Cycle: A West Side Classic to Estrella

Approaching the end of the road in Estrella.
Approaching the end of the road in Estrella.
photo by Jason Franz

All right, we at Cycle will concede that last week's Tour de Spring Training route through the west side of the Valley may not have actually been a ringing endorsement of riding on that part of town.

There's no denying that there's little-to-no bike lanes, aggressive auto handlers and terrain that is predominantly ... well, uninspiring. That being said, there are still some roads worth riding out west.

As the pro peloton hits cobbled roads of Belgium and northern France for the Spring Classics season (seriously, the next two weeks bring the best races of the year in Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix), Cycle heads to the long, narrow roads of Laveen, Goodyear and Avondale for our own classics-style ride.

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Make no mistake, this ride again covers roads with no shoulders, but it passes through some of the region's great, old agriculture land leading to some stellar rolling terrain and a residential island that really has no business being where it is. This island is Estrella, tucked to the west of the Estrella Mountains.

The route also crosses Phoenix's three primary riverways: the Salt River, the Agua Fria River and the Gila River. The loop circles where the three rivers converge, a point called Tres Rios near the Valley's largest sporting complex, Phoenix International Raceway.

Start your ride at the Cesar Chavez Park in Laveen at 35th Avenue and Baseline Road. There is ample parking by the library at the entrance of the park.

Turn left onto Baseline and make a quick right on 39th Avenue, riding north to Vineyard Road. Vineyard will roll through the residential area, safe from heavy traffic , crossing 43rd Avenue to 51st Avenue. Turn right onto 51st and head north over the Salt River to Broadway Road.

At Broadway, hang a left and get ready for a long push westward through one of the larger dairy farm areas of Greater Phoenix. This eight mile length is a fairly heavily trafficked rural road with zero shoulder or bike lane. By-and-large, drivers give plenty of space to cyclists, which is nice and comforting considering the road lanes aren't especially wide and there's no escape off the road.

One of the things that makes this ride a classic is its rural setting. There's something great about riding past farms, dairy farms especially. Because of the feed and what have you, birds swarm these places and fill the shelters and trees creating a cacophony of chirping.

Just beware that when it warms up, the air fills with a stench that is not wonderful to deeply inhale.

Broadway runs out at 115th Avenue, so turn right again and push two miles to Buckeye Road/Maricopa 85 (one mile past Lower Buckeye Road). Hook left onto Buckeye for a five-mile segment that was also part of the Tour de Spring Training, crossing over the Agua Fria River into Avondale and Goodyear.

The highlight of this section is without a doubt the run through Oldtown Avondale along Western Avenue, accessed off of Dysart Road from Buckeye. This main street still feels like the hub of an old farming and ranching community, now updated with boutique cupcake cafés, new community centers and antique shops.

Continue west along Western as it turns into Yuma Road, rolling along the northern end of the Phoenix Goodyear Airport. With the Goodyear Ballpark looming to the right and a landing strip of decommissioned jets on the left, turn left onto Bullard Avenue to finally face the jagged Estrella Mountains.

Bullard will turn right into Lower Buckeye Road and roll past the baseball stadium, across Estrella Parkway, and westward to Cotton Lane. Make a left onto Cotton for the gradual rise to Estrella.

The main climb starts just before the Gila River bridge and holds fairly steady at a three to four percent incline over the next three miles up to the oh-so-Euro roundabout. Stay right (and recite your best "Look kids! Big Ben, Parliament") and drop down into the desert-lake contradiction that is Estrella on its namesake road, Estrella Parkway.

Continue south on Estrella Parkway for five miles until the road runs out. The final couple miles make for a good false flat push to the highest plateau point of the ride, so grit your teeth and dig in. At the end, good views of the Sonoran Desert lay out all around with the Estrellas Mountains to the east and the Maricopa Mountains to the South.

Head back along Estrella for three miles to Westar Drive and turn left for a five mile lap around the Estrella community (F.I.N.S., a Cycle fave mountain bike trail, is just off this road). There's a stinger of a hill mid-way, punching up to a 12 percent grade before dropping down to San Miguel. Make a left on San Miguel and then right onto Elliot Road to get back to Estrella Parkway. If you need a rest stop or snack, look for the Elliot Market across from the lake.

Push up and out of Estrella staying straight on Estrella Parkway past the roundabout, dropping down to the Gila River towards Goodyear. Turn right on Vineyard Road just before the river overpass and follow it past the golf course and park grounds as it wraps to the right and rises up to Indian Springs Road.

Indian Springs Road unrolls to Phoenix International Raceway in the distance.
Indian Springs Road unrolls to Phoenix International Raceway in the distance.
photo by Jason Franz

Indian Springs is a fairly rough stretch of tarmac that leads to Phoenix International Raceway and the Tres Rios confluence. PIR looks like a tiny riser three miles down the road, but becomes more and more enormous as you bound along the rolling roadway towards it. Look for the access road to the Estrella Mountain Regional Park Competitive Mountain Bike Track just before the raceway.

Cross back over the Salt River bridge, which is now Avondale Boulevard, to Southern Avenue. Make a right onto Southern, notice the Flanders Ave sign and make a toast to the pros running le Ronde Van Vlaanderen (a.k.a. Tour of Flanders) on April 1, and follow the bend to the left at 99th Avenue.

It would be sacrilege not to honor the pros by not stopping at Flanders Ave and offering a toast.
It would be sacrilege not to honor the pros by not stopping at Flanders Ave and offering a toast.
photo by Jason Franz

Continue up 99th back to Broadway, make a right and roll back past the cattle fields to 51st Avenue. At this point, it's doubling back the way you came, returning to Chavez Park and your car.

Trip Distance: 62.5 miles
Trip Duration: 3 ½ to 4 hours
Difficulty: A good challenge with a moderate mid-course rise and some rough Arizona roads
Route Map:

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