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The best bike rides book … so far

For a small crowd of readers gathered at the Writer’s Block last weekend, local author Paul Papa introduced his just-released Falcon Guide, Best Bike Rides: Las Vegas, the same way he introduces the book’s content: by noting that most people don’t think of Las Vegas as a cycling town. I’m biased on the subject, being a road biking enthusiast, but I think this assertion is belied by the annual trade show Interbike taking place here this very moment, as it does every year (despite a recent participant revolt attempting to move it elsewhere), and by both Henderson and Las Vegas achieving bike-friendly city designation by the League of American Cyclists, a fact that Papa notes in the book. 

But I’ll cut him some slack because I’m so flipping stoked to finally have a compendium of cool bike routes that’s more than just a map, and because Papa did a good job making it both useful and interesting. The book is organized by region — a method I thought might annoy me, since it would mean I’d have to flip through each section to find the road rides. But, undoubtedly anticipating this complaint, Papa added a Best Rides section in the table of content for each ride type (road, mountain, sightseeing, etc.), and a Rides-at-a-Glance index at the back that’s sorted by type and distance. The rides included in the book are numbered, 1 through 35, and each one has an icon to show its type; details such as length and best bike to use; directions for getting there; a list of the nearest bike shops; a map with a mile-by-mile guide; and miscellaneous information, such as whether there are restrooms on the route and nearby restaurants.

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Bookish bikers will like the narrative section of each chapter, whose main job is to tell riders where to go and what to expect, but is also interwoven with historical tidbits and insider advice. Here’s an example, from Chapter 22, State Route 159:

Following SR 159 will eventually take you to one of the oldest places in Las Vegas — Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. This once full-functioning ranch is another great detour to take, mainly because once there, it’s easy to forget you’re in a desert. Here you can find ample picnic areas, some of the oldest buildings in the valley, a large man-made pond — perfect for bird-watching — and some wonderful history of a ranch once owned by both Howard Hughes and Chester “Chet” Harris Lauck, half of the famous Lum and Abner comedy duo.

Despite doing well what he apparently set out to do, Papa has some room for improvement. The book should have separate categories for serious and recreational road cyclists. Those who hammer at 20 miles per hour would never do the multipurpose trails tagged with the road bike icon, because it would mean they’d have to slow down and weave around dog-walkers and joggers. The biggest problem, though, is a lack of routes inside Las Vegas proper (they’re all in the ’burbs and outskirts), a fact explained during the event at the Writer’s Block. When an attendee asked Papa about urban rides, he replied flat-out that he discourages people from cycling in the city because it’s too dangerous. This not only flies in the face of efforts to make Las Vegas more bike-friendly, but also ignores the thousands of commuters who pedal to work every day.

Papa, a self-proclaimed mountain biker, waded outside his comfort zone to nail the region’s best road rides. I hope he’ll brave the Alta bike lane from Summerlin to Downtown Las Vegas for a future edition of the Best Bike Rides book that bears the city’s name.

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