City Portrait: Knoxville, Tennessee

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers, Christian Neuhauser

All motorcyclists covet great roads, and everyone has their favorites. But when it all boils down, certain common denominators remain. The twists, turns, sweeps, and swoops of lonely two-lanes snaking their way through the mountain ranges across the land usually comprise the cream of the collective crop. And every motorcyclist who can't resist the thrills of the hills should know that man and nature have come together to create the nation's greatest amusement park in the mountains around Knoxville, Tennessee.

On the eastern edge of the Volunteer State, Knoxville sits in the heart of the Tennessee Valley at the headwaters of the Tennessee River. Settled in 1786 by James White, Knoxville was originally known as White's Fort. In a relatively peaceful era of coexistence with the area's original inhabitants, the Cherokee Indians, other white settlers soon began to arrive, establishing White's Fort as a supply center for westbound wagon trains. William Blount, Governor of the Territory South of the Ohio River, incorporated the burgeoning town in 1791 and renamed it Knoxville in honor of the Secretary of War, Major General Henry Knox.

Following the Civil War, Knoxville, a major railroad and manufacturing hub, experienced substantial growth. The stream of returning war veterans, many of whom possessed much needed skills, was joined by large numbers of freed slaves looking for a new start. This established a strong workforce that attracted an influx of new development. Iron works, cloth mills, furniture factories, and marble quarries were but a few of the businesses spurring Knoxville's growth as the new century dawned.

However, as it did in most cities, the Great Depression dealt Knoxville a severe financial blow. Bank and business failures quashed the previous decade's optimism and plunged the city into a decade of despair. The onset of World War II provided the local economy with a huge boost thanks to local ventures - such as Alcoa Aluminum, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the nearby super-secret nuclear facility, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory - crucial to the nation's war effort. As the 1970s approached, a new generation of civic leaders emerged with ideas and plans to revive the downtown districts and make the region even more attractive for development. Focusing on restoring the city center, cleaning up the riverfront, and providing financial initiatives for new business projects, this progressive plan of action generated ongoing economic and social growth, culminating in Knoxville being chosen as the host site for the 1982 World's Fair.

Since then, the city hasn't looked back. In a business-friendly environment, many high tech industries, some homegrown and others relocating in the Knoxville area, have infused the city with an affluent, well-educated workforce. These new arrivals have embraced the city's Southern charms, as well as its many cultural opportunities. Home to the main campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville also touts its many museums and a thriving community of craftspeople, musicians, and performing artists.

Known as the "Gateway to the Smokies," Knoxville unabashedly promotes itself as the perfect jumping off point for excursions to the multitude of natural wonders just outside the city limits. And of course, as stated before, the nearby Great Smoky Mountains offer some of the best motorcycling roads in the United States, a fact not lost on the organizers of the annual Honda Hoot. Back in 2000, after the event's planners decided the event had outgrown its original venue in Asheville, North Carolina, the people of Knoxville stepped up to the plate and recognized the Hoot as a great opportunity to host thousands of new visitors and show off their city. Each year, residents welcome Hoot participants with open arms and a true sense of good ol' Southern hospitality. As for amenities, you can certainly find what you're looking for in downtown Knoxville, where the many dining, shopping, and entertainment choices dovetail nicely with its college-town atmosphere and energy.

Many Hoot visitors end up returning to Knoxville and the surrounding area just to do more riding, and why not? In just a half day's ride or less from Knoxville, discriminating practitioners of the two-wheeled tango can find tempting stretches of asphalt all around them - the Dragon's Tail at Deal's Gap, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cherohala Skyway, and any number of tasty back roads winding amid the hollows and Appalachian ridges of Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and North Georgia. Otherwise, when family duties take precedence over riding, Knoxville has you covered there too. Attractions like the Knoxville Zoo, the American Museum of Science and Energy, and the East Tennessee Discovery Center will keep your mini-bikers busy, and other family-oriented attractions in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Dollywood are less than an hour away. If you can't be riding and need the buzz, there's something to be said for roller coasters. And just between us, keeping it on the down-low, it's good to know that EagleRider has a rental outlet in town. In case you can arrange a break from the kids, a quick day-ride is always a possibility.

There's a reason the folks at Honda continue bringing the Hoot back to Knoxville year after year and it's not just about the roads. Sure, the riding is as good as it gets in the United States, but what's more important is the attitude the locals display toward riders. They recognize the benefits of our visitations. Thankfully the folks in Knoxville are able to look past a few bugs and a little road dirt to see us as an important segment of their economic pie. Bottom line, they respect and welcome us. And let's face it, do we ever ask for much more?

501 West Church Ave
Knoxville, TN 37902
(865) 523-2300

Whether you're Hootin' with Honda or just knockin' around Knoxville for some great riding, being in the middle of it all is never a bad thing. Located in the heart of downtown, the Hilton Knoxville is a great place to drop the kickstand for the evening. When the ride is over, it's nice to know that a number of fine restaurants and bars are only a couple of blocks away. And if you can't muster the energy for that walk, just make your way to the lobby for sustenance. The Orange Martini serves up fine libations along with burgers and snacks in a casual sports-bar atmosphere. Marty's Bistro, a bit more formal, has the wine list and eclectic new American cuisine to back it up. Dig into the breakfast buffet at The Market Café before you hit the road, or go light with a coffee brewed by the barristas at the Starbucks in the lobby. From high-speed wireless to a pool and fitness room, the Hilton Knoxville provides all the amenities expected in a full service hotel. And not to worry, motorcyclists are always welcome.