Anyone who has ridden a motorcycle will tell you that the ritual of wrapping your legs around a motor churning out raw horsepower with the wind in your hair and the sun on your back is one of the most freeing experiences known to man. Without windows and a roof riders are free to soak in the surrounding landscape from plush, hilly vistas to vast rolling plains. Illinois comprises a playground of smooth cement roads that twist and bend through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
With quiet roads winding through towering pines, straight-shots through the Illinois countryside, and snaking the scenic Rock River, northwest Illinois was made for bikes and is quickly becoming a rider’s paradise, friendly to both Harley fans and the European aficionado.
“You drive cars and you drive trucks; you drive cattle and you drive hogs, you don’t drive a motorcycle…you ride a motorcycle."
Pat Lendman, Dixon, Illinois.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines; we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
Nine Curves … Lowell Park Road
Lowell Park Road winds through rolling green pastures, replete with cattle lowing in the fields, and farmers cultivating on the horizon. The route leads to the small town of Mt. Morris, where The Brickyard ( http://www.brickyardtavern.net ) is open for business. The road bends from left to right, offering tight curves and twists with ease and tranquility comprising the perfect 7-mile ride on open road. Become one with the landscape of Northwest Illinois, and let this road guide you to the various other great routes this region has to offer.
In Search of a Great Ride…Illinois Rt. 2
Illinois Route 2 between Dixon and Rockford is one of the best routes in the state. The road follows the Rock River through heavily wooded areas, rock wall cliffs, and scenic farmland. The #2 was made a Blue Star Memorial Highway on November 4, 1970, as a tribute to the armed forces.
The 42-mile stretch of road goes through quaint country towns, each appealing in their own distinctive way. Grand Detour is home historic John Deere Historic Site, www.deere.com/en_US/attractions/historicsite/index.html .
As the road navigates through Castle Rock State Park, about 3 miles south of Oregon, you will wind through some of Northwest Illinois’ greatest bluff views. The park, located along the west bank of the Rock River in Ogle County, is a sparkling representative of the Rock River hills area with rock formations, ravines, and unique northern plant associations. A sandstone bluff, adjacent to the river serves as the park’s namesake. It offers a nice place to stop and stretch your legs or take a quick hike up to the top of the bluffs for a spectacular view of the Rock River Valley.
Oregon, Illinois, www.oregonil.com, is a charming river town where fishing and antique-hunting are among the local residents’ favorite activities. The Fifth Alarm Firehouse Pub, www.fifthalarm.com, in Byron, IL is a one-of-a-kind tavern offering a great menu and a peek into the town’s history. It was built in 1922 as Byron’s first firehouse and City Hall. The original brick walls, wood floors, and trim make this a unique place to grab a bite and sample a pint before hitting the road.
Rockford is home to a number of motorcycle shops, a variety of restaurants and endless shopping opportunities. Kegel Motorcycles, www.kegelh-d.net, is one of the oldest Harley-Davidson dealers in the country. Vintage Spokes is a museum dedicated to old iron. Definitely worth a look from the cycle history buff, located at 4560 Shepherd Trail, the museum is open Saturday’s from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Rt. 64: Mt. Morris to Savanna
Route 64 (also known to Chicagoans as North Ave.) is another country road that has much to offer, including long stretches of straight highway, lending itself to the biker who really wants to open her up.
Fact: Carroll County has only 1 stoplight.
Heading west from Mt. Morris, it leads to the historic town of Mt. Carroll. If you’re looking for a scare, Raven’s Grin, www.hauntedravensgrin.com, is always open for business. Probably the most incredible haunted house in America, it’s at least worth a look around outside at the bizarre metal artwork done by owner, Jim Warfield. There are also a variety of shops and eateries downtown, not to mention challenging streets, some even paved with original cobblestone.
From the rolling hills of Mt. Carroll, 64 sweeps into the town of Savanna, Illinois.
“It’s excellent,” said Mike O’Malley of Sterling. “One of my favorites is going through to Savanna. Riding along the Mississippi is fantastic.”
O’Malley is the proud owner of a Harley Fat Boy and says that riding a bike around the area is a great way to capture a little bit of Americana, “What we have here is some of the best motorcycle riding available.”
Savanna is located along the Mississippi River and caters to every biker’s whim; from food to tattoos, this town has it all. Poopy’s, www.poopys.com, has been called Illinois Biggest Biker Destination. The area gains in popularity among Illinois bikers everyday.
Every Friday is Bike Night, showcasing all of what Poopy’s has to offer. There is live music from 6 to 10 p.m., free tent camping on-site, and an outdoor bar and grill. Inside the doors is a shop where you can gear up with all things Harley-Davidson, including T-shirts, a huge selection of leather and motorcycle accessories--including parts. There is also a staff of talented tattoo artists busily turning out some of the best ink in Illinois.
Take a Load Off…Accommodations
If camping is your thing, check out Lowden State Park and White Pines Park; www.oregonil.com/attractions-parks.html, both have campgrounds surrounded by magnificent pine trees that make the area striking to the eye. White Pines Park also has cozy cabins for rent. These are in high demand, so reservations are strongly recommended. Weekends are normally booked well in advance, but mid-week accommodations are your best bet for last minute road trips.
In Savanna, Mississippi Palisades State Park, www.stateparks.com/mississippi_palisades.html, is one of the top camping destinations in the area, home to huge campsites and an array of beautiful hiking trails. Visit the Department of Natural Resources website for a complete list of all northwest Illinois parks, www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/PARKS/R1/region1.htm, and discover your own outdoor adventure destination after a day on the road.
Looking for something with more amenities? Don’t fret. There are a number of classy bed & breakfasts and nice hotels with comfy beds and modern luxuries. The Blackhawk Waterways Region gladly caters to every need.
Let’s Meet Some Folks along the way…
For the perfect pick-me-up, Books on First, www.booksonfirst.com, in Dixon serves fine coffee, espressos, and cappuccinos. It’s a great place to meet up with friends, chat about the newest best seller, and relax before getting back on the road.
Tom Prendergast of Dixon, owns a 1965 BSA, complete with a fully restored, and incredibly rare, original British sidecar. Along with his friend, Pat Lendman, who rides a 1968 Triumph, they make it a point to find all the blacktop roads they’ve never been on before. In the tradition of London’s famous Ace Café, they sport the European attitude, and make every ride an exciting one.
“…the one’s we lusted for,” Prendergast added.
Dixon’s First Street also has a selection of great restaurants, including The Crystal Cork wine bar which is next to A Touch of Thai, which serves sushi and other Thai dishes. Dixon is also proud to have The Next Picture Show, www.thenextpictureshow.org, art gallery, offering a wide variety of local art for public viewing.
Nearly every bar in the northwest Illinois area participates in Poker Runs and hold different events for motorcycle fans. Nick’s Tap in Rock Falls is one of 90 participating bars in the “Iron Horse Fun Run,” www.thehorserally.com. Nick’s also caters to dragsters and has a 32’ by 80’ enclosed outdoor pavilion to enhance their Thursday Bike Night experience. Saddle up to almost any local bar and you’ll find a group of bikers out for a cruise, more than happy to tell you where to go, and a great way to get there.
“We’re just an old country-bumpkin bar,” owner Jim “Punk” Graham said.
The Fun Run is a summer-long event, offering countless prizes and a drawing for a free Harley at the end of the ride on August 29th.
With no shortage of places to go and bikes to see in northwest Illinois, it’s no wonder Illinois’ slogan is “Mile After Magnificent Mile.” All those miles ready to give that perfect ride.
Scour additional routes by downloading the Blackhawk Waterways Region map and find the road that seems to be begging for rubber. Northwest Illinois has hundreds of paved miles, ready to be taken hold of by two wheels for the cruise of a lifetime.
“There are so many scenic drives; you can smell the evergreens, the alfalfa, the fresh earth that’s been turned, it’s just magnificent,” O’Malley said.