Sunday 27 December 2015

Best 20 Motorcycle Roads

There are many reasons why a road might be considered as being very good for motorcycling.  It may be because it is twisty, fast, scenic, or with great places to see along its route.
Some roads are famous and well less well known.  Some are found by accident, but however you came across your favourite roads, they are likely to remain in your memory for a long time.
For me, I can only consider a road to be worthy of ‘best’ if I have personally ridden it.  Here are my top 20 roads, and the reasons why I like them so much.  The lower the number, the more I like it.

20.  Almost any road in Cuba
Cuba is one of the most remarkable places I have been lucky enough to ride.  Despite being a very poor country, it is rich in culture and the warmth of its people is incredible to experience.  Its communist regime has no doubt hurt the country and its people, as has the trading blockade put in place by the USA in 1960.  The road surfaces are terrible and accommodation is generally of a poor quality, but riding a motorcycle around this remarkable country was both eye-opening and a real pleasure.  I saw a way of life that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.

19.  St Gotthard Pass, Switzerland
There are many parts to St Gotthard Pass, but my favourite is the old road, called Tremola, to the south of Lago della Piazza.  This is a twisting, cobbled road that snakes its way northwards, up through a series of tight hairpin bends to the lake at the top of the road.  Due to its rough and bumpy surface the road has to be ridden slowly, but the excitement level is high.  The best view of the road is from the later built highway 2 which runs to the west of the old road.

18.  N-621 / C-I 627, Picos de Europa, Spain
There are many good riding roads in the Picos, with my favourite being a road that follows the River Deva as it flows through an impressive canyon.  The road starts at Penamellera Baja and heads south.  The town of Potes makes a good halfway stopping point before continuing onto Cervera de Pisuerga.  The scenery is impressive and the road narrow.  Try to avoid at weekends when the traffic can get heavy.

17.  Pikes Peak, Colorado, USA
At 14,115 feet, this is the second highest paved road in the USA.  It twists and turns its way up this spectacular and steep mountain.  Much of the edge of the road is un-guarded, with steep drop-offs, meaning the road is not for everyone.  It is a toll road, but the fee payable is worth every penny, and it sees an annual motorcycle and car race to reach its summit.  It is so steep, on the way down, all vehicles are subject to a brake heat check, as it would be very easy to overheat your brakes unless the gears are used regularly to slow your vehicle down.  The road is closed in winter.

16.  Atlas Mountains, Morocco
While no single road stands out as being excellent, there are a few really good roads which together make the Atlas Mountains worth riding.  One of these is the Tizi-n-Test Pass, situated to the south west of Marrakech.  This is shown on maps as a ‘difficult or dangerous section of road’, but it really isn’t. Narrow and with gravel or sand covering the road in places, the road twists and turns through some glorious mountain scenery.  The Tizi-n-Tichka Pass and the road in Dades Gorge (pictured) is more well-known.

15.  Verdun Gorge, France
Sometimes a road is considered very good because of the scenery.  The road through Verdun Gorge is certainly one of them.  Verdun Gorge is a river canyon that is often considered to be one of Europe's most beautiful. The river is a stunning turquoise-green colour and the view of the river from the bridge at the western end as it flows into the Sainte-Croix lake of the gorge is wonderful.  There are two roads that follow the canyon and the better one is on the north side of the river.

14.  Million Dollar Highway, Colorado, USA
Otherwise known as US 550, the best part of this road runs from Durango to Ouray.  A diversion into Silverton is also worthwhile.  There are a number of reasons why this road may have obtained its unusual name, with the most popular being how much it cost to build and how much silver was contained within the rocks used under the road.  As you leave Durango and head north the road gets more and more spectacular.  The first part of the road has terrific scenery, the next part as it approaches Silverton sweeps around wonderfully long bends and the northern part, nearer to Ouray, is dramatic as the road is carved into the side of a mountain with no guard rail to protect wayward riders.

13.  Triglavski Narodni Park, Slovenia
In the very northernmost part of Slovenia, road 206 runs broadly south west from Kranjska Gora through the Triglavski Narodni Park.  This is a mountainous area with the road following the contours of the rugged nature of the mountains.  The road is narrow, with certain parts cobbled, but it is certainly good enough to ride and enjoy.  The views from the road are excellent.  Another excellent nearby road is number 902 within the park.  It is a dead-end toll road with spectacular scenery.  The road is to the east of Cave del Predil, across the border in northern Italy.

12.  Needles Highway, South Dakota, USA
South Dakota Highway 87 is a road running through the Black Hills in South Dakota.  The highway runs through the Custer State Park and it is the northern 14 miles of the road that are known as the Needles Highway.  The ‘needles’ are jagged spire shaped rocks that rise out of the wooded hills.  The road is best ridden on a weekday, well away from the August Sturgis Rally which is held nearby and draws hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists.  The road twists and turns through the hills and makes for challenging riding.  The northern end of the road is at its junction with US 385, about 3 miles south of Hill City.  The road has several dramatic tunnels cut through the rocks, including one part that is narrow and often photographed.  The road has a relatively slow speed limit.

11.  Furka, Grimsel and Susten Passes loop, Switzerland
Although four separate roads, these connect to form a 75 mile loop road high up in the Swiss Alps.  Running west out of Andermatt is road 19 which features both the Rhone Glacier and Furka Pass [7,969 ft].  Just beyond Furka you turn northward on road 6 and immediately ride up Grimsel Pass [7,100 ft].  At Innertkirchen, turn eastward on road 11 and ride Susten Pass [7,427 ft], before turning south on road 2 back to Andermatt.  These are three of the best pass roads in the Alps and feature some wonderful views and terrific riding.

10.  Grossglockner Pass, Austria
This is a stunning road set amongst very dramatic scenery.  Grossglockner Pass is a toll road that rises up to 8,215 ft in the Alps.  Near the top of the pass is a spur road up to the Edelweisspitze viewpoint.  The road to the viewpoint has tight hairpin bends and part cobbled, but it is worth the ride up as the view from the top is one of the best in the Alps.  Another spur road takes riders to the longest glacier in the eastern Alps, the Pasterze.  Grossglockner Pass is closed in winter.

9.  Highway 1, California, USA
While not a great riding road, Highway 1 is full of character and it feels like a part of history.  The road runs along the west coast of America, through the states of Washington, Oregon and California, although the best part of the road is starting in San Francisco, heading south and takes in Big Sur, Half Moon Bay, Sanat Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, Hearst Castle, Pismo Beach, Santa Barbara, Malibu and the Ventura Highway before reaching Las Angeles.  There are well-known names guaranteed to give you about 350 miles of great memories!

8.  Combe Laval, France
Built as part of the local logging industry between 1861 and 1898, the road at Combe Laval is stunning.  The most spectacular section of the road is cut into the cliff that forms one side of a deep canyon and runs through a series of short tunnels cut into the rock.  The drop to the side of the road is sheer and it is a very long way down, so this road is not for those afraid of heights.  The rest of us though have a great time on this very exciting road.  The most dramatic section is the D76 to the southeast of Saint-Jean-En-Royans as far as Chamaloc.

7.  Monument Valley, Utah / Arizona, USA
I have included Monument Valley in my list due only to one thing.  The scenery is amazing.  Is it really a top 20 motorcycle road?  Its straight roads would lead me to say no, but this is more than made up for by the glorious nature of the geography.  The view in the picture is US 163 in Utah, perhaps one of the most iconic road images from anywhere in the world.  It certainly makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you see it from the seat of a motorcycle.

6.  Beartooth Pass, Wyoming / Montana , USA
On the Wyoming / Montana border, this is US Highway 212 which runs 69 miles between Red Lodge in Wyoming and Cooke City in Montana. Rising up to 10,947 feet / 3,337 metres, the road climbs and falls quickly. Even though I rode the Beartooth Pass in August, it was cold and very windy on the top of the mountains, with a dramatic wind-chill factor.  Occasionally you hear people say they are “feeling on top of the world.” On Beartooth Pass, you really do feel that way, as the view looking down on other mountains is amazing.  The road is good with long fast bends.  To make my top six, each road needs to have the ‘wow’ factor and Beartooth Pass certainly has that.

5.  Stelvio Pass, Italy
What list of the world’s best roads would be complete without Stelvio Pass?  It is dramatic, stunning and with 75 hairpins bends, somewhat challenging.  Split into two ramps, the west side of the pass road is wider, with easy hairpins and less steep.  The east side is more difficult with tighter bends on a significantly narrower road.  The second highest paved road in the Alps, Stelvio is closed by significant snowfall every winter.  Sometime the road doesn’t re-open until May or even June, so check if it is open before you set out.  The road has become very busy in recent years and the best time to ride it is early morning on a weekday.

4.  D8 coastline road, northern Croatia
This is a pure riders road, with no frills, but plenty of thrills.  It follows the Adriatic coast for 130 miles of wonderfully twisty enjoyment.  The road rises and falls as it hugs the coast with the beautiful turquoise colour of the sea being a constant companion at your side.  The best part of the road is from Rijeka to Rovanjska, although there are very few good places to stay or good restaurants to eat at, so take your chance when you see somewhere.  The weather is normally very good too.  What’s not to like?

3.  Sella Group Ring, Dolomites, Italy
The Sella group is a plateau-shaped rock massif in the Dolomites Mountains of northern Italy. There are four roads surrounding this rock formation that are a joy to ride.  Starting at Canazei and working clockwise, the four roads are the SS48 / SS242, which includes Sella Pass, the SS243, which includes Gardena Pass, the SS244, which includes Campolongo Pass and the SS48, which includes Pordoi Pass.  The road is fantastic, the bends amazing and the scenery magnificent.  What a series of roads!

2.  B500, Germany
Running through the Black Forest in a north-south direction, the B500 is a stunning road for motorcycles.  It doesn’t have many great views, but the sheer excitement of the road more than makes up for that.  The road was intended as a tourist route when it was conceived in the 1930’s, but it was never completed and today there are two sections of the road, with the centre piece still missing.  The northern part runs from Baden-Baden to Freudenstadt and has a length of about 29 miles and the southern part is between Triberg and Waldshut, a length of 56 miles.  The road is fast in places, with long sweeping bends and an absolute joy to ride on a motorcycle.

1.        Gavia Pass, Italy
Almost everyone has heard of Stelvio Pass in Italy, but very few know about, or have ridden Gavia Pass, which is very near to Stelvio.  The SS300 runs south from Bormio to Ponte di Legno for about 26 miles and has just about everything a biker can ask for in a road.  It is high at 8,701 feet, it has some fast sweeping bends as well as some tight hairpins.  It has a glacier and it has magnificent views.  It has a narrow, tight section as well as a few long straights.  But the best reason I rank it as number 1 is it has very little traffic as most riders / drivers are drawn towards nearby Stelvio Pass, leaving Gavia relatively quiet.  Although the road surface is not great, it is one of the most exciting roads I have ridden that continues to put a smile on my face every time I ride it.  It is my favourite road.

What is your favourite road and why?


RichardM said...

I like the "Top of the World highway" (aka TOW) between AK and Dawson City, YT. Why? Desolate, incredible scenery, above tree line running along a ridge line. Mostly gravel.

Gary France said...

I just took a look at some pictures of the TOW Richard. It looks great, but coming from London, I am not sure I would cope well with all that gravel. I'd love to give it a go one day though.

RichardM said...

I saw a Victory and a Road King, both with TKC 80's, come through there last summer. Tires make a huge difference between fun and not so fun...

BTW, thank you for the list!

Gary France said...

I agree Richard, tires are everything on gravel. They are as important, if not more important, than the bike they are on.

Joe said...

These are insane roads, I would love to take my bike out to some of these places. Thank you for the post, the images are sick.

Gary France said...

I hope you grab the chance if you can Joe.

WooleyBugger said...

Been a long while Gary. I'll never get to ride most of those great places you have been, but I do enjoy your putting them up for us all to dream about.
I hope you and yours have a Great and Happy New Year and wish you a belated Merry Christmas. Come visit sometime and we'll ride to Virginia and let you meet some great folks, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Reagon ...seriously.

Gary France said...

Hi Wooley - Yes, I have been busy running motorcycle tours in Europe and rarely get time to blog any more. I am pleased you liked seeing the roads. One day, I will get to Virginia and I will be sure to contact you. Have a great 2016.

Dan Diego said...

The TOW highway was interesting. We arrived to Dawson City and planned to ride over to Tok. It was raining and we were warned by numerous folks in RVs not to attempt it. That we'd die (or worse). Note: None of the folks who provided the warnings had actually driven on the road...

We didn't have time to spare so off we went, across the ferry and onto the TOW Hwy (AKA: Road of Death).

It was beautiful to behold and easy enough to ride on our big dual sport bikes. My apprehension completely disappeared, however, when we were approached by a lone ride on a big HD riding with his boots up on the highway pegs.

We both laughed and continued a very pleasant ride past Chicken and into Tok.

Gary France said...

Dan, that is very amusing. From potential death to highway pegs! Maybe I will give it a try after all.

Joseph said...

"Furka, Grimsel and Susten Passes loop, Switzerland" - my favorite.

Gary France said...

That is a very dramatic loop road Joseph, linking three excellent passes.

Oz said...

Great post. The Million Dollar Highway, Beartooth Pass, and Pikes Peak Highway are all great. There are some other great roads in the USA you need to come back and ride.

Gary France said...

Thomas, I will be back in March. Okay, it is only for about ten days, but I am looking forward to it a great deal.

Oz said...

Where will you be riding in March?

Gary France said...

Daytona Beach, at Bike Week. :-)