Route 66 is the ultimate bucket list ride for any motorcyclist. It’s a journey through time, and while it may not be technically challenging from a riding standpoint, figuring out where the road goes can be extremely difficult. Route 66 was decommissioned as a National Highway in 1985, and many portions of the road have been bypassed. We’ve ridden Route 66, and have collected a few thoughts on how to make your ride on Route 66 as enjoyable as it can be with these 10 Tips For Riding Route 66.
1) Give yourself a minimum of two weeks to do Route 66. You’re riding more than halfway across America, if you rush you’re going to miss some incredible sights. There are many museums, great places to eat, historically significant spots, not to mention the endless side journeys you can take to see things just a short distance off Route 66. Any day spent on the Mother Road can be incredibly rich – in fact, even if you do have two weeks, you’ll miss some things. Be sure to take your time, don’t rush, the slower you go the better time you’ll have.
2) Ride the right bike. On a typical motorcycle tour, you look for great roads, twisties, diamond smooth tarmac where you can hustle the bike around a bit and get your pulse going. Route 66 isn’t like that – the pavement can be awful in some spots, you’ve got long sections of straight road, and in some places the scenery can be quite desolate. Trust us, the best bike for a Route 66 tour is a Harley, or similar big displacement V-twin. You don’t need a fast bike with razor sharp handling, you need a bike with maximum rider and passenger comfort that feels great doing 30-70 miles an hour, with lots of low rpm torque. Plus, doing it on a Harley really adds to the nostalgia of the tour, seeing all the neon reflected in the headlamp nacelle of a Road King is another sight you’ll never forget. We wouldn’t recommend a Harley for a tour in the Alps, nor would we recommend the full Charlie & Ewan BMW GS regalia on a Route 66 tour.
3) The best time to go is mid-May to mid-October. We’ve ridden 66 at various time during the year, the earliest was mid-April. We encountered freezing temperatures, hailstorms, pissing rain, howling winds, and dust storms. Luckily, we didn’t have the wives sat on the back for that one! Don’t forget, Route 66 crosses most of America, and the weather can vary depending on where you are. We’ve been in Amboy California in July and it was 118 degrees in the shade! Truly our favorite month for riding 66 is September, weather is gorgeous and there are less people on the road, but really if you go any time between mid-May and mid-October you’ll have a great time. Be sure to bring rain gear and if you’re going in the high summer then read our tips for staying cool here.
4) Plan your Route 66 tour. If you just turn up expecting to follow signs and ride Route 66, you’re going to get very frustrated and very lost. Route 66 highway signs get stolen all the time (they do look pretty cool) and in may places you’ll be going along following signs and suddenly there will be nothing. You need a good map America, we find the Rand McNally Road Atlas to be indispensable, Michelin has some great regional fold out maps as well. GPS is great and can be hired with the bike, but we’d take a great map over a GPS unit any day. We also consider the Route 66: EZ66 Guide For Travelers by Jerry McClanahan to be a must buy. Drew Knowles’ Route 66 Adventure Handbook is a great book too. Don’t wait until you’re sitting on the airplane to read these books – study them and mark down the things that you really want to see before you go.
5) Get to know the word “alignment”. Sections of 66 were repaved, diverted, extended, and widened during different periods – these were called alignments (or re-alignments). You’ll come out of a town and see three signs for Route 66, one saying something like “Historic Route 66 1921-1934” and the others giving different years. Which do you take? There might be only one right way depending on where you are. Even before it closed, Route 66 had been “realigned” so many times in it’s history that there isn’t really just one road – it evolved substantially since it was first paved. So know going in that there isn’t really one Route 66 to follow.
6) Be sure to travel some of the “old road”. The oldest parts of Route 66, dating back to the 1920’s, are truly fascinating because they’re often hand-laid brick or asphalt, and very narrow. You really get a sense for how small American cars were before the second world war, and how little automobile traffic there was on the roads. You’ll never forget like the sound of a Harley’s front wheel thumping over the bricks on a 1921 section of Route 66.
7) Be sure to talk to locals. A huge part of the character of Route 66 is the people. The Mother Road is making a fragile comeback as more and more people tour it every year. But it’s still hard work for the people who live on Route 66; they say adversity breeds character, and the people you’ll meet while traveling 66 have character in spades. You’ll meet folks who’ve lived on Route 66 their whole lives, as well as young entrepreneurs trying to bring beautiful old motels and restaurants back to life. Take the time to talk to these people, it will make your tour a far richer experience. If you’re open to conversation, you’ll find that the people of Route 66 are friendly, helpful, and in most cases more than willing to share their stories.
8) Pay very close attention to the road. With all the great things to see, the low speeds and straight roads, you can find yourself paying a bit less attention to your riding, which can be a costly mistake. In parts of 66, the tarmac has seriously degraded, with bumps, potholes or cracks that have been filled with very slippery tar (the segment from Cool Springs to Oatman is plagued with “tar snakes” and requires special attention). And on the very old road, sometimes you’ll come over the crest of a brow in the road and find suddenly the tarmac has changed to deep gravel – not something you want to see at 60 mph (this happened to us just outside Miami, Oklahoma). Be diligent at all times when you’re on the bike, please.
9) Links to some places you must see: Route 66 Vintage Iron Motorcycle Museum, The Blue Swallow Motel, The Blue Dome District in Tulsa, OK, Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, The Powerhouse Route 66 Museum, Joe and Aggies, Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Cadillac Ranch, Roy’s Cafe, Galena, Kansas, Route 66 Drive In Theatre, Tower Station and U-Drop Inn, Cool Springs Camp, Motel Wigwam, Chain Of Rocks Bridge, Santa Monica Pier
10) Lastly – consider a Guided Tour. If you just want to have a good time, see all the sights, have a support vehicle carry your luggage and be guided by someone who knows Route 66 really well, it’s the smart option. Of course, you can always do a self-drive tour, where the accommodations are booked for you, you get a bike and a road book with directions. And of course if you want a true DIY experience, you can hire a bike – we can help you with all of the above, with great prices. Check for more details here.
Thanks for the updates guy and suggestions, we are really looking forward to our America trip, we want to see a few key places on ours, New York and a visit to OCC if possible, Ryan and the gang at West coast customs, so just a short ride across the US (not) Datona beach, Las Vagas are just a couple of places my Mrs wants to visit, don’t know if we’ll make them all.
Just keep in mind that the country is a lot bigger than it looks on a map Glyn – OCC is a few hours outside NYC, Daytona is 1,000 miles from NY, and Vegas would take a week to ten days if you’re hardcore (we’d rather take our time and do it in three weeks). There’s so much great stuff to see – if you need any advice on places just ask!
I don’t know how I’m going to pull off a tour through the northern western states (from Western NY!) to Yellowstone, Denver, then south to Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Winslow, THEN stop at any of the hot spots on RT 66 on the way back . . . in two weeks. But I’ll give it all I’ve got. Thank you soooo much for the pared down list of places to visit on RT 66. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to one or two of them. They will all be on the gps.
Mark honestly if you only have two weeks, just do 66. You don’t want to rush the other stuff, especially Yellowstone.
Hi, good article! I would not go during summer months as it is burning hot on motorcycles. September-October is perhaps the best time to do it. Also, skip Chain of Rocks Bridge. Not much to see there and no vehicles allowed to enter. It is a nice sight from the distance, though. Zsolt
Actually Zsolt, when we do Guided Tours we lead group across the Chain Of Rocks Bridge and get to ride across it. We think it’s a good stop as it’s right over the Mississippi, and might be the only time someone from outside the USA rides across it.
Also, plenty of ways to deal with summer heat on a bike, here are a few suggestions: https://www.thelostadventure.com/beat-the-heat-while-motorcycle-touring-this-summer
Thanks for posting!
wow found you guys via facebook
My missus wants to do R66 for her 66th birthday, (X years away now, more than 5)
If I can get her to do it it on the back of a harley with me even better.
if not can you advise of any other sites that do this with a car or RV as you call them.
This looks the nuts, need to find out more Please
We specialize in bikes and aren’t really aware of anyone who does 66 tours via a car or RV, although you could certainly hire one and do it yourself. Given that you’ve got a few years until you go, read this article and get some of the books, it will help your planning: https://www.thelostadventure.com/best-books-for-planning-a-route-66-trip
My wife and I together with another couple did R66 last year on Harleys. We are from South Africa and have great rides in our country but were totally blown away by the R66 experience. We enjoyed it so much we now want to return and do it again but this time with our children. My concern is that the second time around it won’t be as significant and as much fun. What’s your experience, is it just as good the second time round?
Ive now ridden 66 about 10 times and I still love it. I find something new every time and while not as emotional as the first time sharing the experience with other people keeps it very special. Maybe through in a couple of detours or spend time on different sections of the road like the dirt sections in Oklahoma.
Hi Jim I’m hoping you can offer a bit of advise. My partner and I are looking at riding Route 66 in a couple of years. HE THINKS ill be ok to do it on a separate bike rather than on the back of his. Is this a realistic expectation, with a couple of years of riding experience, being a girl (not trying to be sexist I just haven’t heard of women doing it very much) or will I struggle? Is it really physically demanding? Also, we are from New Zealand, what are the rules around renting a bike? I assume a full New Zealand motorcycle license will be ok and enough for us to get insurance? Thanks very much
It all boils down to how comfortable you feel. Plenty of women ride in the states and ride across the country. There is nothing too challenging so long as you plan out your days to be not too long. Weather can be challenging but again with proper preparation should not cause you problems. Get in some long days in the saddle at home in all kinds of weather and see how you feel. If you enjoy it id say you’ll be fine. If its stressful for you and not fun then you might want to think about it more. From experience however riding with nervous riders on many occasions they always get more and more into it and by the time the ride onto Santa Monica pier they are much more seasoned riders. The feeling of elation you get finishing the ride is a well worth while goal in you riding career.
If you want any more information feel free to mail me at [email protected].
I’m riding Route 66 this September (2015). Looking forward to a great time. Thanks for your tips!
Great info all around. Hubby and I along with two other couples are planning to do the Route in Sept-Oct 2017(the route is our choice to celebrate 40 years of marriage) . We want to take about 3-4 weeks with lots of detours to Grand canyon and national parks. There is so much to see along the route . We are still deciding if we will do our own tour or guided !! Looking very much forward to the adventure and the memories made so all your input really helps plan a great trip…thank you
Glad you found the article useful. I’ve ridden 66 solo and guided many tours so if you would like more info on either option along with quotes on both please feel free to contact me at [email protected].
Wow this feed has made some great reading having just started to seriously look at planning for next year’s road trip,I am from the UK and my daughter (an 11 year old with a travel big) and I are looking really hoping to find some nice safe places to stay. Anywhere you can recommend we should stay or avoid!
Ive emailed you info on our Coast to Coast ride Stace.
Hi Tim, couldn’t figure out how to send a message. Thought I would reply. Will you please email me info on coast to coast ride? A few of us girls who ride with The Stilettos on Steel from Wisconsin are planning a two week trip next summer to ride 66. Super excited! We would like to expierence the thrill all of what it has to offer.
Info sent, Thank you.
Hey Brenda I’m in Wisconsin doing Route 66 later part of June.. when are you guys going??
excellent information ,,I`m planning a trip from Syracuse NY to california,,yes and back big ambition,,its my bucket list Lol .I have done several long haul rides..3,000 to 5,000 miles in 11-14 days ..I have the mental and physical stamina..I like the tour you have.Question is can I people meet up with a tour with their own motorcycle,instead of rental. In any event this is some inspiring material thanks for sharing your Lost adventures..
If my husband & son want to do part of the route 66 in either 9-14 days which end is better for sights…..chicago to Albuquerque or Albuquerque to LA?
What type of bike license do you need…is probationary or just gotten full license ok?
The Western end has more spectacular scenery but if you can do the whole 14 days id recommend it as 66 is so much more. Its the full journey from East to West that gives it is special place in peoples hearts.
I’m planning this after meeting some friends in Chicago in June next year. Was thinking of the Harley, but never been a fan (I’m a Ducati man!) maybe an Indian Scout or at a stretch a Triumph Rocket.
I travel light so if it was an HD what would you recommend?
You’d be surprised how well a HOG works in the US. I wasn’t a fan either and had always ridden sports bikes. On the road in the US they just feel right. We don’t currently have any other options in Chicago and so, depending on the distance you are thinking of riding id say a Fat Boy would be a good bet. Not as big as the tourers but still able to cover the miles if needed.
would a harley heritage would be convenient to do the R66??
A great choice of bike for 66 especially if you are not overly tall. One of our most popular bike choices.
Great information (best I’ve read so far)
From the UK but working in Malta. Starting to plan Route 66 for next year as a solo venture. Is acomadation along the way fairly easy to find and available or would you recommend pre booking before starting? The thought of total freedom appeals without having to worry bout time frames to get to places or digs
Most rides Id say booking as you go would be ok but in summer on 66 you would be better booking in advance. The advantage of booking as you go isn’t a strong on 66 as you are on a set route so will have a good idea of where you will be each night. EagleRider.com are currently doing a great deal on bike and hotel so that might be the way to go.
I’ve only got 8 days available to ride the route. I’ve got a Street Glide booked and all my hotels (incidentally I have to finish in San Francisco so I’m turning northwest at Barstow) do you have any other “must see” places along with those in your tips?
Also any advice on the best sections to use the interstate on and the best bits for the original route would be very gratefully received.
We’ve done it in 8 days and although you’ll be putting in some big days its still a blast. Really different feel to doing it with restricted time. Kind of trippy riding into New Mexico as the sun set’s and the night chill comes on. I recommend 12-14 days but would do it again in 8 in a flash. So many palaces to name but the best we just came across as we rode. Chain of Rocks Bridge, Devils elbow the zz road, Tucumcari, Santa Fe, Madrid (not on the route but a great divert off) Owl Rock, Mr Dz’s Kingman, Oatman, Roys Diner to name a few.
Hoping to do a trip this year or next, does this sound feasible? Our plans are to ship bikes to Arizona, possibly Flagstaff area – maybe take first day or 2 to hit Grand Canyon, – nobody in the group has any interest in riding into California. Using Downloaded 66 (gps) map to ride back to the east on 66 & taking 2 full weeks. Will we miss much by riding that route? Will probably take your advice & go for September. I prefer to not ride that route in the dog days of summer! I purchased the EZ66 guide years ago in anticipation of a trip – which kept getting pushed off. Now I just have to find the thing again. Any input? Thanks
That timeframe is absolutely possible but what I would say is one, ride East to West not the other way. Not only does the ride East to West get better and better you also punch through any weather you might hit. Riding West to East can mean riding in the same weather system for several days if you’re unlucky. Also missing California is a mistake as some of the best riding on the route are in California. Finally make sure you find insurance before you book shipping as the only company offering cover dropped it cover last year.
Have a great ride and if you’re interested in a rental let us know.