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by Paul Kiser
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Paul Kiser

This summer I started riding a bike around Reno, Nevada. Because I live close to McCarran Boulevard it is usually the primary feature of my route. McCarran is a four lane artery circling Reno; however, most of the 23-mile ring road has a wide shoulder and is a good option for a rider looking for a workout. Because it makes a circle a rider can complete the entire route, or it can be divided up into four sections that offer different challenges and levels of workout. Solely for my entertainment I have labeled each section with a female star’s name that reminds me of the section.

I should point out that I use a borrowed 15 year-old mountain bike, which creates significantly more resistance than a more contemporary road/touring bike, or even a hybrid or commuter bike…and yes, it is a pansy excuse. For a hardcore rider who loves hills, the terrain of McCarran will hardly seem challenging, but for me (and my borrowed mountain bike), the western sections of the route are more than enough of a cardiovascular workout.

I tend to NASCAR my route, so my description of riding McCarran Boulevard will be a route that is counterclockwise in each section of the circular route. The four sections are bisected by Interstate 80 and Virginia Street.

Shakira's first hill

Northwestern McCarran Boulevard

At 3.5 miles, the Shakira section is the shortest of the four McCarran quarters. It starts at North Virginia Street and after a slight downhill offers the second highest continuous elevation gain (175 feet in 1 mile) of the 23 mile route. That seems tame for most experienced riders on narrow tire touring bikes, but on a summer afternoon or evening the climb is into a stiff headwind. Combine the climb and wind with a hot day and a rider can lose a pound or two thanks to Shakira.

The first hill flattens out on top to a slight downhill followed by a second smaller hill with a 80-foot elevation gain that puts the rider at the top of  Shakira section. From here it is all downhill for over a mile to I-80; however, this is a heavily congested area with multiple shopping campuses on both sides of McCarran. While Shakira has nice broad shoulders, she also has a lot of cross traffic in the last mile.

Shakira has great shoulders

Shakira is ideal for a short cardio workout. For a quick ride I typically hit northwest McCarran and then continue into the next section of McCarran to 4th Street and return home on surface streets.

Southwestern McCarran Boulevard

This was the first section of McCarran I named…I was listening to a Lady Gaga song during the climb … and the name stuck. It is the longest and has the most challenging terrain of the four sections of McCarran.

From I-80 and west McCarran, Lady Gaga continues to drop in elevation from Shakira past 4th Street and down to the bridge that crosses the Truckee River. Once she lures you in with fun downhill she then begins a 575-foot elevation gain over the next 2.8 miles to the highest point on McCarran (5160 ft.) To add insult to injury, a significant portion of the climb turns the rider to the southwest and into the afternoon headwind. Workout junkies might fall in love with the challenge of Lady Gaga, but for others it might feel like a ‘Bad Romance’ as you are pedaling over a mile up the hill into the wind and round a left curve only to find there is still more hill ahead.

Lady Gaga takes you for a ride

Once at the top you can congratulate yourself because you have conquered the biggest hill in the circuit. The next phase of Lady Gaga is a 600-foot mostly downhill ride for over two miles. The downhill ends at Lake Street and the remainder of the 7.1 mile section is relatively flat as you head east to South Virginia Street; however by reaching the valley floor you also have returned to a high traffic area.

Lady Gaga has great ...uhm,..shoulders too!

The paved shoulder on the Lady Gaga section is excellent for most of the route; however, the division between bike route and car lane is ill-defined in the flat area between Lake and South Virginia Streets.  It is unfortunate that just as the car traffic becomes heavier the bike route designated area on the shoulder disappears.

Taken together, the total 10.6 miles of the Shakira and the Lady Gaga sections offer 1) a great workout, 2) great bike lanes, except as noted and, 3) great views of the Reno Valley (yes I’m aware no one refers to it as the ‘Reno Valley’.) I should note that most riders will pick up considerable speed on the downhills of these ladies and I have experienced strong side gusts on the downhill at the beginning of Lady Gaga. I have never been concerned that I would be pushed out into traffic; however, some caution in gusty winds is advised.

The narrow shoulders of the Keira Knightley section

Southeastern McCarran Boulevard

Having covered the 10.6 miles of the western half of McCarran, one might easily dismiss the Keira Knightley portion of the McCarran experience; however. the 6.0 miles has a unique challenge, just not the kind bike riders normally seek. From South Virginia Street, the traffic is heavy due to the collection of shopping campuses and other commercial activity in area. Initially there is plenty of paved area for riders to avoid close encounters of the automobile kind; however, the paved shoulder keeps shrinking until there is little or no shoulder after you pass Longley Lane.

I would advise that the rider have some type of mirror to track the traffic behind them and, of course, a helmet is necessary in any riding environment. Most of Keira should be considered highly hazardous riding with shoulder conditions that are uncharacteristic of most of McCarran.

The other notable characteristic of the Keira section is its flatness. At Virginia Street the elevation is approximately 4450 feet and it drops over down to about 4400 feet at Longley Lane then stays within 15 feet of that elevation for the remainder of the section.

Like the real Taylor Swift, the final section of McCarran is a tame experience for most

Northeastern McCarran Boulevard

I have named the last section of McCarran, Taylor Swift. It is a 6.3 mile section that has some narrow shoulders at the beginning and a few minor elevation changes in the last half of the section. Overall the Taylor section has about a 250 foot rise but it levels off for the last mile before North Virginia Street. Taylor is a high traffic area for the first mile or so, but once past Prater Way the surrounding area becomes primarily residential. The other area of note is near the I-580 (US 395) and North McCarran interchange. In addition to the activity around the on/off ramps of I-580, there is major commercial activity for almost a mile on either side.

Like the Shakira section, the elevation gain occurs when the rider is facing west, which is the direction the wind comes from in the afternoon and evening. If you start your ride at the beginning of the Shakira section then you might discover that the last few miles on the 23-mile ride will remove any guilt you might have for the nice level ride of the Keira and first half of Taylor sections.

I have done the ride in two hours of ride time, but I would allow for two and half hours. For hardcore riders/racers it is probably an hour and a half ride or less. I like Shakira, Lady Gaga, Keira, and Taylor because they offer fewer intersections than normal city streets and a great riding area for most of the route. If you find yourself in Reno looking for a nice ride with views of the city, you can’t go wrong with the Ladies of McCarran; however, the best views, and the best workout will be with Shakira and Lady Gaga….is that a surprise to anyone?

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