Florida's Open Roads Beckon Motorcyclists

Ocean views, sugar-cane fields, wildlife and year-round access make for the ideal motorcycle experience.

For motorcycle enthusiasts, Florida breaks the rules.

Sunshine State roads aren't known for death-defying twists and turns, and we prefer to keep things at sea level.

Yet there's a reason Motoryclist magazine ranked the zip from the Everglades to the Keys as one of the 10 best in the country: From beautiful ocean views to sugar cane fields and alligators, Florida boasts spectacular scenery best seen from the seat of a cruiser.

"People like Florida, because it's year-round riding," said Bill Belei, founder and editor of MotorcycleRoads.com, a site that ranks and reviews open roads around the country. "Bikers are like Canadian geese: They head south. Certainly in the winter, people love to head south and ride through the winter."

Florida's roads also are in good condition and usually offer riders plenty of places to stop and relax. There are enough side roads to avoid the dreaded interstate, and a number of hidden gems are tucked in state parks.

Whether you're the rider who wants a smooth road to take you from lunch spot to tavern – or looking to avoid humanity all together – Florida has the right ride and plenty of shoreline.

"From our perspective, you ride in Florida primarily for the scenery," said Frank Strouse, who runs motorcycleroads.us, another road-listing site. "Riders live to avoid the interstate, which we kindly refer to as 'super slab.' It's just a boring ride.

"The thing about riding a motorcycle that you don't get riding in a car is, you're out in the open. You get
all the smells and all the sounds you don't get in the car. That adds to the beauty, particularly when there is plenty of ocean."

Motorcycleroads.us lists 135 motorcycle roads statewide, from short rides just a few miles long to the 125-plus mile journey through the Overseas Highway to Key West. His site ranks the Overseas Highway route to Key West as No. 1 in the state. The two-lane highway has stunning hues of water on both sides for much of the ride.

"You feel like a seagull," said Bill Andrews, an avid motorcycle enthusiast and former photographer for the American Motorcyclist Association. "It's just a gorgeous ride. There's emerald water and blue skies, plus you can island-hop. You stop at small town fishing shacks along the way and find something new every time. I never tire of it."

To avoid the highway doldrums on the way to the Keys, take Card Sound Road and stop at Alabama Jack's for lunch. You won't see much water in Key Largo, but the joy begins in Indian Key Fill and continues for miles. Head south and don't stop till you hit the water.

Andrews also suggests the ride from Naples along Tamiami Trail. Look out for gators and turtles along the way.

He also likes A1A heading south from St. Augustine to Ormond Beach, an oceanfront ride that's largely condo-free along the shore.

"What this road lacks in 'back road' appeal and twists and curves, it makes up for in ocean scenery taking you past many great Florida beaches," said Erik Barthel of OpenRoadJourney.com. "Ride it north through Guana River (Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve) to get the best that this road has to offer. This is by far one of the favorite roads of our members."

Rich Proia, owner of American V Twin gear shop in Orlando, likes Route 27 to Miami through Central Florida.

"It's nice riding – sugar cane fields and lots of lakes," Proia said. "There's nobody out there except you and the alligators."

Here are other recommendations from the experts:

The Ozello Trail Ride: "A short but sweet nine-mile motorcycle road on the Gulf Coast of central Florida, and riders love it for the curves," Belei said. The trail, also known as County Road 494, snakes west from U.S. 19 and bends north. Mullet jump in the salt marshes; deer and turkey thrive in the oak hammocks. The dozens of curves makes this a biker favorite, but look out for the 35 mph speed limit.

Route 98 from Pensacola to Crystal River: This nearly 400-mile ride offers sweeping vistas of the Gulf of Mexico. Known as the "Forgotten Coast," the Apalachicola Bay is one of the highlights. Some of the developed areas have stop signs, so hit those areas at lunchtime – when you're looking to slow down for a bite to eat.

The Sugarloaf Mountain Ride (Belei's site describes this as a favorite among central Florida Motorcyclists): "With its hilly inclines and tight corners, Sugarloaf Mountain offers a dramatic change of landscape from the normally flat terrain of Florida." He says the scenery becomes more wooded and sparsely populated at the northern side of Lake Apopka, but "the real ride begins on Old Country Road 561, which is situated on the western side of the lake. This road and Old Country Road 455 make a nice loop around Sugarloaf Mountain, complete with winding curves and rather steep inclines for Florida. Atop the mountain you can look to the east and see Lake Apopka, as well as the Orlando skyline on the distant horizon."

Scenic Route 13 near Jacksonville: This 38-mile ride goes along the St. Johns River from Fruit Cove to Spuds.

Route 441: Bikers recommend Holopaw to Belle Glade, a 112-mile ride past Lake Okeechobee. This makes a great scenic alternative to the Florida Turnpike.

The Green Swamp Tour: Routes 33 and 50 northeast of Tampa circle the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, an official Florida protected area.

County Route 42, Summerfield to De Land
: This ride skirts the Ocala National Forest.

North of Land O' Lakes, using 41 as a base point: The final road is really a couple of roads pieced together for a nice day ride. Great scenery, back roads appeal and some nice curves to lean the bike through a bit."

Next up is Lake Lindsey Road off US 41 to S. Istachatte Rd and County Rd 39, which Barthel describes as "another great little back road offering good scenery and that off-the-beaten-path feel."

The first exit to take is Ehren Cut-off – a good old fashioned back road with some nice sweeping curves to lean that bike through a bit. "Expect to see a lot of horses and cows," he says.

"Why are these the best? There are three things that make any road better than average for a motorcyclists: scenery, twisties, and back roads appeal," he added. "The first two are pretty obvious, the third is the reason you ride – to get away from it all and escape to something that's not cookie cutter or McDonalds like. You can't find that on a highway.

"If you find a road that hits all three, you've got nirvana."

Frances Robles is a South Florida journalist who has written about Miami and Latin America since 1993. She lives in Coral Gables.

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