What are the Best Motorcycle Rides in the Midwest?
(Updated to help you plan for the 2021 Riding Season!)
Report based on a full-year of 2020's data of the Best Motorcycle Roads in the Midwestern region of the United States
To produce this report, we looked back at the entire 2020 motorcycle riding season’s data gathered by the MotorcycleRoads.com (McR) web site. This data comes in from the literally millions and millions of page views accessed on McR over the course of a year by various motorcycle riders (over 1 million riders visit motorcycle roads annually). If you are curious as to the details of how the popularity ratings are calculated, see Note 2 at the bottom of this article. Also, we used the US Census Bureau’s definition of the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin).
Overall, the Midwest has a very strong collection of motorcycle roads with approximately 469 registered on McR and each year the number of favorite motorcycle rides contributed by riders grows. At the time of this analysis (Jan 2021), the average state in the Midwest had 39 registered motorcycle roads with the following states rising to the top with most motorcycle routes:
- Ohio has been the leader for over a decade and its total of 95 registered motorcycle roads is not only the most in the Midwest but nearly exceeds the total for the next two states combined. Ohio's number of motorcycle rides is also impressive when you compare it to the all other US states as it currently is ranked 4th behind only California (#1 at 124), Texas (#2 at 111) and North Carolina (#3 at 102)
- Missouri saw the greatest growth rate of new registered motorcycle roads OF ALL 50 US STATES ... jumped up 35% from last year and went from 5th in the overall standings of registered motorcycle rides in the Midwest to second!
- Wisconsin got bumped down to 3rd from 2nd last year due to Missouri's jump
- Indiana is another big mover this year with a 32% growth rate from last year's number of registered motorcycle rides and now sits in the 4th spot
Some additional comments on the great motorcycle rides available in the state of Ohio ... over the years I've watched this state really become a hotspot of great motorcycle roads and have seen that these great motorcycle rides are concentrated in an area called the Buckeye Hills. The Buckeye Hills is an area found in the eastern and southeastern portions of Ohio in the general area south of I-70, east of Columbus, OH and bordered by the Ohio River that divides Ohio and West Virginia (just over the border into the WV area is also another great place for twisty/scenic motorcycle rides). The Buckeye Hills is documented on MotorcycleRoads.com as one of the US's Hotspot's of great motorcycle rides and you can learn more about this region by viewing the Guide to Ohio Motorcycle Rides. Also, as part of our McR Road Ranger program, Ohio has been assigned a prolific motorcycle rider with the McR user name of Akumu. Akumu has been documenting his time on Ohio's motorcycle roads for many, many years now and regularly updates the Ohio motorcycle rides description pages with helpful comments, videos, and photos.
The registered motorcycle road totals for all the states in the Midwest are listed below in the bar chart:
Moving past the discussion of quantity (# of registered motorcycle roads per state) and moving on to the quality aspect, reveals some more interesting trends.
Summary of this year’s Top 10 motorcycle rides rankings: The most obvious observation is that not only does Ohio dominate in terms of the numbers of registered motorcycle roads but also in terms of the quality of those roads as it has 5 of the Top 10 routes and even more impressively, has the #1 route in the entire listing and 4 of the Top 5 in fact! Michigan posts the second most popular motorcycle road in the Midwest but has no other routes among the Top 10. Last year, two South Dakota motorcycle rides made the list but this year they both got pushed out by gains made by Minnesota and Illinois. A summary of the most popular motorcycle rides in the Midwest is as follows:
- Ohio ranks the best with 5 of the Top 10 motorcycle rides
- Illinois and Minnesota both tie with 2 motorcycle rides in the Top 10
- Wisconsin and Michigan both have 1 route in the listing of Top 10 rides
So with all the analysis behind us, let’s jump in to the listing of the 10 Best Motorcycle Roads in the Midwest … starting at #10 and working our way to #1:
#10 The Oswego To Starved Rock Run (Illinois motorcycle ride)
Entering the Top 10 Motorcycle Rides in the Midwest list for the first time is a route in north-central Illinois and registered on McR as The Oswego To Starved Rock Run. This 35-mile Illinois motorcycle ride travels diagonally from the Northeast to the Southwest and is known for some river banks riding as well as its southern most end point which brings you to a popular Illinois state park called simply Starved Rock (there is an interesting history of how that park got that name). The road is generally uncongested and offers a nice selection of curves and the scenery can be particularly beautiful in the fall when the leaves have changed colors. 18 riders have rated this road at a 3.6 stars and a number of photos have been uploaded for you to view.
#9 Rock River Run (Illinois motorcycle ride)
Moving up from the 10th spot last year to #9, is north-central Illinois’ “Rock River Run.” This route runs southwest from Rockford, Illinois for 42 miles. This route was registered back in 2007 and currently has a Rider Rating of 4.06 out of 5-stars. It’s the most popular motorcycle road in Illinois and the route, as the name implies, follows the Rock River and ends up in Dixon, IL. It’s known for its great river scenery as well as curves that go along with a route that follows the path of a river. Tourism opportunities along the way include two state parks and a local landmark referred to as the Walter Strong Castle (you can tour for about 10$). One reviewer stated this is his all-time favorite Illinois motorcycle road and went on to describe the drive as a “gorgeous wind down the Rock River with a great over-look at Lowden State Park (from the Blackhawk statue). It's even a fun run at night. The only negative is that it's completely flat, no hills.”
#8 The Incredible North Shore Tour (Minnesota motorcycle ride)
Moving up one position from last year's Top 10 list is the 8th best motorcycle road in the Midwest is found further north yet also following the shore of a waterway – “Minnesota’s Incredible North Shore Tour.” This route hugs the coast of Lake Superior from Duluth heading northeast all the way up to the US-Canadian border! This route was also registered back in 2007 and has a 4.69 star-rating with 19 enthusiastic reviews on McR. The author who registered this ride gave the scenery a 5-star rating and talked about how riders are treated to “ocean views” as the vast Lake Superior lies to the east for the entire ride. The author also listed the route’s tourism opportunities as 5-stars as well as it has no less than 6 state parks along the way. Many reviewers comment not only about the many things to do along the way but also provide additional suggested excursions nearby or as an extension of this very popular Midwest motorcycle road.
#7 Highway 61 - LaCrescent, MN To Red Wing, MN (this is both a Minnesota motorcycle ride and a Wisconsin motorcycle ride)
For the first time in our Top 10 listings, Highway 61, enters are listing at the #7 position. This route hugs the Mississippi river from both the eastern and western banks as it is a loop that essentially circles a portion of the mighty Mississippi and offers great scenery along the way. In fact, the rider who registered this motorcycle road went as far as to say - "most beautiful scenery I've ever seen, been to 28 states, nothing like it !!!" Another rider commented that they believe the Wisconsin side of the river offered the best scenery but you'll get plenty of miles to judge that for your self as the route covers approximately 50-miles on each side of the Mississippi's shores.
#6 Northeastern Ohio's Curve Heaven - RT 164 (Ohio motorcycle ride)
Jumping up two spots this year is the first Ohio motorcycle ride in the this Top 10 list with the “Northeastern Ohio's Curve Heaven - RT 164.” This route is a bit unique to the other Ohio motorcycle roads on this list as it is (as the name states) in the Northeast area of the state ... yet nearly all the other popular Ohio motorcycle roads are found further south. Like the two routes above, this route also was registered in the year 2007 and currently sits at a 4.25 out of 5 Rider Rating. It’s a route that meanders through thick woods and among hills of sandstone and is considered “very TECHNICAL” by the route’s author; yet traffic is pleasantly light. When it comes to tourism opportunities though, this route doesn’t offer much so take this one for the turns, hills, & secluded wooded scenery as one commenter made a point of emphasizing when they stated “crazy fun road, actually scary at times. Lot's of blind hills, and some gravel in turns. Very roller coaster like, one of the best I've been on as far as curves go” … so be careful on this great Ohio twisty motorcycle road!!
#5 Ohio's Dragon's Tail (Ohio motorcycle ride)
As we enter the Top 5 of the Top 10 listing, Ohio is going to show its dominance again as that state's roads will appear in 4 of the 5 next listings with the first of its entrants at the 5th spot – “Ohio's Dragon's Tail.” This route stayed at the number 5 position from last year's rankings and like the Dragon that the route is named for (the Dragon is only 11-miles), this route is pretty short when it comes to miles at 20. Yet, in those short 20 miles you’ll be not only treated to the twisties that you would expect with a name like this but also take in some great views as show in the photos and video posted on McR documenting this great southeastern Ohio ride. And, unlike many of the other roads that are known for their extreme twists and turns, this one interestingly seems to have plenty of street signage to keep you prepared for upcoming turns and incline changes.
#4 Ohio Route 26 (Ohio motorcycle ride)
The number 4 spot also goes to an Ohio motorcycle road this one a much longer 75-mile drive in the far southeast corner of Ohio with a much more modest title than many of its Ohio motorcycle road counterparts; simply referred to by its state given name – “Ohio Route 26.” This route generates a lot of buzz as 24 Rider Reviews were posted at the time this report was generated and yet the route has only been registered since 2009. The scenery is listed by the author as 4-stars and calls out some great scenic amenities like covered bridges, barns, and quaint little farms. However, it appears the main draw on this route is also the curves with the author emphasizing them in this excerpt from the Drive Enjoyment description - “Some curves are decreasing radius so be careful! VERY CURVY! I have ridden Rt 555, and 536. This road is similar to 555 without gravel. I fully enjoyed this road as I could lean down without the fear of a heap of gravel in the turn apex like 555.”
#3 The Ohio Cousin of the Tail of the Dragon (Ohio motorcycle ride)
Ohio’s next road in the Top 5 is the short but sugar sweet 12 mile – “The Ohio Cousin Of The Tail Of The Dragon”. As the name implies, this is another route that reminds riders of the world famous Tail of the Dragon further south in TN/NC. The 61 rider reviews contributed for this route should give you an idea of how much excitement this Ohio motorcycle ride has been generating since it was registered back in 2007. The route’s author gave the ride 5-stars for Scenery and 5-stars for Drive Enjoyment. The route starts out near the Ohio River and travels northwest into deep woods in and near the Wayne National Forest. Expect little traffic and the same attributes that are in abundance in southeastern Ohio – hills & curves! And, like a number of registered motorcycle roads on McR this route is partially named after the famous Dragon’s tail in TN/NC but one of the reviewers went so far as to state his preference of this route over the world famous ride to the south - “frankly the southern dragon is over hyped.....fun but not particularly visually stimulating....536 is a better ride for my money”!
#2 Tunnel of Trees Road (Michigan motorcycle ride)
Ohio graciously takes a break from hording all of the Top 5 roads in the Midwest and lets its northern neighbor of Michigan muscle its way into the listing with the famous & beautiful – “Tunnel of Trees Road” in northwestern Michigan (not in the Upper Peninsula of MI) along the Lake Michigan shoreline. This route has been a registered motorcycle road on McR since way back in 2004 and is a famous US road that attracts riders and drivers from all of the country and the world for that matter. It is a lovely 22-miles through thick woods where the deep blue lake waters are visible at times to the west and quaint cabins and lake shore homes dot the woods and lakeshore. However, many times the rider will be treated to a virtual tunnel of trees shading the road and creating an incredible sense of solitude. The road is in great shape typically as the state understands the tourism draw it represents and so they go the extra mile to keep the blacktop smooth. However, the tradeoff is that the road with its strong reputation and draw as a destination can be crowded and so if traffic is going to bother you, you’ll want to plan to take the drive during a week day or the early hours to try to put yourself on this route when traffic is lighter. And, if you’re looking for a route with plenty to do along the way, this route will not disappoint as there are many great stops at restaurants, souvenir shops, and motels/hotels. Lastly, this route regularly is identified as one of the best fall scenic drives in the USA so if you can time your trip to ride through the “tunnel” when the route is blanketed in incredible autumn colors, you just may be in for the ride of a lifetime!
#1 The Triple Nickel - Route 555 (Ohio motorcycle ride)
And at the number 1 spot, Ohio takes back over with a 34-mile motorcycle route with a great name and a fan base that extends across the country and beyond – “The Triple Nickel – Route 555.” This great route is south of Zanesville Ohio and has been registered since 2006 and has dominated as the number one route in Ohio for about a decade now. To get a feel for what draws riders to this ‘mecca in the Midwest’ for motorcycle riders, read through the collection of 70 motorcycle rider reviews and comments that were available at the time of this report. Also, it has amassed a great collection of photos and videos which give the reader a great feel for the scenic splendor and curve bonanza that await motorcycle riders who find themselves on The Triple Nickel. From the photos posted on McR, you’ll see that the excitement for this route has grown so much that apparently some rides have actually had patches made to show that they’ve rode the Nickel.
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Note 1: All facts and figures below were gathered during early Jan 2020 and will change over time as new motorcycle roads are added to the collection.
Note 2: How were these popularity ratings calculated?
A motorcycle road’s popularity can be based on a wide variety of factors. Our analysis considered some obvious indicators of motorcycle road popularity such each roads’ “Rider Rating” scores (star ratings) and which motorcycle road description pages were visited the most. But, the analysis dug deeper and looked at some less obvious yet valuable indicators of a motorcycle road’s popularity such as how often a given motorcycle road was added to riders’ “To Ride” lists, how often a given motorcycle road was added to riders’ “Rode it” lists and enthusiasm indicators such how often photos and/or videos were uploaded for a given road and which roads are attracting the most buzz among motorcycle roads indicated by those roads that are receiving the most number of new/recent comments. For the sake of being consistent and as objective as possible we use a popularity algorithm that “crunches those number” and allows us to develop a ranking of the popularity of each of the motorcycle roads used as a basis for this guide.
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