France may have its vineyards, and Rome its ancient ruins, but America is the undisputed wonderland of roads. Here in the Land of the Free, the open road has long been a symbol of independence, and all the more so on a motorcycle.
But where to begin?
In the continental United States alone there are hundreds of thousands of miles of blacktop and cement, an oblivion of open road panning to all compass points.
For this story, we polled nine biker fanatics, including editors and publishers from motorcycling magazines, as well as some longtime recreational riders, to create a top-10 list of must-ride roads.
The panel’s picks, which range from coastal cruises to precipitous mountain journeys, represent a geographic spread of Great American Rides, including classic routes alongside little-known backroads gems.
Take Peter Jones’ “High Plains Cruise” route, as an example. Jones, a writer and longtime rider from Laurel Park, N.C., nominated this obscure, multi-highway journey through eastern Colorado and Kansas not for its scenery or culture, but for its desolation.
“The only thing bleaker than Trinidad, Colorado, is the land east of it,” Jones said of the 410-mile trip, which follows Route 350 northeast from Trinidad via the Sante Fe Trail to the town of La Junta before continuing east into Kansas on Route 50.
It all makes sense when you look at the map.
Says Jones: “It’s a trip about a different kind of motorcycle touring, showing all that’s good and bad about where the plains meet the prairie.”
All about curves
From his home in Venice Beach, Calif., Mike Salisbury, another member on our panel, can be on his bike and heading north along the Pacific Coast in minutes. Salisbury, like Jones, prefers winding, multi-road routes where he can ride and explore for hours on end.
Salisbury, an art director and photographer, even waxes a bit poetic about his journeys, noting how he meanders “among the flower growers’ greenhouses behind the town of Carpenteria just below those mountains that are painted in the old orange crate labels.”
Riders like Bill Belei, editor of MotorcycleRoads.com , were more succinct. Two of Belei’s route picks — the Palomar Mountain Road in southern California and the famous Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap — are each less than 35 miles long.
“Tail of the Dragon,” Belei said, “is among the most well-known roads in the world with motorcyclists, though it’s only 11 miles long.” But within that 11 miles riders encounter 318 curves on a rollercoaster ride through the Smoky Mountains at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line.
In all, our expert’s panel was comprised of seven men and two women, including: Renate Nietzold, publisher of “Biker Ally Magazine”; Bill Rogers, editor of “Midnight Sun Rider Magazine”; the writers Clement Salvadori and Peter Jones; Bill Belei, editor of “MotorcycleRoads.com”; Brian Rathjen, publisher of the magazine “Backroads Motorcycle Tour”; veteran Alaska riders Mike Tittle and Barbara Smart; and Mike Salisbury, a 59-year-old art director and photographer who has been a motorcycle fanatic since he was six years old.
Now get on your bikes and ride ~ Steel Cowgirl