A soft whir, a click, and the deep throaty trademarked roar of a Harley-Davidson breaks the still high-mountain morning silence.
The roars of answering Harleys are interspersed with occasional soft, but no less powerful, growls as the Buells, Gold Wings, BMWs, Kawasakis and others fire up for the ride. The brotherhood of bandanaed denim- and leather-clad riders and helmeted jumpsuited riders knows no brand or gender boundaries. Motorcycles seal the bond.
The anticipation of challenging the curving scenic mountain roads threaded between sheer rock faces, forests and tumbling streams is all it takes to bring motorcyclists together for a rally to carry toys for needy children to the collection center, parade with buses carrying cancer-stricken children to Camp Rainbow Gold or just to enjoy the company of riding brothers and sisters for a poker run through the many tiny towns that dot the Idaho map.
The small cities of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue are home to a healthy population of residents who own road bikes, despite the relatively short riding season high-altitude mountain living affords. The riding in this area is pollution and traffic-jam free; nothing short of spectacular.
It is not unusual to see well over a hundred motorcycles, ranging from stripped-down machines to custom show bikes worth many thousands of dollars, lining blocks of Haileyís Main Street on both sides and continuing down the center divide during charity events or rallies that often culminate at the Hailey Hotel with a barbeque.
Resort area residents who can afford to ride anywhere in the world prefer to ride here. Underneath the rough, tough looks of the gathered bikers are local professionals, business owners and hard working trades people caught by the spell of open roads and freedom of choice to partake of the sights in their helmets-optional state.
The popularity of motorcycling Idahoís paved roads is evident in the numbers. Blaine County, which includes the Sun Valley resort area, topped its big-city neighbor of Twin Falls, home to the majority of motorcycle dealers for this area, with five more new motorcycle endorsements issued for driverís licenses in 2002, the most recent data available, according to Peggy Koomler of the Idaho Transportation Department. Idahoís 2002 motorcycle registrations, only required for those driven on city, county or state roadways, of 41,194 nearly equaled the stateís registrations of boat trailers (24,994) and motorhomes (19,293) combined.
Thatís not to say residents are rushing out to purchase shiny new bikes. Restoration of classics is a growing investment option and a growing business. In 2000, 11 classic motorcycles were registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles in Idaho. In 2002, the number registered rose to 37.
Joe McDonald, who heads up sales for Snake Harley-Davidson in Twin Falls, estimates his firmís sales at more than 500 Harleys to the surrounding area in the past five years. Snake is one of four major HD dealers in southern Idaho. That doesnít begin to take into account the many other brands of road-style motorcycles available.
Numbers aside, motorcycle touring is just about the most exhilarating and economical way to travel through Idaho.
Idahoís central mountains, cool clean air, endless vistas, jagged peaks and quick-flowing rivers are not-to-be-missed itinerary for those who prefer to travel via motorized two-wheeled transportation. Hundreds of bikers from around the world, heading for the famous 300,000 rider strong Sturgis rally or other gatherings of motorcycle enthusiasts, include the scenic byways of Idaho in their plansóeven when itís a bit out of the way.
Whether spending a day or a week in the Sun Valley area on the way to elsewhere, riders enjoy spectacular motorcycle day trips that loop from the Sun Valley/Ketchum resortís core like leaves of a four-leafed clover.
Southern routes are best in late spring and early summer when the northern mountains are apt to be a bit chilly and the weather still unpredictable. Two good day rides include the Ketchum, Shoshone, Dietrich, Richfield, Carey, Picabo, Gannett, Bellevue, Ketchum loop or the Ketchum, Shoshone, Gooding, Fairfield, Ketchum loop.
These approximately three- to four-hour long southern loops travel through small rural Idaho towns in the Camas Prairie. Impressive rock formations line the roadway near the Little City of Rocks off Highway 46, and spectacular wildflower blooms in early summer mark colorful vistas from the turnout overlooking the Centennial Marsh and the city of Fairfield on the Gooding loop. The loop follows Highways 75, 26, 46, 20 and back to Highway 75.
Rolling hills and wide-open spaces through vast agricultural zones of the Dietrich Loop make for easy riding through friendly towns off the main roads. Follow the signs from town to town and please respect the speed limits through these communities. In Shoshone, be sure to come to a complete stop with both feet on the ground to avoid ticketing by one overzealous officer.
The northern loops offer exhilarating curves through spectacular scenery. It is wise to carry warm jackets and possibly rain gear when traveling through mountain passes despite the 80-degree, sun-filled weather dominating the valley floors. Always carry and drink plenty of water to counter the effects of sensitivity to high altitude.
Warm jackets at the ready for the cooler temperatures over 8,701-foot high Galena Pass, Stanley, about 60 miles north of Ketchum on State Highway 75, serves as the fork in the road for two northern loops.
The mountain lakes of Alturas, Pettit and Redfish offer diversions along the way but may best be saved for a half-day trip coupled with stops at Smiley Creek Lodge, Beaver Creek Lodge or Redfish Lodge. The northern loops are six to seven hours long and pass through many places riders will want to explore.
Historic Stanley, nestled in a valley surrounded by jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains, is the gateway to many recreational pursuits, including impressive whitewater rafting, hiking, biking and off-roading. Just past the rest area at the south end of town, a left turn onto Highway 21 signals the beginning of the Lowman Loop, which winds its way through the mountains past Grandjean along portions of the South Fork of the Payette River to Lowman, and down the twisting roadway to Idaho City. A short run south on Interstate 84 leads to Highway 20 to Mountain Home and Fairfield, and back to Ketchum on Highway 75.
This trip is a long one, but well worth the time it takes to travel through the boulder-strewn forestlands of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Boise National Forest. Some riders grab a room for the night in Idaho City, Boise or Mountain Home, about half way through the loop, but the trip can be completed in a day with stops for lunch and exploring by hearty riders.
The Arco Loop, about half as long as the Lowman ride, can take about as long as the Lowman because so many diversions lure riders to park and partake along the way. Stanley, which has many music and craft events throughout the summer, is again the gateway. Stay on State Highway 75 from Ketchum through the city of Stanley, continuing north along the Salmon River to Challis.
Sunbeam, a tiny recreation area along the loop, offers hot springs (watch for steam rising from the river at a pullout to locate the site), the old dam site where kayakers perform slick technical feats to navigate, a restaurant, cabins and the old Yankee Fork Mine.
The small town of Clayton, a friendly mining town farther up the road, has events scheduled throughout the summer. Following the Salmon River, the next stop is Challis, where gas and restaurants are more plentiful. After Challis, the loop winds along Highway 93 through amazing rock formations and the river in wide sweeping turns that motorcycles can cover at a good clip all the way to the agricultural lands of Mackay, site of the annual Fourth of July Motorcycle Rodeo. Through the farming communities, the loop leads to Arco, where the nationís first nuclear power generation plant still stands. Then itís Highway 26 to the volcanic area of the Great Rift and Craters of the Moon National Monument toward the city of Carey, Highway 20 to Picabo, the Gannett turnoff to Bellevue and back to Ketchum on Highway 75.
Check a recent Idaho map, note local weather reports, carry water and ride safely. Idaho offers the rides of a lifetime. ē