This summer, we took an epic mountain bike road trip, stringing together three different Eastern Tennessee trail networks in three days. Between Knoxville, Windrock, and Johnson City, there were a wide variety of options for every type of rider. Here’s Part Three, where we rip off the laps at Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park…
What’s most amazing about Tannery Knobs is, well, OK, there are three things: It’s right downtown in Johnson City, TN; it has trails for every skill level, age and ability; and it’s extremely well built with room to grow. For a small town like JC, this is a big resource. And a huge source of pride among local riders. There’s also a ton of other outdoor and family friendly things to do nearby, gravel riding through forest roads, and a healthy craft beer and restaurant scene. There’s more, but first, let’s check out the trails…
Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park ride review
Tannery Knobs opened in Summer 2019, which had us riding it just a couple months after tires first hit dirt here. But you wouldn’t know it from the quality of singletrack, smoothness of trail, and well-built rock structures, berms and jumps. Which is why it paid for them to have IMBA’s Trail Solutions come in and build the park, using that firm’s massive experience to craft a road trip-worthy destination trail.
All of the trails start and finish at the parking lot, which is at the top of the bike park. It’s a steep drive up, but short. Which helps put into perspective just how much trail they’ve crammed into their 40-acre footprint. And this is just Phase One…more trails are planned.
After a warmup lap on the green loop, our guide put the hammer down and simply said “trust me”. A little unsettling at first, it turns out the trails are built for flying through them. The turns and berms are positioned just right. The table tops and landings are spaced perfectly. It just rewards riders who like to push things a bit. All without alienating first timers. It’s the perfect spot to bring newbies and kids to learn because they can take a lap on their own while you bust out a fast one on more technical trails. And then everyone meets back up at the same spot.
Another great thing about Tannery Knobs is the ground. It’s mainly (virtually all) shale, so it drains wicked fast. We drove through a torrential evening downpour on our way into Johnson City, scheduled to ride around noon the following day. So much rain that folks were stopping under the overpasses and flat, grassy parks had puddles. But the trails? Totally rideable, and mostly dry. I think we hit two tiny little puddles.
There’s also a bit of natural rock they built around, which makes for fun technical riding and a bit of variety. And the man-made rock sections, like that drop-in shown top of post. It all adds up to a mix of beginner friendly “green” trail, all the way up to “black” rock sections and tabletop jumps.
The only road to the top is the paved entry from town, and you’ll want to drive slow as you come off the main road because there are a few quick, successive turns that Google Maps can’t keep up with. A couple U-turns later we got it right. The point is, there’s no way to shuttle yourself to the top, you gotta ride back up. Which is fine, nothing takes too long. The descents are just long enough to flex your nerves, and the climbs are just long enough to push your legs. As with any trail, go faster and you amplify either experience.
The Ibis Ripmo AF once again proved a great partner. Plenty of travel for nailing the jumps and taming the rock sections, but efficient enough to get right back up to the top. Onza Tires and Industry Nine also supported this trip, and both proved a great choice for the terrain. We used the new enduro version of the Gwin-designed Aquila, and it gripped perfectly. Full review of both tire and wheel coming soon.
Where else can I ride in Johnson City?
At the top of the hill is a paved pump track built by VeloSolutions, which is just off the Tannery Knobs parking lot and trailheads. It’s also a great spot to see…
…Fireworks. The parking lot overlooks the Johnson City Cardinals’ baseball field, and after home games they shoot fireworks into the air. But from this spot, you’ll still be looking down on them!
You can also see Buffalo Mountain, home to the 750-acre Buffalo Mountain City Park. Which is where Trail Solutions is doing a feasibility study for new mountain bike trails. That area also has gravel and dirt roads. Climb Forest Road 188 to a fire tower, then drop down Trail 29 for an aggressive descent on your mountain bike. Or hit Forest Road 87 (Big Creek Road) for more gravel bike riding.
The local Trek Store puts on several group rides, including a Bikin’ & Eggs Saturday Morning ride sponsored by Bojangles. And a monthly Taco Tuesday ride that ends at Holy Taco where all of-age participants get a free beer!
What else is there to do in Johnson City?
If you time it right, there’s the Meet The Mountains outdoor festival, where you can demo mountain bikes, paddle boards, One Wheels, and more. And check out the numerous local craft breweries and food trucks all in one spot, catch live music, and check out a lot of outdoor brands’ latest bits.
The nearby town of Erwin has rafting on the Nolichuckee River; it’s just 15 minutes away, and the Appalachian Trail passes through it. Trail Solutions is reportedly building new singletrack there, too. There’s sailing in nearby Watauga Lake, and the Tweetsie Trail is a 10-mile Rail Trail. Check in with the Visitor’s Center and they can point you to hiking, fly fishing, rafting, tubing and plenty more, mostly within 20-30 minutes of downtown. In other words, the mountain biking here is great, but it’s also a perfect home base for more outdoor adventures. It’s only an hour from Asheville, NC, too, so it’s a great day trip if you want to ride somewhere new.
Kids looking at colleges? Johnson City’s 67,000 population swells when ETSU is in session, and the campus has singletrack, too. Sounds like it should be on the shortlist. Summers are hot and humid, winters can be cold, but there’s not a ton of rain or snow to keep you from getting out on the trail. That said, late summer through October is probably the best time to visit.
Links & Resources:
- Check out MTBTN.com for more trail info in the state
- We didn’t get to eat at all of these, but locals recommend Holy Taco & Cantina (which is a sister restaurant to SoKno Tacos in Knoxville, similar menu), Label (Gastropub, Burgers, Shrimp & Grits, etc.), Main Street Pizza (gourmet pizzas, ice cream), Pals Sudden Service (regional fast food burger chain), Southern Craft (BBQ), Freibergs (German food), Atlantic Ale House (craft beers w/ food trucks), and First Watch (great breakfasts, huge pancakes).
- For drinks, check out YeeHaw Brewing, which has a White Duck Taco attached to it. Across the street is JRH Brewing. There’s also Great Oak Brewing, and Johnson City Brewing Co.
- We stayed at Carnegie Hotel (Local, huge, and very nice. Full disclosure, Johnson City covered our hotels and meals during our trip)
- RideTK.com is the official Tannery Knobs MTB Park website.
- SORBA Tri-Cities is the local advocacy group that gets the trails built and maintained, check their site for other trails and area riding.