More than a decade ago, as I was driving along U.S. 90 in West Texas outside Sanderson, I saw a lone cyclist grinding toward San Antonio under a brutal sun, followed closely by a two-man French TV crew in a station wagon. This apparition, some bizarre offspring of the Western myth and a twisted Gallic imagination, seemed absurdly out of place at the time—like a latte in Marfa. Today, the sight of a cyclist so far from anywhere couldn’t be more familiar, and our back roads teem with pelotons of cycling converts, all inspired by a cancer-conquering native who came to dominate the most European of sports.
What’s all the fuss about? As any cyclist will tell you, beyond the state’s sea of strip malls and congested interstates are thousands of miles of bike-friendly farm-to-market roads and rural highways, where the charms of the Texas countryside remain very much intact. With fall’s cool weather finally moving in, it’s about time you joined in. I’ve put together ten rides of varying degrees of difficulty to get you started. Most are longtime favorites of Texas cycling clubs, some are suggestions from other cyclists, and the remainder are rides I’ve discovered on my own. All you have to do is fill up your water bottles, slap on some sunscreen, and start pedaling. No yellow jersey required.
What the Difficulty Ratings Mean
EASY — These rides are manageable, even if you’ve been on a bike only a few times.
MODERATE — You’ve been riding for a bit, and you think you’re in good shape. You’ll find out on these more challenging routes.
DIFFICULT — You call yourself a hammerhead? Let’s ride, punk.
Before You Go …
Point, Click, Ride Ordinarily we would have published the directions for our ten rides in the pages that follow. However, because so many of the routes are rather detailed, we’re putting them online instead. Visit the address listed in the “Directions” section of each ride, and you can print out route instructions and maps.
What You Need Hit the stores to purchase a proper road bike (consider Trek, Cannondale, or similar brands), with a lightweight frame and a Shimano or Campagnolo component set. You can spend many thousands of dollars on a dream machine or find bargains for less than a grand, but the most important thing is to take as much time as you can trying out different bikes before plunking down your cash. Don’t forget to buy a helmet, gloves, and, yes, padded shorts. Believe me—you’ll be glad you did.
Austin Cycling Association: austincycling.org
Brazosport Bicycle Club: brazosportbicycleclub.com
Carrollton Cycling Club: carrolltoncycling.com
Corpus Christi Bicycle Club
El Paso Bicycle Club: elpasobicycleclub.com
Fort Worth Bicycling Association: fwbaclub.org
Greater Dallas Bicyclists: greaterdallasbicyclists.com
Highland Lakes Bicycle Club
Hill Country Bicycle Touring Club: hcbtc.org
Houston Bicycle Club: houstonbicycleclub.org
Longview Bicycle Club: longviewbicycleclub.org
Plano Bicycle Association: planobicycle.org
San Antonio Wheelmen: sawheelmen.com
Team Bicycles Inc. (Metroplex): teambicyclesinc.org
Tyler Bicycle Club: tylerbicycleclub.com
West Texas Cycling Association: westtexascycling.org
Woodlands Cycling Club: woodlandscycling.org
The Devil’s Backbone
THE ROUTE: Over hill and dale around Wimberley.
DISTANCE: 30 miles
HIGHLIGHTS: It’s no secret that the Hill Country, with its natural beauty and challenging terrain, ranks high on most people’s list of favorite Texas rides. That’s why I selected two from the region. This route, slightly tougher than the one along the Guadalupe (see “ The Waterfall”), offers spectacular views from the Devil’s Backbone (Ranch-to-Market Road 32), which allow you to survey miles and miles of ranchland (maybe while enjoying a cold one at the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, near the highest point). You’ll also discover the rural charms of Fischer Store Road, especially at the spot where it crosses over the Blanco River.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Heavy traffic and no shoulder on RM 12 outside Wimberley can make for a tough start.
Click here for directions.
The Fort Davis Flier
THE ROUTE: From Fort Davis, follow the famous scenic loop through the mountains.
DISTANCE: 75 miles
HIGHLIGHTS: Here’s a bold claim: The Fort Davis loop will take you on one of the prettiest roads in the … world. Yes, you read that right, and if you’re skeptical, go see for yourself. You’re guaranteed a one-of-a-kind ride through the canyons and mountains on one of the highest, most rugged, and most remote regions in the state. In fact, the jaw-dropping views will make you forget how hard your legs and lungs are working as you climb up to 6,700 feet. Leaving Fort Davis, you’ll make your way up Limpia Canyon past the McDonald Observatory, then Mount Livermore and Sawtooth Mountain, before heading back to town. Though this is a challenging ride with some extremely hard climbs, all Texas cyclists should put it on their life list.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Watch out for violent thunderstorms, which can roll in unexpectedly.
Click here for directions.
THE ROUTE: From Canyon down into the canyon.
DISTANCE: 40 miles
HIGHLIGHTS: The good news: While shooting down the steep, eight-hundred-foot descent just past the entrance to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, you’ll enjoy incredible vistas of the bright red, yellow, and orange hues of the canyon. The bad news: What goes down must come up. You’ll probably need to find your granny gear to labor back up to the Llano Estacado. With any luck, though, the stunning landscapes of one of the state’s most pristine regions will inspire you to take on the endurance test. If not, there’s always another strategy: Arrange for a friend to drive down into the canyon to pick you up, an option cyclists call “riding the sag wagon.”
FULL DISCLOSURE: Be aware of the unpredictable weather. Storms can blow in without warning.
Click here for directions.
THE ROUTE: From New Braunfels up to Canyon Lake and back.
DISTANCE: 48 miles, with 28- and 72-mile options
HIGHLIGHTS: Our second Hill Country selection is an old favorite; the San Antonio Wheelmen have been riding