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Personality test: Five road riding destinations

By Janeen McCrae

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Five road ride destinations
Illustrations by Peter Steineck

You know it, and I know it — no two roadies are the same — which is why these five ride destinations have been chosen purely on the kind of rider you are. It's like a rolling personality test. Whether you covet climbing, do it all for the ‘Gram, are gravel-curious by nature, or a combo of all these things, simply pick your style and start planning that trip.

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“The Billy Goat” - MIDDLEBURY, VT

Billy goat on a bike

If you’re a Billy Goat, you’ll all about trip-tramping your way up hills and mountainsides. While the call of the Sierras or Rockies is strong, perhaps you’d like to dance on the pedals with something more maple-flavored? Middlebury, Vermont provides an excellent home base for serious “Gap Attacks.” We’re talking short, steep climbs that’ll punch you in the quads with serious and brutal enthusiasm.

There are six gaps of note, and if you want to start with a bang, Lincoln Gap will be your huckleberry. You can climb both sides, but with Lincoln Gap East (average 16% grade, maximum 24%) listed as “one of the world’s steepest climbs” by Global Cycling Network (GCN), consider that gauntlet thrown down! If that’s too ambitious, there are plenty more gaps in the maple sea with Appalachian Gap, Middlebury Gap, Roxbury Gap, Rochester Gap, and Brandon Gap to choose from. Individually, any of these climbs are challenging, but string them together in some wild configuration, and you’re guaranteed some world-class, "Type 2" fun.

And yes, you can do six gaps in one day. Bring the freshest legs you can find, then BLAST OFF! Many Gaps feature a small amount of gravel but are easily manageable on a road bike.

When to come: Spring, summer, fall
Best bike to bring: Climbing road bike like a Trek Emonda or Colnago C-60.
Route scout: The Vermont Gran Fondo has a preview of the Gaps, but also check out their course maps for inspiration 

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“Gravel Hunter” - PATAGONIA, AZ

Gravel hunter

Gravel Hunters love hitting dusty side roads with grit in their teeth and grins wider than their tires. While this small town in Arizona might not be the first place to come to mind when thinking of gravel, its “hidden gem” status is waning. Why? The terrain is varied, (it was described to me as some sand, some washboard, and a bit “Flint Hill-sy”), the views are incredible, and the quiet solitude of the location leaves you to contemplate the joy of the ride while getting lost in the serenity. Ahhh ...

But speaking of getting lost — don’t. This land is for an adventurous Gravel Hunter, and while there are many great route options it is by no means a forgiving land. There are some dead-ends to disappoint the weary cyclist. But hey, a pioneering spirit is what gravel hunting is all about, right? Wherever you choose to explore, take plenty of water on your mule (that’s you) because it’s remote with limited cell service.

To get a lay of the land, the Spirit World 100 — an event running from Patagonia to the Mexican border — is a great place to start when planning rides. And if you’re looking for a way to package gravel with tasty grub, the Cyclist’s Menu hosts the Arizona Gravel Camp here. Accommodation can be found any time of year in local airbnbs, or try out the cyclist-friendly Gravel House.

When to come: You can ride here any time of year, but in the summer, it gets a bit too toasty after 11 a.m.
Best bike to bring: Your favorite gravel-hunting bike like a Santa Cruz Stigmata or a Giant Revolt.
Route Planning: Start with the Spirit World 100 Course and build your adventure from there.

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“The Shutterbug” - BOULDER, CO

Shutterbug cyclist

Boulder, Colorado is bursting at the seams with Instagram-worthy rides featuring epic views and sweeping #roadslikethese vibes, and the changing seasons bring even more reasons to point and shoot in Colo-RAD-o. Professional cyclists don’t live here for nothing, and in truth, finding an epic route to take photos from the seat of your bicycle isn’t that hard. Flagstaff Road — a twisty climb with lots of “shot spots” — is an obvious short ride choice. But for those looking to go longer for more photo ops, the two most common routes are Left Hand Canyon, and the Peak to Peak Highway, which is particularly good in the fall.

Left Hand Canyon has two options, an out-and-back to the town of Ward, and a slightly different (and shorter) out-and-back that takes you up to the old gold town of Jamestown. While Left Hand Canyon has a wide shoulder making it safe for stopping and snapping a shot, those looking to hit the mega-shoot jackpot should turn their lens toward the Peak to Peak route. This popular route will scratch all your two-wheeled photographer itches, with spectacular views of distant peaks, and a great mix of terrain. It’s particularly inspiring in the fall if you have any leaf-peeping inclinations.

When to come: Spring, summer, fall
Best bike to bring: All-around road bike like a Specialized S-Works Tarmac or a BMC Teammachine
Route scout: Left Hand Canyon and Peak to Peak deliver with solid road miles, but don’t miss the miles and miles of bike paths all over town.

“The Forager” - SANTA CRUZ, CA

Forager bike guy

Foragers ride to eat and eat to ride, and Santa Cruz, California is ready to open the buffet for you. While mountain biking typically gets all the glory here, the road riding out of town is spectacular with loops through redwoods or along the coast for days. But if you’re looking for a classic route with classic stops, look no further than my personal snacking favorite — Eureka Canyon Loop.

For a “calories in, calories out” ride, this route can’t be beat, with pre-ride coffee, mid-ride gourmet sausage, AND post ride beer. Start with a dash of doppio at Cat and Cloud in Aptos at around 11 a.m., then roll out towards Corralitos for a locals only, IYKYK food stop at Corralitos Market. Walk up the back and ask for a sausage sandwich (I recommend the Cheesy Bavarian) and eat it on the lawn. Let that settle before blasting Eureka Canyon proper!

A glorious climb with redwoods galore, little roadside creeks (sometimes running), and occasional stretches of extremely beat-up pavement make this ride one to remember. Once you’ve climbed out of the woods and thrilled at the Highland Road views, you can soothe your pothole shakes with a cold drink at the Summit Store before bombing the final, fast descent down San Jose Soquel Road. This route practically rolls into beer:30 at the beer garden, where they’re used to seeing lycra (well, that’s what I tell myself). It’s around 42 miles and three hours without stops, so adjust your ride time accordingly.  

When to come: All year ‘round but be prepared for cool temperatures in the mountains and descents so layer — or stuff your jersey pockets — accordingly.
Best bike to bring: Endurance road bike like a Cannondale Synapse or a Canyon Endurace.
Route scout: Hit some of the classic climbs in the area, like Zayante and Mountain Charlie Road.

ASHEVILLE, NC - “The Mixed Nut”

Mixed nut cyclist

If you like a little bit of everything in your cycling snack bowl, you’re a Mixed Nut, and Asheville, North Carolina should be right up your nutty alley. The area has gotten some recognition of late with the Belgian Waffle Ride, but for those in the know, it’s always been a little slice of heaven for both road and gravel cyclists out for adventure and enjoying the ride. 

Those in the mood for good, Billy Goat climbing with plenty of Shutterbug photo opportunities will not be disappointed with Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. It’s got punchy climbs with ripping descents to blow your hair back. Plus you get the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway for extra credit. 

In terms of gravel, let’s just say it’s everywhere. I stumbled across the Bearwallow Mountain route and this mixed-terrain route packs 6,500 feet of climbing into 58 miles. Add that to your to-ride list!

Finally, everybody knows that one of the best ways to soothe tired legs after a day in the saddle is with a cold one and when it comes to finding some suds, Asheville has an embarrassment of riches. While it is home of Sierra Nevada Brewery, there are also plenty of local breweries and brewpubs with food and libations, to choose from. Pick up a growler to put on ice to end your ride on a high, frosty note.

When to come: Spring, summer, and fall hits the foliage jackpot. 
Best bike to bring: Road bike or gravel bike — anything goes!
Route scout: Your best source of local intel is always bike shops, but here’s an Elk Mountain Scenic route suggestion, plus this gravel route suggestion from Velo Girl Rides. 

What Janeen rides

Janeen's Blurple bike

My current road bike is this Specialized 2017 Ruby Pro Ultegra Di2, or as I call it, "Blurple." Like me, it’s kinda kooky (FutureShock, weird-colored Mimic Power Saddle, and overkill CLX-50s) but also like me it takes a licking and keeps on kicking. My gear tracker says the drivetrain has 9,827 miles on it…I’m both proud and not proud of that. Fun fact: In 2020, I rode the Eureka Loop as much as I could in 90 days on this bike — 68 times in all (#NotSoHumbleBrag). Blurple is a low-key workhorse. And so pretty!

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