The My Favorite Route series has been a look back at the memorable and iconic routes of Cycle Oregon events but with the dawn of an eagerly anticipated New Year we’d like to offer a look at what’s hopefully to come. To clip in and roll off into 2021 let’s look ahead to someday in the future at Day 5 of the “Ride the Painted Hills” Classic. It’s a layover day with three ride options, community projects and leisure time in Mitchell, or just a quick ramble from camp to take in all that geologic color. On a cold, quiet day in between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and following strict social distancing protocols, we hopped aboard a gravel e-bike to spend the day chasing the winter color of the Painted Hills.
To add a further twist, we’re not going to look at an entire day’s route but rather a segment shared among the routes and certainly a location everyone will flock to, Burnt Ranch Road. Just under a two-mile pedal from camp, Burnt Ranch Road starts as smooth, fresh pavement with an undulating but fast-riding profile. At The Painted Hills Unit intersection with Bear Creek Road the journey on Burnt Ranch Road beyond is gravel.
Now, “gravel” in contemporary cycling culture can mean a myriad of different conditions and here you can expect a well-maintained, mostly compacted dirt surface. Sections of loose gravel are common and washboard braking bumps crop up preceding curves and descents as one might imagine. Unlike many rural gravel roads, though, Burnt Ranch Road is very wide and flat across the grade, offering multiple lines, and has good line of sight. It’s important to have good equipment here, 32c tires or larger in our opinion, and to have some experience riding off pavement. If gravel is new for you, the route to the Painted Hills Overlook and nearby viewpoints will be a great way to experience leaving the pavement.
The Painted Hills by bike is a truly exceptional experience and not just from how it stirs the soul. There’s that extra special something from the look on people’s faces at the Overlook viewpoint as you reply with a simple “Yes” to their seemingly crazy question of “Did you really ride here on a bike?”. Cycle Oregonians know that look, it’s just how we roll, right? Best way to see Oregon, no doubt.