Cycling On Route 66: Biking for your kicks

The legendary Historic Route 66 – or the “Mother Road” – has been travelled by motorists for over 50 years. Decommissioned since the 80s, the 4,000km route – from Chicago (Illinois) to Santa Monica (California) through 8 states – can now be experienced by cyclists along the new Bicycle Route 66.

Bicycle Route 66 follows the famous corridor via bike paths, country roads, as well as highways appropriate for cyclists, deviating from the original historic route in parts for safety. 

Cyclists can explore at their own pace, taking in some iconic architecture, ghost towns, and historic communities from the route’s golden era. There is a diversity of landscapes, from flat prairie grasslands in Illinois to the rolling hills of the Ozark Mountains, and the open deserts of the Southwest. 

While camping is possible, there are plenty of kitschy motels and diners where you can experience the true charm of Route 66.

THE ROUTE

Bicycle Route 66 can be done from east-to-west (from Lake Michigan in Chicago) or in reverse (from Santa Monica Pier in California). 

Illinois: 

From Lake Michigan, the trail joins with Historic Route 66 and hits many small communities and historic roads along the way. At Litchfield, break for lunch at the Ariston Cafe, which is one of the oldest restaurants on Route 66. Much of the route is characterised by prairie landscape and rolling hills, before crossing the Mississippi River across the historic Chain of Rocks Bridge into Missouri. 

Missouri:

From St. Louis, the Bicycle Route 66 takes cyclists past the rolling hills of the northern reaches of the Ozark Mountains, and heads into quiet roads before joining Historic Route 66 at Joplin. For old school fun, pop in at Carthage’s restored 66 Drive-In movie theatre (there are weekend screenings), or have a root-beer float at Carl’s Drive-In in Brentwood.

Kansas:

The shortest portion of the route runs through this state, and attractions include the historic mining town of East Galenda and the well-preserved William’s Store.

Oklahoma: 

The ride here is a gradual uphill climb, encompassing rolling landscapes with a variety of prairies until it reaches the Great Plains of the Texas Panhandle. Tulsa makes a good base; it’s a historic town with many Art Deco structures – including Campbell Hotel – that were built during the Oil Boom in the 1920s and 1930s. 

Texas: 

With dirt farm roads, grain elevators and windmills, this portion of the route hits historic Shamrock (home to the Art Deco-style Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café), and Amarillo with its U.S. Route 66-Sixth Street Historic District that contains a collection of architecture from the Spanish Revival, Art Deco, and Art Moderne era.

New Mexico:

The cycle route is dotted with traditional pueblos (at Santo Domingo and Laguna) and passes Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Parts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona are Native American lands, including Nations and Reservations, where permission must be granted to photograph some sites. Iconic overnight options include Blue Swallow Motel and El Rancho Hotel.

Cyclists will cross the Continental Divide as they pedal through the El Malpais National Monument. At Gallup is the Brickyard Bike Park, boasting 2 major networks of professionally-designed, curvy singletracks, including the flagship High Desert Trail. 

Arizona:

The Cycle Route passes the Petrified Forest National Park, with its haunting beauty, archaeological sites, historic structures (like the Painted Desert Inn) and unique geological formations, including petrified trees. Many towns in this region boast a collection of railroad and auto-related commercial architecture. For a bit of nostalgia, you can stay at the Wigwam Village Motel, where vintage automobiles are permanently on display. 

At the California border, cyclists will cross the Sitgreaves Pass in the rugged Black Mountains (with extremely tight switch-backs and steep drop-off s).

California: 

The initial route traverses a hot, desert stretch (subject to violent thunder-storms), followed by peaks, mountain passes and steep road segments before reaching the outskirts of the city. At Pasadena is the picturesque multi-arched Colorado Street Bridge, the highest concrete bridge in the world upon completion in 1913. The Bicycle Route 66 ends at Santa Monica Pier where the road meets the ocean.

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