The golf-wear set gives way to spandex-clad cyclists in Scottsdale’s two-wheeled renaissance
If Phoenix didn’t invent the freeway, it certainly perfected it. Deplaning at Sky Harbour airport, I’m faced with myriad multi-lane options spreading like a circulatory system to carry me into town. But unlike most visitors, who make a beeline for the rental counter to sign up for the unlimited miles option, I’m doing what was not too long ago considered inconceivable in the Valley of the Sun—I’m going car-free.
I let my cab driver navigate the mayhem of the highways that take us into the heart of Scottsdale, that tony part of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, where I’m deposited in front of the Bespoke Inn, my two-wheel HQ for the next few days. The eclectic four-room inn—another revolutionary concept in a place better known for its mega-resorts—is a hybrid bed-and-breakfast-style boutique hotel with the amenities of a luxury resort—all organized around an al fresco twinkly lit courtyard with a fountain that seems lifted straight from Umbria rather than part of the U.S.’s sixth-biggest metropolis. It’s also become ground zero for those who eschew the internal combustion engine, thanks to its diehard cyclist owners, Rob Taynton and Kate Hennen. Rob explains that a combination of Scottsdale’s recent downtown regeneration mixed with the local government’s commitment to expanding environmentally friendly bike paths has made their once unthinkable enterprise now viable: “People now come from all over the world here to cycle.”
Kate outfits me with a shiny new British handmade Pashley bicycle, a heavy bank vault of a bike that will be my trusty stainless-steel companion over the next few days. She presses a cycling map into my hand and gives me a few basic pointers on the city’s emerging 27-kilometre bike loop connecting it to Tempe and Phoenix. Anxious to shake off the stale air of the plane, I pilot my new English two-wheeler toward the greenbelt (the Sonoran desert is lush and oasis-like here thanks to cheap water and few restrictions) that’s the heart of the cycling grid.
To get there, I have to brave the major artery that is Camelback Road, but I’m relieved to see that it has been equipped—like another 238 kilometres of roads in the greater area—with a large dedicated bike lane so that what might be harrowing in L.A. ends up being downright civilized here. And once I hit the multi-use path, it’s smooth sailing. Even at my modest speed, I’m keeping up with the congested stop-and-go car traffic, although there are also a number of serious commuters pedalling past me with dogged determination.
After half an hour of breezy bliss, I double back toward downtown to meet Susan Conklu, the head of Scottsdale’s Bike Task Force, for a post-ride bite. Wheeling into the interior courtyard of the Upton restaurant—no lock needed!—we soon get down to the business side of biking. In addition to copious cycling lanes, I learn there are another 186 kilometres of dedicated bike routes. Although Scottsdale itself is only 50 kilometres long and 18 kilometres wide, it’s part of the larger area’s serious investment in shifting away from a heavily car-dependent culture.
|Scottsdale Convention & Visitors BureauMcDowell Sonoran Preserve|
Post Mexican ricotta donuts (they taste sweeter when you’ve earned them), it’s back to the bike and then a triumphant return to the courtyard at the Bespoke Inn, where I’m surrounded by the tell-tale Lycra of more serious road bikers. While I’ve been making like Mary Poppins on my cruiser, some of these other residents have been using the city’s pathways to take them much farther afield to navigate the 290 kilometres of bike trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and farther still to Cave Creek (there’s lots of excellent riding in these parts: only 15 per cent of Arizona is privately owned land while the rest is a mix of parks, forests, wilderness, wildlife preserves and Native American land). I join their ranks at James Beard nominee Virtu Honest Craft, which, out of more than 800 restaurants in town, is the toughest table to secure now—but serendipitously happens to be attached to the inn. When talk gets round to RPMs and other advanced gearhead speak, I mumble something about my tired legs and slink back for a post-ride bath in my 1,500-square-foot suite replete with comfy living room and massive farmhouse-style kitchen.
The next morning I’m back in the saddle, though this time I’m determined to use my Pashley not as recreation but as industrious transportation tool. I whiz past the packed Fashion Square mall and lines of cars to stop by the Hotel Valley Ho. This mid-century gem launched its guest bike-loan program precisely to tap into the city’s velocipede zeitgeist: there are more bike racks, more commuters, more than 40 bike stores in greater Phoenix now, and countless festivals and world-renowned races.
I contemplate returning next year for one of those cycling races, but considering Scottsdale’s average age is 31 and I’m well north of that, I think it more prudent to consider my options at Posh, a restaurant whose façade I’ve obliviously driven by countless times by car. Thanks to my two-wheeler today, it reveals itself to be a lush greenery-forward development evoking the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The improvisational menu, based on whatever’s in season, tempts. After filling out a scorecard-like sheet indicating my likes and dislikes, I end the evening on a chilled-out sense of being: I pedal, I park, I am.
|The Upton / Chinese char siu ribs, smoked peanuts, cilantro pesto or American mussels in bourbon broth are only some of the creative American cuisine at this Old Town Scottsdale hot spot replete with perfect outdoor-courtyard sanctuary.|
|Posh / One of the most original dining experiences in the valley: tell chef Joshua Hebert what you like and don’t like, and he’ll craft a wildly creative, personalized menu based on what’s fresh and local. Every Tuesday, the restaurant converts to Posh Ramen Shop from 5 to 9 p.m.|
|FnB / James Beard-nominated chef Charleen Badman elevates local fare and vegetables to rhapsodic status (hakurei turnips, piri piri and peanuts; simmered chicken thighs and chicken fat rice) and pairs it with a dynamite wine menu spotlighting local selections.
|Bespoke Inn / The spot for the gearheads: four rooms, amazing food and onsite bike rental and repair in the heart of downtown Scottsdale.|
|Hotel Valley Ho / For those who crave a more resort feel but still want to explore Scottsdale without a car, this Rat Pack-era hotel loans out bikes.|
|Sanctuary Resort / Stay in the newly retrofitted Camelback Casita suites for upscale luxury with a modern desert spin at this reimagined John Gardiner tennis ranch.
|Massage / Mountainside respite can be had at the Sanctuary spa where customized massages address specific areas of lactid-acid cycling tension–like over-40-year-old tight calves.|
|Biking / To get your biking on, Scottsdale launches printed folding maps this year for cycling visitors. Pick one up at the visitor centre or download the map.