Ohio is where I met my bride, Sarah. If Steve had not subscribed to RoadRUNNER, I probably wouldn’t have met her. I love coming here and riding the thrillingly curvy roads of southeastern Ohio. As part of our “at home” series, you can trust that these four loops are top notch. If not, it’s Steve’s fault.
In 2007, Steve came down to North Carolina to attend the second Memorial Ride for my dad. It was a small event, and I don’t recall talking with Steve specifically. Fellow motojournalist Jim Parks, however, did. A year later, we were all in Ohio for our first dual sport Shamrock Tour. Steve introduced us to his family, including his youngest daughter Sarah. On departure day they invited all of us for breakfast, and Sarah played the piano. You know how the rest goes.
The Triple Nickel
Steve was aboard the venerable KTM 790 Adventure, and as the honorary guest I got to choose a bike from his stable. My options were between the Suzuki GSX-S750 and V-Strom 1000.
With blue skies in the forecast, we decided to ride the famous Triple Nickel first. SR 555 departs Zanesville to the south and immediately throws unsuspecting lefts and rights. I picked the GSX-S, a willing accomplice to the day’s shenanigans. It put a wide smile on my face, and it wasn’t just the tingly vibrations felt from the foot pegs and seat.
South of Ringgold, the asphalt is fresh, dangerously so. The smooth and grippy surface invited us to turn up the wick, but as anyone who’s successfully traversed this sinister stretch of road knows, you can’t go faster than you can see. And you usually can’t see over crests or around blind corners. It was a roller coaster ride, and none of that computer designed kind either. Think of a wooden roller coaster that sends you on your way with a mild case of whiplash.
Choosing a lunch spot for motorcyclists is easy. Just look in the parking lot. Bikes there? Must be good! Well, not always, but we lucked out. Two world-traveling gentlemen on their BMWs had picked a good restaurant in Marietta.
SR 26 was a blur, literally. At one point, the road name picked up an additional zero as we turned right on SR 260. I thought we saw a covered bridge or two, maybe a red one, but I couldn’t be sure. The road required our full attention with the neverending succession of curves. Briefly, I thought about taking a photo. “We’ll probably see more,” I decided. The famous last words of the motorcycle journalist who returns without the shot.
The devil popped up on my shoulder and whispered into my ear: “Pass that motorcycle up there. Do it!” At that moment, the obligatory angel also appeared and offered further advice: “At least use your turn signals and wave as you pass.” Good call. Weak and a slave to the addicting acceleration of the GSX-S, I obliged. The high-visibility jacket and helmet combination only remained in my sight for a split second. The rush ended as we reached the Ohio River Scenic Byway. I glanced down and noticed I was almost out of fuel. Steve stopped beside me and yelled: “Let’s get gas in Woodsfield.”
The elevation at the river was 650 feet, but 17.5 miles later in Woodsfield, we were almost twice as high. SR 800 to Woodsfield is part of the Demon’s Triangle, as dubbed by Monroe County. The biggest increase in altitude happens close to the river, but it’s an endlessly curvy road passing by lots of farms and surprising long-range views.
We rode west and into the sun on the way back to Zanesville. There’d been too much excitement on just our first day, so this was the perfect afternoon cruise to get the blood pressure back down. Among the usual muscles that would later be sore, my face hurt from all that smiling.
A Little Bit of Everything
In northern Italy, there’s a high mountain pass called Passo dello Stelvio. The ascent from the east via South Tyrol isn’t fun. Still, thousands of motorcyclists and bicyclists climb it every year. It’s a challenge, and the reward is worth the effort. Yesterday’s main challenge, the Triple Nickel, gave me similar vibes. It’s an incredibly technical ride, but it doesn’t have a good rhythm.
On our second day, I traded the menacing GSX-S for the V-Strom, a comfortable touring bike. In the morning, we picked up SR 658, a road new even to Steve. That portion between SR 209 and Baltic, OH, became our favorite. It’s a long, flowy section without many driveways or side streets. The good asphalt and fun but predictable curves brought about a Zen-like feeling. It’s when you don’t touch the brakes, yet you never feel like you’re going too fast and somehow it feels like you’re always getting a little faster.
Welcome to Amish country! In Baltic we got coffee, for each, at East Main Kitchen & Coffee. They were big and delicious cupfuls, too. Unfortunately, it was too early for the tempting cakes in the display. In hindsight, we should have brought some home for our significant others.
As we were sitting outside drinking coffee, the conversation turned to bear wrestling. I don’t remember how we got there, but the important part is that apparently 20-30 years ago people went around rural American bars and convinced bar patrons to wrestle a bear. Winners would get cash. It was a classic bait and switch. They’d show them a small bear, but the actual wrestling bear was much bigger. Either way, a bear is a bear!
Anyways, my brother-in-law’s father and uncle were big, burly men standing 6’8”. They were good-natured people, but they were always the target for intoxicated men trying to prove something. Over the years, my extended family members learned how to clear out a bar. One dreary night in Zanesville, the bear wrestling gang entered the wrong watering hole. They thought they could make some easy cash, but unbeknownst to them, they found the first two people who’d wrestle the bear and win. Rumor has it that the carnies didn’t want to pay up, but it’s difficult to argue with two men that just showed a bear who’s the boss.
I unsuccessfully tried to reset my mind after Steve’s vivid storytelling, because nothing could beat that story. Amish country felt a little bit like Disney World. As a native Austrian, I appreciated the carpentry, the cheese, and the baked goods, but I didn’t like seeing fake German, Dutch, and Swiss buildings in the middle of Ohio all mashed together without rhyme or reason. I know I’m overly sensitive on this subject, but the long line of tourists waiting to get inside the restaurants clearly didn’t care. I just took my cream puff and went to sulk under a shady tree.
If we had thought the morning portion was good, the afternoon route blew our minds! We traveled empty two-lane roads and saw shades of yellow, orange, and red in the trees, even more Amish country, a waterfall, a tunnel, a dam, and a liberal arts college. Best day so far!
Visiting our State Parks
We started the third day southbound on SR 93, then SR 13. It was a slow morning—uneventful and rather straight. This is where my writer’s panic set in. “What am I going to write about here?” nagged a voice in the back of my head. Soon, however, I was about to find out that life always finds a way.
Burr Oak State Park came up and Steve said there’s a nice scenic road right next to the water. I’m not one to pass up a photo opportunity like that, so off we went. The park was rather empty. The parking lot by the boat ramp had maybe five cars, but the two park ranger SUVs caught our attention. I didn’t give them any further thought, as I often see rangers in our parks.
Just around the next bend was the road Steve had told me about. He hadn’t lied. The road runs right next to the water with tree-covered hills on the other side. The sunlight was perfect. There was a curve. The fall colors shined brightly, and out came my camera. We did our usual photo shooting, which means lots of turnarounds. With no other vehicles on the road at the time, we pulled many U-turns to get in lots of shots in as little time as possible.
On the last ride-by, I caught blue lights in my peripheral vision. They didn’t come from behind me but from over the water. Were we getting pulled over by a boat? Well, we were already parked on the shoulder, but a young ranger stepped on land and demanded our licenses. His older partner remained on the least intimidating police vehicle I’ve seen. We did the dance and waited while exchanging pleasantries and learning that it’s illegal to make a U-turn on a road. While my license checked out, something was wrong with Steve’s.
In the meantime, I thought why not fly the drone and take some nice aerial photos. Wrong. Also illegal in a state park. That one we could at least all laugh about.
Finally, we got sent on our way with a stern warning, but Steve and I agreed that we needed to move on. Just a few weeks before this trip, a friend had told me that rangers have the most power out of all law enforcement. I wasn’t about to find out how far they could go. Sarah would never have believed that we got pulled over by the flip-flop fuzz (respectfully, of course), so I took a photo.
As we headed deeper into the Hocking Hills State Park, we stopped by the Lake Hope Lodge for coffee. The extra-large wall display on the way to the balcony provided in-depth information about the history of the area. That alone is worth the short one-way ride to the lodge.
If you like to get off the bike and move, then this is your tour. Ample walking and light hiking opportunities appeared left and right: Ash Cave, Old Man Cave, Moonlight Tunnel, and more. Usually, we would have also gotten off the bike, but a long morning and creeping hunger kept us moving.
The farther we got into Hocking Hills, the more traffic appeared. Traveling below the speed limit and a growling stomach are never a good combination, but it was in this slow pace that I spotted a small wooden sign for the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls with a restaurant. What a treasure to find! Steve didn’t know about it, either. It looked unassuming from the road as only a small cabin front was visible. Once we stepped through the restaurant doors, though, the building just kept on going. The rather large restaurant with several rooms and a separate outdoor seating area served us incredible local fare. Steve promised to bring his wife there on their next motorcycle outing.
As quickly as curves can appear in Ohio, they can also disappear. Less than 30 minutes after lunch, we’d left the hills, trees, and twisties behind and were now surrounded by cornfields. Fortunately, that didn’t last long. Steve rerouted us onto some excitingly tight corners back to Zanesville.
On our last day, we headed north toward Roscoe Village and Coshocton, the place where I first crossed paths with my wife. Of course, I had to take the opportunity and ride up and down the streets of Coshocton to reminisce. I don’t like living in the past, but reflecting on moments like this is good for the soul.
With my wife and two boys on my mind, Steve and I headed for Amish country again. This time around, though, I was overcome with a sense of community. When we passed through non-Amish towns, the buildings looked like they could use some TLC. Nobody was around, and it just looked deserted. However, when we came through town in Amish country, it was a bustling scene. Horses pulling large and small carts, bicycles, people walking and talking to each other—all manifestations of community and happiness. The Amish are definitely doing something right!
This was when I started daydreaming of leading a different life. I could easily ditch all technology, as long as I’d have my motorized toys. That’s all I need.
When we crossed into Tuscarawas County, the landscape became a little more open. We found ourselves riding on curvy roads on top of hills with uninterrupted views to all sides. The noticeable lack of traffic didn’t result in a faster pace. Instead, on this last day of our tour, we savored the experience to the fullest. We rode slow, stopped often, and marveled at how beautiful this area is.
One of the things I’ve always wondered about is why isn’t anybody building homes on top of the mountains in North Carolina and West Virginia where I ride so often? It turns out that the tops are either too rocky or too soft to build on. In Ohio, however, many homes are rightfully situated on top of hills. Fortunately the geology allows it, because the sites and views are incredible.
Our last planned highlight for this tour was Seneca Lake, a beautiful getaway just south of Zanesville. As we followed the curvy SR 313 on the northern shore, I couldn’t help but laugh at the many signs in a very short distance notifying motorists whether they were in Guernsey or Noble County. There was some poor planning on our part, as all the restaurants on the lake were closed on a Monday. We ended up buying sandwiches at the Senecaville general store. It was peaceful enough to reflect on our four days traveling through Steve’s backyard. Even he reveled in the opportunity to spend so much time on a motorcycle and rack up miles in an area he has lived his entire life, yet always tended to pick the same old favorite roads.
You can always show an old rider new roads.
Facts & Info
Distance: Approximately 740 miles
If you haven’t paid attention, or if you’re a new RoadRUNNER reader, southeastern Ohio is a motorcyclist’s playground. Spring to fall are good times to visit, but late September is when the area is at its best. Zanesville offers plenty of hotels, restaurants, and attractions, so even if there’s a rainy day, you’ll find something to do.
Ohio is home to the AMA and it’s consistently a top state in terms of motorcycle registrations. There are a lot of riders here. Because of this, the majority of the non-riding public is very receptive to motorcycles. In fact, they’re so proud of their home state that they want even more riders to visit and see for themselves.
Please ride respectfully, especially in Amish country. Their horses are used to traffic, but give carts space and keep the noise down.
Lodging is abundant throughout the route, and given the broad motorcycling appeal, you’ll probably return to explore different parts of southeast Ohio.
Roads & Biking
Most roads are in good condition. This part of Ohio also has a lot of gravel roads, although none are featured on this tour. There is abundant wildlife and deer are active at all times. The area is known to have a lot of technical roads including blind corners, off-camber turns, limited sightlines, and many hills, sidestreets, and driveways. Please ride carefully.
- Visit Zanesville (free motorcycle map)
- Millersburg, OH
- East Main Kitchen, Baltic, OH
- Seneca Lake
- Tuscarawas County, OH
Motorcycles & Gear
2019 KTM 790 Adventure
2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000
2015 Suzuki GSX-S750
Helmet: Arai Signet-Q, Shoei Neotec
Jackets: Icon Tarmac 2, iXS Torres
Pants: Klim K Fifty 2, Scorpion EXO
Boots: TCX, Alpinestars Gran Torino
Gloves: Racer, Eska X-Trafit GTX