When I consider rides I like, it’s easy to overlook the Zoo Ride. That’s because it’s not as long as most of our other marquee rides. But it does have a lot of features that make it worthy of consideration. In fact, our club has an informal “Friday Zoo Ride” that I might be able to join one of these years. In the meantime, I have mostly ridden it by myself.
As the name suggests, the Zoo Ride heads to the Austin Zoo. Our zoo is not in the city, but is several miles west. From our neighborhood, we get a quick taste of the hills that highlight the Zoo Ride. We take an easy climb through one of the newer subdivisions and cross Ranch Road 1826 into an older subdivision with large lots.
We get to zoom down a couple of nice hills here — hills that allow us to easily top 30 mph. Because of the way the route heads, we will not be coming back this way, so we don’t have to climb those hills. On one of our other routes, we do make a return trip through this area, and coming near the end of the ride, the hills can take a toll on worn out riders.
Anyhow, the route takes us across U.S. 290 west of Austin, and on to Circle Drive. This is a nice two-lane road with minimal traffic, although speeds tend to run high. We’re on Circle Drive for less than two miles, though, and then we turn right onto Rawhide Trail, at a sign pointing to the Austin Zoo.
From this point, it’s all downhill. The road twists and turns through typical Hill Country landscapes, rocky ground covered in cedar and live oak. Some suburban-style subdivisions are being built out here, too. With all the sprawl in Austin, we wonder how much longer we’ll have decent biking around here, or whether we’ll have to drive to worthwhile riding areas. I’m afraid it will happen sooner rather than later.
Rawhide Trail takes a jog to the right, and the zoo isn’t too far down. If you decide to go that way, the entrance to the zoo is a short way down. Once past the entrance, you’d never know the zoo is there. Its fences are camouflaged by the heavy brush along the road. At the end of the road is Paisano Ranch, the former home of the late Texas author, J. Frank Dobie. It’s now owned by the University of Texas, and two writers in the graduate school there are awarded fellowships to live and write at the ranch for six-month periods. They can work undistracted, in isolation. However, entrance to the ranch is blocked at this point.
I prefer to jog left near the zoo entrance, on D. Morgan Road. It’s not long — a little over a half mile — but it’s great fun. The road twists and turns, dipping downhill all the way, sometimes steeply, sometimes near level. I have never encountered a motor vehicle on this stretch, although there are entrances to some homes along the way.
Of course, when the road ends at a locked gate, the cyclist has to turn around and head back — and that means a climb of almost a mile and a half. According to Strava, the grade averages only about three percent, but there are spots where it touches 10 or 11 percent — and two little places where it’s 14 and 15 percent. So that short slog can take much longer than the typical 1.4-mile jaunt.
The next leg of the ride takes us over some semi-busy two-lanes, up to Southwest Parkway. Southwest Parkway is a six-lane divided highway with a generous shoulder. It’s very popular with bikers. It hits its high point by the big AMD semiconductor complex, then makes a nice, fast drop down to Travis Country. Travis Country is a nice upscale subdivision with a road circling it. Ridden in a clockwise direction, it’s more downhill than up, so the cyclist gets a nice reprieve after all the ups and downs around the zoo and on Southwest Parkway.
Leaving Travis Country, we take some major arterials again, but the traffic isn’t usually too bad. Our final stretch is along Escarpment Blvd., the main north-south road through our Circle C Ranch subdivision.
In total, the ride is around 25-26 miles. Again, not all that long. But the hills add a bit of challenge to it, and the scenery is a bit different than what we get on our rides to the south and southeast. If I feel like testing myself, the Zoo Ride is a good choice.