Image: Motorcycles on road
The 11-mile Tail of the Dragon route at Deals Gap, N.C., is probably the most famous motorcycle road in the country, according to Bill Belei, editor of Indeed, "The Tail" has an amazing 318 curves, many flanked with precipitous drop-offs, creating an exhilarating, unforgettable ride.
updated 6/7/2007 1:07:47 PM ET 2007-06-07T17:07:47

France may have its vineyards, and Rome its ancient ruins, but America is the undisputed wonderland of roads. Here in the Land of the Free, the open road has long been a symbol of independence, and all the more so on a motorcycle.

But where to begin?

In the continental United States alone there are hundreds of thousands of miles of blacktop and cement, an oblivion of open road panning to all compass points.

For this story, we polled nine biker fanatics, including editors and publishers from motorcycling magazines, as well as some longtime recreational riders, to create a top-10 list of must-ride roads.

The panel's picks, which range from coastal cruises to precipitous mountain journeys, represent a geographic spread of Great American Rides, including classic routes alongside little-known backroads gems.

Desolate route
Take Peter Jones' "High Plains Cruise" route, as an example. Jones, a writer and longtime rider from Laurel Park, N.C., nominated this obscure, multi-highway journey through eastern Colorado and Kansas not for its scenery or culture, but for its desolation.

"The only thing bleaker than Trinidad, Colorado, is the land east of it," Jones said of the 410-mile trip, which follows Route 350 northeast from Trinidad via the Sante Fe Trail to the town of La Junta before continuing east into Kansas on Route 50.

In Kansas — now rocketing on the flat, straight roads of the High Plains—Jones' hand-picked path heads east from Dodge City on Route 400; south on Route 281 to Medicine Lodge; east on Route 160 to Winfield; south on 77 to Arkansas City; and finally east on Route 166 to Coffeyville.

It all makes sense when you look at the map.

Says Jones: "It's a trip about a different kind of motorcycle touring, showing all that's good and bad about where the plains meet the prairie."

All about curves
From his home in Venice Beach, Calif., Mike Salisbury, another member on our panel, can be on his bike and heading north along the Pacific Coast in minutes. Salisbury, like Jones, prefers winding, multi-road routes where he can ride and explore for hours on end.

Salisbury, an art director and photographer, even waxes a bit poetic about his journeys, noting how he meanders "among the flower growers’ greenhouses behind the town of Carpenteria just below those mountains that are painted in the old orange crate labels."

Image: Cherohala Skyway
A nearby — and less crowded — alternative to The Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap, the Cherohala Skyway south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park has sweeping corners, scenic views and climbs up to 5,390 feet.
Riders like Bill Belei, editor of, were more succinct. Two of Belei's route picks — the Palomar Mountain Road in southern California and the famous Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap— are each less than 35 miles long.

"Tail of the Dragon," Belei said, "is among the most well-known roads in the world with motorcyclists, though it's only 11 miles long." But within that 11 miles riders encounter 318 curves on a rollercoaster ride through the Smoky Mountains at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line.

In all, our expert's panel was comprised of seven men and two women, including: Renate Nietzold, publisher of "Biker Ally Magazine"; Bill Rogers, editor of "Midnight Sun Rider Magazine"; the writers Clement Salvadori and Peter Jones; Bill Belei, editor of ""; Brian Rathjen, publisher of the magazine "Backroads Motorcycle Tour"; veteran Alaska riders Mike Tittle and Barbara Smart; and Mike Salisbury, a 59-year-old art director and photographer who has been a motorcycle fanatic since he was six years old.

See the slide show for their picks of 10 legendary motorcycle trips. Now fire up that bike and go ride!


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