Shadows of three bicycle riders on a gravel road.

Iowa City Gravel Imperial Century

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October is when gravel adventurers can test themselves with the Iowa City Gravel event. But you can ride the 2018 100-mile route any day you’d like, exploring north and south in eastern Johnson County and beyond. You’ll roll out from River Junction, the teeny unincorporated town at the confluence of the Iowa and English rivers, founded in 1873; roll across the Sutliff Bridge, a three-span Parker truss design originally built in 1898 and rebuilt after catastrophic flooding in 2008; pedal past the cheerful red Secrest Octagonal Barn, built in 1883 and on the National Register of Historic Places; and pass a few local, small-town watering holes that would welcome a stop. Aid stations noted on the race route are only there on race day, so if it ain’t race day, you’re on your own for aid!

Two bicyclists riding on a gravel road on the east side of Iowa city.

The Gritty

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Another route to test your inner endurance adventurer, this route from a now-defunct race called the Gritty Brevet combines the flatter southeast quadrant of Johnson County with the rollers in the western part of the county. From the Johnson County Fairgrounds (site of the famous Jingle Cross cyclocross races!), you’ll head generally east and south first to get good and warmed up. Then you’ll head west, arriving at Riverside, future home of Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk (really!), about 45 miles into your journey. As you make your way farther west and gradually north, the traffic on the road will likely include the horse-drawn buggies of the local Amish farm families. Your next opportunity for convenience store refreshments won’t come until you reach Tiffin at 86 miles into the adventure, so be sure to bring along plenty of water and food to get you through. After all the work on the rolling hills, you’ll end your ride with a final, fun descent.

Competitor jumping over an obstacle with her bike on the Jingle Cross Course

Jingle Cross Cyclocross Races

There’s nothing quite like the excitement of these three days of cyclocross racing, from amateurs to pros, from local to international, from kids to dogs, all on a course and at a venue that has consistently been ranked among the favorite of World Cup racers. Race or heckle under the lights on Friday night, and keep it going all day Saturday and Sunday as racers give everything they’ve got to get up Mt. Krumpit, take their bike-handling skills to the limit on treacherous descents and the sand pit, and deal with the unpredictable conditions Iowa weather throws at them. You’ll be up close and personal with cycling heroes and celebrities, thanks to the Herculean efforts of dedicated local volunteers who make it all happen. There is no other sporting event like cyclocross—come experience it for yourself!

Mountain biker riding down rough terrain at Sugar Bottom Trails

Sugar Bottom

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One of the premier mountain biking destinations in Iowa is located in the midst of hardwood forest along the Coralville Lake, just north of Iowa City and between North Liberty and Solon. The Sugar Bottom mountain bike trail system, in the Sugar Bottom Recreation Area, includes roughly 12 miles and 1,400 climbing feet of outstanding hand-built trails. The one-way trails range from beginner to expert and are configured in a stacked loop system. You can enjoy a green ride on a continuous loop through the whole system, or check out the blues and blacks that loop off of the main trail. Along the way, you might hear the calls of barred owls, startle a group of deer or turkeys, or see an osprey working on its nest.

Races are held at the trail system several times a year and draw riders from across the Midwest.

Trail status is updated here and via signage at the trails; fines are imposed for riding closed trails.

Camping is available at the Sugar Bottom Recreation Area, along with disc golf, a beach area, playground, barrier-free asphalt trail, nearby boat access, and more. There is plenty to do between mountain bike rides!

Single cyclist riding on a paved county road on a summer day.

The Wall

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You might be looking at the total mileage of this ride and wondering why it’s on the list of “Advanced Adventure” rides. Did you check out the total elevation change? This ride is 1,315 feet of climb crammed into 27 miles of rolling drift plain deliciousness, with The Wall rising up to make you hunt for that one smaller gear somewhere in the middle. Along the way, you’ll pedal through Iowa City, North Liberty, and Coralville, with pretty rural roads between.

Devonian Fossil Gorge

Turn Here!

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This is another shorter route for the Advanced Adventure routes, and its challenge lies in two characteristics: significant climbing and punchy hills, and a lot of turning. Bring your cue sheet! The good news is that you’ll come across plenty of options for a refueling stop if needed in Coralville and North Liberty—or just at your start-finish point. This route takes you across the Coralville Dam Spillway. During severe flooding in 1993, water rushed over the spillway and uncovered a prehistoric treasure trove in what is now called the Devonian Fossil Gorge. You might stop and look around!

Pioneer Landmark in Lone Tree, Iowa.

Trains and a Tree

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So many American towns sprang up next to rail lines, and this route takes you through a couple of those. It also takes you past a town, Lone Tree, named for a giant elm tree said to be so large that bison grazed beneath its shade, removing all grass around it and thus protecting it from prairie fire. (Sadly, though, the tree was no match for Dutch Elm Disease.) You’ll pedal along part of Historic US 6, and you’ll visit West Liberty, with a downtown district on the National Register of Historic Places and a bountiful selection of restaurants, many of which feature foods of Latin and South America. You might want to take a break and sample one before pedaling the last 13 or so miles of your adventure.

Captain James T. Kirk Future Birthplace Monument in Riverside, Iowa

Everything from Buggies to Starships

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Starting just south of Iowa City in Hills, this scenic route will take you through the countryside that one of the largest Amish communities west of the Mississippi calls home AND through the town eagerly awaiting the birth of Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk in the year 2228. You’ll likely meet Amish farmers’ steel-wheeled tractors and horses pulling buggies, and you’ll pedal past the Star Trek Museum in Riverside. There’s easy parking for the start in Hills and convenience stores for quick refueling along the way.