story and photography by Eric Pincus[Ohio Motorcycle Touring: The Ride to Prospect was originally published as a Favorite Ride in the October 2008 issue of Rider magazine]
As I put on my helmet my two-year-old daughter, Vanya, admonishes me “Ride safe, Daddy!” A short time later I embark on one of my favorite rides, a trip to the small town of Prospect and back, following the Scioto and Olentangy rivers. The ride to Prospect certainly is not the most scenic or challenging (read: twisty) route at my disposal, but it is one of my favorites because it allows me to slip away from my responsibilities as husband and father for a couple of hours while treating me to tranquil river views and small back roads that seem far removed from the metropolis of Columbus, Ohio, that I call home.
Prospect is a ride for all seasons because the experience varies as the climate changes throughout the year. On rare mild winter days the denuded trees allow unfettered views of luxury homes lining the hills above the rivers, and the turgid brown waters below. In spring, blossoms from the various flora lining the road paint the landscape in a multitude of colors, and one’s sense of smell is alternately treated to the sweet scent of flowers in bloom and the fecund smell of earth being prepared for planting. In summer, the cool river waters and canopy created by the trees lining the road provide brief respites from the often oppressive central Ohio heat.
Fall is my favorite season to travel the route. In Columbus, college football is religion and the Ohio State Buckeyes team is the deity worshiped by the true believers. Saturdays when the Buckeyes play, most of the denizens of central Ohio are either attending the game or parked in front of their TVs watching it. This leaves the roads relatively free of traffic which, combined with nature’s display of color, makes fall Saturdays the most relaxing and scenic time to partake of the journey.
To get to the good stuff sooner and avoid any city congestion I hop on Interstate 670 to get to the west of downtown Columbus. I exit at U.S. 33 and turn north. Route 33 is aptly named Riverside Drive for this stretch as the Scioto River is often in sight on the left as you head north. Though scenic, this stretch is heavily traveled so I keep one eye on the cagers as I sightsee. When Route 33 turns left I continue north on Riverside Drive. Once past the world-renowned Columbus Zoo, the traffic thins and a series of curves marked 25 mph allow me to get my BMW R1150GS heeled over. Unfortunately, encroaching development has already straightened out one of the curves and I am sure that the newly created subdivisions lining the road will eventually dump unwanted traffic onto this stretch.
Continuing north, Riverside Drive offers just enough fast sweepers and elevation changes to make it interesting. The character of the road changes dramatically north of U.S. 42 where the road (now named Klondike) narrows to a country two-lane with no shoulders. It twists and falls until you look over to your left and see that you are nearly at river level, especially if you’re there following a heavy rain.
I stay as close to the river on the east side as possible as I track north. Warren Road, Warrensburg Road and Hodges Road comprise this part of the route. If you cross over the Scioto, you’ve gone the wrong way. Eventually I reach River Road, which is so narrow that I’m not sure two cars could pass without one of them having to leave the pavement. I’m glad I’m riding a GS here, as barely utilized River Road is not well maintained. It seems that it’s autumn before repairs are made to fix the damage done the prior winter. Potholes and broken pavement abound. Despite the road’s poor condition, I love this part of the ride because the farm fields are just a few feet to my right while the river is often just a few yards to my left.
Eventually River Road dead-ends at State Route 203 in Prospect. I usually continue north on 203 into the heart of town. A left at the light at Water Street quickly has me crossing over to the west side of the Scioto. Another left on Route 257 has me heading south.
Route 257 is the fast way back home if I’m trying to make time, but most days I cross back over the Scioto at Hoskins or Radnor roads and pick up River Road going south. There, I retrace my steps until I hit U.S. 42. I turn left at 42 and take the sharp right a mile down at the first light onto Section Line Road, then the near immediate left onto Bunty Station Road.
Heading east on ruler-straight Bunty Station rewards you when it dead-ends into Olentangy River Road, a state-designated Scenic Byway and the title is justifiably deserved on this northern stretch. Heading south the rider is rewarded with sweeping curves complete with elevation changes and intermittent views of the Olentangy River as it flows south to meet up with the Scioto in Columbus.
Unfortunately, as you travel south the fact that Olentangy River Road runs through one of the fastest growing areas in the state becomes readily apparent. By the time the road reaches State Route 750 the fun is usually over as this two-lane road is overwhelmed by slow-moving cagers, even on a fall football Saturday.
Farther along, I stay straight where Olentangy River Road turns and becomes State Route 315, a limited-access expressway. While I normally try to avoid expressways, I don’t mind 315. I reach the so-called “Hospital Curve,” and a glance right gives me a view of Riverside Hospital where my daughter was born. I smile in my helmet as I think of the hero’s welcome I will receive from Vanya upon my return.