For serious cyclists in the know, Oregon has always had Tour de France-level rides – sleepy wine-country lanes, Cascade Mountain passes, remote ranching roads. But a recent partnership between the state's park and tourism agencies has created a game-changing system of specially designated routes well worth the plane ticket. State employees canvassed local cyclists for a master list of rides linked to picturesque small towns. Then cycling teams rode and ranked each one by criteria including difficulty, road quality, and pure beauty. The nine routes that made the resulting short list – from afternoon thigh-burners to long-haul camping tours – were upgraded with bike lanes and "Scenic Bikeway" signage. (Several more routes are slated for approval by summer's end.) While the concept is simple, the net effect is a kind of turnkey bike tourism that allows out-of-staters to drop easily into epic, open-road journeys through jaw-dropping landscapes. As for where to begin: Fly into Bend, which offers world-class whitewater and rock climbing, excellent shops where you can rent a set of wheels, the highest per capita concentration of breweries in Oregon, and easy access to our three favorite rides from the new list.
The Speed Run: Cycling Sisters, Oregon, to Smith Rock State Park
Distance: 37.1 miles
Just 30 minutes from Bend, Oregon, Sisters is a quaint Western town where the social calendar revolves around the annual rodeo and the country's largest quilting show. Settle into the haute-rustic FivePine Lodge, then get ready for big views. "Leaving the mountainous country around Sisters and riding into the high desert of central Oregon along the Deschutes River, it's just beautiful," says ultra-endurance cyclist Gregg Geser, a local who does laps on this rural run to train. Smooth pavement, minimal traffic, and a steady loss in elevation (300 feet) can have you blazing along at 25 mph. On the day Geser let me tag along, a 45-mph tailwind let us easily hit 35 without pedaling for miles at a time. The ride turns perpendicular to the wind here and there – we had our bikes leaning 45 degrees at one point to fight it. But the only real obstacle lies in the distraction of river pools begging for hand-tied flies and wildlife preserves full of beaver, otter, and eagles. Don't forget to pack your rock-climbing shoes: The ride ends among the sport-climbing crags of Smith Rock State Park.
More information: To start from the airport, have guide Whit Bazemore of Ride Cycling Tours pick you up, drive you 25 miles to Smith Rock, and shuttle your luggage while you rip it east to west. You'll look nonstop at the Three Sisters, a trio of 10,000-foot, snow-capped volcanoes, and finish in downtown Sisters, where you can hit the Open Door wine bar for dinner.
Credit: Photograph by Tyler Roemer