News flash: Bestrides.org has a baby brother, a comprehensive guide to road riding named Bicycle School. Check it out by clicking on the link in the header above.
What’s New in Bestrides?
If you’ve used the site in the past and want to know what rides have been added since you were here, at the end of this page is a list of recently-added rides.
The Bestrides Mission Statement
When I’m in an area that’s new to me and looking for a good ride, I do what you do: I google “bicycle rides Area X” and poke around in whatever sites pop up. And what pops up is almost always not what I want.
I get one of three things: either I get a site like Map My Ride, which lists all the possible rides in the area (Oh boy—if I want to do 200 rides, I’m set!); or I get a list of the longest, toughest, most badass rides in the area; or I get huge loops, where 30 miles of the route is really good riding and the other 70 is to get you from one good stretch to another.
I’m not in town to do 50 rides, I don’t ride for difficulty’s sake, and I don’t want to spend the bulk of my riding time getting to the good stuff. I want the best, prettiest, sweetest road in the area—maybe the best two—I want it short enough that I can do another ride the next day. And most of all, I don’t want the merely-OK miles of connector roads. If I want to ride from good section to good section, I can consult a map and find the connector roads myself.
So that’s what this site offers you. Nothing but great rides. No loops for loops’ sake. No climbing for climbing’s sake. No mention of the fifth-best ride in the area. No dull parts. Just the 136 best rides I know on the West Coast.
A great road ride has six virtues:
- It’s scenic. There are no rides on this site that aren’t eye candy.
- It’s interesting. That is to say, the road contour has character. It goes up and down, back and forth, presents you with changing conditions. No endless 6% pitches. No ruler-straight flats.
- It’s small—two-lane certainly, without a center line ideally.
- It’s untrafficked. Not even trafficked with a substantial shoulder. I don’t do shoulders unless I have to in order to get to better riding.
- The road surface is good.
- It has some climbing. Flat is boring. A flat road would have to have San Francisco Bay or the Redwoods for scenery to make my list.
If we were to do only rides with all six virtues, we’d rarely get on our bikes. So I include rides that have missing virtues but make up for that in the other ones. On such rides, I’ll warn you about the missing virtue(s). For instance, all the rides in Sonoma County have poor road surfaces but are worth riding anyway.
So that’s what you’ve got here. One hundred thirty-six rides around California and Oregon, each one being one of the two or three best rides in the area.
How to Use This Site
You’re welcome to use the site any way you want, but readers seem to use it in a few distinct ways:
A. If you want to know what Bestrides thinks of a particular road (say, you’re thinking of riding Hwy 1 from San Francisco to Mendocino and want to know what you’re in for), type the name of the road in the search window in the upper right corner of any page. Counting the Adding Miles sections, Bestrides contains evaluations of about 500 West Coast roads. See the How to Get the Lowdown on a Given Road section below for instructions (there’s a trick to it).
B. If you’re coming to the West Coast from afar and want to know where to ride, you can work from the Best of the Best page and put together a short list of Bucket List rides you want to do, then map a route that connects them, or you can use the Planning the One-Week Bicycle Vacation section below.
C. If you’re going to an area in California or Oregon that’s new to you, you can look at the Ride Locator Map or the Rides by Region page to see what rides are nearby.
D. If you live on the West Coast, you can build a bike vacation around the Best of the Best list.
E. If you’re driving from point A to point B, you can use the Ride Locator Map to see what rides lie along your route.
F. If there’s a particular kind of riding you like (great vistas, splendid descents, hard climbs), you can probably find a list of rides with your chosen feature among the Best of the Best lists.
How to Get the Lowdown on a Given Road
In the upper right corner of every page of Bestrides is a “search” window. There you can find out what I have to say, if anything, about any road or location in California and Oregon. Enter the key word/phrase (“Markleeville,” “Hwy 1,” “redwoods,” “Laureles Grade”) in the window and click on “search.” A search for “redwoods” will turn up a list of every Bestrides ride description were the word appears. However, if you enter multiple words (“East Bay”) or numbers (“70,” “Hwy 70,” “Highway 70”), the search engine will give you numerous false hits in addition to the true ones. To prevent this, enclose in quotation marks all phrases (everything consisting of more than a single word) and everything including a number. The search engine is idiotically fussy: for instance, in the Philo-Greenwood Rd discussion I mention Signal Ridge Rd. You can find it by searching in the search window for “Signal Ridge” or “Signal Ridge Rd”, but if you search for “Signal Ridge Road” (without the abbreviation) the search engine draws a blank!
Once you’re in the post, do a word search to find the mention of the particular road within it. On my Mac, <command> f opens a search window.
Planning the One-Week Bicycle Vacation
By far the most common question I get from readers of Bestrides is, “I’m coming to the West Coast for a week (or two) of riding—where should I go?” Here is my answer:
1. Plan to rent a car. Even if you settle in a ride-rich location, if you are carless, you will have to begin and end all your rides from your residence, which will involve a lot of mediocre miles.
2. As is obvious from the Best of the Best list, if you want to ride only the best rides in California, you’ll have to cover an enormous amount of distance getting from one to the other. This is tiring and eats up vacation time. It’s probably wiser to stay in one spot that’s rich with good riding and drive to rides nearby. The Ride Locator Map doesn’t make clear where those places are, so here’s a list, not in order of excellence. For details on any one of them, read the discussion of the area in the Rides by Region section, then read the discussions of the Bestrides rides in the area (there’s a list in the Rides by Region section), including the Adding Miles sections:
A. The San Francisco Bay Area—IF you can stand to do a lot of driving in freeway traffic and tolerate the other evils of the megalopolis. The Bay Area without doubt has the densest population of good rides on the West Coast—Bestrides lists a whopping 16 Bay Area rides, at least 10 of them outstanding, and that’s not counting nearby Marin. Drawback: long, stressful drives in awful freeway traffic. BART helps.
B. Marin and Sonoma Counties. Bestrides lists 11 rides, from Mt. Tam to the south to Tin Barn/Annapolis Rd. to the north, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A primary appeal here is cultural—the Wine Country towns are world-famous for their charm, their food, their wine, and their expense. Drawback: Marin terrain is not spectacular—mostly rolling dairy country—and Sonoma roads are notorious for their broken road surface. Every Sonoma ride in Bestrides has a poor road surface. The riding around the town of Occidental is particularly rich—see The Coleman Valley Road post’s Adding Miles section for a survey.
C. Santa Cruz. Endless good riding, charming rural atmosphere, one very cool city, and three cool villages. This and Paso Robles below are the two locations where you could ride to many good rides from your door without logging tons of mediocre miles. You’re closer to the riding if you stay in the small towns north of Santa Cruz: Felton, Ben Lomond, or Boulder Creek. Drawbacks: the terrain is all the same (though gorgeous)—dense redwood forest—and everything involves a lot of climbing, much of it steep. In addition, in late summer 2020 the area suffered a devastating fire which did major damage to the forests on all of our routes on the western side of the Santa Cruz area.
D. The Gold Country. The Bestrides routes are just a sample of the area’s riches—there is no bad riding here. Stay in any of the charming towns along Hwy 49 (Sutter Creek, Jackson, Plymouth, Placerville, San Andreas). Drawback: no flat or easy rides, few short loops.
E. Etna—IF you’re OK with being far from the bright lights. See the Scott River Road ride for details. Etna is a pleasant but very rural, tiny town, and the riding is almost wilderness, best suited to self-supported or sagged multi-day loops. Drawbacks: no urban pleasures, no short loops.
F. Eugene, Oregon–IF you’re willing to do some driving. Oregon’s great rides are spread around the western half of the state, and Eugene is as near to a hub as there is. From there it’s an hour west to the nearest coastal riding and an hour east to the McKenzie and Aufderheide rides. There is a ton of pleasant farmland and creekside riding around Eugene itself, especially SW and NE of town, but nothing on anyone’s bucket list. Drawback: long drives to the rides, unless pleasant is good enough for you.
G. Paso Robles. Bestrides has 4 rides in the area, and they’re the tip of the iceberg—there’s plenty of riding to keep you happy for a week. The riding is either rolling hills covered by vineyards and thick oak woodland (west of town) or flattish, open, grassy cattle/horse country (east of town), so you get some variety, both in landscape and difficulty level. Paso Robles itself is a pleasant little town, and there are three charming coastal communities nearby: Cambria (very small), Cayucos (tiny), and—by car—San Luis Obispo (small city). In Paso, as in Santa Cruz, you can get to all or most of the good riding without using a car. The nearby stretch of Hwy 1 (11 miles west) isn’t good riding, but it’s great for exploring by car, since it includes the Hearst Castle, a resident pod of elephant seals, and some other cool stuff. Drawback: Vineyards attract oenophiles in cars, so the traffic can be bad on the primary wine roads, so I suggest riding east of Paso on weekends. See the Adding Miles section of the Peachy Canyon Road ride for details on routes.
H. Oakridge, Oregon. At least 5 great road rides out of one little town. See the Aufderheide Highway ride for details. The only drawback is that the town itself is interesting for perhaps one afternoon and evening—after that, it’s all about the riding.
I. Boonville, California. Seven rides worth doing from town—see the Mountain View Road Adding Miles section for the list. Extra credit if you can go during the Mendocino County Fair, a classic old-school rural fair of great charm.
You’ll notice that the Sierra Nevada, California’s most spectacular geology after the coast, isn’t here. That’s because the Sierra rides, while wonderful, are spread out, and driving from one to another is often difficult in the extreme. Would you believe it’s a 7-hour drive from the Ebbetts Pass ride to the Kings Canyon ride immediately to the south?
Also missing is California’s most scenic road and its most popular bike touring route, Hwy 1, because, as I say in many of the coastal ride write-ups, I think it is, with a few exceptions, a sucky, tedious death-trap, albeit stunning to the eye.
3. A common sort of bike vacation is the enormous loop, where you get on your bike and ride hundreds of uninterrupted miles over several days. Bestrides isn’t very helpful here—it’s designed for another kind of riding. The best you can do is take a map, highlight all the Bestrides routes in an area, and try to map out a loop that incorporates as many as possible.
The “Adding Miles” Sections
At the end of each post, an Adding Miles section discusses the pros and cons of the less great but still worthy routes nearby—either within riding distance or a short car trip away. These are often rides I haven’t done, and I try to be clear about that in the description.
The “Shortening the Route” Sections
At the end of each ride description I’ve suggested ways to cut down the mileage or the labor without missing the ride’s best miles. If I don’t suggest a shorter route, it’s because I couldn’t find one—either the route is an unshortenable loop, it’s all equally good, or the means of shortening is obvious (ride out so far, then turn around and ride back).
How to Use the Mapmyride Maps
1. To interact with any of the Mapmyride maps and elevation profiles, click on the bold-face ride title in the upper left corner just above the map. This will display a larger version of the map with no visible ride route. If you then click on the “full screen” icon (black square in upper R corner of map with arrows pointing to all 4 corners), you’ll load a fully functional map with ride route. Click the “elevation” box to see the elevation profile. If you then click on “show elevation with grades,” you’ll see the % grade of each section of the elevation profile. Putting the cursor on the elevation profile will produce a red dot which you can move around to determine the elevation of any point on the map, the distance or elevation difference between any two points on the map, and so forth.
2. Mapmyride consistently underestimates elevation gain totals. Comparing their figures to repeated riding with an elevation-recording bike computer, I’d say any elevation gain total on one of our ride maps is about 70% of what you can expect to encounter. There isn’t anything any of us can do about this except to go in without rigid expectations. I’ve left Mapmyride’s numbers alone unless I mention otherwise, but in the write-ups I usually refer to numbers from my computer.
3. The maps display differently on different computers. For instance, the elevation profiles are wider on some machines than on others. So if you see some odd formatting, it may look normal on someone else’s computer.
How to Use the RidewithGPS Links
I am in the process of adding to each post’s map immediately following a link to the route on RidewithGPS. RWGPS maps have a number of advantages over the Mapmyride maps, most obviously their detailed information about elevation and pitch and their reliable info about unpaved sections of the route, if any. I suggest you use the Mapmyride map to get a visual sense of the ride, then use the RWGPS map for ride details.
Each ride begins with an estimation of total elevation gain. 90% of the time this is the number generated by the Mapmyride map. But Mapmyride elevation gain estimates sometimes go haywire, and in cases where I notice this I give the RWGPS elevation estimate, and indicate this by writing “(RWGPS)” immediately afterward. Since RWGPS elevation gain estimates are always more accurate than MMR ones, and since Mapmyride always seems to underestimate total elevation gain, I encourage you to use the RWGPS numbers in your ride planning.
RWGPS offers several different formats in which to view their maps. When you click on one of our RWGPS links, if the map that opens has a box in the upper R that says “RWGPS” (and it almost certainly will), click on it, and from the drop-down menu that appears select “map.” It’s a far superior format, with more road names and fewer distractions.
How to Use the Photos
The photos accompanying the rides were all taken by me unless attributed, and were almost all taken from the saddle during the ride. If the post is fairly old, you click on the photos and they will go full-screen so you can see them better. Unfortunately the software I use lost this feature a couple of years ago, so the newer photos can’t be enlarged.
Readers often ask me why Bestrides doesn’t cover Washington state. The answer is, I don’t think the riding in Washington is good enough. I’ve done a fair amount of riding there, and it’s often nice, but it can’t match the two states below it. Sorry, Washingtonians. I’ve described the five rides I know of in Washington that are exceptional at the beginning of the Rides by Regions chapter.
Obviously I’ve only been able to include rides I’ve done, and I’ve ridden probably 1% of the good roads in California and Oregon, so I welcome nominations from the floor. Tell me about the ride you treasure (not the ride you just do all the time or the ride that’s a really good work-out, please), and be as specific about its virtues as you can. And be clear about connector sections that are necessary but aren’t in themselves particularly rewarding.
Where’s the Gravel?
“Gravel” bikes and dirt road riding are the hot trends in road riding at the moment. Yet there are no specifically gravel/dirt road rides in Bestrides. A very few of the rides have unavoidable dirt sections, but that’s it. I don’t recommend dirt routes for two reasons:
a. You don’t need me for that. Good dirt roads are literally everywhere. There are 100 good dirt roads in my neighborhood alone. Really good paved roads, on the other hand, are relatively few and hard to find.
b. I hate riding a drop-bar bike on dirt or gravel. You’re welcome to differ, but to me the perfect dirt-road bike has been around for years: a light-weight hard-tail mountain bike.
How Many of the Rides in Bestrides Have I Actually Ridden?
All of them—most of them several times. I only bring this up because people have asked me. I gather it’s not always true of other ride directories. Sometimes in the Adding Miles sections I will discuss rides I’ve only been told about by Bestrides readers, and in those cases I try to be clear that such is the case.
What’s New in Bestrides?
Here is a list of all the rides added to Bestrides recently.
Trinity Center to Callahan
Siuslaw River Road
Salmon River Road
Round Mountain Road
Lower Colfax Road/Rollins Lake Loop
Muir Woods Loop
Monterey Bike Trail
Prospectors Road to Bayne Road
Wildcat Canyon Road/Happy Valley Road/Nimitz Way
Cañada Road Plus
Alma Bridge/Old Santa Cruz Highway Plus