Cycle: 2011 Tour de Lights

Bike Santa.jpg
photo by Jason Franz
Time to drop the shopping lists and saddle up for the second annual Tour de Lights.

Last year's inaugural edition wound through neighborhoods in Arcadia, Tempe and Ahwatukee. This year, the Tour weaves its way to glowing displays in Gilbert, West Chandler and the brilliant holiday light mecca of Moon Valley.

The key to this year's tour is to not strictly follow each stage route and allow yourself to roam up and down streets and enjoy all of the residential illuminations. Strap on the bike lights and bottle up the favorite blood warming beverages because these lights will only stay lit for another ten days or so.

Islands Lake.jpg
photo by Jason Franz
Stage One: The Islands in Gilbert
This year's tour opens with a short five-mile ride around the man-made lakes of The Islands development in Gilbert, framed by Elliot Road to the north, Ray Road to the south, McQueen Road to the west and Cooper Road to the east. Le Grand Depart is at the Starbucks at the northwest corner of Warner and Cooper Roads.

Islands Drive is the primary road that circles through the main neighborhoods and their three man-made, Tidy Bowl blue lakes. Sneak into the neighborhood by cutting behind the shopping center to Bayshore Drive and go left to Islands Drive.

Islands Redondo Dr.jpg
photo by Jason Franz
Because most homes back up the main road it's best to cut into various neighborhoods on roads like Newport Beach Drive, Sea Crest Drive and Ocean Drive (yes, all of the roads in here are clever spins on that beach/island lifestyle all East Valley Jimmy Buffett wannabe's yearn for) to take in several nice displays. Once at the north entrance, bound over the faux cobbles and enjoy the views of the large McMansions whose lights glisten and reflect on the glassy water before heading back south.

Continue to follow the contour of Islands, crossing Warner and cutting through the various lakeside neighborhoods around the south end of the development. The payoff for Stage One comes at the end on Redondo Drive, just before Warner. Look for the home with the ascending star high over the roof and various Richard Scarry characters in front. The entire cul-de-sac is lit as well as many other homes along Redondo. Once through, return to your car and recover for Stage Two.

Stage Two: West Chandler
The second evening's ride is an eight-mile out-and-back route that kicks off from Enzo's Gelato and Coffee in the strip mall on the southwest corner of Ray and Rural Roads. This stage rolls through two Chandler subdivisions: Warner Ranch and Ray Ranch Estates.

Warner Ranch.jpg
photo by Jason Franz
First stop is Warner Ranch. This area is a labyrinth of roads and blocks with a wide array of front yard shows and displays. Access the east end of the subdivision by way of College Avenue off of Warner. This road will backdoor into Warner Ranch along roads that anyone familiar with the ASU campus will recognize. Crawl up and down the blocks, being sure to hit displays on Myrtle Avenue, Mill Avenue and Orchid Lane. Once you ride west to Day Street, cross south over Warner to Ivanhoe Street. Turn right onto Ivanhoe and follow it across Kyrene road for another half mile to McKemy Avenue, turning right onto McKemy.

Take McKemy back across Warner and into the Ray Ranch Estates. This section of homes has some interesting light shows, but the highlight is five blocks in on Orchid Lane. This is one of those streets where every house on both sides of the street breaks out thousands of LED's to create an imitation winter wonderland, more than 17 homes having decked the halls.

Orchid Dr.jpg
photo by Jason Franz
Once through Ray Ranch Estates, just double back to your car and try to grab a treat from Enzo's before they close.

Stage Three: Moon Valley
Moon Valley Door.jpg
photo by Jason Franz
The final stage of the 2011 tour is unquestionably the year's queen stage, taking cyclists through the Valley's Holy Grail of holiday light displays, Moon Valley. This is the tour's longest ride at right around ten miles, offering some very gentle terrain variations to cruise over providing the single amount of physical challenge to the entire tour. Eh, who are we kidding, this is still super flat.

Aside from the incredible number of homes lit up and the enormity of their displays, Moon Valley roads lay out massive bike lanes and incredibly quiet, traffic-free streets. It's as if the rest of Phoenix has no idea of the light shows in this tony enclave.

Head off from the strip mall on the northwest corner at 7th Street and Coral Gables Drive (sorry, no coffee shop to base from on this one). The first blow-your-Santa-hat-off display will come within a half-mile just off of 4th Street with lights soaring high into the Queen Palms.

The local neighborhood association judges and awards various homes with decorating honors, signified by placards planted in the front yards not too dissimilar to For Sale signs. And there are winners at virtually every turn. A majority of the city's gigawatts have to be directed to Moon Valley this time of year. Meander up and down every road, keeping Moon Valley Drive, Coral Gables Drive and Gleneagles Drive as main roads that will lead to each other.

Moon Valley II.jpg
photo by Jason Franz
Some of the biggest and brightest are based in the northwest corner of Moon Valley along 7th and 8th Avenues near Coral Gables and Port au Prince Lane. The number of lights in these few blocks easily runs up into the millions and feature many character dioramas and some music-synched shows. Most displays stay lit well past 10 p.m. so take your time and enjoy the lights.

Happy holidays!

Stage 1: The Islands in Gilbert
Route Type: Residential roads
Trip Distance: 5 miles
Trip Duration: 1 hour
Difficulty: Easy
Route Map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/61207908

Stage 2: West Chandler
Route Type: Residential roads
Trip Distance: 8 miles
Trip Duration: 2 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Route Map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/61209190

Stage 3: Moon Valley
Route Type: Residential roads
Trip Distance: 10 miles
Trip Duration: As long as you want
Difficulty: Easy
Route Map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/61210040

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