The Beautiful Backroads Of Brown County
Whenever the topic of Indiana comes up, many riders will first visualize the flat, boring commuter wasteland that the state's northern region most certainly is. The southern region, on the other hand, encompasses a completely different topography. Nicknamed "Kentuckiana" by those who don't live there, this lesser known gem of a destination rarely gets it's due mention likely because access from the north requires a bee-line route through Narcolepsington and Snoresville. The fact is that Southern Indiana, and more specifically Brown County, presents the kind of top-shelf riding experience that sport touring motorcycle enthusiasts drool over.
“Many riders visualize the boring commuter wasteland that northern Indiana certainly is but the south region encompasses a completely different topography.”
It's as if Indiana has a suppressed dual persona. My own attempts to make the trek between Chicago, Illinois and Columbus Ohio better than lame remain unconquered to this day yet the boredom fades as we approach Kentucky's border, exposing the dichotomy. Attending a Brown County rally for the first time in 2015, I don't remember the surrounding roads being so excellent. This year's revisit has proven it a contender for "Best in the Midwest", tied closely with Wisconsin's driftless region.
For me to even hint at how much fun riding in this area can be is hardly easy if you consider the difficulties my bunk mates and I faced getting ourselves down there. While many booked their rooms at the local motel in advance, our reservations got lost in the mix, so we opted to bring an RV. That meant transporting the bikes on a brand new aluminum trailer.
Securing my flagship Bandit 1200 to said trailer using handlebar clamps, it's leverage against the tie-down straps immediately bent the bars all to hell. Rather than going all "Incredible Hulk" against everything inanimate within reach, I took a deep breath, borrowed a buddy's truck and headed home to grab whatever handlebars I could find. Fortunately, a similar set of superbike bars awaited that were fit for permanent use both ergonomically and aesthetically.
“Note to self: Always use the triple trees when securing a motorcycle for transport.”
Even with all of our gear in place, five hours of road time to anywhere can be tiring. Our solution mirrors the rest of the pack. We leave a day early, arriving in the evening just in time to enjoy a nightcap with friends from all over. None of this could subdue my will to prepare our bikes for the following morning. The thought of waking up to a ride-ready sportbike is strangely reviving.
I divided my weekend between two groups. Day one would be spent trailing a friend who lives in the area. His routes are spontaneous as he calls up Google Maps or Locus on random occasion, most often at rural intersections. Buddha meets Sparksville meets Medora as if each is a single step to the edge of a diving board. From Tampico and Little York on, we're swimming in twisties.
Our clockwise, one hundred and sixty plus mile ride is scenic from the start, even as we're passing through the occasional neighborhood. It then explodes into a curving upward climb along Tunnelton Road. This puts us on top of the ridge line for a while, tapping into forests and open farms while dipping through valleys along the way to Fort Ritner.
Here, the road surface is reliable, i.e. rarely rough (if ever). Eventually, a hidden left at Front Street takes us below a railway, after which another left sets us parallel to the tracks. Now, it's hopscotch between lower and upper elevations as we cut through valleys and over hilltops in constant sweepers, massive corn fields dividing the way until we're constantly hugging the hillsides at their base, an easy approach to "finding the curves" (aim for hills and ride around them).
The train tracks make another brief appearance until Sparksville Road revisits society, giving us our first intermission of sorts and providing open views along route 235, complete with a covered bridge to our left along the river crossing. Things stay temporarily bland for a brief moment as we connect to route 135 toward another county's outskirts. These straights are leading us further into the ridgeline and setting us up for more sweepers and hill climbs.
It's without warning that Starved Hollow Road puts us into hilltop seclusion, steering us through dense forest sections over extended periods and allowing for the feature photo above to gain focus. The next straights (and occasionally a deep curve) along route 39 flow towards route 56, a painted lines transition that's leading us gracefully toward gasoline. Be sure and keep track as pushing your bike along these roads might be a bit of a challenge.
Now, we continue on as if the ride is over, through Salem and into more farmland, valleys and hilltops. These are the hidden, lesser-known "locals only" outlets for great riding, especially that of Becks Mill Road where with just the right momentum, you can lift your bike off of the ground in a series of unexpected bunny jumps. Fredricksburg Road NW then provides our mid-ride technical challenge as it's forested sweepers are jacketed by tar snakes of the softest kind.
“I've never seen a bike change position three times in the same turn. - Rider Behind Me”
A few stair stepping curves revisit the same as we sink into the rather complex route 337. Here, the fun continues without concern for which road comes next until we reach route 62. It's the noteworthy Ohio River Scenic Biway, connecting the dots between hill crests. Be patient as it goes from zero to ten on the fun scale, it's straights quickly turning to tangled spaghetti. Just add throttle sauce and a bit of water from the Blue River running alongside.
Bridge by bridge, up we go, once again taking the high road in all of it's low-leaning glory. Isolated in yet another treeline, this time we're further from society (and gas) than ever, dancing between two separate hills and two separate counties.
A hard left onto route 66 continues the Biway, marking the beginning of another highlight and again combining the vertical against horizontal among a mix of near-perfect sweepers. 66 then bounces off of the Indiana/Kentucky border via Derby where we ricochet onto route 70, heading due west, back into the highlands.
Look for Abbot Road. A hard right onto what is route 118 shocks us back into all things twisty and elaborate before route 145 finally straightens things out. We're delivered into east Mentor where my senses are just fried enough to conjur a difficult, albeit luxurious decision.
Notice how our map for day one ends in Birdseye. It was at this point that I realized my senses were exhausted and that I didn't have enough focus remaining to traverse the epic combination of 150 and 450 (video above) back to base. With safety in mind, I split off and headed towards camp.
While others had concerns about me missing out on said roads, I have no regrets for having made the responsible choice. Self awareness is a less often mentioned motorcycle safety ingredient.
Besides, for day two I teamed up with fellow TRO authors Joe Nardy and Greg White before first heading forty five minutes in the wrong direction via orange-barrel-ridden expressway traffic. Even this couldn't tarnish the great route that eventually surfaced after the fact. Combining the unending sweepers of 150 and 450 in any direction is the creme de la creme for all of Brown County, if not the southern Midwest and we rode it from north to south ... and back!
On either day, the heat was no match for our will to ride for the duration. Friday's high was 93 degrees fahrenheit, followed by 97 on Saturday. Raucous riding ensued from the very start on both instances, pushing this year's riding season into full effect with a swift kick.
So, is Indiana as boring on a motorcycle as they say? My answer is: only if you live north of Indianapolis. Otherwise, you might be surprised to find Indiana quite exciting on two wheels. While the social environment might take a few days to adapt, there's a polite air about the locals once they learn you're there to spend your hard-earned tax dollars in their county.
Whether you're looking to cruise or crank it up through spirited sweepers, there's a road for you in Brown County, Indiana. Moreover, there are plenty of affordable hotels/motels just off of 450 in the great metropolis of Bedford. Just be sure and take your experience and appetite for technical maneuvering with you.
What Indiana Motorcycle Routes Do You Enjoy?
Southern Indiana has it's fair share of decent riding. Which areas do you prefer most? What road (or otherwise) is your favorite and why? Your input is invited. Leave a comment!