s hard to choose just one favorite BBQ joint in Durham, so I’ll pick two. Hog Heaven is easy to get to from the Little River trails and offers excellent pulled pork and fried chicken. Their BBQ sauce is thicker and sweeter than many of the vinegar-based sauces you’ll find in eastern Carolina, which allows it to really coat the meat.
My second favorite — and if I’m honest, the one I’ll visit first when I get into town — is the Original Q Shack. The service is quick, and all of their meats are excellent: juicy, smoked turkey; tender BBQ chicken; charred ribs; and of course, succulent pulled pork. Q Shack also offers modern takes on traditional side dishes like Jack cheese creamed spinach and jalapeño deviled eggs.
Bullock’s is another area BBQ restaurant that is a must-visit for its legendary reputation alone. The restaurant has been serving family-style barbecue since 1952, and the walls are filled with photos of the famous patrons who have dined there over the years. Of course the ‘cue is on point, and they also make a mean hush puppy.
After a long day at Sea Otter a couple years ago I was looking for a place to eat dinner away from the crowds in Monterey, and stumbled upon Salinas City BBQ. Salinas is a small, working-class town and it happens to be the place where my favorite author, John Steinbeck, grew up. (There’s a museum dedicated to his work there that I highly recommend to Steinbeck fans.)
Start out with a ride on the extensive and scenic, but mostly bland, mountain bike trails at Fort Ord National Monument. Then, drive less than 15 minutes to the edge of Salinas to Salinas City BBQ.
On the night Colton, Lauren, and I visited, this place was slammed. Salinas City BBQ is located in an old home on the outskirts of town in an industrial and residential area where we found cars lined up and down the street for blocks. All of the meats we tried were smoky, savory, and completely satisfying after spending all day in the sun. The atmosphere is cozy, and the whole experience reminded me of eating a delicious dinner at a neighbor’s house.
Local bike club MTB Atlanta has an ambitious plan to build 17 miles of singletrack, four pump tracks, three skills areas, and a bike park within just a few miles of the world’s busiest airport. The plan, dubbed Ride and Fly, sounds completely crazy and impossible… until you consider that they’ve already built more than seven miles of high-quality trails and other projects are currently in progress.
A 3.5-mile loop just opened at Southside Park, bringing the total mileage to close to five if you ride both loops. That probably won’t burn enough calories for a big BBQ lunch, so head over to Sykes Park where the sign may say the trail is just 1.5 miles long, but the steep climbs make it feel like much more!
After checking out these two new in-town trails, head to Fox Brothers BBQ — and get there early if you want to find a table! Fox Brothers is easily the most popular barbecue spot in Atlanta, though there are other good choices as well, including Community BBQ in Decatur and City BBQ (also in Decatur, though be warned this place is a chain restaurant).
Great trails, so-so BBQ
If you’re just sorta into BBQ but want to ride some great trails (who doesn’t?!), here are two combos to consider.
Blue Ridge / Ellijay, GA
Gilmer County claims it is the mountain bike capital of Georgia, and they make a pretty good case with the Bear Creek and Pinhoti trails. And just west of Gilmer County, mountain bikers will find the Aska Road trails near Blue Ridge, GA. Either way you go, there are miles and miles of mountainous singletrack to explore in this area, and it’s well worth the trip from Atlanta or even out of state.
If you have a hankering for BBQ after a big ride, check out Poole’s off the main highway just south of Ellijay. (There’s a recorded message from Colonel Poole himself on the website.) It’s the place with all the signs shaped like pigs staked onto the hillside out back (aka the pig hall of fame) and the wacky-looking pigmobile parked out front. The BBQ is pretty good and the sides are decent, and the atmosphere is certainly unique with a local flavor.
Heading south down the road a bit further leads to the new family-friendly Talking Rock trails which are a lot of fun to ride. There’s a BBQ restaurant nearby called Bigun’s Barbecue which I haven’t tried yet, but it’s definitely on my list.
Colorado Springs, CO
I moved to Colorado Springs from the southeast and was initially disappointed with the BBQ scene, but the trails were (and are) incredible! In-town favorites like Palmer Park and Ute Valley provide challenging after work rides, while the trails beginning in Cheyenne Canyon offer an easy outlet to big mountain riding.
Desperate for good BBQ, I tried anywhere and everywhere that served the stuff, including a “restaurant” that was basically just a guy operating out of a mini-storage unit. I eventually found Front Range BBQ to satisfy my cravings for ‘cue.
Today there are even more choices for decent barbecue in Colorado Springs, including Rudy’s, a Texas-based chain known for their brisket, ribs, and sausages, among other things. Our group hit up Rudy’s following a raucous descent down the Barr Trail on Pikes Peak, descending from 14,000+ feet above sea level down to the restaurant at around 7,000 feet. Both Rudy’s and Front Range BBQ are located close to some of the best mountain bike trails in town, making them super convenient after-ride choices.
Great trails, great BBQ
Now, this is what we all came for! These are places where mountain bikers can find both excellent mountain bike trails, and delicious BBQ.
Coldwater Mountain needs little introduction, garnering multiple press mentions over the years for the ambitious trail build that continues to take shape just west of Anniston, Alabama. At Coldwater, mountain bikers will find rocky, technical descents, fast and buff flow descents, and seemingly-remote singletrack stretching for miles. If you haven’t been to Coldwater Mountain yet, it’s definitely worth a trip.
Part of the pitch in developing mountain bike trails in Anniston is that they will bring increased tourism to a town that could use a little economic development. While there aren’t a lot of hip brew pubs in Anniston yet, mountain bikers can get good, down-home BBQ at Betty’s right off the main drag. This locals’ spot serves up home cooking and surprisingly good barbecue at 1980s prices. Inexplicably, the neon sign out front reads Goal Post Bar-B-Q in case you’re wondering if you’re in the right place.
Chattanooga was an early leader on the idea of building an extensive set of mountain bike trails close to town for both locals and tourists alike, resulting in high-quality trail systems like Raccoon Mountain, Five Points, and Enterprise South.
After riding at White Oak Mountain, just west of Chattanooga in Collegedale, Greg, Jeremy, and I stopped in at Couch’s BBQ and were pleasantly surprised by the quality ‘cue served out of the small, unassuming 1940s-era building. Look for shaved, rather than pulled, pork and be sure to try the excellent coleslaw. A couple of outdoor tables are available if the weather is nice or you’re too stinky after the ride to go inside.
As a southerner, I never considered that I might find great barbecue in Wisconsin. But the prospect of finding great barbecue in unexpected places, like exploring new trails, drives the thrill of the hunt.
I first rode the CAMBA trails in 2013 and had a blast, though I didn’t eat any barbecue on that trip. Then, when I returned earlier this year to check out the winter fat bike scene, I was introduced to not just a local BBQ legend, but one of the most well-known pit masters of them all: Famous Dave, himself.
Chances are you’ve seen Dave’s eponymous BBQ restaurants, with 180 locations spread across 33 US states. (Some of the restaurants are definitely located near some decent mountain bike trails, too.) Dave opened his first barbecue restaurant in Hayward, though that location burned down in 2014 and was never re-opened.
Founder Dave Anderson still lives part-time in Hayward and has a pretty incredible story. A Native American with Choctaw and Ojibwe ancestry, Anderson served as Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior under George W. Bush. He’s also a Harvard alum and a well-known author and public speaker.
Dave is no longer involved with the publicly-traded Famous Dave’s, instead, he is focusing on his latest BBQ restaurant concept, dubbed Old Southern. There are now five Old Southern locations spread across Wisconsin and Minnesota, including one in Hayward.
One of the most unique things about the Old Southern menu is the inclusion of BBQ bowls, which allow customers to choose a meat like pulled pork or sliced brisket; two bases like rice, beans, or mac & cheese; and toppings like coleslaw. I found the pulled pork to be flavorful and moist, and of course the ribs are delicious. The restaurant employs a fast-casual concept, sort of like a Chipotle for BBQ, which is quick and easy for hungry mountain bikers after the ride.
I was fortunate to spend about 10 minutes speaking with Dave one-on-one and it turns out part of his own inspiration to get into the BBQ scene came from traveling and visiting local ‘cue joints with his family growing up. Even the camera roll on his phone is full of home photos of ribs being cooked and served to family members. If there is anyone who knows barbecue, it’s Famous Dave, and it just so happens his restaurant is located in a small town near some of the best mountain bike trails in the midwest.
Your turn: Do you enjoy discovering local BBQ restaurants on your mountain bike trips? Which ones are your favorites?