Opinion: The Lasting Allure of Radio Tower Rides

Apr 4, 2022 at 19:47
by Mike Levy  
Mike Levy


''I'm pretty sure there are only one or two more steep sections,'' I spat out between breaths while both Phil and I struggled to sustain enough forward momentum to keep from falling over. If you're ranking climbs from most bad to least bad, the one we were crawling up has all the hallmarks of the former. First off, rather than engaging singletrack, it's an access road of the kind that slows time down to a standstill, and it's covered with loose tennis-ball-sized rocks that shift and roll under your every pedal stroke. I also don't know how it's legal to build roads this steep, but I suspect it isn't. And, worst of all, there isn't even a trail at the top to come back down on.

What is up there, after three or four more steep sections, is a radio tower.

It's nothing too grand, just fifty-or-so-feet of steel bolted together, painted red and white, that's bouncing our calls and texts around from the top of a nameless sub-peak. A twelve-foot fence topped with scary-looking loops of razor wire encircles both the tower and a small building for the batteries and a humming generator, and plenty of red and orange signs with skulls and lightning bolts make it obvious they don't want visitors. That's okay, though, because just getting to the damn thing is the point.


Is it just me, or do most towns have a trail or climb named after a radio tower?


Most of the time, all I want to find at the top of whatever mountain I've just pedaled up is some sort of amazing singletrack descent back to the bottom. But I also have a weird urge to find my way up to any and all radio towers in my town and surrounding area, a fixation that's been there long before I found bikes. We've all got our own "things" that we're into, and while there's even a woman who married the Eiffel Tower back in 2008, my own desires are more exploratory and probably don't require counseling. At least not this specific urge, anyway. Yet.

Long before I knew that our sport existed, I remember spotting a tower on the side of a local mountain that could only be seen from one particular angle. Nearly hidden by a fold in the hillside, it was positioned just halfway up the 3,000-foot mountain, but I also remember thinking how neat it would be to get myself there, probably a hearty quest for a ten-year-old that didn't realize most towers are accessed by maintenance trucks via 4x4 roads. No bushwacking needed, probably no bigfeet to fend off, and not exactly the Indiana Jones-style adventure I thought it'd be. Regardless, the notion that I just needed to get to that damn tower - all the damn towers - has never gone away.

When I did eventually stumble onto it more than a decade later and after being lost on a maze of old logging and 4x4 roads, I discovered that it was barely twenty feet tall and one-hundred-percent rusty. There was no view to take in at the top, and the only reason I found it was because its old generator was shrieking so loudly I could hear it long before I saw it. At the time, though, it felt like something special that could finally tick off my list of senseless to-do tasks. As an added bonus, there was even a trail down from this one.


While I put out a lot of effort to get to the towers, I rarely take photos of them for some reason.


I've ridden to countless towers since then, some absolutely massive and others long abandoned and close to toppling, and another while it was being resupplied with diesel via helicopter as we had our unbuckled helmets blown off from a barely-safe distance. A buddy and I even found a three-legged Yorkshire Terrier while sitting at a different tower, and another served as the ideal spot to watch for UFOs late at night. And while I can't say I spotted anything unexplained (yet), my whole ''I gotta get to the tower'' mantra has fuelled all sorts of dumb adventures to other places that I probably shouldn't visit.

Not long ago, in the middle of another ill-advised adventure to some radio tower that I couldn't find, I somehow managed to spot a long-abandoned house through the trees. This wasn't just an old trapping or logging cabin, though, but a 2,000-square-foot, two-story house that, when finished, wouldn't be out of place in a middle-class subdivision with Jim and Nancy's Dodge Journey parked out front. Framed up with siding and stairs in place, it looked ready for insulation but had obviously been left near-untouched for a decade or two. The closest overgrown road, the one that I bushwacked through to get to the house, has decent-sized trees growing in the middle of it, so it's certainly been a while.

Sliding my way around a flat corner or finally rolling into a line that's scared me for too long is never going to get old, but I'll always want to simply go exploring as well. Over the years since, I've also found my way to caves and waterfalls, cabins and old logging camps full of rusty steel, plane crashes, illegal border crossings, some of the wildest viewpoints you could ever imagine, and a bunch of mines that seemed frozen in time. I doubt I would have seen any of it if I hadn't spotted the damn radio tower as a kid.

What's your radio tower? And what sort of things have you come across on your rides?


127 Comments

  • 108 2
 "Wanna go see a dead body?"
  • 22 1
 @Logan Paul
  • 71 0
 Refreshing article, reminds me of something that would have been in Dirt Rag.
  • 8 0
 With a picture of Ned Overend on the opposite page.
  • 5 0
 Bring back Dirt!
  • 47 0
 Love these rides: I want to get to the top of that hill over there!
Hmm... Apparently it was a false summit, so got to go over there to the real summit. Okay... That's not the top either but I bet that rise over there is. ...hours later out of water you get to the highest point around and it is 100% worth it.
  • 28 0
 Rider, another settlement needs your help!
  • 27 0
 Sadly, we don't have any radio towers. We have to use Alps
  • 2 0
 What about Chrischona?
  • 2 0
 Mont Chasseral? Smile And many others, Ulmizberg, Bantiger, Uetliberg, Bachtel….
  • 3 0
 @korev: Not (just) a radio tower. Plus somehow I have always ridden those trails on winter afternoons and that hospital at the top would always give me kinda unsettling feeling Big Grin
  • 4 0
 @pakleni: Yeah hospitals should be at the bottom of things, not the top.
  • 2 0
 @Svinyard: There's a hill nearby across the border in Germany, just at the beginning of famous Schwarzwald. Excellent roadie loops. Excellent!

However, near the top of that hill, in the middle of nothing, there's an old sanatorium where they kept less fortunate kids. That place give me chills every time I pass by
  • 2 0
 pretty sure there's one at the start of the Antennentrail in Zürich Wink
  • 1 0
 @mdiguisto: Mind blown...
  • 19 1
 Is this a recycled article? I swear i have read this piece before.
  • 1 0
 Willing to bet my ENVE wheelset that this is recycled
  • 24 0
 Recycling is good. Cycling is good. Its a recycled cycling article. Doubly good.
  • 33 3
 @microwaveric: beta cucks EXPOSED!
  • 13 0
 @pipm1: I think it's an upcycling article.
  • 4 0
 @pipm1: If it's recycled, that's at least two cycles. Add the subject matter about cycling, and that's three cycles. It's tricycled. Three times as good.
  • 3 0
 @user178323: Yeah, nobody wants those
  • 1 0
 @betobi: Pretty sure it's downcycled, since we're on the free version. You know, down country, down cycling, it's the cycle that never ends.
  • 1 1
 @owl-X: only cooks spell cooks cucks. Derrrrrrrrrr
  • 2 0
 @owl-X: chrome reader mode entered the chat
  • 1 0
 I think it's technically plagiarism. Yes, you can plagiarize yourself. Identical content, new date, no attribution of the original: implies it's something new while being a straight copy of the original... technically plagiarized.

Not sure what's worse, this or www.pinkbike.com/news/the-lasting-allure-of-radio-tower-rides.html (dated Apr 14, 2022, just a link to Beta)
  • 1 0
 I believe it was published in Beta early this year (2022).
  • 13 0
 Mines. Not the ones that blow your leg off. The ones used to extract shiny stuff from the ground. Especially when they were last used 100+ years ago and all the remains is some dilapidated wood and rusty metal. There’s tons of them in Colorado but it’s most fun to find the ones buried deep in the hills, then try to figure out which trails or forest roads were the original access.
  • 3 0
 I can’t help but climb those old mine access roads and explore all the old structures
  • 15 2
 This article indirectly highlights the dearth of offroad trails in most urban and suburban areas.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, if you remove the fire roads and trails that were built to access radio towers, missile sites, and powerline towers, you'd be left with 27 yards of singletrack. Coming soon: "Trail Access Fee" on your PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) bills.

On the negative side, most, if not all, water companies severely limit access to the vast amount of lands they control. I get they have to protect watershed, but that argument doesn't hold much, um, water when you see them give a pass to hundreds of homeless people living on water company property in urban areas, yet security appears in an instant the second you jump a fence to access a fire road in a remote area in the mountains. (Ahem, Marin County, Santa Cruz Mountains, Crystal Springs Reservoir area, etc.)

So you can take collective shits in the watershed, but don't touch that creek with your randonneuring friends.
  • 8 2
 Missile sites…. How American.
  • 1 0
 As a fellow Bay Areain I support this statement.
  • 11 0
 i love poking around in off the beaten track zones & stumbling upon unmarked relics of long gone activity. not much evidence of really deep history to be found here in the pnw, but even finding remnants of early mining / logging / fishing activities & settlements is neat.
  • 10 0
 I have a thing for getting to the top at day break. I don't do it often, but there is something really special about eating your breakfast as the sun comes up before you drop into a descent.
  • 1 0
 Oh that's a good one, I've done this a handful of times and it's pretty amazing. Although it's good to strategically plan your descent so that you know it's aspect is east facing so you can see without lights. Made that mistake before lol
  • 2 0
 @gnarnaimo: ha! Yeah there’s a stark difference between “kinda dark but I’ll live with it” and “not sure if tree or Bigfoot, dark”
  • 9 0
 When I was training as a surveyor I was given a job of inspecting all of the telecom masts in Hampshire and the Isle of wight. Most were in remote locations and the larger ones on the biggest hills (obvs). I convinced my boss that the most efficient way of doing this was using my mtb. For a few months I had my dream job.
  • 11 0
 I enjoyed that. Pinkbike could use some Ferrentino-like writing,and this is close. Good job,Mike.
  • 7 0
 Not really mtb related. Florida has tons of freshwater springs ranging from huge to trickles. Chasing the source of the water by kayaking or bushwhacking is an illogical habit of mine.
  • 2 0
 I've done that. Something so otherworldly about seeing so much pristine water come flowing out of a seemingly random hole.
  • 7 0
 Reporter: Florida Man dies by gator, again, whilst chasing….(checks notes)…water, um, coming out of a hole.
  • 1 0
 @Svinyard: Luckily, a lot of the spring fed rivers in FL stay a consistently cool temp (due to the cool, underground, source), which is below gators' comfort zone. They are some of the few places in Florida where you can swim without fear of sharks or gators.
  • 1 0
 @thekaiser: I politely disagree. The gators less politely so.
  • 6 0
 The roads that connect to the power poles - they can be absolute murder. Accidentally thought I had an easy ride ahead of me and took my kids along. Now we refer to that ride as the Hell Ride.
  • 8 1
 Um no . Nope no tower trails on the Shore . No no no . Nothing like that . Bobsled! Yes we have a bobsled trail. Very exciting. Check it out .
  • 1 0
 Lol.
  • 4 0
 The third day of a three day bike packing trip in Grand Staircase Escalante. We rode past the sign warning people to turn around and go a different way. Then we turned onto Death Ridge. Then we spent the next 4-5 hours riding over softball-sized rocks. Down a sketchy eroded out Jeep road descent. Cross a washed-out creek crossing on foot, climb the next gnarly loose washed out climb to the next high point. Repeat.
  • 1 0
 been on that road before. it's an apt description.
  • 5 1
 Love the article Levy. I made it my goal to bike my bmx down every street in the town I used to live. It was half spot finding, half just curious what was around every corner. Now that I live in Vancouver it feels a bit overwhelming to do the same, but I may start chipping away at it again...
  • 1 0
 thats pretty awesome. Do it.
  • 1 0
 What a friggin great idea for an after work pedal around
  • 1 0
 That’s an excellent plan. I’ll need to do that as well.
  • 3 0
 I love stumbling upon long abandoned (medieval?) villages, houses, castles in the mountains in the south of france. It always makes me wonder how life must have been there in the past.

Once I even found a ping-pong table in a ruin, which was located in a remote and steep ravine, which was only accessible by foot or bike... no idea how it got there
  • 3 0
 Maybe,ping pong is older than we think?
  • 3 0
 "plenty of red and orange signs with skulls and lightning bolts make it obvious they don't want visitors"

It's not that they don't want visitors. It's that they don't want the bodies of dead idiots getting in the way of normal operations.
  • 3 1
 Why so serious?
  • 1 1
 Stay home, stay safe. Right? Time to renew your Zwift subscription.
  • 2 0
 I used to do a similar thing whenever I traveled internationally for work. If I had a free morning or afternoon, I'd peak out my hotel window, pick a landmark, and find my way to it by foot. The most memorable being a church steeple "not too far" up along the lake in Zurich. 11 miles later I reached my destination, took a moment to appreciate the afternoon, and then caught a water taxi back to town.
  • 2 0
 There is literally a radio tower that I can see from my house that I ride up the service road to, and come down some single track. From my door and back it’s only about 20 minutes, and nothing really technical, but I still find myself going back just for the fun of it. It’s a perfect little loop on a lunch break from the home office.
  • 2 0
 @mikelevy My radio tower is The mountain/hill opposite my house.
when I first started visiting my now fiancée I would wake up and see the top of a wind turbine turning on top of the mountain, I wrongly believed his to be part of the windy point trail at Afan(Glynncorrwg). Thus ensued a stupid idea of lets go ride the trail from home rather than drive 35mins to the start of them. A friend and I planned the ride using an OS map and off we went, soon to find out it wasn't where we thought and 4 hours later we arrived at our intended location wet and tired.
From that moment the desire to sit atop the mountain opposite and look back at my house was born.

Since then I have found three ways up to the Mynydd Pen-y-Cae and Craig-y-Llyn summits and found further adventures over into the next valley.

It all started with my radio tower being that wind turbine B08, I call him Bob
  • 3 0
 Levy of Gilead and his never ending quest for the Dar… errrr… radio tower.

'Go then, there are other trails than these.'
  • 1 0
 The high towers on the side of Whistler that takes you to Babylon By Bike. f*ck that’s brutal. I know I’ve ridden up the towers near the Tusk too but apparently that’s been erased from my memory other than the brutality of descending that road on a fully ridged bike with rim brakes.
  • 1 0
 Currently working in China - seen lots of abandoned stuff while on rides trying to find singletrack - entire complexes never lived in, buildings that might be 20 years old look like ruins, or a warzone, but so far number 1 is an abandoned cave/mine complex complete with bats, and their sh!t.
  • 2 0
 So Levy is recounting a meeting of the Pylon Appreciation Society as featured in "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" by De Botton?
  • 2 0
 Radio tower roads and cow trails... that WAS mountain biking in the 80's where I came from. Fun descents on the fully rigids with 2.1 tires @ 60 psi.
  • 8 0
 Cows can build pretty good singletrack. Minus the landmines...
  • 5 0
 @Andykmn: You really know who can bunny hop and who can’t at the ends of those rides
  • 5 1
 I can't help but silently read all of Levy's articles in his voice.
  • 1 0
 In my head his canadian accent is even more exaggerated
  • 5 0
 @me2menow: What accent?
  • 1 0
 whilst picturing him eating a bunch of Tim Horton's donuts
  • 4 0
 For me as a kid, it was fire lookout towers.
  • 4 0
 I enjoy a good nature poo.
  • 1 0
 @jibbandpedal
100% agree with you on that one, I always have to do a ritualistic poop and fertilize nature.
  • 3 0
 Riding mountain bikes for nearly three decades and I've only had to poo in the forest once.
  • 2 0
 @mikelevy: That's either really good planning, really good bowel control, or you don't do long enough rides.
  • 2 0
 @gnarnaimo: Lots of close calls haha
  • 3 0
 @mikelevy: I always keep wet wipes and a few sheets of TP on me on rides, when you gota go...
  • 4 0
 @mikelevy: Bro, do you even coffee?
  • 3 0
 As we tell the riders from San Fernando Valley:

"Leaves of three, wipe with me!"
  • 5 0
 @mikelevy: and that's the beauty of diversity, you have your radio towers and I'm pooping on the other side of them behind a small bush.
  • 2 0
 Funkturm. We also love to call it "Funke". Short, but techy downhill section. We also have the "Klenkes", or "Telefon". #teamaachen
  • 1 0
 Perhaps the best section of trail in the extended version of The Netherlands. (which is what you get if you include all bits that can be part of a day's ride starting and ending in the country)
  • 3 0
 Good idea to not let this fine piece of literature die a lonely death on a discontinued website!
  • 4 0
 I liked radio towers on FarCry3
  • 2 0
 Makes sense. Can’t beat the paved climb to the top for the tower workers.
  • 2 0
 The correct term is "mind control tower" and the ultimate example is Sutro Tower in San Francsico
  • 2 0
 Illegal boarder crossings? Send me a pin? I've always wanted to be Canadian
  • 1 0
 Things have changed a bit at the boarder since then haha
  • 7 0
 @mikelevy: How did both of you spell border wrong?
  • 3 0
 @danger13: I blame my phone
  • 6 0
 @danger13: I blame my American education
  • 3 0
 Radio towers? This is far cry from the usual matters.
  • 3 0
 Radio towers are my radio tower. Thought I was the only one.
  • 3 0
 Ummmm…..this was published like 6 months ago. Running out of content?
  • 1 0
 @ElDebarge ...Possibly pedantic, but the April post was the Beta article that requires membership to read. This is @mikelevy with his take on that. A bit of a delayed take, but not the same article.
  • 1 0
 @iammarkstewart: Levy's take? He wrote the original.

Based on the first few paragraphs , it's not even "a take", they look identical.

Oh shit, changed "50" to "fifty"... Pay the man!
  • 1 0
 @justinfoil: Like I said, possibly pedantic. I don't have O+ so I couldn't read it and didn't take note of the author. I'll go back to taking your word for it.
  • 1 0
 Ever done any night time urban rappelling? Descending off the top of a high-rise parking garage is a pretty exciting way of exploring an otherwise boring location.
  • 1 0
 Unfortunately around here all the good stuff is locked up behind gates and fences on private land.
  • 1 0
 Fernie Dirt Diggler, great trail! Although never ridden up, shuttled to the every time.
  • 1 0
 'The Mast' in Inverness, it's a b*tch of a climb, but worth it for the trails Smile
  • 1 0
 My next radio tower is +1300 mts from my house (which is +830 mts from sea level) so rarely go there
  • 1 0
 Ahhhh. “Tower Road”: where “Best day ever!!” Means one guy can ride up the baby heads while the rest of us walk.
  • 1 0
 "and a humming generator"

I hope the generator isn't usually humming. That would mean the power is out...
  • 1 0
 This article should never have made it onto the inter web. It should have been left in a coffee can at the base of the Tower
  • 1 0
 Water towers, most access tracks we use go to water towers.
  • 1 0
 different hemisphere, but same.
  • 2 0
 @Mike Levy I'll join ya!
  • 1 0
 We all know you're just going there because they're UFO hotspots
  • 1 0
 There are almost always open skies around radio towers!
  • 2 0
 Do trig points count?
  • 1 0
 sure they do
I once found some very interesting Hiway 50 markings on an abandoned stretch of road in the middle of nowhere (central Nevada). In the US, U.S.50 followed the 1st trans continental road we ever had, the Lincon Hiway.
  • 1 0
 I feel like I just got Beta Magazine content for Christmas!
  • 1 0
 feel like Powerline is another classic trail name/location
  • 1 0
 What became of the three-legged dog?
  • 4 0
 We found his owner! He was out with a dog walker and took off, and we ran into the dog walker and owner coming back up the mountain to find him.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: Hooray!!! And now I can reread the article without fretting over a dog I only learned of through writing on a screen. And kudos to spreading the spirit of random adventures in this day and age (however, I'm shit- any slogfest to the top of any peak and I'm always like "okay, can we go down now?").
  • 1 0
 Where's the Grim Donut!!?
  • 1 0
 Until e bikes came out and it became easy
  • 1 0
 Great article. Multi day bikepacking trips are my radio towers.
  • 1 0
 Fernie.
  • 1 0
 Gas lines
  • 1 0
 This is quabity





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