Wednesday, 10 December 2014

What makes a great motorcycle road?

Like many, I have read quite a few lists of "Best Roads".  But, I have often wondered why people chose those particular roads, so I tried to work it out. Here are my thoughts about what are the ten things that make a road qualify as 'best' to a biker.

See if you agree.

Twisty? As motorcycle riders, most of us like bends. Riding a road with bends is normally much more fun and exciting than riding a straight road. There are a few exceptions where straight sections of road are good, but this is normally due to other factors such as scenery.

Some roads are excellent simply because of the sweeping bends they contain and the famous B500 road in the Black Forest is a good example of this. Due to the trees, the road doesn't have good views, but it is fast with many high speed twisty bends.  It certainly does get included on many peoples list of their own best roads.

B500 picture from www.bestbikingroads.com


Scenery? Sometimes a road can be considered very good because of the scenery alongside it. Highway US 163 near the Arizona / Utah border in the USA is a good example of this. The road itself is dull, straight and not at all exciting, but the scenery is spectacular, making the road very good indeed.

The wonderful sight of Monument Valley


Distance? Sometimes a road can be considered as 'best' simply due to the distances involved. Take the Highway 1 in Australia. Often straight with long dull scenery, some would consider it a great road as at approximately 9,000 miles (14,500 km) it is an amazingly long road.  People travel from all over the planet to ride this road, drawn to it simply because it is the longest road in the world.

The longest road in the world, Australia's Highway 1


Flowing? Almost without a doubt, a good road must be free-flowing with almost no delays for stop lights, junctions or heavy traffic. That just doesn't work for us motorcyclists.  I have ridden the Grossglockner Pass in Austria on days with almost no cars and it was wonderful. Riding it on another day, with it being full of traffic, was a nightmare.

Nobody likes heavy traffic


Excitement? A road can undoubtedly be considered as best if it is exciting. The Million Dollar Highway in Colorado is a really good road due mainly to the steep drops-off at the side of the road.

US 550 in Colorado, easily worth a Million Dollars!


Weather? Can a road be considered 'best' due to the weather that can normally be found there? The only example I can think of is the road through Death Valley in California, where the temperature has an impact on the road and certainly on riding along the road.

Death Valley.  It is hot!


Destination?  I don't think a road can ever be considered as good just because of the final destination you are going to.  I tried to think of a destination that was good enough to warrant saying the road that takes you there is good.  I cannot think of one.  The only place that comes close is Key West in Florida, where the 127 mile overseas highway skips from island to island along the length of the Keys.  The road undoubtedly is very good, but the destination isn't good enough to call the road 'best'.

Florida's Overseas Highway


Experience? For a road to be included in someone's list as one of the best, that person must have experienced it for themselves and actually ridden it. It is no good relying on what somebody else says is good!

Reputation does not make a good road.  For example, many who have ridden the famous Tail of the Dragon road on the North Carolina - Tennessee state line say they are ultimately disappointed when they actually get to ride it. Over-rated is a word often attributed to this road.

Is the Tail of the Dragon as good as people imagine?


Surface? We have all ridden roads with a superb surface. Consistent, smooth and bump free are all qualities of a great road, but on its own, this doesn't really make a best road.

Sometimes a rough surface is memorable too and one of the best examples I have of this is Moki Dugway in southern Utah.  A steep gravel road with switchbacks!


Moki Dugway on a Harley


History? Perhaps the most appropriate example of history helping a road to qualify as best is America's Route 66. Many people have said this road is one of the best they have ridden, but for me, the actual road itself is very boring, except in a few short distances over its 2,448 mile length.  It is the history of the road that possibly makes it qualify as 'best'.

Get your kicks.....


Overall, it is unlikely however that the best roads can be chosen due to just a single factor. It is normally two or more factors in combination that help categorise a road as trust 'best'. Highway 1 in California is a good example of this where the twisty road combined with terrific scenery combine together to make this a best road for many. Stelvio Pass in Italy, considered by many to be one of the best roads in the World, combines twisties, excitement and scenery.

Stelvio Pass. The best riding road in the world?


Consider your best roads and see if how many of the above categories apply to them.  Try to think of why you think your favourite road is considered by you to be 'best'.


28 comments:

Canajun said...

Interesting ways to look at "best" roads.
We have a number of "okay" roads around here but none to compare with the examples you mention. For me a perfect road is one with sweeping curves and scenery you can enjoy while riding. The Great Ocean Road in Australia (Part of Hwy 1) is a good example, as is the highway into Milford Sound in NZ, although I only got to do those on 4 wheels. Some of the riding I've done in the Badlands, or through the mountains in British Columbia also qualify. Tight switchbacks, while interesting, don't to me make a great road. You're concentrating so hard on staying on track you don't get to enjoy either the ride or the scenery - although the views from the top can be spectacular. But that's another case of the destination not being what makes a road great.
And now, as I look out the window into a blizzard, all I want to do is go for a long ride in search of some of those roads.

George Ferreira said...

Great post Gary

Richard M said...

A nice summary, thank you!

As George said, great post.

SonjaM said...

Nice post, Gary. Some of my favourite roads don't have to be twisted to the max, but combined scenery with little to no traffic, meeting the right people along the road, and fair weather, thank you very much. (I have had my share of wet and cold this year...)

The Sea-to-Sky Highway in the early morning hours would make it on my list.

The B500 you're mentioning is lovely pre and after season, I ride it often and it doesn't get boring one bit.

Stelvio certainly created memories of a lifetime, I still wear a big grin on my face when I think of having mastered this challenging road.

Grimsel - Furka - Susten Pass in Switzerland, can all be done in one day, and are marvellous.

There must be thousands of these road gems out there... we just need to explore them...

Charlie6 said...

One could use this posting as a way to explain to a non-rider why we do what we do!

Chris Cope said...

For me, minimal traffic and decent road surface count a lot toward a road's greatness. The former is why I am inherently disappointed by any road that someone else tells me is great. If other people know about it, it's likely going to be busy.

To that end, some of my favourite roads in Britain are those that run parallel to motorways or whose usefulness have been usurped by motorways. In Wales, for example, there are certain stretches of the A48 that are a joy to ride on a weekday afternoon because you can move at your own pace, relax, and simply enjoy being on a bike.

Nikos said...

Ask Henry Cole?

Trobairitz said...

Such a great summary.

I like twisty, but not tiring. And for me low traffic.

Gary France said...

Canajun – I am like you, as I don’t have any good roads around me. The road into Milford Haven is excellent and was covered in a strange low cloud when I did it (alas also in a car) which gave the road a spooky feel. I loved it. I know what you mean about switchbacks, but they are normally accompanied with a really steep road and great views. I hope the blizzard ends soon.

Gary France said...

Thanks George.

Gary France said...

Cheers Richard.

Gary France said...

Sonja – It is our duty to explore them! I still remember the smile on your face at the top of Stelvio, for it really was ear to ear. Near you, the B48 south of Hockspeyer is pretty good too, as it has plenty of sweeping twisty bends.

As for the Sea-to Sky Highway, I had to look that one up as not only have I not ridden it, but I hadn’t heard of it. It is only 130 miles from where I am now.

I am currently planning a tour that takes in Grimsel – Furka – Susten, along with 27 other mountain passes in the Alps. I will be running that two week tour in 2016……

Gary France said...

Charlie6 / Redlegs / Dom – Good point!

Gary France said...

Chris – I like to ride my favourite roads very early in the morning, before others wanting to ride it are still in bed. I know exactly what you mean by roads parallel to motorways! I will try the A48 the next time I ride back from Ireland via the Fishguard ferry.

Gary France said...

Nikos - I will ask him the next time I see him.....

Gary France said...

Trobairitz – Agree and agree!

KaTy Did said...

Its hard to pick LOL! I think for me its Experience, my own personal adventure and that can be on any road. All have a tale to tell. You have been everywhere it seems and have ridden many beautiful roads. I still make California Coast my fave and lately Oregon. The smells and being able to pull over and enjoy the ride too are one that make it memorable for myself also.

Gary France said...

KaTy – I agree, it is hard to pick. I think it is often many of these things in combination, with experience somewhere near the top of the list. If you are enjoying the experience, what can be better than that?

VStar Lady said...

Gary - Good description of what makes a good road. For me, almost any road is a good road as long as I'm having fun and make it out alive. I just love being on the road. "Life is a highway."

Rex J. Covington said...

Well said Gary! I have been on all of the road you mention in the USA and many more and I love most of them.

WooleyBugger said...

Like the roads differences. Can't pin down just one type, sometimes I want twisties and sometimes just straight with no traffic signs or signals. Sometimes a combination but mostly I like riding in hilly country. If you want more info on route 66 you must check out Richard Dinkela - Roamin' Rich on youtube. He really gives great routes and even some of the realignment closed sections and how to get to them.

Gary France said...

VSL – You make a very good point and I should have thought of that. The very notion that every road is good if you are having fun is of course correct. That is especially so if you are on a motorcycle. The strange thing is there are millions of people out there who will have no idea about this.

Gary France said...

Rex – If you have been on all of those roads in the USA then you are like me. Very fortunate indeed!

Gary France said...

Wooley Bugger – I agree, sometimes the road type that you want changes with your mood. I am tempted to do the Route 66 research thing, but I am scared that it will not live up to what my mind thinks it is. It has such iconic status that it cannot possibly be that good as I imagine, so I am actually happy not to ride it and shatter that illusion. I have ridden some great parts of historic Route 66 in Arizona and I am happy with those memories.

Ass Pad Tycoon said...

Well done Gary! The only thing a can add is that a road's "remoteness" factors highly with me. Route 2 through the Nebraska Sand Hills comes to mind -- the road and scenery are OK, but while riding it you ARE OUT THERE! You better get gas every time you see a gas station because it is a LONG way in between towns. While in these remote spots, it helps when it's hilly and without trees to block the expansive views of nothingness. Sounds weird, but this experience really appeals to me.

Sash Walker said...

Gary,

I've ridden so many roads in the last two years that I could never have boiled it down the way you have. Often it's a combination of things; traffic, weather, sights, other vehicles being polite and careful, etc.
Interestingly, Steve and I have ridden most of the U.S. roads you mentioned, but the only one he seemed excited about is Moki Dugway. We both tend to love twisties, as long as there's a big lunch waiting for us somewhere at the end.
Smooches,
Sash
Sash - The Rude Biker Chick
See Sash Videos!

Gary France said...

Ass Pad – Great name by the way. I totally agree with you about the Sand Hills in Nebraska. In fact, I listed it as one of my 20 favorite places I went to during my US trip a few years ago (see the bottom of the right hand panel of this blog). I loved the sheer remoteness of the place and wrote about it here. http://garysusatour.blogspot.com/2010/08/beautiful-nebraska.html

Gary France said...

Sash – Yes, it is a combination of things, but if you think back, all roads seem to have one redeeming feature that really makes it memorable. When a road has two or three of those features, then it wilt and to stick in the memory for years. If you both love twisties and great lunches, then you need to ride in the Alps in France, Italy, Germany and Austria. If you did, you would never want to leave!