If you want to find the best back roads with the least traffic, the most bike lanes and shoulders and most forgiving (or not) hills, check out the new Jackson County Bike Map, available at bike stores and the county courthouse.
The map features breakouts of the Bear Creek Greenway and each city in the county. It shows moderate-traffic streets in yellow to get through towns, explains laws and is both water- and tear-resistant.
The handy map costs $5 at the courthouse on Oakdale Avenue and West Main Street in Medford and up to $6 at bike shops.
Let's say it's a lovely day and you want to bike from Ashland to Eagle Point and back. The map, says avid biker and Ashland Transportation Commission member Tom Burnham, shows you how, via Valley View, Suncrest, Payne, Fern Valley, North Phoenix, Corey, Kershaw and Bigham-Brown roads.
The map shows you that only four miles of the route, on North Phoenix Road, contain high-volume traffic and only one part, on Foothill Road, is of moderate steepness.
The colorful county map was redone in September to include more helpful data, such as road shoulders, bike lanes, traffic volume (look for green roads) and chevrons to indicate grades (one chevron is moderate, two is steep, three is very steep).
On the statewide level, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is gathering information to put out an Oregon Scenic Bikeways map — and to mark routes with road signs, a move that will encourage bike tourism.
Several political entities — the Medford Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Jackson County Bicycle Committee, Ashland Transportation Commission and Grants Pass-Josephine County Bikeways Commission — will be working out the best local routes for the state map. That process will take a fair amount of time, energy and funding, says Jenna Stanke, special projects manager for Jackson County.
"The state scenic bikeways map will show you the crème de la crème; the very best rides," says Stanke. "It will be an economic benefit here, and Southern Oregon absolutely has a lot to offer."
Oregon leads the nation in bicycling, routes and maps, she says, and already has the 132-mile Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway from Eugene to Champoeg State Park south of Portland.
In addition to the Ashland-Eagle Point route, local scenic bikeways that might be included on the state map, says Burnham, would be the route along the river from Rogue River to Grants Pass, the Bear Creek Greenway, and a Jacksonville-to-Ashland trip using a broad choice of lovely back roads, including South Stage or Griffin Creek, Carpenter Hill or Dark Hollow, and Colver Road to Talent Avenue or the greenway.
"These are all pretty safe. It's a neat thing, the county map. It shows you the bike shops, restrooms, parks and places to stop for lunch," says Burnham, "and the state map makes a lot of sense. It's a great idea for touring cyclists to use."
The hard thing, says dedicated bicyclist and Ashland City Councilman David Chapman, is choosing just a couple of routes for the state program when there are so many valley.
"There are also many great fire-trail rides," Chapman says. "If we get people interested in road rides, maybe we can tell them about the off-road rides. It's an interesting way to draw tourists, biking in the day and seeing plays and music at night."
For the state map, Chapman would recommend the strenuous loop of Greensprings and Dead Indian Memorial Road and the Ashland-Jacksonville ride (taking in the greenway) and returning via Central Point and West Medford.
The state map, says Mike Smith of the Siskiyou Velo Club, is "a tremendous thing "¦ people will spend money here. Bike tourism can really draw people and groups to our area for a day or a week. We've got beautiful terrain and countryside. They'll camp, stay in motels, eat at our restaurants. It will fill the need for a state map. We don't have one now, only guidebooks."
Great rides that could go on the state map are detailed on the Siskiyou Velo Club's Web site (www.siskiyouvelo.org), and include a Brownsboro Loop (Medford, out 140 to Eagle Point, coming back west of White City through Central Point), an Applegate ride (Jacksonville, going the back way to Ruch, then south to the dam and back), and the challenging and highly scenic Butte Falls-Prospect ride.
Smith also favors a ride from Jacksonville to Murphy, and the steep (two chevrons) pedal up Old Highway 99 from Emigrant Lake to Callahan's Lodge and the awesome views at Mount Ashland.
For more information on the county bike map, go to www.co.jackson.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=3038.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.