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Under the Tucson Sun

The past three weeks I ditched the gloomy bipolar weather in Indy for some sunshine and mountains in Tucson.

Tucson is famous in the cycling world for winter training. It sits around 2,200 ft. of elevation but has mountains, most famous is Mt. Lemmon, that go up to 8,000+ ft. of elevation. Combined with the warm weather, multiple other climbs, flat roads, 60+ miles of bike path, and hundreds of other cyclists Tucson, is one of the best winter training spots in the world.

View of Mt. Lemmon from the bike path at sunset

This was my first time in Tucson so prior to heading west I didn’t really know what to expect. When traveling to new places I use the Strava route builder to find the best roads to ride and 90% of the time it works pretty well. The key is to turn on global heat maps so you can see the most popular roads to ride on and typically those are the good roads to ride on. Sometimes, you will find a road that shows it is not ridden on a lot and it turns out to be a great road. However, that is rare so don’t go make a route with all the least popular roads. People don’t ride on those roads for a reason.

You have to ride Mount Lemmon if you’re in Tucson. It is an iconic climb and it’s long. Like really long. It’s 25 miles up to Summerhaven, a town at the top of the mountain, where the Cookie Cabin is. There is about 6,400 ft. of elevation gain in the climb. In that time you will experience a vast temperature change and see many different types of terrain. This time of the year there is typically snow at the top, which is pretty cool to see, especially when you are in the desert. The descent is a lot of fun and can pretty much do it without touching your brakes. It’s 30 minutes of pure speed. Make sure to bring extra layers of clothing so you can stay warm on your way down. One trick I do to keep my extra layers dry on my way up to the top is to put them in a Ziploc bag. Make sure to squeeze all the air out of the bag so it’s nice and compact. I like to tuck it under my whole jersey in the back that way I can free up more pocket space for snacks.

Just past Windy Vista Point on Mt. Lemmon

One of the many great views from Mt. Lemmon

A few other good climbs you should check out are “A mountain” and “Gates Pass”. These are both much shorter climbs. A mountain is about 6 minutes long and is just west of downtown. It has the big “A” on it. You can’t miss it. Gates Pass is about 10 minutes long and has a nice lookout over Saguaro National Park. This climb is also just west of town and you can add this loop into many rides to add some extra distance and climbing.

Top of A mountain at Sunset

Climbing the Backside of Gates Pass

The bike path, also known as “The Loop”, goes all the way around the perimeter of Tucson. It is perfect for recovery rides or if you just want a break from climbing. It is the safest and sometimes quickest way to get around town however you may have to ride a few extra miles to reach the path from wherever you’re staying.

It was pretty cool to see so many cyclists in town getting their training in. It is normal to see multiple pro cyclists each day. Many of them will be on Mt. Lemmon doing intervals or at the massive Saturday morning group ride called “The Shootout”.

The Shootout ride starts every Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. at the Starbucks on the corner of Euclid and University. There are multiple groups that roll out so no matter your fitness level there should be a group for you. The ride is about 70 miles so pack food accordingly. There is usually a gas station stop as well so if you need some extra snacks or hydration you can get those there.

Thanks to my family for allowing me to ride so much during our vacation time. Thanks to my better half, Emma, and her mother, Kris, for training with me, helping cook, and making it an overall fun experience. Finally, I want to give a huge thanks to Kyle Trudeau for lending me a wheel when mine decided to have some attitude.

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