America's Best Descents

#4: Route 156, Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area, Nevada

RATING: FS
TOTAL ELEVATION LOSS: 5,348 feet
LENGTH: 17.3 miles
AVERAGE GRADE: 5.9%
MAXIMUM: 10%

The ride begins at more than 7,000 feet, in the parking area for the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort. After a few initial curves in the shade of the last trees you'll see for a while, the road turns nearly arrow-straight—and begins to tilt downward at a steady 6 to 7 percent grade. With the wide-open desert terrain looming in front and not a switchback in sight as the mountain plunges downward, this may be the fastest descent in the nation—speeds on the bike can easily hit 50 to 60 mph. You'll feel like you can roll all the way to the sharply sloped Pintwater Range far across the valley floor without a single turn of the pedals.

DIRECTIONS: From Las Vegas, head north on Route 95 for about 25 miles to Route 156, then turn left.

#5: Bohlman Road/On Orbit Drive, California

RATING: HT
TOTAL ELEVATION LOSS: 1,569 feet
LENGTH: 2.3 miles
AVERAGE GRADE: 12.9%
MAXIMUM: 22%

Yes, it's short—not even two-and-a-half miles—and the 1,569-foot drop is barely a blip on an ECG chart compared with most mountains out west. But this ride through a Bay Area neighborhood delivers the Santa Cruz Mountains at their best, ramping up grades as steep as 22 percent—particularly up top. You'll move slowly at first down twisty On Orbit Drive. The route straightens at the Bohlman Road junction, but not for long—most of the rest of the drop twists through tight switchbacks over double-digit grades. Be alert for hidden driveways as well. The grade eases toward the end and the road straightens a bit, but you will likely be glad to see the bottom of this hill.

DIRECTIONS: From the intersection of Route 9 and 6th Street in Saratoga, head south on 6th and turn right on Bohlman Road (cemetery ahead and to the right).

#6: Burke Mountain, Vermont

RATING: HT
TOTAL ELEVATION LOSS: 1,770 feet
LENGTH: 2.5 miles
AVERAGE GRADE: 13.4%
MAXIMUM: 24%

Descending Burke, a ski mountain in northern Vermont, is as close as you'll ever come to BASE jumping on your bike. At its steepest points, which happen to come at the start and finish, you're riding a falling-over-standing-still 20-plus percent grade, so be sure to check your brake pads before you roll. The extreme tilt produces big speed between turns—so you should expect to be constantly slowing through one tight bend after another down the evergreen-draped mountain. The final mile features the steepest pitch, but it's less twisty, which requires focus to get to the bottom. Your hands and brakes will be glad when this one is over.

DIRECTIONS: From East Burke, head east on Route 114 and turn right on Mountain Road. After roughly 2 miles, turn left on Campground Road and drive to the top. For info, check East Burke Sports, eastburkesports.com.

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