I'd like to cycle up Mt. Lemmon (cycling up hill very slowly is my idea of fun) but I've been warned that even though going up has a bike path or shoulder, going down does not. In fact, going down is on a cliff edge and is not safe. The bike store that told me that suggested a ride in Saguaro Park instead.
The mountain also seems to be quite far out of town (Tucson/Phoenix) and so I would need to rent a car for a really early trip, or get into a group trip.
Is there a safe way to get at least partly up the mountain?
I'd be going in January.
Which raises another question: is it cold at the top in January?
Or should I follow the bike store's advice and just potter around Saguaro park?
I was in Tucson last weekend for el Tour. On Sunday we decided to take a ride before heading backmhome. We rode through Saguaro Park from Ina rd, then rode south and looped back through Gates Pass and back on Silverbell to Ina.
In our experience of one ride I'm not sure Saguaro is any safer than Mt Lemmon or any other road. On our way up and over Gates Pass we picked up a rider at a scenic pullout. The road is double yellow there and curves and dips to limit visibility. A few minutes later I heard a car overtaking us, then squealing tires as there were also cars approaching. As I looked back I saw the car sliding to a stop a foot or so from the back tire of the rider behind me.
We were riding single file within a foot of the fog line.
As she passed she had a scared look on her face, it was a young overweight girl. I hope she filled her pants. The guy behind us told us he was sure she was going to hit him.
My point is that it doesn't matter what route you take, sometimes it's just luck or fate that separates us from a crappy driver. Take the ride/route you want and be glad you're not "living" your life vicariously through TV, Facebook or a cellphone.
The guy at the bike shop was probably talking about the loop through the eastern Saguaro Monument, not the western part via Gates Pass. But I agree that you should do the route you want.
From the edge of town to Summerhaven on Mt. Lemmon is about 30 miles and you'll start climbing right away so I don't see the need to rent a car - just ride up as far as you want and then turn around and come back down. On the descent you'll be going faster and shouldn't be holding up traffic much. If you do notice cars getting impatient behind you it's not that hard to pull over for a moment in a safe spot and let them by. And yes, it can be cold and snowy at the top - check the weather reports before you head out.
The shoulders up and down are full break-down lanes & safely rideable. The major issue with the down leg is the speed with which you can be moving. It is a near-continuous climb/descent and your descent leg can easily average 30 mph or more. Ice & loose rocks will be more of an issue than anything else. Tucson in January will be high-30s to low-40s about sunrise, the base of Lemmon will be about 5 degrees cooler & the peak about 15-20 degrees cooler. You can search for Mt. Lemmon, Az on Weather.com.
Car rental depends more on where you will be staying. From the University district (downtown) it is about 15 miles to the base of Lemmon (Speedway-Wilmot-Tanque Verde-Catalina Highway) easy miles with good bike lanes most of the way). The Catalina Highway which climbs Mt. Lemmon can be closed during the winter for snow & ice dependent on recent conditions but it is usually open. You will still be able to ride some part, if not all of the road.
As a "climbing" alternative, I would agree the bike shop probably was talking about the western part of Saguaro National Park. The eastern is much smaller & mostly flat. The "big" peak on that ride is Gates Pass which is about a 1,300 ft elevation change with no bike lanes or shoulders and a lot of traffic. You may want to take a look at http://psy1.psych.arizona.edu/cgi-bin/megahurtz for a very nice listing of rides in the Tucson area.
I finally did go up Mount Lemmon, thanks to your advice
I finally did climb Mt. Lemmon. Some great views, some nice fellow cyclists, and it wasn't too hard. But I did notice some overly fast motorcyclists zooming down, which does complicate things for bicyclists. I cycled down Mt. Lemmon too, which was a thrill, but I was admiring scenery and almost drifted off a cliff.
Still, I recommend it.
Did you stop in Summerhaven or make the right just before the village and go on up to the ski area with the "Iron Door" restaurant? Think that's another 3 miles and a bit steeper than the previous climb.
I stopped at Summerhaven and then turned back, because it was getting late. I later heard that the last 3 miles is difficult, especially coming back down, where you have to use your brakes a lot. So I don't really know if I could have handled the last 3 miles.