When you think of Texas, you probably think of long, flat roads, tumbleweeds and dry, dusty land.
Texas has that. But it also has some of the best riding anywhere.
Long, gentle sweepers. Tight switchbacks. Quick left-right-left downhills. The Texas Hill Country northwest of San Antonio has that and more.
For proof, look no farther than scenic Texas Route 16 and twisty FM (Farm-to-Market) 1431 in the Texas Hill Country. The ride through this land of genuine cowboys, wildflower fields and longhorn cattle herds begins about 30 miles northwest of San Antonio in a little cow town called Bandera.
It sure feels like you’re in the Old West when you ride into town on Texas 16. Once a staging area for cattle drives, Bandera, population 873, bills itself as “The Cowboy Capital of the World.’”
The cowboy legend is memorialized with a monument in front of the county courthouse. It honors all cowboys, but makes special mention of Bandera County’s rodeo champions: guys like Toots Mansfield, Buddy Groff and Scooter Fries.
Click the bike into gear and head north out of Bandera on Route 16. Not far out of town, the two-lane blacktop is marked by a sign reading: “Steep grades and winding curves 20 miles ahead.’”
What an invitation.
Rolling toward Medina, the road consists of short straights and gentle sweepers punctuated by the occasional sharp bend through vast, rocky ranch land. Just off the roadway are patches of yellow and purple wildflowers that are a part of what makes the Texas Hill Country a joy.
As you ride into the small town of Medina, signs identify it as “The Apple Capital of Texas.” Everyplace, it seems, has its claim to fame. And the apples are pretty tasty, too.
Continuing north, you start seeing what will become a regular sight along Route 16: small herds of longhorn cattle. Then, as promised, the road gets steeper and the curves tighter as you head into the Texas Hill Country proper.
No 70 mph speed limit here. When the signs warn you to slow to 45 mph, or 25, or even 15, they mean it.
Between the steep grades and blind hairpin turns, you can catch the occasional glimpse of the surrounding countryside. Craggy canyons and hills make it clear that you’re not in stereotypical Texas any more.
The vistas are spectacular. Oak trees and juniper cover the hills. Texas bluebonnet flowers are everywhere.
Route 16 straightens out just long enough to head into Kerrville, home of historic Camp Verde, used by the U.S. Army from 1855 to 1869. It was here that the military experimented with, and then decided against, using camels for transportation in the desert Southwest.
Back out in the countryside, Route 16 winds through open ranch land and crosses crystal-clear creeks. Gradually, the ranch land gives way to farms as you cruise toward Fredericksburg. Corn and alfalfa fields line the road, interspersed with rolling pastures.
From here, a great side trip takes you down FM 1376, which runs southeast to Luckenbach (claim to fame: “Everybody is somebody”). A side roads leads through a stand of huge oak trees and into the nearly deserted town, where the local store is marked only with a sign out front that says: “Post Office.” The place actually served as an Indian trading post in the 1850s.
Retrace your tracks back to Route 16 and head north, where the grazing cattle and pastureland give way to peach groves. Texans, it seems, can grow just about anything. Wildflowers line the roadway, creating spectacular blankets of purple and yellow.
In Llano, you turn east on Texas Route 29 through spectacular fields of yellow wildflowers. This is a connector road. Route 29 itself is relatively flat, and the spectacular countryside turns more industrial until you get to the town of Marble Falls. The foray into the real world is more than worth it, though, since it takes you to the start of one of the tightest, most hilly rides in all of Texas: FM 1431 to Cedar Falls.
This 30-mile ride takes you from rock-strewn pastureland into deep woods as you climb the hills overlooking a string of huge man-made lakes. Fast sweepers mark the terrain as you climb to the crests of the hills, where up-and-down roller coaster rides await.
Descending into a valley, you’ll see brown longhorns grazing along the road next to a stream. It’s name? Appropriately enough, Cow Creek.
The valley floor gives you a breather, but not for long. Over the crest of the next hill, the sweepers rise and fall as much as they veer left and right, taking you back into woods.
It’s easy to lose yourself in the ride. Left, right, up, down. The turns get tighter as you make your way up the hills. You crest a sharp hill and dive into a dip that makes your stomach feel light. Over and over again.
Soon you roll into the town of Lago Vista, which marks the transition into a tamer section of FM 1431. You still rise and fall, but the sweepers are a bit more gentle as you reach more populated areas like the little town of Jonestown.
By the time you get to Cedar Falls, you’re reaching the end of one of the most challenging and scenic routes Texas has to offer.
Along the way, you’ve learned that there’s far more to the Lone Star State than flat roads and barren prairie lands.