Texas ménage a trois
When a rally just won’t do
Leakey, Texas, March 9–28—Motorcycle rallies are rarely sufficient to satisfy the needs of a two-wheeled adventurer. They add spice and flavor to the sport, but the true meat of biking is a lonely back road. And in Texas, the mecca of Lone Star riding is the Hill Country. In particular, it means experiencing the challenges of a triple set of Ranch Roads, RR 335, 336 and 337, commonly referred to as the Three Sisters Ride (and known by some of the locals as the Twisted Sisters). With light traffic and only quaint, small towns along the route, these three roads frame a picturesque rectangle of twisty and tight asphalt and have provided years of excitement for all bike enthusiasts, sport, touring and cruisers alike.
I was recently presented with the rare opportunity to ride the Twisted Sisters not once but on three separate occasions within a three-week period. (And you say there isn’t a God.) The second weekend of March was my girlfriend’s birthday and instead of a party, she asked for a Hill Country road trip (good call on her part). The following week was my daughter’s spring break from college and she too wanted to ride. And then, to round out the month, at the end of March I was slated to play the role of a guide with a production crew filming the pilot episode of a new motorcycle travel series, “2 Wheel Passport.” While the first two trips would only be with the company of my two favorite gals, the last one would include four other guides: celebrity bike builder and renowned chick magnet Joe Martin of Martin Brothers fame; sky-pilot Tom Engle (a close associate of Joe’s who is also a talented bike builder) the owner of High Five Cycles in Dallas; the statuesque drink of water Ms. Leslie Porterfield; and Magoo (a.k.a. Tony Mirusso), famed radio DJ, stand-up comedian and dapper man about town. (Apparently I was invited because the Road King could haul a bunch of stuff and several of the guides were aboard choppers. I can think of no other logical explanation.) On all three separate trips, I rode similar routes and saw many of the same sights. But at no time do these circuitous roads ever get old. Each time was a unique and distinct pleasure.
The town of Leakey serves as a pivotal point for most Three Sisters rides. Located about 160 miles southwest of Austin, Leakey is a sleepy burg entrenched along the banks of the Frio River. Small even by West Texas standards, Leakey is a tourist town with not much in the way of industry other than being a jumping-off point for riding the Hill Country or for tubing the cypress-lined river. And you will not find a more biker-friendly town in the Southwest. That point is driven home by the D’Rose Inn & Cabins, located just a few blocks south of US 83 and Ranch Road 337. Deborah Rose took over the property about four years ago and has been “two wheels only” since September of 2005. She also entertains those guys who have chosen to pedal their way across the Hill Country. The inspiration to become a motorcycle- and bicycle-only facility came about when one of her customers’ motorcycles was knocked over by a registered guest in a truck. Afterwards, she asked the bike owner if there were any lodgings catering solely to bikers. She received a resounding “no” and switched directions. Now, if you show up with a bicycle or motorcycle on a trailer, you are allowed in but you have to park the cage in the back. And that vehicle doesn’t move again until you are checking out. Motor bikes or pedal bikes only. Cool. Texas’ first gated motorcycle community. I highly recommend the “Indian” cabin with its white pine walls and ceilings. Each cabin is named after a motorcycle marque. The “Harley” and the “Davidson” cabins make up the only duplex and share a common front porch.
Just up the road and about half a mile west on RR 337 is the Frio Canyon Motorcycle Stop (Stop—not Shop). This is where Bob and Robin Albright fling wide their doors to ease the cares of weary travelers by offering cold drinks and hot food at their Bent Rim Grill. (Bob claims to be the character who labeled the three ranch roads the “Twisted Sisters” and even sells a cool T-shirt stating such.) This is a new location for the Stop; the Albrights recently vacated their first building, which was a 65-year-old barn in the center of town. Although this great couple doesn’t provide motorcycle service, you can find oil, T-shirts, accessories and 24-hour roadside assistance (just in case). It’s also home base for several motorcycle fundraising events.
Those desiring fancier grub can’t go wrong with Vinny’s Italian Restaurant, located on US 83 and 2nd Street, about a block north of RR 337. I was told that Vinny’s is rated among the top 10 Italian restaurants in Texas. It wouldn’t surprise me; Sal and Winnie Vetrano go out of their way to dish out some of the best food around, home-cooked family recipes that have been passed down through their family for generations.
South of town, Garner State Park provides plenty of summertime activities courtesy of the Frio River that cuts a swath through the middle of the park. (Frio is Spanish for cold—and it certainly is.) Garner is often booked to capacity, especially on any date that corresponds with a college holiday. As a note, the rivers in the Hill Country are notorious for flooding. And since a number of the roads utilize low-water crossings, don’t be surprised if your destination includes a detour. (At one point, I was stranded less than half a mile from the D’Rose Inn but couldn’t get across a severely swollen Frio River.)
The proof is in the riding?
No matter how friendly a town may be to motorcyclists, the true assessment of any riding locale has to be based on its roads. And these curvaceous triplets go far beyond being just a catchphrase in biker nomenclature. This area is known locally as the “Alps of Texas,” and heading west on RR 337 from Leakey, you’ll be captivated by the road’s beauty and, at times, caught off guard by its treachery as you climb to the summit of the Edwards Plateau (pay attention or you might end up with a mouthful of limestone and having to call Bob Albright). After a little over 20 miles, you come to Camp Wood and a chance to partake of the goodies at BJ’s Café & Sweet Shop.
After getting your sugar buzz on, ride north on Highway 55 for less than five miles and then take Ranch Road 335 North to experience the second twisty Sister. Following the course of the Nueces River, RR 335 comes to an end after 29 miles, where you are forced to take Highway 41 East. Although rather lackluster, Highway 41 gives you a chance to regroup for your final leg of the Sisters’ seduction, RR 336. (As a side note, if you continue to ride east on 41, you can visit the legendary YO Ranch by accessing US 83 North.) Running south on RR 336 provides a grand finale to the Three Sisters Ride, dropping through various grade changes and demanding skill levels. (Just be careful—most of 336 is open range and cattle have no regard for your safety.) The ride ends back in Leakey with the last few miles of 336 chasing the headwaters of the Frio River back into town.
But there is so much more
Opportunities for side adventures abound in this area and include trips to Lost Maples State Park and the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum (both just north of Vanderpool on FM 187, another fine road). The Lone Star MC Museum is a private collection of classic machines owned by Allan and Debbie Johncock. There is an extensive collection of motorcycle history on display here, from the 1910s to the present, including a ton of Vincents and British bikes. They even have a Vincent Black Knight—a streamlined 1955 model of which only 255 were produced. The Ace Café provides hamburgers, drinks and very tasty Aussie meat pies (Allan is originally from Australia). I highly recommend the goulash pie.
From Vanderpool, you can continue on the most eastward leg of the Sisters, RR 337 heading into Medina, “The Apple Capital of Texas.” That’s the location of Love Creek Orchards and the Cider Mill Country Store, a mandatory pit stop for those who consider themselves pie aficionados. Ranch Road 337 ends in Medina, but Bandera is just a short ride down the beautiful Highway 16 (almost every road in the Hill Country is prefaced with the word “beautiful”). Bandera is the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World” and home to Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Bar and the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, two noted honky-tonks (11th Street featured the Marshall Tucker Band two days after I passed through).
Backtracking to Vanderpool, take 187 North and 39 East heading towards Hunt, Texas. Just outside of town on Highway 1340 West is a cow pasture containing Stonehenge II, a 60 percent scaled replica of the original English version. It is flanked by two 13-foot Easter Island head statues (moai) and is another fine example of the quirkiness of the Texas Hill Country. And with other equally fine destinations nearby—Devil’s Backbone, Luckenbach, Enchanted Rock—no matter which direction you point your bike, you are certain to be in for an excellent time. But the Twisted Sisters loop is a must-do ride that cries out to be carved by two wheels. A cut above the rest, both in reputation and fulfillment, these three beauties shine as the finest in Texas motorcycling.
D’Rose Inn & Cabins
Frio Canyon Motorcycle Stop
Vinny’s Italian Restaurant
Garner State Park
BJ’s Café & Sweet Shop
Lost Maples State Park
Lone Star Motorcycle Museum
Love Creek Orchards
Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar Saloon
11th Street Cowboy Bar