Road biking rides in Arizona

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Road biking rides in Arizona
Q: I'm looking for suggested road rides in the Southwest. I plan to take a long weekend ASAP. Warmer temps and nice scenery wanted.
Gary Rumsey
Exeter, RI
[email protected]

A: If you're serious about finding warm weather, your best bet is southern Arizona. An ideal weekend ride is a 170-mile loop from Tucson southeast through the Saguaro National Monument to Nogales, on the Mexican border, and north past Tumacacori back to Tucson. Although relatively short, this loop has plenty of beautiful scenery and picturesque towns and villages--and one 6,186-foot mountain pass--guaranteed to keep you interested.

To start, pedal east out of Tucson on Broadway (or, for a less hectic route out of town, consult the city bike map) to the Rincon Mountain Unit of the Saguaro National Monument. While you're there, take a spin around the paved eight-mile loop or opt for a ranger-guided nature walk through this spectacular, saguaro-studded desert landscape. From there, head 11 miles south of the Saguaro visitor center to Colossal Cave and continue south past the Shrine of Santa Rita in the Desert, a small church with a surprisingly green front yard full of fruit trees, daisies, and geraniums. Keep pedaling south and you'll come to Vail, a small town with no services. Heading south out of town, you'll cross Interstate 10 and continue south on a rolling two-lane road through fields of prickly pear, cholla, and rabbit-brush to Arizona Route 83. From here, it's 25 miles south to Sonoita and another 31 mostly downhill miles to Nogales. For a quick side-trip, cross over into the Mexican side of Nogales--no passport needed. It's only about 73 miles north from Nogales back to Tucson.

The main road along this route is U.S. 89, a highway with wide shoulders, but I recommend pedaling north on roads paralleling 89 whenever possible. For those few times when the interstate is your only option--about two hours of riding total--be sure to use extreme caution when crossing exit or entrance lanes, always use your rearview mirrors, and avoid biking at dawn or dusk. As with all bike trips, there are plenty of interesting diversions to check out along the way with the help of a detailed state map. For more information, pick up a copy of Bicycle Touring in Arizona (Northland Press) or check out the Motorola Bicycle Club of Arizona's Web site.

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