Why Drive Route 66 When You Can Bike It?
Thirty years after it was officially decommissioned comes Bicycle Route 66—the first all encompassing cycling map of the iconic byway. So finally, you can ditch the car and explore the most historic road in the U.S. on two wheels.
Route 66 lovers who want to tackle the iconic Mother Road by bicycle, have reason to rejoice: On March 2, after four years of mapping and advocacy work, the Adventure Cycling Association debuted the first-ever comprehensive bicycle map of the 2,493-mile route, which winds from Los Angeles through eight states to end in Chicago.
Lest you think that mapping such an iconic American feature simply requires downloading a few satellite photos from Google Earth and stitching them together, think again. Anyone who has attempted to drive even fragmented sections of Route 66 knows that the byway, which was officially decommissioned in 1985, is legendary not only for its nostalgic kitsch, but also for its multiple alignments, confusing signage, and even gravel on some sections in Arizona and New Mexico that were never paved in the first place.
“It takes awhile to craft long-distance routes,” says Jim Sayer, the executive director of the Missoula-based non-profit. “For Route 66, our goal was to stay as close as possible to the original corridor, while keeping as much of it on paved road as we could,” says Sayer.
The map for Bicycle Route 66 took six cartographers, four on-the-ground researchers, and cooperation from state tourism bureaus—plus a year’s worth of advocacy work to get permission from the California Department of Transportation to legally use a stretch of I-40 with eight-foot shoulders. It is a utilitarian work of art broken into six separate sections of roughly 400 miles each. Printed on waterproof, tear-proof paper, the map shows turn-by-turn navigation, while the flipside includes detailed field notes on the history, topography, and natural history of Route 66, as well as key services like budget lodging in classic hotels, campgrounds, libraries with internet access, hardware stores, grocery stores, and essential stops in remote segments. Digitally, ACA has Twitter hashtags for all major routes that riders can use to find the latest updates. For ACA members (a membership costs $40 per year), there are also GPS waypoints for the route and services along the way.
If taking roughly 32 days to cycle almost 2,500 miles of Bicycle Route 66, some of which are on an Interstate, sounds like more work than it’s worth, take a few cues from Lon Haldeman, the co-owner of PAC Tours, who helped map the route. He loves Route 66 so much that he’s cycled it 15 times. “You’ve got to have that explorer’s mentality,” says Haldeman. “If you don’t understand the history of Route 66, then you’re like, ‘this is just an old, funky road.’” He also recommends riding from west to east to get a boost from prevailing tail winds and using a touring bike with 32mm or wider tires. “In some sections in Missouri and Illinois, every ten yards has a two-inch crack and bump that’s like hitting a two-by-four,” he says.
As for his favorite sections, it’s tough for Haldeman to narrow them down. “Oklahoma is really good because it’s almost 100 percent rideable across the state, plus it’s very historical and very safe,” he says. He also loves sections in New Mexico and Arizona for other essential reasons. “Twisters in Williams, Arizona, makes the best malt on Route 66. It’s got the best ice cream, the best malt flavor, the frosted glass, the stainless steel cup, and a cherry on top. It’s got it all.” Haldeman does note, however, that his malt research is ongoing and his next cycling trip across Route 66 may yield very different results.
With the new Route 66 route, the ACA now has a total mapped cycling network of 44,673 miles, which pass through 47 states and parts of Canada, making it the largest cycling route system in the world.