Cycle: 5 Great Arizona Rides
Spring flowers blooming along the new Black Canyon Trail.
photo by Daniel Christianson
The current issue of Bicycling Magazine includes a list of the "Best Bike Ride in Every State." While the mag claims that the list is just a starting point, it made an interesting choice for Arizona, a state known for some legendary dirt and tarmac.
The choice made for us locals -- supposedly based on a survey of local bike shop owners, club riders and other area experts -- is the freshly carved and completed Black Canyon Mountain Bike Trail.
We've been hearing some glowing stories about this new strip of singletrack that runs along the I-17 from Anthem to Black Canyon City, but could this brand spankin' new route be the state's top ride? We'll know soon enough when we give it a run next month, but until then, here's a look at five AZ classics that could easily have gotten the nod.
A cyclist cuts along Desert Classic trail on South Mountain.
photo by Jason Franz
5. Desert Classic and National Trails on South Mountain - Two totally different tracks on the Valley's iconic mountain bike playground that can be joined should the legs feel up to the task. Desert Classic is a loose, flowy run that follows the south contour of the mountain. The majority can be ridden by cyclists of any skill level, but there are also stretches and side trails to challenge the most burly of knobby-tired huckers. And if you haven't taken the trail to the heli pad, you haven't actually completed DC. National is the crowned king of hard core mountain biking and requires fitness, skill and (most of all) balls. But its hallowed status calls visitors and pros from around the globe to tackle its drops and chutes. If you're up for it, be sure to hit the Waterfall.
Cyclists motor down Pima Road along the BOS route from the high point in Cave Creek.
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4. BOS Ride - Known as the the Valley's fastest group ride, the BOS has been pounding the roads of North Scottsdale since 1981. Named for its starting point at the Bicycles of Scottsdale shop that has come and gone a few times at the corner of Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard, the weekly 60-ish mile route rolls north along Pima Road towards Cave Creek, continually climbing to the summit point on Cave Creek Road known as "The Tower" just before the turnoff to Bartlett Lake. The return trip is where the fast part comes in as it is nearly pure downhill all the way back into Scottsdale. If the idea of riding in a bunch is a bit intimidating, the route is still among the Valley's best cutting along the scenic high Sonoran desert along iconic landmarks such as Pinnacle Peak and Reata Pass.
A rider shoots through one of the McDowell Mountain Competitive Tracks.
photo by Jason Franz
3. McDowell Mountain Regional Park - A generous spread of rolling desert floor on the back slopes of the McDowell Mountains just north of Fountain Hills, McDowell is home to more than 50 miles of highly rideable trails including the McDowell Competitive Track that crosscuts the park with stunning views of the Superstitions, Four Peaks, Mazatzals and, of course, the McDowells. One of the best things about McDowell is it never feels crowded thanks to the many miles of easy flowing tracks. With mountain bike-specific trails, general use trails, and now a pump track, the McDowell Mountain Regional Park rivals South Mountain as the Valley's mountain biking destination of choice.
Lake Mary Road passing by Lower Lake Mary.
photo by Jason Franz
2. Lake Mary Road - A mere two hours north of Phoenix among the rolling hills outside of Flagstaff, the Lake Mary Road route that loops around Mormon Lake isn't one of the most difficult rides around (although its hills and thinner oxygen will still burn the lungs and legs), but it provides a very European classics kind of route and the views alone are worth the trip. But best of all, the temps are a standard 30 to 40 degrees cooler than the Valley on any summer day, making for a perfect day trip filled with riding at any pace. The loop is completed by taking Mormon Lake Road through Mormon Lake Village, home to a general store stocked with plenty of cold beverages. Just keep an eye out for storms that can plow through the area faster than a pro peloton at a sprint finish.
Cyclists make their way up Mt. Lemmon in Tucson.
1. Mt. Lemmon - This 23-mile ascent from the desert floor to the pines high atop Tucson is considered by many to be the very best cycling road in the entire United States. Lance Armstrong was known for renting a cabin at the top and riding up and down the mountain multiple times daily during the off season. Local pro Chad Beyer calls it his favorite ride in Arizona. And Bicycling Magazine themselves chose it this past winter to test the year's newest crop of bikes. The Catalina Highway tarmac is glassy as can be the entire way up and substantial bike lanes line each side of the roadway meaning there is plenty of room for everyone to feel safe on the way up. Although the climb is long, the ramps are never overly daunting, and on the way down the road just lays out for a fast and smooth drop back into town. Mt. Lemmon is a cyclist's dream.
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