Athens, Ohio: Windy 9

Text: Luke Swab • Photography: Luke Swab

As the official home base of Ohio’s Windy 9, Athens marks the beginning and end of every route on the list. It’s sizeable enough to offer plenty of lodgings, and urban enough to serve up the region’s largest collection of dining, shopping, and nightlife options. During our stay we took advantage of its great local restaurants and breweries. Athens says it’s a little eccentric, and we agree. But unlike other growing cities known for being creative, in Athens’ case it seems genuine. At the end of a full day’s ride, we felt lucky to come back to a city almost as exciting as the surrounding roads. During this past fall, we explored four of the nine routes, leaving ourselves plenty of excuses to return next year.

The Triple Nickel

Just as a motorcycle needs to warm up to function at 100 percent, so does the rider. I enjoy the slow 30-minute ride from Athens to the Ohio River which forms the border of Ohio and West Virginia. Here is the start of the famous 555, dubbed the “Triple Nickel,” Athens’ most aggressive route of the Windy 9. It’s a brisk early-fall day with the leaves showing the first signs of colors, still a few weeks out from falling onto the roads. Traction is abundant, and our Suzuki V-Storms are standing by at full operating temperature, ready for adventure. I know we are supposed to shoot photos, but the little guy on my shoulder whispers into my ear to downshift and my posture sinks down deep into the saddle. I should be looking at the beautiful scenery whizzing by, but instead I’m looking deep into the corner as my body decides to let off of the brake and accelerate out of this sharp left turn. I prefer lefts over rights. I think that’s normal, but I’m not sure why it feels harder to keep your body from crossing the center line, the more you lean into a curve. I snap myself out of the trance I’m falling into. There is a perfect triple-kink turn just ahead that demands to be photographed. As a photojournalist with a job to do, I feel a conflict of interests. But as a motorcyclist, the Triple Nickel is about as good as it gets. 

The Zaleski Zipper

If you’re short on time, the Zaleski Zipper can be a fast 51-mile loop, taking you from the city of Athens into the countryside and back. It also can be stretched into a full-day experience, depending on your preference. The official route contains a number of places to veer off-course to enhance the ride. It’s fun to check out the Zaleski State Forest and the Lake Hope State Park, with lunch and dinner options at the latter. It would be a shame, however, not to venture down the gravel forest service road a few miles to discover the abandoned Moonville Tunnel. Decide for yourself if it really is haunted. I’ll just say that my camera’s battery quickly died here and my friend’s video camera wouldn’t record properly to the memory card, adding to a reoccurring theme we heard from locals about electronics behaving erratically at the tunnel. The Moonville Tunnel has become more popular recently, so if it’s a little too touristy for you, try to find the second tunnel nearby that is more remote and less talked about. We had the second tunnel all to ourselves for over half an hour. Not to mention, our camera gear worked flawlessly there as well. In any case, this route allows for the most flexibility and adjustments, so if you enjoy straying from the beaten path, use the Zaleski Zipper as a suggested route for your day. 

Rim of the World

The Rim of the World route is less aggressive than the Triple Nickel, but just as beautiful. This makes sense, as the routes cross each other twice throughout the day, both covering some of the same area. It’s only 87 miles long, but with all there is to stop and see, we ended up rolling back into Athens after dark, so I recommend allowing yourself plenty of time. McConnelsville is a great spot for lunch, or you can try the Triple Nickel Restaurant in Chesterhill, depending on your pace or if you get stuck behind an Amish buggy. Be aware, however, that the Triple Nickel Restaurant is only open Thursday through Sunday. Make sure to take some time along the Muskingum River to check out locks number 6 and 7. Mechanically, they are fascinatingly simple, and that only adds to the level of mastered engineering that went into constructing these locks in the early 1800s. Apparently they are the only hand-operated locks remaining in America, making them even more worth the visit. The route covers very well-maintained roads with little traffic, making the sweeping corners easy on your bike and the rolling hills easy on your eyes. Farms, ridgelines, and pockets of forest along the way make it one of the most popular routes of the Windy 9. If you only have time for one or two routes during your stay, this should be one of them. 

Hocking Hills Nipper

Nature lovers, set your alarm early. Even if you drive straight here and straight back, you will not have enough time to see all the unique aspects of Hocking Hills State Park in one day. Also, wear boots that are suited for walking, or even bring a comfortable pair of shoes to change into. The stops all require a decent amount of walking from the parking lot to the features. Whether it be a cave, waterfall, gorge, or firetower, you can expect to walk at least a quarter mile from where you park to see the natural beauty packed into this region. Some trails can be as long as three miles. A bus service is available that rotates between sites, allowing you to jump on or off at different trailheads before taking you back to where you parked your motorcycle. Of course, you can drive between all the spots as well, but if you don’t want to deal with changing in and out of your gear all day, this is a great option. The loop which takes you to the park is nothing to shake a stick at, but most people will find themselves focusing more on the site-seeing at the park than on the ride for the day. So charge up your camera, and get a full night’s sleep to prepare for this beautiful long day of adventuring.