Over 62 million people travel to central Florida every year. That’s more than any other city in America. To a local business owner, that’s the best news you can get. But to a motorcyclist looking for a fun and safe place to ride, the last place on your list would be an over-caged, congested, “lost foreigners looking for a mouse with big ears” type of location.
When I first began riding in Orlando, I was at a loss for places in which I could get away from the traffic. Florida has never been known for its hills, curves or mountains and, as far as I knew, none existed. I’m accustomed to the forest-covered, winding, twisty back roads of Kentucky, and since I was now trying to make a life in Florida, I was even more determined to find a place here to enjoy riding my bike. I set out on a mission to get lost and, after a few weeks of just wondering around, I came up with what I believe to be the top three places to ride in the Central Florida area.
Sugarloaf Mountain Ride
They call it a mountain but I call it a hill. At 312 feet above sea level, in a place that’s predicted to eventually sink into the ocean, that’s a mountain to us Floridians. The route out consists of hilly inclines, tight corners, winding curves and very little traffic, another rarity of the tourist-infested Central Florida area. The total length is approximately 45 miles and is fairly desolate, with a couple of places to stop for food, and that’s only if they decide to open. The best part about this route is that there are ten more great roads that sprout off from it, making it customizable to your experience level and need for freedom. I’ve just typed up the basic directions but my suggestion is to head out early one Sunday morning and get lost on it. Take the side roads that connect to these roads, you may just find the next best motorcycle route in Florida.
Hair of the Yellow Dog
This isn’t an “official” title. Since I can’t find this route named anywhere online, I decided to name it myself. This is one of my favorite rides because it’s accessible. You don’t need to block out an entire day to ride it, and it involves one of the best places to eat near Orlando. Yellow Dog Eats (hence the name of the route) is an eclectic, charming restaurant in the middle of nowhere – inside a historic landmarked house built a hundred years ago that looks more like a Vermont Inn than a place to eat. When I say eclectic, picture roosters roaming free and a table reserved just for cats. Besides having the best sandwiches to ever hit your lips, this weird little hangout hosts a plethora of live music on the back patio and has a large selection of locally crafted beers. Expect to wait in line on the weekends.
The ride to get out there feels more remote than the other local roads even though it’s only about a 20-mile trip and has a lot of turns – about 2 curves per mile. This section of Florida is preserved for the surrounding chain of lakes, so the EPA has restricted building and even the widening of roads, keeping it more true to what Florida was 60 years ago: orange groves and sunshine. You do hit a patch that goes through the town of Windermere – a place where people like Tiger Woods and Shaquille O’Neal live. I have to be honest, I’ve never been one for revving my engine so you can here the true sound of my 2-into-1 custom exhaust, but there’s something about riding past ten-million dollar homes on a motorcycle that makes you want to be noticed. I think of it like a public service announcement to inspire others to get out and live. I’m sure there’s been a few “midlife-crisis” doctors whose lives I’ve touched on this journey.
Sorrento to Lake Mary
This route has something for everyone: natural springs, legit biker bars and even a German bakery. The entire loop is approximately 95 miles long, depending on where you begin. You will need to block out an entire day for this ride since there’s so many places to stop along the route. The road itself includes both twisties and flat, straight sections, but on the back roads that run along lakes and natural preserves, the scenery is beautiful. Another great aspect of this route is that it’s customizable. You can even take this route north and over to Daytona on SR417, which is great way to beat the traffic during Daytona’s Bike Week. Along that way you’ll find the world famous “Sopotnick’s Cabbage Patch”, home to the everyone’s favorite Bike Week past time “Coleslaw Wrestling”.
Once you get north of Orlando, the Gods of Speed open up the land and you hit thousands of acres of countryside. Don’t worry about the need for a break on this trip, there’s plenty of places to wet your whistle. Wekiwa Island, named by Timucuan Indians, is at the end of a dead end road and is home to the clearest waters to dip your toes in and cool off. The outdoor bar and patio feels more like you’re in someone’s backyard than a commercial establishment. With live music playing, dogs playing catch and the occasional gator swimming by, Wekiwa may be your first stop but it will be one most difficult to leave.
The rest of the journey has plenty of neighborhood watering holes along desolate stretches of sunshine and palm trees. Oasis Saloon has all the grit we love in a biker bar: motorcycle-only parking, cheap draft beers, a jukebox with outlaw country and classic rock, a pool table in the back, plenty of “salt of the earth” people and a bartender that “dumps em’ out” on occasion. It can look a little intimidating at first glance, but in five minutes, you’ll find yourself in a verbal headlock about panheads and “the good ol’ days” but walk away with a new best friend named Sal.
Almost everything in Florida is in a strip mall, but don’t let that fool you, some of the best locations are found here. Shovelhead Lounge is one such locale. Jeans and T-shirts qualify as overdressed and martini’s are not served here. If that’s what you’re after, then this isn’t the place for you. Live music is often played here, and the more you know about motorcycles, the stronger your drinks are. They love bikers. I don’t like to drink and ride so this is more of a “sight seeing” stop for me.
There’s a couple more bar-hopping places on this road, but my favorite place is the German Bakery, Backhaus. With its authentic look, the building makes you feel like you’ve traveled to Germany. Backhaus has schnitzels that will make you forget you’re in Florida. You can hit this place up on your way out or your way back in or – if you like food as much as I do – you can do both. Hell, you just rode a hundred miles in Florida heat, you deserve to eat a couple meals!
Turns out there are a lot of great riding options in Central Florida, and everyday I’m on my bike, I discover new places to go. We may not have the mountains of Colorado, dry lakes of El Mirage, or cliffs of Northern California but we have something those places don’t – the ability to ride all year round. Although sight-seeing is great, when I’m on my Iron, I really just want to ride. It’s nice to know that in a sea of 62 million people there’s still untouched and under-populated land that exists. You all have a “Central Florida” waiting to be discovered, because if I can find isolation in a crowded place, so can you. And if you ever find yourself longing for mountains and cliffs, I’m sure Sal will have a story to tell from when he traveled cross country in the 60’s.