Bucket List: 17 must-do rides and races in North America
Blue Ridge Parkway
Where: North Carolina and Virginia
When: Late spring through fall
Why: Spawned by the New Deal more than 75 years ago as a scenic driving route, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides 469 uninterrupted miles of tarmac through some of the most beautiful national parks in the country. Although created for cars, the benefit of bypassing intersections via overpasses provides cyclists the same luxury of never having to stop for traffic. Elevation ranges from 600 to 6,000 feet.
Where: Glacier National Park, Montana
Why: Dedicated in 1933, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a breathtaking alpine route through the heart of Glacier National Park in northwest Montana. The only road in the States to hold both National Historic and National Civil Engineering Landmark designations, the route over Logan Pass runs 50 miles and climbs to 6,646 feet. Road construction over the next decade will cause up to 30-minute delays, but a trip by Jackson Glacier with the bighorn sheep is worth it.
The Snowy Range
Where: Laramie to Saratoga, Wyoming
When: Late spring through fall
Why: Highway 130 begins in Laramie, but its true beauty begins outside of Centennial. Crossing over the Snowy Range, the road kicks off with a steep grade and rises at a moderate rate for another 10 miles through beautiful pine and Aspen forests. At tree line, riders are treated to a spectacular view of the cliffs of Medicine Bow Peak as the road rises gradually to Libby Flat. If you choose to ride over the top, you can continue on to Saratoga Springs, which features natural hot springs and some restaurants. Traffic is light to moderate and the route is one of the hidden treasures of the Front Range of the Rockies.
Dirty Kanza 200
Where: The Flint Hills region of Kansas
When: May 31, 2014
Why: Riding a century is certainly a doable challenge for most cyclists. Fewer tackle a double century (200 miles in one day). Even fewer attempt this epic ride over the undulating dirt and gravel roads of central Kansas. The most telling part of this event is the disclaimer issued by the promoter: “If you break down or become injured, do not call us. We will not come rescue you.” A support crew and a back-up emergency plan are recommended. Cut-off times are based on a 10mph average speed. Created by masochists for masochists, the Dirty Kanza 200 is not for newbies.
Lake Champlain Bikeways
Where: Vermont, New York, Québec
When: June through October
Why: Lake Champlain Bikeways has mapped out bike-friendly loops all around this New England gem, taking riders through rolling hills, up mountains and along the beach for over 380 miles. Also available are a number of theme loops in Vermont and New York, like the Island Rail Trail loop, which takes riders along the Vermont shore via the old Rutland Railroad Island Line.
Natchez Trace Parkway
Where: Natchez, Mississippi, to just south of Nashville, Tennessee
When: Spring or fall
Why: The bicycle-only campgrounds provide primitive camping for visitors who are biking the Natchez Trace Parkway. By using the Parkway campgrounds, bicycle-only campgrounds, and communities near the Parkway, you can plan your trip to ride between 30 and 60 miles each day. Each Parkway campground provides tent sites, picnic tables, and fire grates throughout the year. Water is available throughout the year inside Parkway restrooms; outside water sources may be unavailable during winter months.
White Rim Trail
Where: Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah
When: Fall, winter, spring
Why: A 103-mile loop on non-technical jeep roads, with breathtaking views that are well worth it for any level of rider. The White Rim is a hard, white, sandstone layer that forms a bench above and below softer surrounding red rock layers. The loop is a triangle bounded on two sides by the Colorado and Green Rivers and has around 6,000 feet of total elevation, much of that back up to the top of Island In The Sky mesa. It can be ridden in one to four days. Overnight camping requires a permit from the Park Service well in advance; support vehicles can carry gear in.
Where: Logan, Utah, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming
When: First Saturday after Labor Day
Why: At 206 miles, Leon Bergant set an individual course record for LOTOJA (Logan to Jackson) in 2012, at just over nine hours, but not everyone is so gung-ho. More than half the field each year is out for the fun ride that starts before dawn. The scenic route climbs through southeast Idaho before hugging the Wyoming border into Jackson. Get training.
Mount Washington Hill Climb
Where: Northern New Hampshire
When: August 16, 2014
Why: The Mount Washington Auto Road is one of the most difficult paved climbs in the world. The 7.6-mile toll road climbs 4,618 feet at an average grade of 11.6 percent. That’s steeper than the Mortirolo, Zoncolan, and Agliru, and far steeper than any climb you’ll see in the Tour de France, and you don’t have to cross an ocean to get there. The hardest pitch is the last 50 yards at 22-percent gradient. Last year’s winning time was 50 minutes and 48 seconds. The race fills fast, so register early.
Tour de Tucson
Where: Tucson, Arizona
When: November 22, 2014
Why: More than 9,000 cyclists gather the Saturday before Thanksgiving to race and ride the Tour de Tucson. The crowd ranges from kids and beginners to pro racers. Adults can choose from 38-, 57-, 81, and 107-mile routes. Tucson in November offers perfect riding weather, and the big routes take you out into the Sonoran Desert with spectacular mountain views. Beware the sandy dry riverbed crossing.
The Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic
Where: Spring Mills, Pennsylvania, (close to State College)
When: May 25-May 31, 2014
Why: Ever really sampled East Coast singletrack? If not, try a healthy serving at the Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic, a seven-day mountain bike stage race in central Pennsylvania that can be tackled solo, duo or with a team. The race stages are located in Rothrock and Bald Eagle state forests and are punctuated with rock gardens, challenging climbs and technical descents. But don’t let that dissuade you; race organizers say that if you can ride three or four hours at a steady pace each day you’ll finish. What helps make Trans-Sylvania even more appealing is that the race uses a home-base campground so you sleep in the same bed every night. Racing is fully supported: aid stations are stocked with food and supplies and the courses are all marked.
L’Etape du California
Where: Thousand Oaks, California
When: April 6, 2014
Why: Think you can set a new Strava KOM mark on the Rock Store climb? Give it a go on the route for the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California. The route changes each year and has visited the brutal Mount Baldy climb in the past. Want to stand out? VIPs traditionally get prime parking, breakfast, kit, and bike demos.
Where: Missouri River to the Mighty Mississippi
When: Last full week of July
Why: The self-purported “oldest, largest and longest bicycle-touring event in the world” is more than 40 years old. A rolling bicycle party, RAGBRAI makes its way through the hills of corn country each summer. From your saddle, take in the open arms of the Midwest during the day and enjoy good food, beer and company at night. Don’t want to carry panniers? Throw your bags in the 18-wheeler and grab them at the next campground.
Tour of Utah Ultimate Challenge
Where: Salt Lake City to Snowbird Ski Resort
When: August 9, 2014
Why: Now you can climb into the hurt box over 10,000-plus feet of climbing in the Wasatch Mountains. The new queen stage for the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah will start on the edge of Salt Lake City and finish atop the 6.5-mile climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon.
West Yellowstone to Mammoth Hot Springs
Where: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Why: The world’s first national park is a magical place for a cycle tour. For a few weeks most years, the park closes to motorized traffic in the fall, but cyclists and other non-motorized visitors remain until snow covers the roads. From West Yellowstone, a detour south to Old Faithful geyser starts an inspiring trip past the Roaring Mountain geo-thermals, Obsidian Cliff and the Golden Gate.
Where: Idaho Springs, Colorado
Why: You can’t ride higher on a road bike. This 28-mile route takes you to the top of the highest paved road in North America, at 14,240 feet of elevation. The road is only open June-August in most years and costs $3 to ride on. You’ll ride through tall pine forests, past clear alpine lakes, through stunted, wind-battered high-altitude trees, and through many miles of alpine tundra above treeline. It is often snowing on top, even if it is 90 degrees in Denver and 70 degrees in Idaho Springs, at 7,586 feet. Be prepared with sufficient food, water and clothing, and don’t be surprised at how weak you feel when nearing the top — there’s only half as much oxygen compared to sea level. The effort pays off with views for hundreds of miles, mountain goats and bighorn sheep, and an enormous feeling of accomplishment. Just don’t forget extra layers for the descent.
Leadville Trail MTB 100
Where: Leadville, Colorado
When: August 9, 2014
Why: The high-elevation Leadville Trail 100 is a must-do for anyone who’s been throwing a leg over a mountain bike for any amount of time. While the course has only a couple of technically demanding downhill sections, what makes it so difficult is the rarified air. The LT100 ranges between 9,200 feet to nearly 13,000 at the 50-mile turn-around point, and is a major factor in the attrition rate; about 65 percent of the field actually finishes within the 12-hour cutoff. The other trick to racing Leadville is actually being one of the 1,500 or so riders in the event. For the masses, entry into the perennially sold-out race is through a lottery. However, a series of LT100 qualifying races has been developed, lending a bit more order to the start list. Qualifiers for 2014 are scheduled for Texas, New York, Utah, Colorado, California, and Arizona. So, other than the accomplishment, what do you earn? Finish before the 12-hour time limit and you earn a silver belt buckle; a sub-9-hour ride earns you gold.