Droves of cyclists who live in cold weather regions flock like migratory animals to warmer climates in the winter months in hopes of ideal riding conditions. Tucson, Arizona is one of the most popular destinations for winter training. It has a large cycling community, excellent “winter” weather, and several iconic routes that will keep any cyclist who is chasing fitness busy.
1. Mt. Lemmon, road bike
Distance: 60 miles
Average grade: 3.9%
Elevation gain: ~6,300ft
No trip to Tucson would be complete without a trip to the top of Mount Lemmon. And of course, while you’re at the top you’ve got to order and eat (or at least try to) the infamous Lemmon Cookie. It’s only the size of your face. Luckily you’ll have a 21-mile descent to let that cookie digest in your stomach. The road to the summit of Mt. Lemmon is a long and winding one, but riders will find the grades to be fairly gentle. It can get fairly gusty on the ride to the summit. Also, be sure to check the weather before you head out, the summit sits at 9,157 feet. It has been known to snow up there or, at the very least, be much colder than the base of the climb. Packing a warmer layer isn’t a bad idea.
2. Patagonia, Arizona, gravel bike
Just south of Tucson lies the sleepy little town of Patagonia. It boasts a small downtown where visitors can grab a pre-ride coffee or maybe a slice of pizza post-gravel adventure. Cyclists will be hard-pressed to find a plethora of paved roads in the area, so bring your gravel rig. This is an extremely remote area of the country. You’ll likely only encounter border patrol vehicles and cows. Make sure you bring enough food, water, and flat repair supplies. We suggest riders head East via Harshaw Road. The Spirit World 50/100 races, based out of Patagonia, are two iconic routes that we encourage you to check out. If you want an additional challenge, ride the Montezuma Climb.
3. Mt. Hopkins, gravel bike
Distance: 40.2 miles
Elevation gain: 5,745ft
The road to Mount Hopkins is perhaps the gravel equivalent of the road to Mount Lemmon. It might not be nearly as long or have a cookie at the top, but it is one of the longer out and back gravel climbs in the Tucson area. At the very top of Mt. Hopkins is the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory. However, anyone that embarks on this climb won’t be able to reach the Observatory, as it’s guarded behind gates. There is a secondary observatory at the base of the climb that is open to the public. We recommend that riders park at the FireFly restaurant located off of W Arivaca Road.
4. The Shootout group ride, road bike
Distance: 40-60 miles
Elevation gain: 2,701ft
If you’re looking to challenge yourself or suffer through a good ol’ early season experience of getting your legs blown off, we recommend joining the Shootout group ride. This challenging three-hour ride occurs every Saturday morning, rain or shine. Riders meet at the University of Arizona mall on University between Park and Euclid between 6:30-7 a.m. depending on the season. Of course, during times of COVID, we suggest everyone take extra precautions or maybe just ride the route by yourself.
5. Redington road, gravel bike
Distance: TBD, ridden generally as an out and back
Redington Road, while seemingly goes nowhere, is definitely worth checking out. The first few miles you’ll need to be okay with shooting ranges on either side of the road, but for the most part you’ll find this road to be very desolate. The road conditions can vary greatly. Low sections of the road are prone to sand from flooding. There are a few technical sections, but they are totally doable on a gravel bike. The Arizona Trail crosses the road and if you’re on a burly gravel bike or just looking for an adventure, you can take a detour. Watch out for cacti and beware of faint, hard-to-follow trails, though. Legend has it, you can make an epic route connecting Redington Road and Mount Lemmon. We call it the longest way to the Mt. Lemmon cookie.