If you are looking to experience all types of America’s riding in one state, Utah is your destination. We started at Utah Lake State Park, which is centrally located three hours from the barren red desert of Moab and an hour from the green forest-covered mountains of the Nebo and Alpine Loops. In between the two extreme environments lie classic desert plains, which lead to the fascinating flats of Bonneville. Just north is the city of Salt Lake. If you are traveling from outside of the States and want to see the entire American backdrop in one week, nothing compares to the diversity of Utah.
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One of the most incredible side effects of the diverse scenery is the accompanying diversity in road layout. In previous states with static terrain, the layout was consistent, which means the roads were uniform throughout the state. On the East Coast mountain passes, the roads swept around the mountains to allow the 18-wheelers a route as a shortcut on their journey. In the Ozarks the roads purposefully connected small towns through the mountains, and in New Mexico the Gila Cliff Dwellings were an open pass with consistent sweepers through dynamite-blasted mountains to connect isolated towns and allow access to the mines.
Utah presented us all of these environments in one week. The Nebo Pass was reminiscent of the Colorado and West Virginia mountains with wide lanes up and down the mountain and incredible views at just under 10,000 feet of elevation. The curves were mostly predictable with only a few butt-puckering exceptions that tested the resilience of our stock brakes.
Moab was reminiscent of the Gila Cliff Dwellings; dry and deserted with grand backdrops of massive rock shaped by thousands of years of metamorphosis. The roads twisted with short switchbacks between the rocks and the river and then emptied out into huge sweeping turns that took you from one side of the canyon to the other. Most of the roads were well traveled and engineered to accommodate with centerlines, shoulders and corner speed signs. However, one of the best roads in the state had none of the above.
After riding the civilized roads of the Moab Desert and the Nebo Pass we came across one of the most fun road layouts of the entire trip. In the Uinta National Forest just outside of Salt Lake City, lies HWY 92, better known as the Alpine Loop. This route has one of the most tightly wound, most exhilarating climbs of our entire trip. So tight that we almost wanted to trade in our liter bikes for some Ninja 300s to flick around the slow curves on this mini-version of the Tail of the Dragon.
As the road is barely wide enough for a car, the lead rider has to be an exceptional spotter. Not only is there the usual gravel and wildlife patrol but sharing a lane with oncoming traffic regulated turn-in speed on the switchbacks. No suggested speed signs through the turns, no centerlines, or shoulders made this path feel like a private go-kart track through the mountains. With every turn under 25mph the consequences were minimal enough to push and still have a great time.
The Alpine Loop will test the slow speed capabilities of any rider — whether it’s the clutch control to navigate a large cruiser or the body position to tip in a sportbike. In the 20-mile stretch of the route there were only three or four straightaways that lasted more than a few seconds and the lack of intersections and minimal consequences delivered more smiles than any other road in Utah. At the top of the mountain were great tourist destinations including the Timpanogos Caves and Robert Redford’s, Sundance.
Another major contributor to the fun factor of the Alpine Loop is the consistently smooth biker friendly blacktop. In Moab, the roads were covered with tar snakes that had our bikes sliding so much we opted to cook up some fresh chicken strips while checking the scenery instead of tearing it up per usual. The Nebo Pass, among other routes in the mountains, had tire-eating pavement that looked like someone glued tons of small rocks to the ground as opposed to finely steamrolled gravel. It looked like a coarse grit sandpaper that could rash up a rider post low side even with our fancy body armor. With our track record, we opted to take it slow.
If Colorado is the Disney World of motorcycle riding, then Utah is Six Flags. Many more attractions with much less traffic allow for a diverse experience in a smaller space. The towns are clean and safe, the parks are cheap for camping, and the roads give you an incredible taste of the American riding landscape that will keep riders coming back.