BEST SHORT ROAD BIKE RIDE 2007 | Tempe Town Lake/Indian Bend Wash bike path system | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Sometimes we feel our hackles rise while riding the mean streets of the Valley. We feel lucky the dumbass serial shooters missed us, since we make such a pretty target in our colorful spandex biking jerseys. But we figure we're still bound to get creamed someday by a drunken legislator or some other idiot motorist. We like to avoid those risks by sticking to the miles of smooth-riding bike paths that slice through Tempe and Scottsdale.

Our favorite training ride, from Town Lake and Mill Avenue to Scottsdale and Chaparral roads, can be done entirely on these paths, for a decent calorie-burning distance of about 15 miles. The scenery's terrific the whole way, and varied enough to keep it interesting, going past rippling lakes and grungy county island properties and pricey Scottsdale townhomes. The path's northern end is near Shea Boulevard, and it can be accessed from a number of points between there and Town Lake for an enjoyable ride of any distance.

Construction of the new condos just east of Scottsdale Road at Town Lake knocked out the path for much of last year, but it reopened in the spring. We're waiting eagerly for the new pedestrian bridge (it'll be okay for bikes, too) scheduled to go up next year over Town Lake, which will make the ride even more pleasant.

This route keeps us in the saddle much longer than we'd like, but it's probably a two-hour ride for the hardest of bicycle butts. Where you start depends on where you live, but we do the loop clockwise, finding Maricopa Road from the East Valley. However you get there, you should eventually find yourself on Riggs Road/Beltline Road, a wind-blown dusty highway on the Gila River Indian Community way to the south of South Mountain. Fifty-first Avenue is the loop's western edge. Just after Beltline bends north is a Texaco store good for drinks and snacks. Sometimes, it stocks flat-repair kits, but don't count on it.

About half the time, we'll finish this ride by taking Dobbins Road to South Mountain Park's Central Avenue entrance and steaming up to the radio towers before heading home. We love the winding summit road because it's hard, and there's nothing like the burn we get from doing it after the round-the-mountain ride. Of course, free-spinning down the hill is one of life's greatest joys. From our home, this is about a 50-miler — enough to justify a couple of 44-ounce drinks and a long nap.

Bump-jumping BMX riders of the Valley haven't been terrorizing local shopping malls, co-opting canals, or taking over skate parks with their two-wheel trickery that much lately. It ain't 'cause the cops have tossed the lot of 'em into the slammer, but rather, it's because these cycle psychos have been pulling sick stunts at the stellar Chandler Bike Park. This 25,000-square-foot pedal-pusher's paradise, located at the city's Espee Park, is the lone bikes-only facility in the Valley and boasts dozens of different concrete ramps, jumps, hips, quarter pipes, and boxes where riders can catch plenty of air. While skate parks across the PHX have banned BMX bikes due to safety issues, it's completely cool if you wanna make like Matt Hoffman on your modified Haro here. Thousands of teens and twentysomethings from Tempe to Tolleson have come to the park to get their grind on since its grand opening in May (which featured appearances by such superstar riders as Mike Saavedra and A.J. Anaya), like 17-year-old Hunter Gacek of Avondale. "This park is the shit," he says. "It's a pretty far drive, but it's totally worth it."
We were jonesing to put fresh dust on our mountain bike, so we decided to make the long drive to San Tan. Last time we were out there, we took our high-clearance vehicle on rough roads deep within the craggy landscape, back to where the cliffs rise to breathtaking heights. You can't do that anymore. We'd heard most of the park was restricted now, and future trails are still being imagined. So we loaded up the bike and gassed up the SUV.

To get to the park from the Superstition Freeway, take Ellsworth Road way south to Hunt Highway, turn left, then right on Thompson Road, then another right on Phillips Road. It's a long trip even for those of us in the heart of the metro area, but it's worth it for the raw beauty of this 10,000-acre park.

We had fun looping around on eight miles of single-track, old jeep trails and sandy washes. A couple of the downhills may be challenging for the newest riders, but otherwise San Tan consists of tame, but fun, stuff.

Plenty of other visitors were here on the day we visited in midspring, despite the remote location. But the desert has its way of swallowing us, and the eye-pleasing vistas sear in our memory for recall during those long hours in the office. The landscape out here is unburnt, classic Sonoran desert full of fuzzy cholla cactus and distant high bluffs. We won a first-place trophy for our soul.

When we want the sweetest punishment on two wheels, we take a trip to this dominatrix of mountain biking trails. Sometimes nothing satisfies like a good whipping. She leaves us sweaty with exertion, yet chilly with the naked fear of imminent injury or death.

Mountain bike manufacturers go here when they want to test their equipment to the max. Only experts or fools take the trail all the way from Pima Canyon near the Pointe South Mountain to San Juan Lookout, 15 miles distant, but moderate riders should push themselves to at least sample the first couple of miles. After grinding up the steep gravel switchbacks, which are punctuated by rock steps higher than sidewalk curbs, the easy trails you'll ride will seem a lot easier.

National Trail is a gift to the Phoenix area, and it's as free as the desert breeze, thanks to city taxpayers. We try to be courteous to other park users even as we're careening down the hills.

We know from bike shops.

Allow us to start at the beginning: Our fancy mountain bike is what we call a nervous shifter. She's as nimble and fast as a thoroughbred, but after the first few months she lost her groove, derailleur-wise. The chain kept jumping the gear rings at unexpected times, usually right in the middle of a tough grind up a steep hill. The bike needed an expert's touch, and it didn't find it even after five — that's right, five — visits to a popular bike shop that will remain unnamed.

A friend told us to try the Landis shop on Warner Road. Less than 25 minutes after we wheeled her in, the wizards at Landis had our finicky steed tuned up perfectly. We were skeptical at first, considering the time we'd put in at the other store. But out on the trail the adjustment held. We can only assume the staff at Landis' three other stores are as good, but we've stuck with the Warner location out of sheer loyalty. We think our bike is in love.

The skate shop is a pretty simple concept: decks, trucks, wheels, bearings, maybe a video or two. Add some jaded 14-year-olds loitering outside — bumming smokes and talking shit — maybe throw a miniramp in the back, and you've pretty much got our sophomore year of high school. It's not pretentious, and we love it. That's why we're so annoyed that even crappy mall stores calling themselves "skate shops" even exist. Hey, corporate — just an FYI — the fact that you sell Etnies to seventh-graders doesn't count.

That's why we love the Cowtown store in Tempe — it gets back to the idea that a skate shop should be the center of a community. Sure, you can buy the Volcom hoodies and the rest of that trendy crap, but beyond that, there's a sense that the people here actually know a little about the scene they're working in. Scattered throughout the store is a tiny homage to the history of skateboarding — an ancient Life magazine featuring a cover story on "the grace and menace of skateboarding" and a book from the '80s called Skateboarding Is For Me are tucked into shelves around the merch. And then there's the store's awesome display of vintage cameras, including a Polaroid Swinger and a Keystone Everflash.

Skateboarding is a sport as much about visuals as it is about performance, and it's cool to see a subtle nod to that in the displays. But the absolute best thing about the shop is its art gallery, MVMNT, which features work by local artists and skateboarders like CR3, who paints on broken decks, and DDGP Design Concepts, the brand name for Dan Diaz's furniture fashioned out of highly stylized skateboards. It's a cool place to wander around and we'd rather spend our money here any day than give it to some tool working the register at the mall.

A good pair of inline skates turns the urban world into an ice-skating rink — a beautiful, romantic place where the human body glides like an incorporeal spirit.

But it ain't quite that easy. When the ground beneath our polyurethane gets too bumpy or there are too many other people on the path, those little wheels are like a voodoo curse on our feet, souring the whole experience.

ASU's fields of concrete are marred only by a few easily avoided sections of rough ground. And the scenery is gorgeous — the eye-catching flowerbeds, the fountains and canals near the Business School, the youngsters in summer attire. This is the outdoor skating rink of our dreams, a wonderful setting for a more adventurous date or just a pleasant workout. The daily parking crunch eases after normal school hours, making it a snap to get on-campus for an after-dinner spin.

A few years ago, inline skating at ASU was forbidden, technically, despite the fact that hundreds of students rode their skates to and from classes. However, ASU police say those rules have been "relaxed" and that skaters won't be bothered as long as they aren't a nuisance.

We like to wander through the wide malls to University Drive, then roll up Palm Walk to the student recreation center, back west to Myrtle Avenue, then north again to University.

We even have a name for it: ASU, The Grand Tour.

The Valley is home to plenty of skate spots, but Tempe Skate Park, opened in 2005 as part of the Tempe Sports Complex, tops our list as a must-ride destination. The park features two levels and about 32,000 square feet of skatable space. The top level is a technical skater's dream, featuring stairs, rail ledges, a picnic table and a perfectly angled wall. The second level has one of the best (read: fastest) flow bowls in the state.

A local skateboarder told us he likes it because "there's a little bit of anything and because I don't have to call anyone but at least a couple of my friends will be there when I go." Online skate mag Concrete Disciples agrees, rating the park a 9 out of 10. No surprise considering Tempe's own Site Design Group — the folks responsible for internationally recognized parks like the world's largest concrete park (in the Grand Cayman Islands) and the first urban street plaza, located in Ohio — was behind the construction.

There are two kinds of paintballers: People who do it for fun once in a while, and people who do it as sport every weekend. Cowtown's paintball field is there to facilitate both. Open Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to midnight, the park has a natural-terrain field where you can splatter your friends with paint and indulge your camo-wearing war fantasies, as well as a "hyperball" court for the more intense, serious paintball aficionado. Started in the U.K., hyperball is one of the fastest-growing paintball trends — taking the activity from simple fun to intense spectator "extreme" sport. At the hyperball court, sissies who are too scared to grab a gun for themselves (or folks who are shot early) can watch as players charge through tunnels and hide behind barricades fighting to be the last man standing. For $20 admission, plus a $5 gun rental, you can shoot 'em up all day.

Cowtown also offers special packages during the week for corporate team-building exercises. We're not so sure shooting the people from accounting is the best method of building trust, but it sure sounds like a good way to get out some of that pent-up office aggression. And the park's slogan, "Safest way to play," is comforting enough to get even the worst shots among us on the field.

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