Several times a year I ride north from my home in New York City to Saratoga Springs to visit family. Like any motorcyclist worth her salt, I’ve sussed out some truly glorious roads and turn what is normally a 350-mile roundtrip into a meandering 500-plus miles. Saratoga Springs and the surrounding area make for a great escape from the city, or a worthy destination in their own right. Options for entertainment run the gamut from arts and culture to gambling, outdoor adventures, and gourmet dining — there’s something for every rider in your group.
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The easiest way to get out of the city while still enjoying the ride is to take the Taconic State Parkway north. Long stretches of the roadway are in rough shape, and some of the worst patches are in big sweeping curves. Should you choose to roll on the throttle through those curves, I recommend good suspension and extra Vitamin I (ibuprofren). Or you can test your handling skills by navigating a slalom course between the potholes, like I do on my Triumph.
Allow me a moment to wax rhapsodic about my Street Triple. I used to ride a Bonneville, and while the beautiful Bonnie will always have a place in my heart, as a smaller, lighter rider, a sportier bike suits me better. The Street Triple is the very definition of “flickable,” and while my 2015 doesn’t have a ton of low-end torque, the smooth acceleration through the upper rev range makes getting there a pleasure. There is little that can compare to the distinctive pop-pop-pop of that throaty triple, mine made even rowdier with a Two Brothers slip-on exhaust.
Now, where was I? Right, potholes on the Taconic.
The 104-mile parkway took 40 years to build, from the mid 1920s until its completion in 1963. Parts of the road were designed by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his tenure as head of the Taconic State Park Commission, and we can thank him for insisting those sections follow the natural landscape instead of powering through in a straight line. Built in a simpler time, the Taconic has narrow lanes and minimal shoulders. Posted at 50 and then 55 mph, the nimble Street Triple is perfectly suited to slip through bottlenecks created by drivers white-knuckling along at 40 mph. Though a state parkway, it isn’t boring and has plenty of gentle curves, but do be on the lookout for accidents and state troopers.
The Taconic ends at the junction with Interstate 90, but a better choice is to take back roads up to Saratoga Springs through farm and horse country. The town is home to the Saratoga Race Course, one of the oldest horse tracks in the country, dating to 1863. The annual meet runs from mid-July to Labor Day, but there is harness racing year-round. Saratoga is famous for its mineral springs and bath houses, and there are plenty of excellent restaurants and vibrant nightlife to enjoy. Its extensive, elegant historical district showcases many pristine Victorian mansions.
To head south back to New York City, I start by cutting 30-odd miles west to Amsterdam on State Route 67. There are rolling fields of corn and that upstate staple, Stewart’s Shops, where you can stop for a quick coffee and a warm-up. Even midsummer mornings can be chilly this far north. Amsterdam’s story is like that of many upstate towns, especially those along the Erie Canal. Industry boomed and then died, and now these places are trying to reinvent themselves for the modern era. Some are faring better than others, but almost all of them retain a shadow of their former glory in architecture and design, which makes a trip through this area feel like a trip back in time.
Route 67 runs into Route 30 near the intersection of all the major arteries in the area, including the muscular Mohawk River. A primary tributary of the Hudson, the Mohawk looks serene in the summer but is prone to dangerous floods, particularly in spring when the snow melt comes roaring down. Take Route 30 over the river and over the Thruway, and then civilization quickly gives way to the lovely curves and hills of the Schoharie Valley.
You don’t have to enjoy the smell of cow barns but it won’t hurt if you do, as Route 30 runs through mile after mile of farmland. Every 20 miles or so you’ll slow down from 55 to 45 to 35, one small town after another like links on a chain. If you’re fussy about filling up with 93 octane you may have to wait a minute to find a station, but they do exist.
These little towns are a living history of the ups and downs of upstate New York. Some look a lot worse for the wear while others have managed to thrive, hanging baskets of petunias cheerily welcoming just as you see the 35 mph sign. But all the parts of Route 30 are rife with historical markers and sites, including several covered bridges. Drop a kickstand and look around.
The upper portion of Route 30 often mirrors the curves of Schoharie Creek, making for a meditative, hypnotic ride. The Schoharie turns east just outside of the ambitiously named Grand Gorge, south of which are the headwaters of the East Branch Delaware River. Here the road flirts along with the creek as it gradually builds in volume, both you and the waters being drawn south.
I recommend stopping for a break in Margaretville. Ice cream at the Bun n’ Cone is optional, but however you refresh, you’ll want to feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before you hit the next section of the road. Follow the signs to stay south on Route 30 and enjoy 30 miles of pure happiness as the road undulates along the Pepacton Reservoir. My favorites are the big sweeping horseshoe curves, the kind motorcyclists dream of — the ones that seem to go on forever and challenge even the most experienced riders to hold their line, creating that perfect harmony of rider and road and machine.
The road along the reservoir is in fair to very good condition, some stretches recently repaved. I’ve seen all manner of bikes on this road and can pretty much guarantee that whatever you ride, it’ll feel like it was made for the Pepacton. In addition to those glorious sweepers, there are lovely views of the reservoir and, as the western shore marks the Blue Line boundary of the Catskill Park, the surrounding forests are thickly green in the summer and a riot of color in the fall.
You may well be tempted to make the run down to Downsville and then back up to the top once or twice, and there’s no shame in pursuing that desire. It’s a gorgeous road and deserves to be enjoyed. When you’re about out of gas, or it’s dark, or you were supposed to be home three hours ago, I recommend heading east on Route 206, another pretty little road that pops you over a hill and down into the town of Roscoe, which has staked its claim as Trout Town, USA. There are several breweries and distilleries in the area, which makes a compelling case for booking a room and making Roscoe your home for the night.
Roscoe has several small-town attractions, including a railway museum and a bridge handy for watching fly fishers ply their trade. If I’ve hit Roscoe by 1 p.m. or so I usually take the long way home — Route 30 down to Deposit and Route 97 along the Delaware River to Port Jervis. If you’ve spent your day riding Pepacton over and over again, you can pick up Route 17 and deadhead it about 80 miles back to the city.
The next time you ride out to Pepacton, add Route 10 along the Cannonsville Reservoir to your itinerary. There’s little in the world like the feeling of taking one of those big sweepers, the road unspooling ahead and the bike humming beneath, your hand on the throttle and your eyes up toward the exit, chasing that white line rolling away before you, the exhausting thrill of knowing you have so many more excellent miles to go.
Ahhh. Good writing and great riding. I do miss my home.
Indeed lovely country. Took in plenty of concerts at SPAC in the early 80’s, some horse racing and trips up to Lake George.