Even if we haven’t ridden a bicycle in years, we all remember the free-spirited, wind-in-your-face feeling of flying down the street on our first two-wheeler. And, lusting as we do for life in sensory overdrive, Wood River Valley residents have lately been part of a nationwide chain reaction, trading in our fat tires for a smoother, faster ride.
According Nappy Neaman of The Elephant’s Perch in Ketchum, interest in road biking is at an all-time high. “Three years ago, we didn’t have one road bike on our shelves,” he says. “Now, they make up half of our display.” In fact, last year, The Perch sold more road bikes than mountain bikes—a dramatic reversal from years past.
While Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong has certainly helped popularize the sport, Neaman cites several other contributing factors. For starters, he says, road cycling is something almost anyone can do. As long as you aren’t racing competitively, you don’t need many technical skills. And, as a general rule, riding on smooth, paved surfaces isn’t as physically punishing or psychologically stressful as off-road biking. “After a tough day at work, you can get on your road bike, head for the bike path, and just cruise.”
Some people also enjoy the social aspect of road cycling, Neaman adds: “They can ride alongside their friends and talk, whereas mountain biking tends to be more solitary.”
Depending on where and how you ride, road cycling can provide a steadier aerobic workout than mountain biking, which tends to call for on-and-off bursts of energy output. That’s why more and more fat-tire fanatics are hopping on road bikes, particularly in spring months when the trails are wet and muddy, to get in better shape and build stamina.
Yet another reason the sport is taking off may be due to the cycles themselves. Lightweight and speedy, today’s road bikes roll smoothly over pavement, while offering the comfort and easy shifting of mountain bikes (a huge improvement over the ten-speed you had as a kid). Countless styles are available, some for reasonable prices, making it easy for more and more people to give the sport a try.
With one of the best bicycle-path systems in the West, the Wood River Valley is an ideal place to ride. The 30-mile Sun Valley-Wood River Trail bike path offers easy access and safe terrain for cyclists of all abilities. Numerous neighborhood on-road rides, such as the Elkhorn and Broadford loops, also offer pleasure for both serious athletes and weekend warriors. And these are not the only places to spin.
Says Greg Stock of Sun Summit Ski and Cycle in Ketchum, “If you’re willing to venture out, you can find some incredible rides just outside Sun Valley’s backdoor.”
One favorite is the scenic corridor from Ketchum to Galena Summit and back, on Highway 75. While not recommended as something to do on a busy Fourth of July weekend, Stock says it’s great on a weekday. The crest of Galena tops out at 8,701 feet, and attracts riders of all levels—as well as numerous cars, trucks, and motor homes. Alternatively, try riding from Redfish Lake to Banner Summit and back. You can make a day trip out of it, Stock says: “After riding, you can stop at Redfish Lodge for dinner or take a swim in the lake.”
Another local favorite recommended by both Greg Stock and Kate Rosso, co-owner of The Elephant’s Perch, is from Stanley to Lowman along Highway 21. Spectacular mountain vistas and vast meadows filled with wildflowers make this stretch of pavement one of the most scenic rides in Idaho.
Rosso also likes to head south of Hailey to ride. “Sometimes,” she says, “I’ll start at the end of the bike path in Bellevue and go out Gannett Road, take a right on Base Line Road, then head back to town.”
As more people convert to road cycling, many local bike shops are organizing social rides. Some, such as those offered by The Elephant’s Perch on Wednesday nights, are geared more toward novices who want to learn the basics, such as shifting gears and the dos and don’ts of group riding. Others, like those departing from Sun Summit in Ketchum on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, are for more advanced riders, and cover fifty miles or so per session. Still others are for riders of mixed abilities. Durance Cycleworks owner Richard Feldman, a United States Cycling Federation (USCF) elite national coach and a former U.S.Cycling Team member, offers paced rides on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. He also offers personal coaching for those who are intimidated by the idea of riding with a group.