Canadian winters are tough; it's no wonder why every year snowbird-cyclists fly south to Arizona to escape the cold.
It's warm, it's dry and it has some great road cycling routes. In fact, cycling is one of Arizona's main draws, so there are many routes throughout the state that are marked specifically for this abundance of road riders.
Marsh Station, Tucson
The Marsh Station route is one of Tucson's best-kept secrets. This old, but well-maintained road, takes riders 90 km out of Tuscon into the desert. Cyclists can keep riding down the road as long as they want, but it is a desert route so proper supplies are essential. There are a few potholes along the way at times, however, very few cars travel this old road so cyclists can hog the road as much as they want. While the trail takes cyclists out into the vast desert landscape with some decent rolling hills, there are a few stops along the way including markets for those that need a break. Those lucky enough will be treated to the colourful trains that pass over the Cienega Bridge.
Bartlett Lake, Scottsdale
The Bartlett Lake cycling routes takes cyclists out of Scottsdale at Dynamite Road and stretches for 74 km all the way around Bartlett Lake. Since the lake itself is nestled in some small mountains, cyclists are treated to scenic desert and mountain views, as well as great climbs (and descents on the way back). Since the halfway point on the route is a lake popular for swimming, cyclists can fill their water bottles up at the marina or hop off their bike for a refreshing dip in the water. The roads along the way are beautifully paved, but there is frequent traffic, especially in the summer months when many from Scottsdale head up to the lake.
Usery Pass, Mesa
This 33-km loop may seem short, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in scenery. The scenic road leads out of Mesa and takes cyclists parallel with the Salt River, past lush and green riverside vegetation. There are some decent climbs as riders enter the Pass, but much of it is a nice smooth ride before ending back in Mesa. This route has been used for USCF cycling races over the years as well as for the cycling portion of the triathlons held at Seguaro Lake, so riders may see more than a few cyclists riding beside them. However, riders need to watch for bigger trucks hauling their boats along the Bush Highway portion of the ride.
Cody Loop, Oracle/Tucson
Cody Loop is a favourite bike route for cyclists all over Arizona. This 103-km route starts in the small town of Tucson and runs through Oracle. The route traces around Mount Lemmon along Highway 77, which has accommodated cyclists by adding in a large shoulder for them on this busy highway, though they should watch out for debris on the side of the road. Though the route does trace a mountain, it is beloved by local cyclists for its flats. Once riders get to Oracle they officially ride along the route’s namesake — the "Cody Loop" — that takes cyclists past the small town's famous biosphere. Oracle is considered the halfway point of this route, so be sure to stop by one of the few shops or restaurants for a quick break.
Sedona to Mingus Mountain, Sedona
For those that like epic climbs during their ride, then the Sedona to Mingus bike route is perfect. This 80-km cycling route takes rides from Sedona all the way to the very top of Mount Mingus; don't worry though, it's all paved. During this ride, cyclists rise to a maximum elevation of 2,300 metres before being treated to panoramic views of the city and surrounding scenery. It is truly breathtaking and worth all the work. However, the biggest reward is the ride back down the mountain. Be careful with the speed — the road has a few twists so a slip could be deadly, if not at very least unpleasant.
Sunset Crater & Wupatki Route, Flagstaff
This 80-km loop out of Flagstaff is perfect for riders who like a good mix of climbs and descents. However, the hills here are not gentle slopes; cyclists will frequently drop from 2,200 metres down to 1,300 metres; that trend continues throughout the ride. However, those willing to put forth the effort will be treated to a loop around the Sinagua Ruins as well as the 900-year-old Sunset Crater Volcano. There are also great views of the San Francisco Peaks throughout the ride. The route then continues back to Flagstaff.