Road cycling in Phoenix may surprise you. At first thought, you may be picturing endless flat roads with nothing to offer climbers and dull, unstimulating or barren scenery. Ride a few of these challenging routes and think again. You’ll find the riding in the desert is anything but boring.
Located just 8 miles south of downtown Phoenix, South Mountain Park is the largest municipal park in the United States. The road to the summit climbs about 1000ft to the Gila Valley Lookout which tops out at approximately 2,670 feet. It’s widely considered one of the best road cycling routes in Phoenix. While the average gradient may not seem intimidating, this includes a short downhill section in the middle of the climb; various stretches of the road average up to 8% with pitches in the low teens. If you’re up for an added challenge, descend the one way road, San Juan, which precedes the summit road for an additional 4 miles and 400 feet of elevation gain.
Perhaps the most iconic landmark in the Phoenix metropolitan area, Camelback Mountain, is littered with short, steep climbs making it a paradise for the punchy climber. The immediately surrounding area contains dozens of climbs that will have your legs and lungs burning. A few of the toughest include:
While the majority of the climbs in this area dead end at the top, both the “Castle” and 56th Street climbs are loops, and can be climbed from two sides.
Bartlett Lake is a popular ride among local Phoenix roadies. There are plenty of options to extend this ride and add to the elevation gain, like starting in the town of Cave Creek, but riding the Bartlett Lake road is a challenge even if simply ridden as an out-and-back routes beginning at the turn off from Cave Creek road to the lake. Descend over 13 miles and 1,350ft to the lake’s marina, enjoying the incredible views along the way, consider the option to add a few miles along the road to Horseshoe Dam before turning around to climb out of Bartlett lake. These roads here on the edge of town offer some of the best road cycling routes in Phoenix and the entire state of Arizona.
Whether you’re looking for short and steep or long and gradual, there is a climb to suite any type of rider in the Phoenix metro area. The Sonoran Desert is a diverse environment, and has so much to offer – even elevation change! Remember that what goes up, must come down and to keep the rubber side down.