MARK DULKEN is you would call an O.G. The man has been riding mountain bikes in Pisgah since 1986. His Ross Mt. Olympus took him everywhere even though it weighed 50 pounds, had no suspension and the trails were not signed.
Mark was exploring Pisgah when the first real trail guide for the area came out, “Off The Beaten Track,” a guide book by Jim Parham. He and a good friend at the time would go out on long adventures, and try to make it home before dark.
“Trails weren’t designated, there were no bike icons on the trail signs, so we rode anywhere,” he said. “It was all fair game. We looked for the same kind of thing you do now, gravel climbs and singletrack descents. I didn’t know the real backcountry parts of Pisgah, but I found them. We would just try and see how far out we could get, mapping the layout of the land in our heads.”
All they had were the old paper topographic map, fanny packs with sandwiches, and, if they were lucky, a spare tube. He said they knew nothing about hydration or proper nutrition and they were riding in T-shirts, but that was enough to get him hooked.
Mark is a lifelong mountain biker and he has certainly evolved with the trends. By 1992 he had his first full suspension, a Haro Extreme. He said the bike bounced like a pogo stick, but that it was undoubtedly better than any rigid bike.
Mark took a long break from riding mountain bikes to focus his attention on racing hare scrambles and riding motos, something he has been doing since he was 8 years old.
“I’ve always had dirt bikes,” he said. “But when I got back into mountain biking heavily, the industry had come leaps and bounds. The bikes had disc brakes even, and my first nice bike was a Harvey Cycle. Sam Salman, owner of the Hub, and I used to go ride motos at Brown Mountain and he eventually sold me a Transition Covert, which was the first sweet trail bike I ever had.”
Mark’s latest bike is a Specialized Camber 29, a full suspension carbon fiber machine he got from Sycamore Cycles, quite the upgrade from those early bikes he cut his teeth on. He hasn’t lost his moto roots, though: all this bikes’ brakes are set up “moto style,” with the right hand pulling the front brake, and the rear brake on the left.
“Back in the day riding was purely adventure,” he said. “We were pushing limits and we didn’t even know what they were. Mountain biking was in its infancy. Now, riding for me is way to decompress after working, but it’s also a way to get the heart rate up, get some thrills on the downhill, and just get out in the woods.”
Mark is a trail hound too.
He is constantly looking for new trails, but riding on the East Coast, he says, it’s harder to get those adventurous days anymore. He takes about six trips a year to ride for a long weekend or a week at a time, just to explore new trail systems. He has been from Alabama to Florida up through Harrisonburg, Va., and has now set his sights on riding out West.
“I grew up skiing out West, but I’ve never ridden a mountain bike out there,” he said. “This summer I’m heading somewhere, I don’t know where yet. That’s the adventure!” His trips usually coincide with where his girlfriend happens to be building new trails. Valerie Naylor is a professional trail builder who lives in Brevard, and she’s got projects locally and throughout the region.
As a gift to Mark, Valerie built a pretty sweet section of trail on his property in Brevard. In return, he hired local videographer TC Webb to create a time lapse of the project to help her with promoting and marketing. “It’s pretty cool dating a trail builder,” he said.
Mark does his share of trail work, too. He was asked last year to be a trail crew leader for Pisgah Area Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA). He and his trail buddy Carlos Galarza, a mechanic at Sycamore Cycles, are considered the “A Team” trail crew locally. Both are certified sawyers, and rather than having to wait for an organized work day, they get the green light from the Forest Service to get out and take out trees quick and easy.
“A big work day takes forever, but we can get out after work and take out a tree. We’re like trail first responders. It’s cool to see the advancements, not just in bikes, but also in trail building technique,” he said. “My trail work used to consist of helping do moto trail work in the Smoky Mountain ORV park up in Wayahutta.”
Mark was most recently out with some other volunteers on the South Mills River Trail in the Turkey Pen area of Pisgah, cleaning drains, doing rock work, taking out trees and keeping things in shape.
Even though Mark was in Brevard before “bikes and beer,” he says it’s been awesome to see the growth in the community and cycling scene.
“It’s enjoyable to watch, seeing the Hub expand and seeing Wes grow the way he has, and the guys at Squatch here now. I don’t think there’s too many people, I think it is great and opens up more opportunity for better trails, more friends, and more chances for people to get involved and give back,” he said.
Mark rides with his family, too. His son, Michael, is a design engineer at Industry Nine in Asheville. “I got him on two wheels when he could first walk. He’s been riding motos and bikes his entire life,” he said. “We both rode in the Tail Chaser 250 this spring, a local charity dual sport ride through the area.”
Mark says his favorite trail is the last one he rode, but loves to climb Black Mountain and come down Thrift Cove, a nod to his motorcycle roots.
“Carlos and I also like to do the lollipops in DuPont, the Big Rock, Cascade, Micajah and Burnt Mountain loops out there,” he said.
You can catch Mark outside at most trail workdays, for coffee at Sycamore or a few cold beers after his rides at the Hub or Squatch.