It’s all about the road, the risk and the ride. More and more Americans are taking to the road on motorcycles—in 2018, 13,158,100 motorcycles were being used and that number is rising every day. Right now, especially, the reason seems obvious: Cooped-up Americans can taste adventure and feel freedom on a bike, while “practicing the ultimate social distancing.”
Here are 5 great rides.
(There are lots more).
1. Highway 150 (The Mirror Lake Highway)
Especially at this time of year, the Mirror Lake Highway is a road treasure. Winding through evergreen and deciduous forest providing a colorful mosaic of changing leaves, the curving, well-kept road is the route to a sparkling alpine lake with snow-capped mountains all around. This is one of the highest roads in Utah.
2. Highway 12
One of the most scenic and thrilling rides in Utah or anywhere, Highway 12 goes over Boulder Mountain through Grand-Staircase-Escalante National Monument to Kodachrome Basin and by Bryce Canyon National Park. Towering red rock formations shelter the river below, lined with bright yellow cottonwood trees in the fall. Escalante and the town of Boulder have good food—Burr Trail Grill and Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, particularly.
3. Wolfcreek Pass | UT-35
Another high-elevation road with gorgeous mountain views of the San Juan mountains from Heber to Hanna. This road may be snowed in or iced over in winter, so check conditions before you set out.
4. Mount Nebo Loop
Designated a National Scenic Byway by the Federal Highway Administration, Mount Nebo Loop threads through the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest from Nephi to Payson, past Devil’s Kitchen and by the Mount Nebo Wilderness.
5. Bicentennial Scenic Byway
The star of this ride is the Glen Canyon Bridge spanning man-made Lake Powell, but there are steep red rock canyons along the way and Natural Bridges National Park has lots of, yes, natural bridges, as well as some of the darkest night skies in the state, if you want to stop and look up.
That’s a joke, but it’s also the truth, according to Vance Harrison, owner of Harrison Eurosports which sells BMW, Ducati and Triumph bikes.
A 1962 650cc Triumph TR6R is what actor Steve McQueen rode in the famous scene from The Great Escape. (Actually, stuntman Bud Ekins did the scene, but the bike is forever associated with McQueen, the coolest guy ever to ride a motorcycle.)
Motorcycles have always been associated with cool, badass guys—Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones, Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Tom Cruise, whose image goes along with these guys, owns one of the most powerful and expensive motorcycle collections in the world. And many motorcycle enthusiasts work in high-risk jobs—heart surgeons, active military, airline pilots—and they tend to want the same adrenaline rush in their recreation that they get from their occupation. Motorcycles are risky—although they have more safety features than ever before, it still requires full concentration to drive a bike. You can’t drive a bike the way you drive a car.
But now motorcycles are also associated with cool, badass women, orthodontists, lawyers and family guys, says Harrison. All kinds of people are riding. “It’s the life dream of some people,” he says. “They come in here and say, “All my life I’ve wanted to ride a motorcycle. Now I’m retired, I’ve got the time and the money and I’m going to do it.”
Harrison and his staff of enthusiasts are there to help first-time riders of any age, match them with the right bike, coach them, even introduce them to others on the road via organized rides around Utah.
Motorcycles have changed along with the riders.
“Every time automobile designers come up with a new safety feature, it makes its way to motorcycles,” says Taylor Brody, marketing director for Harrison. For example, motorcycles have airbags now, and so do motorcycle jackets.
Safety is the huge concern; Harrison offers a refresher safety class every year. Car drivers tend not to see motorcycles; two wheels just don’t register. “Pretend you’re invisible when you ride” is what Harrison’s safety class teaches. That why last year the Utah legislature passed a lane-altering law, allowing bikes to “go to the front of the line” at a red light. It’s safer that way, the drivers will see you. Engineers are working on a self-balancing bike and BMW uses the same brake system in its bikes as it does in its cars.
That’s all good but you don’t think “safe!” when you see a room full of gleaming motorcycles. You think “cool.”
Harrison is the third-largest motorcycle dealer in the country. Why? “Because we’re in Utah,” he grins. Another joke, but the point is, Utah has some of the best landscape in the world to ride a motorcycle around in. “I went on a trip to Morocco to ride,” Vance recalls. “It was amazing—the landscape, the high desert. Then I came back to Utah and said, why did I ever leave?”
It’s true that groups from all over the world come on motorcycle tours to Utah and the rest of the American West to experience some of the best rides in the world. Ride on.
Photos / Adam Finkle
Styling / Farasha, Vanessa Di Palma Wright
Hair & makeup / Nikki Breedlove
Art Direction / Jeanine Miller
Model / Keilara McCormick for TMG
Check out motorcycles at https://www.harrisoneurosports.com/