It’s inevitable: every year around February cyclists who live in colder climes start lusting after warm outside rides. Being trainer-bound can be a boon for sharpness since you can execute high intensity intervals and specific workouts without stop signs or descents, and developments like Zwift® racing can rival any extreme effort or race outside.
What northerners have been missing since fall, however, is volume. And joy. Remember long rides? And sunshine? Some brave athletes go long in the winter by Nordic skiing, investing in snow bikes, or simply bundling up, but most of us need to travel to get in significant riding and soak up some sunshine before spring.
The Rolf Prima Headquarters has amazing riding off all types, in every direction. We love our home in Eugene, OR and pride ourselves on our wheels being 100% #maderighthere. But it’s not guaranteed to hit the 50s until April, and “guaranteed” rain-free rides might not start until July. Some years, we gotta take our wheels on spring break. But where to?
Sure, there are the classics like San Diego, but below you’ll find six fresh ideas that might be more novel, affordable, and fun. Plus, they come with better mementoes - like choo choo train magnets, BBQ sauce, or jumping cholla cactus scars.
WHY IT’S AWESOME
Gators and oranges and mountains, oh my! It may come as a surprise, but the heart of Florida has hills that expand for hundreds of miles throughout remarkably diverse landscapes. The Clermont area is riddled with lakes, and cycling is a welcomed part of the culture. There are countless stunning routes of every distance, including multiple century rides on smooth and hilly roads with little traffic other than an errant alligator.
March is the dry season, making Clermont perhaps one of the most surprising destinations for spring break for athletes. If you’re there and need a day out of the saddle, there are beach front parks, a dedicated trail system for runners, and a killer disc golf course in Lake Hiawatha Park. Swimmers flock there for the temperate lakes and the National Training Center pool, and there is some other famous destination in neighboring Orlando, too. Read on.
TAKE IT FROM A LOCAL
If a world class US Olympian with a Wikipedia page decided to make Clermont his permanent home, there must be a reason. Jarrod Shoemaker has lived, coached, and trained in Clermont for over a decade. Originally from outside Boston, he ran for Dartmouth and swiftly rose through the elite triathlon and duathlon ranks to make the US Olympic Team in 2008.
Jarrod says March is an ideal time to come ride since “you are almost guaranteed good weather with highs generally in the 70s-80s. We still have lots of backroads and a developing bike trail system, and in addition, we have hills!”
His fave routes include the Clermont Hill Loop where you can get up to 63 miles of serious work, the Van Fleet Trail, 40 of them straight and flat where you can put your head down the whole time. There are also the “Alligator Trails” of Lake Apopka with 20 miles of traffic-free crushed limestone, as well as about ten other amazing sounding rides Jarrod raved about. Unlike other destinations, there aren’t just a few classic routes in Lake County, Florida, and you won’t be alone.
Want to meet some new peeps and have your days planned for you? Training camps are inarguably the best way to be guaranteed a turbo boost of fitness. Steven Perezhula is a coach in Clermont, and every year at the end of March he runs The Perezluha Clermont Cycling Camp, offering a fully supported weekend of epic riding. Steve says, “It’s an ideal opportunity for riders to challenge themselves to improve their hill climbing, racing skills, time trial prowess, enhanced reaction, and short term power.” He scopes out newly developed routes each year, which would be perfect for out of towners who want to ride the classics the rest of the week, but check out his fresh segments and meet new peeps on the weekend.
Jarrod Shoemaker says, “Flying into Orlando is usually cheap due to all the vacation travelers, but finding housing in Clermont can be tough, so make sure to try to book early and don't be afraid to stay a bit farther out in Mascotte or Groveland. Of course take a day trip to Disney or Universal!” If you have kiddos, central Florida could be the ultimate win-win destination.
WHY IT’S AWESOME
Because: birthplace of the moonpie. Chattanooga prides itself on the famous song about its choo choo, its Civil War history, being home to the first miniature golf course, and, of course, the Little Debbie® headquarters. Set along the Tennessee River in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, rock climbers and whitewater paddlers flock to Chatt, and downtown is one of those cities that totally surprises you with hip hangouts, coffee shops, and breweries.
Plus, there’s cycling. If you want a fat tire vacay that departs from Moab (real original), there’s an extensive network of singletrack. For roadies, long, rolling, and smooth road routes extend into Georgia. Let’s hear it from a local.
TAKE IT FROM A LOCAL
Sam Voigt is a Sales Engineer extraordinaire with the American Bicycle Group. Ever heard of Litespeed Titanium Bicycles, Quintana Roo Tri Bikes, and Obed Bikes? Yeah, that’s them. Sam is originally from New Zealand and began XC bike racing at 14. His current jam is gravel, and he avers that “Chatt” is one of the premier cycling destinations in the Southeast.
“The road and gravel riding offer rolling hills in the Tennessee River Valley, which can be extended with multiple miles of long climbs along the valley’s towering ridges. It gets even better for off-road riding, what with over 100 miles of singletrack within 20 minutes of downtown.
“If you’re looking for an adventure, head out to the Ocoee for some whitewater rafting, or a lazy paddle through the TN river gorge. Finally, I’d be remiss to not highlight the local Chattanooga Football Club; it’d be worth checking the schedule and planning your trip around a game.”
Business up front and party in the back. Albeit not exactly spring break time, it might be worth waiting for the Gran Fondo Hincapie-Chattanooga in early May. Like most gran fondos it caters to both competitive and recreational riders towards the back. The race rolls out from downtown, takes you on a scenic ride along the Tennessee River, and breaks up any remaining pelotons as you ascend the legendary Sequatchie Mountain. Almost needless to say, there’s a huge aprés celebration with all the foods and drinks, Chatt-style.
So many airport options! Chatt is basically the epicenter of the southeast, so Nashville, Atlanta, Asheville, and Knoxville are all ideal landing pads. If you’re lucky, you might be able to fly into the Chattanooga airport, which is quaint and never busy.
The historic Read House Hotel would be the ultimate lodging adventure, but there are plenty of hotels and Airbnbs in town, and even a Hostel, The Crash Pad, for those on a budget. Finally, for your day out of the saddle, Chatt’s bucket list seems to begin and end with its trolley-like Incline Railway up the steep Lookout Mountain to reach Ruby Falls waterfall.
WHY IT’S AWESOME
Duh. The most live music venues, the most raucous street, the most BBQ joints, and the most tattoos. Those superlatives have actually been measured, and now that “Bat City’s” tech industry has grown exponentially, it’s also called “Silicon Hills.”
Road cyclists will be pilgrimaging to Hill Country, which offers expansive county and state two-lane roads rolling among diverse terrain. It will be the height of wildflower season, but if you’re more focused on volume than selfies, how does a 213-mile loop sound? There are ample shorter routes, and each day you’ll ride with the promise of a party scene and BBQ back in town.
TAKE IT FROM A LOCAL
Portlandians rarely leave, but if they do, there is a reciprocity deal with Austin, Portland’s official sister city. Andrew Nelson made that exchange four years ago and finds the climate is significantly more habitable. He tore up the road and Cyclocross scene in PDX, and traveled for extreme events like the legendary Norseman (Google or Bing it), but now informs us, “I traded my road and tri bikes for a MTB and haven't really looked back.
“If Austin is on your list for any type of bike riding, March is the perfect time. It’s after the infamous winter storms and power outages, but before the scorching 100+ degree days. Austin has so much terrain both in the city, and within an hour for any type of riding you want to do (road, gravel, MTB, bar-hopping), making it an ideal one-stop-shop!
“There is an extensive MTB trail system that ranges from challenging technical terrain to mixed-use paths for an easy afternoon fat tire spin. Brushy Creek, and Walnut Creek are two popular after work spots for locals to get a rip in with the latter having an awesome BMX and MTB-friendly jump park. Spider Mountain and Reveille Peak Ranch offer beginner-through-Red Bull Rampage-level terrain where you can get ripping downhill.
“For gravel riders, Fredericksburg is your jumping off point. It's just over an hour drive, and since it’s Texas wine country, there are tons of AirBnB's if you want to tack on to your urban experience. For roadies, you must head out to Hill Country, Jester King Brewery is perfect for a mid-ride pizza and beer fuel stop, or if you want to just end your ride and take an UberXL home you can head down the road to Treaty Oak Distillery.”
COTA Bike Nights! The Circuit of the Americas is one of the biggest car racing settings in the whole entire world. Set on 1,500 acres outside of Austin, it features a Grade 1 FIA-specification 3.426-mile motor racing track, whatever that means. For cyclists, it’s the weekly eventing place to be in spring, with a closed circuit to ride under the lights, observation deck access, tailgate games, and theme nights. You gotta go.
EIther do or don’t go during SXSW. If you don’t know what those letters mean, then Google or Bing it and avoid that week at all costs. If the most legendary live music event in the entire world has always been on your bucket list, then it could be a radical combo to ride by day and rock by night.
SAINT GEORGE, UTAH
WHY IT’S AWESOME
Just look at that photo! Stunning red rock canyons of Snow Canyon State Park tower over the perfectly sized village of St. George. The Snow Canyon Loop features 18 miles and over 1000-feet of elevation gain on a mix of bike path and park road through scenic lava flows
Although you’ll want to focus most of your days climbing through the canyon, Veyo Loop offers 43 miles of smooth, heads-down bike path right from any start point, which will shoot you out to countless other epic rides. It’s only an hour from Zion, too, so you could hit up two destinations with either your road and/or fat tire bike.
TAKE IT FROM A LOCAL
The epitome of toughness, Sarah Jarvis had to step back from her career as professional triathlete when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Refusing to quit, she channeled her athletic knowledge into coaching, and has extended her cycling prowess to dominate world class events like the Belgian Waffle Ride Cedar City.
Sara and her family actually live up in Cedar City, but she makes the short trip to St. George often in winter and early spring because “We are at 6,000 feet and just got another foot of snow in town this week and will get a lot more this next week, so we don’t ride trails or gravel here for a while. St. George in March - now that’s a different story!” So you’ll see Sarah up at Snow Canyon, probably passing you at an embarrassing clip.
Limited to 800 riders, the Spring Tour de St. George is a bucket list event for every cyclist who’s discovered the secrets of Southern Utah. Actually, riders make it down to the Arizona border to hit up Quail Canyon and Sand Creek. Far less competitive than other, the Tour de St. George is more like a party in the front and party in the back, with three distance options and lunch, rather than fly by aid stations. Painted desert scenery describes most of the ride, and since it’s in April, you might not even need arm warmers.
Situated at the tri-corner confluence of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, it’s easiest to fly to Vegas. Note that Ironman® hosts two major races in St. George including its 70.3 World Championship, which you’ll want to avoid since every room will be booked and the best cycling routes will be closed. Oh, and if you like a good aprés ride beer or two, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with Utah’s policies and plan ahead.
WHY IT’S AWESOME
Wait, Oregon in the spring? While Maupin isn’t the warmest town on this list, it’s set in the high desert of central Oregon so it’s almost guaranteed to be dry, and the road riding is traffic-free, stunning, smooth, and limitless.
You probably haven’t heard of Maupin. Pretty much no one has heard of Maupin. Which is why we like it.
Towns like Bend tend to overshadow this one horse town (there is literally one store), and Hood River and Portland are obviously more hopping. These are all great locations, but weather is too risky for a spring destination.
From Maupin, you can head out in any direction and climb up sleek and traffic-free roads to a spectacular view of Mt. Hood. In Bend and other famous Meccas, you will have hundreds of fellow riders, thousands of breweries (maybe a slight exaggeration), and numerous hip places to hang at night. In Maupin, however, your trip will be memorable as you get to know your hotel owner, bartender, any fellow cyclists, and feel like you own the roads as you soul search on empty and vast roads with views that broadcast multiple volcanoes.
A gem. That’s the best word to describe the Deschutes River Valley Time Trial that takes place in Maupin every April. It’s a stage race for soloists, but any steed is accepted as you’ll see Eddie Merckx badasses, triathletes on TT bikes, tandems, beginners, and pros. Four stages will push any athlete, but unlike more serious events, every racer gathers together family style each night around the fire pits at the host resort, the Imperial River Company.
TAKE IT FROM A LOCAL
DRVTT Race Director George Thomas is a looooong-time, über-accomplished ultra-distance cyclist and race organizer. He’s a former radio personality, actually successful podcast host, and public speaker delivering his inspirational story for the Epilepsy Foundation of America fueled by his own physical challenges. His Homerian experiences extend to multiple Race Across America successes, which are detailed in his book, “Going the Distance – the George Thomas Story.”
“Why is Maupin, OR one of my favorite places to ride on the planet?” George asks. “Endless miles of beautiful scenery, challenging terrain and traffic free roads. I've logged literally thousands of cycling miles while preparing for Race Across America and Race Across the West using Maupin as my base, and eventually grew Deschutes River Valley Time Trials, Deschutes Double and Ring of Fire there.
We have established that Maupin is not the warmest destination on this list, but it definitely has the raddest lodging. You’lll post pics of your muraled room at the Imperial River Company and get the sense you’re staying at a cyclists’ training base camp. The Imperial River has a built-in pub, restaurant, fire pit patio, a quarter mile of grassy river front, and you’ll actually get to know the owners, Susie and Rob Miles who are both serious cyclists.
If the Imperial River is sold out, you can find adorable cabins and even vintage Airstreams up the road. You’ll fly into Portland or Redmond, and only drive a couple hours to feel like you’re light years away.
WHY IT’S AWESOME
All right, all right, Tucson as a training destination might not be “fresh,” but the extension of The Loop 131-mile bike path is! Professional cycling teams have flocked to Tucson for spring training for decades and our love of the place means it has to be included. With several famous, iconic rides, and endless permutations, you can design a route for any workout.
Strava monsters lineup: Mt. Lemmon is one of the most recognized and recorded climbs in the world. Good luck. Saguaro National Forest offers a one-way road, eight-mile circuit through a desert preserve where you’ll see coaches on the side of the road whipping teams into shape ad nauseum. Three destinations south of the city can be mixed and matched with any distance route, including the Observatory, Pistol Hill, Helmut Peak, and Madera Canyon just above the US-Mexico border. Tucson for the win!
TAKE IT FROM A LOCAL
Kathryn Bertine doesn’t just love living and riding in Tucson, she empowers elite cyclists to come join her. She founded The Homestretch Foundation, which seeks to eradicate salary inequity for women and provide low-income female professional athletes with free housing to train in Tucson. The Homestretch is another reason we love this city.
During her pro career in cycling, she was a three-time Caribbean Champion, six-time national champion of St. Kitts and Nevis, and raced five years on the pro circuit with four UCI domestic and World Tour teams. She continues to serve as an activist, author, filmmaker, and public speaker, relishing calling Tucson home.
“Community. Most cyclists elect to train in Tucson for the iconic rides, and good weather, but they encounter a pleasant surprise as they rub shoulders with hundreds of amateur and elite cyclists. There’s an infectious, welcoming vibe pervasive throughout the entire area. Tucson starts to bloom in March, so in addition to the ideal climate, spring is the perfect time to come train. Instead of trees, we offer cacti.”
Faster than many races, harder than many time trials, The Tucson “Shootout” is one of the largest and fastest group bike rides in the country. Pro cyclists and triathletes from all over the world use the Shootout training. Though there are shorter and “slower” options, only show up if you’re serious. The Shootout rolls out Saturday mornings from the University of Arizona mall. Riders stay neutral for about ten miles, but when they cross Valencia Street, it’s game on. Whether you can hang, you get dropped, or you opt for the “old man ride” (which is not to be underestimated), you’ll go home in way better shape and have a lot to brag about.
Try to wait until after the Gem Show and sporting events in February. Lodging prices drop in March, and the temps grow significantly warmer. Temps in the mountains can be chilly and warmer weather will serve you well. On that note - don’t make the mistake of only packing jerseys and bibs; for as much as vitamin D as you’ll be soaking up, you’ll need more layers than you think. The desert chill is real.
IF YOU GOTTA STAY AT HOME
Of course we’d all love to pack the bike up and find some warm and dry roads for spring break. Some of us have to work, stick with the family, or simply cannot budget for a trip this spring. In that case, know that both trainer rides and bundling up for cold rides make you a tougher, more badass cyclist. These destinations will still be there next year; they have a long shelf life, just like moon pies.