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 Two, a gravity-fueled adventure at Windrock Bike Park…
Nestled near the top of Windrock Mountain is a massive outdoor playground simply called “Windrock”. Wanna crawl your jeep up stupidly steep inclines? Try to kill yourself on an ATV or Side-by-Side (it happens on the regular, actually)? Or shred some gnarly good downhill and enduro mountain bike trail with an open air truck shuttle service? Windrock is your place. It’s just an hour’s drive from downtown Knoxville, and worth every minute of twisty mountain road to get here. Just make sure you plan for a weekend visit when the shuttle is running, you won’t want to ride up this one. We visited in late August to test out the new Ibis Ripmo AF on EWS-worthy trails, here’s how it went…
Isn’t Windrock Bike Park just for downhill?
That’s what we thought, too. But no. There’s a lot more to it now. Yes, Windrock’s mountain bike trails started out as a pro downhill training ground for Neko Mullaly and his buddies. But, over the past couple years, his brother and other friends have built enduro trails, groomed machine built downhill flow trails, and there’s even an XC and beginner loop. We missed those last two thanks to an afternoon rain storm that rolled in, but not before crushing all of the enduro trails in the main section.
Every ride starts with a shuttle ride to the top. Well, most of the way to the top. There are advanced trails further up that you’ll need to ask about as it’s not a regular stop. We hear they’re absolutely worth riding. But rain.
The shuttles are quick, and included in the $35 Unlimited Uplift Pass (Sat-Sun only). Buy it (and sign a waiver) at the Windrock General Store before heading up to their drop point. How quick? By the time you ride down and catch your breath, the truck will be circling back ’round. You can self shuttle (or, gasp, pedal) up during the week for a $10 entry fee, or get an unlimited season pass for $300.
Windrock’s bike shop, rentals and more
You’ll want to bring your own helmet (full face, definitely) and at least some knee pads, but other than that they’ve got you covered. A fleet of Santa Cruz V10 downhill rental bikes ($130/day) and well stocked mini-bike shop are there to keep you riding. Most anything you’re likely to break riding there, they have.
Even helmets ($20/day with knee pads). Which is good, because we saw one break. Real bad. And the guy wearing it left for the hospital. Know your limits, and we’d suggest always riding with a friend. Remember, the downhill tracks are training grounds for UCI World Cup pro racers that allowed to ride. Tempt fate accordingly. That said, you’re probably safer mountain biking than ATV’ing here…just ask them to tell you stories between laps, like why there are skid marks running off the side of the mountain. We also saw a rock crawler flip and roll slowly back down its (thankfully separate) trail. Windrock is no joke, regardless of your chosen recreational activity.
Riding enduro at Windrock
The great thing is, you don’t need a downhill bike to enjoy Windrock. They’ve added plenty of “enduro” runs, and our Ibis Ripmo AF test bikes were the perfect setup. They have bermed, groomed machine-built trails with jumps and table tops, to rough rock-laden natural trails. Most everything on these runs is rollable; not so for the DH runs. Meaning, they’re great for a wide range of abilities and the perfect place to practice riding steeper, more aggressive trails. Or dialing in a new bike and learning new skills.
All of the trails we rode start from one clearing in the woods, a couple of which lead to the Industry Nine launch house. Climb up and get a great view of the surrounding forest, then roll down and hit Talladega for a warmup:
Even in late August, the dirt was in decent shape. Compared to parks like Whistler that see thousands of riders on a weekend, Windrock wasn’t totally destroyed at the end of summer. There were a few braking bumps, but not bad. They didn’t rattle our teeth loose, and dialing in the small bump sensitivity on the Ripmo AF’s DVO suspension smoothed it out nicely (complete bike review here).
From there, head down Snake Rock and Trail One for rocky natural trail that feels more like “real” mountain biking, albeit “real” shuttled. These were two of our favorites, and set us up nicely for the longest Black trail on the map: Reach Around.
Just know that “Black” isn’t as aggressive as “Red” on the Trailforks map, those are the hardcore DH trails with mandatory jumps and drops.
“Mmmkay, looks fun,” you say, “but are just a few runs worth the trip all the way over there?”
Yep, absolutely. Pack a lunch and a cooler and make a day of it. The jumps and rock sections are progressive in that the more we rode them, the more comfortable we were on them. Our skills and confidence progressed, and things got more fun. Until they got slippery. Which is a good time to mention that Windrock is open rain or shine, but things got a little sketchy after about 20-30 minutes of light rain. Considering the terrain and the 3-4 hours of riding we’d already collected, we packed it in and headed to our next stop: Johnson City.
Eat? Drink? Anything else?
You’ll pass through a small town en route from Knoxville to Windrock. It has restaurants, which is good if you’re starving. But our recommendation is to head back to Knoxville and take advantage of the food and drink scene there. Want more Eastern Tennessee riding? Check our full write up on riding Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness and Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park in Johnson City.