Las Vegas may be a gambler’s paradise to tourists, but the outskirts of Sin City can also serve up some winning rides for motorcyclists. A mere dice throw from the urban glitz of the Strip lie the crimson hues of Red Rock, the snow-covered peaks of Mt. Charleston, and the vibrancy of the Valley of Fire. Rolling into Sin city on a Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Champion conversion, I aim for the Golden Nugget in Downtown Las Vegas as ground zero for my invasion. Then I don my Viking helmet and hit Fremont Street. A Disneyland for derelicts, Fremont is replete with hookers, hucksters and comic book dress up characters…and I feel right at home here.
Just a mile away is Eagle Rider, Las Vegas. They literally wrote the book on Harley rentals, but how about trike rentals? I found out that they currently have at least three trikes for rent, and the rep told me they’re always in demand, with 30 bikes rolling out per day in winter to 70 a day in high season from March to November. HOG members can rent from $145 daily, and active military from $135. Eagle Rider also offers travel options at every level, with maps of local routes, to GPS tours, to full-on escorted rides. I picked up my maps here and headed out for the first day’s ride.
My first ride was to Red Rock, since it's only 20 miles from Las Vegas. There is a $3.00 fee for motorcycles (and Trikes) and $7.00 per vehicle. A stunning 13-mile one way loop allows visitors to soak up the ocher of the red rock, and with nine designated parking areas, 100 miles of hiking and restroom facilities, one could easily spend the day here. I was so focused on getting photos, I missed just experiencing the natural flow so I rode the loop again. They don’t mind; the park attendant told me it happens all the time. The fee is $3 for motorcycles (and trikes) and $7 per four-wheel vehicle.
Mt. Charleston Ski Resort
I then headed to Mt. Charleston by hopping on the 95 Veterans Memorial Hwy, to the 157 (Kyle Canyon Rd), and up to the resort. It may be only 47 miles from Red Rock, but yes, it's a full blown ski resort, with mountains 11,916 feet in altitude. This is another amazing ride, but instead of red rocks, I am now rolling by white snow. With four lifts, the resort generally opens November through April, depending on conditions. Just don’t get caught here at night on a bike; it can easily get down into the 20s. But it's worth it - -the views are endless, and the roads are long sweeping turns interrupted by tight twisties.
A piping hot bowl of French Onion soup at the Mt. Charleston Lodge was just what the doctor ordered to warm my freezing fingertips. You can rent cabins here during the winter season; they come complete with fireplaces, Jacuzzis and private porches with spectacular views. The charming Resort on Mt. Charleston was built in the early 1980s, and underwent a multi-million dollar renovation and upgrade in 2005. The new guest room and suite accommodations feature views of the surrounding Spring Mountains.
I found a place to do some doughnuts in the snow, then hit the 95 back to Vegas. If you tackle both Red Rock and Mt Charleston, be prepared for a solid 8-hour day riding, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen (or winter wear and a hot thermos).
Valley of Fire State Park
The next day, I headed east to The Valley of Fire State Park. Dedicated in 1935, it is Nevada's oldest state park. About a 45-minute ride from Vegas, the long stretch of road to the entrance is a triker’s dream; the untraveled two-laner allows you to see for miles. Its long curves allow for some really aggressive riding. I’m not sure what the speed limit is but I don’t think anyone really cares. Valley of Fire gets its name from the spectacular red, orange and yellow sandstone formations that are in abundance here.
The multi-shaded red and golden yellow sandstone cliffs and rocks in the Valley of Fire are part of the Navajo Sandstone Formation that is found throughout southern Nevada. Cars and motorcycles get dinged ten bucks at the entrance (8 bucks if you say you’re a LV resident; hope they don’t look at your plates). The main paved road snakes past giant sandstone beehives and sculpted formations like the Seven Sisters. The Visitor’s Center near the middle of the park houses interesting displays on the area’s history. This includes inhabitation by the Anasazi, who were farmers from the nearby fertile Moapa Valley. Evidence of the ancient culture remains inscribed on the back of Atlatl Rock, a popular attraction at the park. A 40-foot stairwell leads to the well-preserved petroglyphs. The symbols and stories tell a tale long undeciphered, but some of the symbols are easy to recognize.
Coming out of the East Entrance to the park, we turn left on North Shore Drive for the short ride to Overton to check out the Lost City, which houses an extensive collection of virgin Anasazi artifacts. Built on an actual Anasazi pueblo, the museum has a reconstruction of its original architecture. There is a $5.00 museum fee but you can roam the pueblo grounds at no charge.
We stopped for lunch at Sugars and a photo op at the Red Rooster Saloon in Overton, which features a painting on the side of a big red rooster riding a bike through the desert. Sugars Home Plate is a very rider-friendly place that's famous for their home baked pies and extensive menu.
The Champion Harley-Davidson Ultra Electra Glide Trike i'm riding has been bulletproof so far. Champion offers both solid and independent axle designs, and the one i'm on has the solid version, which runs about $1000 less overall. This Trike design utilizes a rigid “Zero-Flex” suspension system, for super stability. Champion has also developed an EZ Steer system, which increases the stock rake by 5 degrees, significantly reducing the trail (which usually means better handling for trikes). My trike had the popular reverse gear option available for 6 speed and 5 speed EVO engines; the mechanical Reverse is powered by the engine rather than the starter motor, as on most other reverse gear trikes. It’s fantastic; you could back out of a black hole with Champion’s reverse gear. Rear automotive-style disk brakes come standard on Champion trikes, and they're all fully CARB approved (the only full-line CARB approved manufacturer in California).
The 2011 H-D Touring line comes standard with a TC 103 power plant, but you could always get a Stage 1 Screamin Eagle upgrade for your Harley trike. All these factors directly impact the second most important issue -- gas mileage. I travelled over 1800 miles in six days and carefully documented fuel consumption. I can tell you that the advertised “6-gallon” gas tank holds more than six gallons because I personally put 6.54 in at 143.2 miles. That equates to 21.896 mpg, but I'd chalk that up to headwinds, high altitudes and mountain grades had me running wide open, shoving gas into the throttle bodies. On my best day I was getting 160 miles out of a tank, with an overall average of 25 mpg at 150 miles per tank.
Back at the Golden Nugget, I pondered all the amazing motorcycling Las Vegas has to offer: from Hoover Dam to Death Valley, Red Rock, Mt Charleston and The Valley of Fire. Vegas has so much to offer riders, from serious mileage spots to short relaxing day trips. As I chugged a $7 bottle of water in the hotel room and headed to the bar for a $12 martini, I realized that spending a fantastic day with your lady riding through the gorgeous Nevada landscape on a rented bike or Trike is a cheap date. Just be sure and plan your trip around the weather; hot days in January become 32 degree nights and cool mornings in June become 118 degree days, so be prepared.