Cycling | One comment
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Bicycling in Las Vegas
Ah, Las Vegas… the city where dreams come true. Admittedly when I was thinking of Vegas my first thoughts were of slot machines, hot weather, desert, exotic clubs and empty bank accounts. Cycling definitely wasn’t first on my mind.
I’ve been in Vegas before, but without my bike. This time as I was preparing to attend another IT Technical conference, I was thinking of packing my bike and take it with me to Vegas. I thought biking in Vegas is something I should look into as I am not interested in gambling and I’ll have some free time after the conference sessions in the evenings.
Flying with Bicycle
Of course, before I could do that I had to get myself and my bike to Vegas. I could rent a bike in Vegas like I did in Australia last year, but finding a place to rent a really nice road bike is even more difficult than finding a place that rents a really nice cars. Also, my height (only 168cm) makes it even more difficult to find something for my size. So I decided to fly with WestJet (direct flight) because they charge only $20 CAD (one way) as additional charge for the bike. Other companies charge as much as $200 USD each way (Delta).
Given all that, I’m regularly bringing my bike with me when I travel with WestJet. For some, this would be outrageous expense. For me, my bike fits like a great pair of shoes and it is totally worth it. If you factor in the money I saved on a rental car, it works out.
Biking Vegas? Are you crazy?
“You can’t be serious.” “That’s nuts!” “Are you crazy?!?” That’s a sampling of reactions to my plan to bicycle in and around Las Vegas. Not surprising given the temperaturs above +40 degrees Celsious in June, traffic and preoccupied drivers, jamming the casino-rimmed Strip and nearby streets nearly 24 hours a day.
But cycling is my passion and I figured bicycling would offer sightseeing from a new perspective, while burning some calories and maintain a modicum of muscle tone during my short visit. Plus 2013 is again huge year for me, as I am planning for another summer trip to Croatia, where I’ll be getting into some serious bike riding with my buddies. So I decided to explore bike-related advances in the city first-hand. Here is my story:
First shock: Heat strikes
There was one thing that was not on my mind before the trip. The heat! I mean, I was exited that I would be riding my bike in a warm climate of Nevada, but I wasn’t ready for what was awaiting me there.
And it lasted the whole week! On Sunday, thermometers rose to scorching 112 degrees Fahrenheit breaking the record of 108 F set back in 1955. So, I had to adjust my biking schedule and leave my hotel in the morning around 5:30 am instead of in the afternoon as I was originally planning to do. Even this early in the morning it was already +27 C and sunny. During my first ride I went through two bottles of water in first 35 km. Before the ride ended, I emptied another two bottles! Welcome to desert climate Zdenko!
First ride: Bicycling on the Las Vegas streets
So where can a serious cyclist like me pedal in Vegas? I took off from the very south end of the strip (the Mandalay Bay) and rode all the way to the North end of the city. I used Frank Sinatra Drive and Paradise Road to get to the old core of the city. I was pleasantly surprised by the flatness, there was no road resistance. Woohoo!
With that I was easily able to sustain 35 km/h and could even sustain 40 km/h for a couple of blocks. This turned out to be plenty of speed to keep up with traffic. My old ‘Marinoni’ bike was flying down the road and I felt like not having a chain, just like the ‘Discovery’ team guys in Lance’s book ‘It’s Not About The Bike’. Because of the incessant stop lights, even the lead foots couldn’t get going too much faster than I did. I even passed cars in some of the congested parts. This calmed my nerves and rased the level of adrenaline in my veins. I figured no car could be too upset with a cyclist that was meeting or exceeding the flow of traffic. Now I could enjoy the scenery.
Since I was enjoying the speeds I could reach, I decided to cruise all the way to the North Vegas and Stratosphere and then work my way back more slowly: focusing on some of the new architecture and sidewalk infrastructure that are unique to Vegas and hint at what could be possible for bikes there and elsewhere.
Biking on the Strip
One of the first things I saw on the Strip was this type of thing: a classic American roadway completely dominated by cars. No bike lanes or sharrows here. There’s not even a shoulder for cars. Locals advise you against bicycling the Strip. I used side streets, sometimes taking refuge on sidewalks (legal where not prohibited by signs) to reach swanky resorts like the ‘Mandalay Bay’ or ‘The Signature suites’ by Grand MGM hotel, where I was staying. The Strip is too thick with pedestrians and motorists for bicycling. But north of the Stratosphere, especially downtown and along Alta Drive, there’s plenty to see, hear and taste while touring on two wheels.
Second ride was a serious training: The Red Rock Canyon Route
After exploring the city streets the next step was to visit nature areas outside of the city such as Red Rock Canyon, reachable along an urban trail from downtown. This time I skipped the Vegas Strip completely and headed west to Red Rock Canyon Trail located on the western edge of town.
From the Strip I took W. Tropicana Avenue, all the way west through upscale Summerlin and Flamingo areas, constantly climbing into the surrounding hills. I stayed on W. Flamingo Road until I reached Charleston Blvd. (State Route 159) on the outskirts of Vegas, where the bike trail begins. To reach this point I have traveled 23 km in about 1 hour. From the Strip it was uphill all the way. Not an easy ride…
But once on the Charleston Blvd. the real climbing into the desert began. This is probably the most-pedaled route in Southern Nevada as cyclists after cyclist were zooming by in both directions. I joined a group of cyclists going in my direction and instantly they made it easier for me, as they allowed me to draft. From the last set of traffic lights on Charleston Blvd. to the turnoff point into the scenic one-way park road loop was about 9 km of moderate climbing. During the ride I was questioned about my bike, as no one has ever heard of ‘Marinoni’ bike.
I probably would have been more comfortable spinning it out on my SRAM compact chainset, but didn’t really have too much trouble – other than the odd belch that allowed me to re-live the cocktails and McDonald’s from the night prior. The climb was a nice warm up and forced me to keep my pace in check and soak in the scenery.
Biking Red Rock Conservation Area
Here my new cycling buddies continued straight, and I made a right turn into the Red Rock state park. This scenic one-way park road loops and winds around the hilly valley of Red Rock Canyon, past the coral mounds and along the base of the Wilson cliffs. The High Point Overlook is a little less than eight kilometers from the entrance and these first kilometers include some steep climbing. By the time you reach that, you will have climbed about 541 m. The Bike Ride has a total ascent of 541.0 m and has a maximum elevation of 1,462 m. Many local bikers use this route for a weekend workout. Bring lots of water and remember to pace yourself – you’re not in the city anymore.
After the initial climb the real fun began – The roads… Oh, the roads. I wish Edmonton area has similar roads. They were unlike any I’ve seen… Buttery smooth and completely devoid of any debris… Combine that with the fact that the road was one-way, capped at 55 km/h and it was a Sunday – It felt like the course had been closed specifically for my delight. The few cars that I did see would even slow down and wave at me through the window… Where was I?!?!
Here are a few interesting facts on the Red Rock Scenic Ride – 21 Km Loop:
- The 21 km (14 miles) scenic drive is a Back country Byway. It is completely paved and offers opportunities to see desert wildlife & red and cream sandstone formations.
- There is an entrance fee to ride into the scenic loop. Bicyclists have to pay $3.
- Cars, Motorcycles, bicyclists and runners will all share the paved, one way road.
- As soon as you enter, there’s a 7 km long climb that gains nearly 1,000 feet right out of the gate… it’s not easy!
- After riding to the highest elevation peak (just under 4,800 feet), you’ll have a great time twisting and turning down a fast decent. BE CAREFUL!!!
- Then, just when you think you’re almost done, you will hit a ‘wall’ one last climb. Get over the wall and it’s 3 more kilometers before you’re back on the main road again.
As I leisurely made my way around the loop I stopped at almost every scenic outpost to check things out and take few pictures with my small pocket camera. For an Alberta boy, the views of the desert and mountains were stellar – I was just out enjoying the ride and wasn’t in any real hurry. But the end of the loop ended up coming much too soon… I was just starting to get a feel for things, with one exception. My water bottles were empty!
After brief deliberation and restocking my water supplies at the info center I pointed my wheel downhill back into the city. It was all downhill on Charleston Blvd. and I was in the city before I knew it. I turned south on Durango Drive to get around Spring Valley, until I was on Tropicana Avenue again. This time I turned east and pretty soon I was back in my hotel. The whole ride was 88 km long and it took me full 3:30 hours to complete it.
By the time I finished this ride the temperature had gone from a manageable ~35°C (95°F) to a cookin’ 45°C (114°F). I’d been out there for just over 3 hours and had taken down 2.5L of water… The one thing they don’t tell you about riding at 45° is that your water gets hot. Not just warm. Literally hot. It felt like I was drinking tea. I really had to force myself to choke it back
The Red Rock Conservation Area is one of the most magical places you will ever ride in. When you enter the Conservation area, you will ride into a desert land of Joshua trees, Red Rock Mountains, and even wild burros! Red Rock Canyon was designated as Nevada’s first National Conservation Area. On any given weekend, you will always find local cyclists challenging themselves on this scenic loop or hanging out at their favorite rest stop in Blue Diamond, socializing and refueling. Red Rock Canyon is located 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip on Charleston Boulevard/State Route 159.
During my stay in Vegas, I repeated this route several more times. On Tuesday I made the full loop through the Red Rock state park and used the Blue Diamond road to return to Vegas. I didn’t like this route because of intense traffic on it. It felt like riding a bike on a busy highway.
Other Great Bike Routes in Las Vegas
There are a few other popular routes to ride in Vegas that will take your breath away.
Vegas isn’t where you may think to go when looking for a great place to bike, however those who know are familiar with the classic runs around Lake Mead, the hilly, scenic tours to the west and the long, challenging routes the local trails and highways offer. With minimal traffic and gorgeous scenery, the area around Las Vegas offers much to those who prefer two wheels instead of four. Listed below are five different bike paths and some of the benefits of each.
Mount Charleston/Mountain Springs Route
If you take 159 out through and past Spring Mountain Ranch State Park (also an excellent place for some off-road biking and scenic hiking, by the way), you will eventually come to Mountain Springs and Mount Charleston. This is known as a relaxing ride, as much of the ride is both on-road and rural. Be warned, if you take the full route, it can easily hit over 102 Kilometers. Not for the easily tired, but definitely for the scenery-lover.
Lake Mead, South Shore Route
Depending on who you ask, there are multiple routes you could take around and near Lake Mead. Midway between the dam and Lakeshore Drive along Route 93, a trail diverges towards the rugged south shore of Lake Mead. From here, you can take a challenging off and on-road course that will eventually deposit you in the Boulder Beach Campground. A great way to kill a day, this run is a mere 6.7 KM, but it makes you work for it. Take a swim afterwards to cool off!
Lake Mead, Western Shore Route
If you want something a little more extreme, might I recommend the 80 Kilometer trek that is Lake Mead’s western shore? Start in the city and take 147 east bound towards Lake Mead. Follow it around to the North Shore Drive split and continue south. Eventually you will hit 166. Veer east to follow the lake, and continue down through the Lake Mead National Recreational Area. Eventually this route will also deposit you near the Boulder Beach Campground. While an on-road course, this is a beautifully scenic route, offering spectacular views of the lake and a great escape from the city.
Depending on where you start in Vegas, this route is known to be nearly 126 Kilometers long! This route is a stamina test, but with low traffic and out in the open, so relatively safe. This route takes you up Route 95 towards Indian Springs. Bring water for the ride, and possibly an arranged ride back. Be warned, this equates to roughly 80 miles of biking. I would recommend this for training and endurance runs, and also for the beautiful terrain.
Making it tough
Once you’ve decided the rides above are no longer a challenge, here are some difficult routes around town:
- Villa Ridge. lt’s only four miles to the top after turning north on Sungold Drive near Rampart and Del Webb boulevards. But’s it’s not an easy four miles; most of the ride is a gradual climb, and the last mile or so is even tougher. Conquering Villa Ridge will get you ready for the rides that follow.
- River Mountains Trail. Pedestrians and cyclists only on this trail, which circles Lake Mead and goes into Boulder City. It is 34.25 miles, with an elevation gain of 2,439 feet (going clockwise). The route around the lake includes several sharp turns so don’t ignore those speed-limit signs. There are numerous spots in Henderson and Boulder City to enter the trail. A common launch site for cyclists is behind the Railroad Pass Hotel & Casino.
- Valley of Fire State Park. For a challenging 46-mile ride, park behind the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza off Interstate 15 and ride to the White Domes parking lot inside Valley of Fire. It’s a gradual climb from the Moapa shop to within a couple of miles of the park entrance, then a short, rapid descent into the park. The road to Mouse’s Tank and White Domes (turn left at the visitor center) will take you on some of the steepest climbs — with some of the most spectacular views in Southern Nevada. You’ll fly back to the visitor center then realize that the high-speed descent that took you to the park entrance is now a nasty climb you and your weary legs must conquer.
- River Mountains Loop Trail. This is the course around Lake Mead – Boulder City – Henderson. Don’t let the name fool you. The River Mountains Loop Trail (RMLT) actually has a PAVED road that loops around into Henderson, Boulder City and the scenic Lake Mead National Park. The ride is challenging with many rolling hills and winding roads. There are even serpentine turns that are very technical and very fun to ride on. The scenery of Lake Mead in the background makes it a perfect place to ride, picturesque in every sense of the word. Here are a few interesting facts about the River Mountains Loop Trail.
Formed by fiery lava erupting from small volcanoes nearly 5 million years ago, the River Mountains have been chisled by water down cutting its way to the Colorado River. This is a 35 mile paved loop path for bicyclists, walkers, runners. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the path. Hoover Dam and the border of Arizona are just a few miles down the road from the Lake Mead Entrance to the Trail.
Here is a route map of the River Mountains Loop Trail.
Vegas has a pretty strong cycling community so if you’re Canadian and looking for a way to jump-start your season, or prolong it, I’d definitely recommend checking out the riding there. As far as blasting out 70k in the heat of summer? Though thoroughly enjoyable, you may stay away from this one unless you *really* like the heat.
Las Vegas is a wonderful travel destination for anyone who likes a little bit of everything. Not only do they have great casinos and exciting nightlife, but there is also wonderful parks and outdoor recreation! When you plan your next vacation getaway, make sure your travel plans include Las Vegas and a bicycle!
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