Many claims have been made for the world’s best motorcycle road and now I’d like to stake a claim for Iron Mountain Road or Route 16A in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
If you list the criteria for a great motorcycle road, this one ticks them all: smooth, winding, scenic, thrilling and challenging. But it has so many extra attributes that make it stand head and shoulders above the rest. They include tunnels, splits, “pigtails” and a circuit which also includes the almost equally challenging Needles Highway and not a pothole in sight for a combined 31 miles (49km). Iron Mountain Road is 17 miles (27km) long and in that length there are anywhere from 300 to 400+ bends, depending on who you ask and how you calculate a bend. Regardless of your formula, that’s a lot of turns in a short space.
There are also 14 to 22 switchbacks or hairpins (again, according to your formula) where the road curves back on itself in a very tight arc, often rising or falling steeply just to make your ride a little more interesting.
But wait, there’s more. There are three one-way tunnels where you have to honk your horn before entering. And if you head along the road from the south, the tunnels point directly at the four presidents’ heads on Mt Rushmore.
But wait, there’s even more. There are two splits where the road turns into one way and it’s narrow and twisty, winding through tall spruce, pine and aspen close to the road.
Are you getting the message?
Because there’s even more! There are three “pigtails”, so called because the road does a 360-degree turn which means it passes over itself on a wooden bridge. They are a bit like some of the looping ramps on to or off an interstate, only they are tight – very tight. Like first-gear, peg-scraping tight. If you can do the 35mph (60km/h) speed limit on all these turns, you should be in the MotoGP or a stunt show.
Iron Mountain Road is a challenge on any bike, let alone the dominant species you will see here in the summer months – cruisers!
During the world’s biggest motorcycle rally at nearby Sturgis, the bikes ride through these pigtails at a rate of 500 an hour. That tends to slow the traffic, but it doesn’t lessen the challenge.
If that isn’t enough of a challenge, there is the added danger of native fauna dashing out on the road in front of you. Deer, antelope, big-horn sheep and even mountain lions have been seen on this road.
But if you think that is all there is to scare and challenge you, try a stampeding herd of 7-foot-high (213cm) bison, weighing up to 2000lb (900kg) and capable of running at 40mph (64km/h) which is faster than the posted speed limit.
And if you conquer all that, the great thing is that you can quickly link to the nearby Needles Highway (87) which in 14 miles (22km) has more than 360 curves, 32 switchbacks, unfenced sheer drops, mini-sized lanes and two one-lane tunnels.
And then there are the jaw-dropping views which you will never see unless you stop at the many turnouts, or otherwise, you will end up as part of the valley scenery below.
If this isn’t the world’s greatest motorcycle road, then I’d like to know what is.