By Dow Stough, M.D.
The bicycle boom over the last year had nothing to do with my personal pilgrimage to the cycling mecca of Northwest Arkansas. Yes, I had been cooped up for close to one year, just as batshit crazy as the rest of the planet. In addition to the obvious events of the year, 2020 gifted me with my 3rd knee operation, followed by a completely torn hamstring requiring reconstruction, and finally a two disc -level neck surgery where I stayed as a guest at the hospital. Working as a physician, I was no longer able to perform surgeries due to constant neck spasms. Just when things seem they could not get any worse, my beloved Trek Madone road bike was stolen.
Due to multiple ailing body parts, I could no longer risk riding a mountain bike around the newly constructed Northwoods Trail in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Something had to change, I needed a new venue, it seemed I had run out of options. My physical therapist felt that biking would be beneficial in my rehab if I could do it safely. I had read the articles on gravel bikes and I was aware that a bold new company was attempting to make a run at producing carbon fiber bicycles right here in the US.
That company, Allied, is located in Bentonville Arkansas four hours away from my home. The company ethos boasts construction of superior bikes by controlling all the pieces from manufacturing, assembly, and paint. That comment seemed like a wave of the past more than the wave of the future. So, I did what all bicycle enthusiasts would do, I Googled the company, studied the product, and soon realized that I had no idea what bike I needed and how to decipher the truth versus marketing hype.
A chatbot quickly appeared on the website screen identifying the individual’s name who worked at Allied, I envision this to be a bot or perhaps a teleconference marketing center outside of the US. Nope, totally wrong. It seemed that “Will” is actually a real person who works at the front desk and is very knowledgeable on bicycles and their product. A live agent indeed!
Almost a year after my hamstring injury, I visited the Allied factory and was greeted at the door by the real life Will. He sized me up quickly, probably thinking I needed a new helmet, crutches, and a cane instead of a bicycle. Nonetheless he recommended a frame size, bar, stem, crank and handlebars all custom fit. This was a first for me and while I’m not too keen on all the specifics of head tube angles, gear ratios, and wheel rollout discussions, I was ordering a new gravel rig, and just as excited as any five-year-old kid with a new bike.
The fitting, ordering all the water bottle cages, bags and stuff was an educational process, and made much more sense than the endless diatribe put out by cycling magazines and blogs that automatically assume expert reader knowledge. I was not seeking an advanced degree in bicycle physics, I just wanted to ride a new bike. I asked Will, “How many people travel to Arkansas to the Allied factory to get fitted for a bicycle?” Every day and from all over the world, was his prompt answer. It seems they have a fair market for their product as far away as China.
As a side note, when you walk in the door, there are three or four bicycles on display, but all the action is behind the glass wall. Skilled technicians, busybodies working diligently can be observed at their stations assembling the carbon fiber frames. This is not a retail bicycle shop. It doesn’t try to be anything but a factory and point of assembly of custom carbon fiber frames. I did not venture into the room as you can watch them behind the glass; I was told the paint shop is adjacent.
The hardest part of choosing an Allied bike is the color. Since I am quite colorblind, I had no chance of choosing something aesthetically pleasing. I went with flat black, simply because I was not sure which color I liked the best. My fiancé chose a bike with a faded grey theme and a custom pink logo and named her bike Unicorn, which was then painted onto the bar near the stem. Two months later we picked the bikes up, and they were stunning. Wow, we really got custom bikes! I thought to myself, is this a crazy way to spend money or a smart investment in the future? My ego chose the latter.
Will asked, “Where will you be staying?” “Natural State Rock and Republic bed and breakfast,” I replied, pretending I knew everything about the place. “Oh really, that place is awesome! Just have Ernie make some adjustments to your bike tomorrow before you ride.” “Who the hell is Ernie?”, I asked. Will told me that Ernie is quite skilled at bicycle fittings due to his professional racing background. Scotti and Ernie are the proprietors of the bed-and-breakfast, and are located smack dab on the 36-mile Greenway Bicycle trail in Springdale, AR, just a short hop from Allied. This couple has been immersed in the cycling culture through their coaching, racing, and touring for many years.
Now they have opened a very unique facility catering to those who long to pedal their bodies on pavement, single-track, or gravel and they are located in the hottest new cycling destination in the US, i.e., Northwest Arkansas. One reason for its fame is a paved 36-mile Greenway extending from Bella Vista Arkansas, thru Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville. Also, an extensive array of IMBA built mountain bike trails complete with features not found elsewhere. Gravel grinders will also find paradise here.
To say that the culture of Northwest Arkansas is bicycle friendly is an understatement. On the weekend we visited this historic Airbnb there were perhaps 20 other cyclists. I’ve never stayed in a facility in which many of the guests woke up to watch a stage of the Paris-Nice race. Staying at this unique Airbnb is a real treat for cycling families, as most hotel guests congregate together and discuss their passions while enjoying breakfast together.
On Saturday of our pilgrimage, Scotti and Ernie led a group of 30 cyclists on a 100km road expedition, with various pace level groups. No one gets left behind, and you don’t need to be a superfast, balls to the wall rider to feel part of the family. Having new gravel electronic shifting bikes, we took off on our own and headed north to Bentonville along the Greenway for a trial run. There were restaurants, bars, bicycle pumps, and shops for the next 20 miles. Lots of walkers, runners, cyclists, and families enjoying this 60-mile automobile free Greenway. Our bikes were dreamy smooth and matched the scenery and, like the perfect blue skies, there were no mishaps.
The past year’s events, along with my own rather unfortunate turn of events, ended up as the introduction to the cycling culture of Northwest Arkansas, the Allied Cycle Works factory, and finally the cyclist friendly Airbnb, Natural State Rock and Republic, run by Scotti and Ernie Lechuga. The bumps in the road of life are now taking me on a more positive path, more hope than ever, more guts than glory, more song than dance, and definitely more pedal power.
Dow Stough, M.D. practiced dermatology for 30 years. He enjoys riding the most with family and friends on gravel, dirt, or the road.