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Conzelman Loop

Distance: 12-mile sloppy figure eight
Elevation gain: 1640 ft

This ride is a spur off the Golden Gate Bridge Loop ride, and as such it can be added on to that ride or ridden as an alternative to the GGBL’s post-Bridge second half. It adds considerably to the work load, since the GGBL ride is essentially flat and this ride is almost never flat, but it jacks up the drama and scenic power of the ride by a factor of about 10, because, even though the scenery from Sausalito to Tiburon is just fine, the vistas on this loop are simply staggering. If you can see them—the Marin Headlands are often wrapped in fog, especially in the summer (see final photo). In fog this ride has its magic, but I’d try to wait for a clear day.

The riches packed into these 12 miles beggar the imagination: spectacular views looking down on the Golden Gate Bridge, glimpses of inaccessible beaches along the north shore of the Golden Gate, a lighthouse, a charming little museum, World-War II gun batteries, a battleship’s 16-inch gun, a lovely cove with a beach and surfers, a lagoon, a Cold-War missile base you can tour, a ripping 18% descent you don’t have to climb back up, and on and on. Don’t just ride it—explore, drink it in, wander. Every foot of paved road is worth riding, and there’s history and natural beauty at every turn.

If you’re riding across the Bridge, you’ll have to work your way to the west side of Hwy 101. Ride out the north end of the parking lot, ride the shoulder of Alexander briefly until there’s an obvious intersection, then carefully cross Alexander and ride through the little tunnel to Conzelman. If you’re driving, take the Alexander exit and go south on Alexander briefly to Conzelman, then turn into the parking lot at the base of Conzelman overlooking the Bridge.

Your warm-up ride

Conzelman is instantly and seriously steep, so I ride the Bridge sidewalk to warm up. Depending on the day and hour, you may have to ride over to the east side to do this, but that’s easy to do. Once on Conzelman, the pitch is at its worst in the beginning and gets easier. The road is one-lane one-way for cars so you have tons of room.

Ride up Conzelman to the roundabout and continue on Conzelman uphill. Soak up the views of the Bridge below you, and keep an eye out for glimpses of hidden beaches snug along the shoreline west of the Bridge.

At the top of the climb there is a sign reading “18% descent.” I question that figure, but it’s steep, and the view of the road curling below you to Point Bonita and the Point Bonita Lighthouse is matchless. Take your photos before you get up a head of steam, because it’s hard to stop mid-plummet. There’s a nice run-out at the bottom which lets you carry some serious speed. As the road levels out, you pass several World War II gun batteries. The guns are gone, but you’re welcome to explore them and contemplate a time when San Francisco expected enemy fleets to sail into the Bay.

Partway up Conzelman and masked for Covid, with SF, Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge in the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge closer, and Mt. Diablo on the horizon to the far L

Ride to the end of Conzel- man. You can’t ride to the lighthouse, so you might want to bring a lock and shoes so you can walk there. At the western terminus the road does a U and becomes Field Rd.

Find the Nike missile base, a relic of the Cold War. You’re allowed to poke around on Saturdays, and once a month there’s a docent tour where they actually elevate a missile on its launch pad.

Ride Field Rd. to Bunker Rd., stopping at the museum—it’s a nice one. Go L on Bunker.

Now find the loop to Battery Townsley. It’s to the north of Rodeo Lagoon, and it’s inexplicably left off a lot of maps or represented as a hiking trail, but it’s old pavement and perfectly rideable. It’s unmarked on our map at the extreme NW point of the route. Stop at the summit to muse on Battery Townsley, where they have on display a 16-inch gun from the Battleship Missouri in lieu of the battery’s own guns of a similar size. Its dimensions are mind-boggling, as is the fact that it fired a projectile weighing over a ton. There are docent tours once a month.

The Conzelman descent (center of photo), with Point Bonita on L–the lighthouse is on the tip of the point

Before leaving, savor the incomparable view of Rodeo Beach and Point Bonita below you. Continue on to the beach. Watch the surfers and the pelicans.

Continue on Bunker Rd. At the intersection of Bunker and McCullough you will have to choose between two return routes. If you continue on Bunker, the return ride is a very gentle climb that goes through a fairly dreary tunnel and returns to Alexander—go R on Alexander to return to your car or the Bridge. If you want more work and more fun, turn R on McCullough and you’ll have a nice, moderate climb back to the roundabout of Conzelman, whence you get a very nice descent back to your car.

Rodeo Beach and Rodeo Lagoon from Battery Townsley, with the Golden Gate and SF behind

Shortening the route: You can save one substantial climb by driving to the roundabout on Conzelman and starting there. You could skip almost all the climbing by driving to the lagoon area and riding around on the flats, but you’d miss a lot.

Adding miles: Do the Golden Gate Bridge Loop. For more excellent options, see the Adding Miles section of that ride.

The Conzelman descent on a typical August morning

Salmon River Road

Distance: 34 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 3790 ft

This ride is an offshoot of the Forks of Salmon loop ride, and has the same virtues: rugged, rocky landscape, minuscule road width, little traffic, major exposure. Since it’s short and relatively easy to get to, it makes a nice alternative if you found the FOS ride seductive but didn’t want to invest the 100 miles.

Of its 17 miles, 10 of them are just very nice canyon riding along a river on a large, polished two-lane road. But the other 7 miles are extraordinary—hair-raising serpentining along a vertical canyon wall on a true one-lane road with no guard rails or any kind of protection, with massive rock on one side and a 200-ft drop-off to the river at the very edge of the road on the other. I loved it, but it’s not for people who have trouble with exposure.

Salmon River Road takes off from Hwy 96 at Somes Bar and follows the river upstream for 17 miles to Forks of Salmon, an intersection with a few buildings but no services. The road is often mildly up and down, but it’s never hard work and no pitch lasts very long. Mapmyride’s elevation total seems excessive. It’s only slightly more work going upstream than it is going downstream. The Salmon River is dramatic and grand, and views of it far below you along the route are frequent and excellent.

The good 7 miles

The first 7 miles are domesticated riding, on a polished road surface with a double center line and road shoulders through a broad valley where the river is tranquil. At mile 7 a sign says, “Narrow winding road next 35 miles,” all the road amenities stop, and the good stuff begins. The canyon steepens dramatically, the river falls away beneath you, the tread becomes iffy (which feels perfectly appropriate), and the road width becomes truly one-lane, with no guard rails or shoulder of any sort. I saw two pick-ups meet, and one had to back up a quarter of a mile to find a turn-out. Don’t rush through these miles—drink in the exposed rock, the views of the river, the absurd drop-offs on your L. It’s quite a place.

At mile 13, around Nordheimer Campground, things mellow out and go back to something like the first miles. When you see an unintentionally hilarious sign reading “Congested area” you know you’re nearing Forks of Salmon, which is an intersection with two or three houses, a couple of barns, and—surprise!—a modern school (who’s going to this thing?). Turn around and ride home.

If there’s a down side to this ride, it’s that there’s not much in the way of carving turns on the descents. Most of the down isn’t steep enough to be dramatic, and when it is the road tends to be pretty straight. I only had a couple of “Whee!” moments.

Traffic should be next to nothing. When I was there, a forest fire was burning adjacent to the road, so I saw a fair amount of forest service and Cal Fire vehicles—perhaps 20—but on a day without fires I’d expect 3-4 cars in 34 miles.

There are no services on this route, but there are a number of places where emergency help could be gotten: a fire station, a few campgrounds (with brick outhouses), private houses at Forks of Salmon, and the Otter Bar Lodge a few miles before Forks of Salmon. It’s a kayak school, and it doesn’t cater to other guests, but it’s there in a pinch. The only sign from the road is a large mailbox reading “Otter Bar” and a dirt road, but you notice the buildings deep in the trees on the river side.

Shortening the route: Drive to the “narrow winding road” sign and start there. It will save you 14 miles.

Zero shoulder, 100 ft straight down to the Salmon River

Adding miles: This is a great bike riding area with lots of opportunities. At Forks of Salmon you are at the midway point in the Forks of Salmon loop—ride as much of it as you’d like, in either direction. If you’re not going all the way to Etna or Callahan, I’d recommend the southern route (Cecilville Rd.) over the northern (Sawyers Bar Rd.) because it’s right along the banks of the river and offers excellent swimming.

At Somes Bar, Ishi-Pishi Rd. parallels Hwy 96 for about 7 miles of tiny, meandering road deep in pristine woods. Quite lovely, but a significant ascent, so be sure you’re up for it.

Hwy 96 itself is a popular through-ride for long-distance cyclists. In fact the Etna-Happy Camp-Forks of Salmon-Callahan-Etna loop is a bucket-list ride. But most of 96 is only pleasant riding, a 60-mph highway that is pretty but too straight and too big for any sort of drama. The one stretch of it that looked fun to me was between Orleans and Hoopa, and it also looked deadly—tightly winding with no sight lines, no shoulder, with a guardrail on one side and a rock wall on the other, on a well-trafficked road and impatient drivers.

The Salmon River

Beyond Yellowbottom

Distance: 55.5-mile out-and-back
Elevation gain: 5680 ft

A couple of people wrote to me about the Quartzville Road ride saying, “You stop the ride just when it starts to get good.” So I checked it out. My judgment: Yes and no.

Beyond the Yellowbottom campground, which is the turn-around point of the Quartzville ride, the road changes dramatically, and which ride you prefer depends on what you like and what mood you’re in. The new ride is on a road that’s smaller, less developed, less lush (but still pretty), much more isolated (3 cars in 32 miles), and much more up and down. Usually that’s exactly Bestrides’ cup of tea, but there is one downside: the road contour. For a skinny mountain road, it’s surprisingly straight—so straight that both the climbing and the descending lack a certain drama. So, because it’s prettier and swoopier, I’d still do Quartzville first. But this one’s very good too.

First, a disclaimer: I only rode to the summit and back, 16 miles each way. But I’m assured the rest of the road is also good, so I’ve mapped it all and am recommending it all.

Begin at Yellowbottom campground. There is plenty of turn-out parking along the road. At the large “Yellowbottom” sign on the creek side of the road is a pretty little trail that will take you down to the water—either a little falls or a large swimming hole just downstream—if you want to cool off after the ride.

The first mile or two of the route is exactly like the road you just drove on to get there, a wide, developed two-lane road through gorgeous Oregon canopy. Soon you cross a large bridge over the creek and the road forks, both forks looking equally good, just like Robert Frost said they would. Go R, onto FS 11 (it’s signed).

Somebody doesn’t want anyone using FS 11, because there is a fair amount of “All hope abandon”-type signage, all of it lies. First a sign reading “One lane with turn-outs.” Not really. There is no centerline, but the road is plenty wide enough for two cars. The next sign reads “Rough road ahead 25 miles.” I guess Oregonians are a pampered lot. In fact, the surface is flawless save a few cracks here and there, which run lengthways on the road and are easily avoided. Any road with a surface this good in Butte or Sonoma County would be celebrated in story and song. Then you get to a spot where someone has written “BAD BUMP” on the roadway. It marks a pimple in the road so minor you would never notice it if someone hadn’t drawn your attention to it. Don’t let any of this deter you—it’s a sweet, smooth, unthreatening ride, at least as far as I got. Streetview suggests things may get a little more frayed further down the road, but still nothing worrisome.

At first the surrounding foliage is just like Quartzville Road—stunning mossy maple forest, with a nice, noisy creek beside you whose constant rush is guaranteed to mellow out your wa. But as you climb above the creek the landscape gets drier and you’re into alders, ferny walls, and rocky outcroppings—very pretty, but different. Finally near the summit you’re in the solid green of conifers (less interesting).

There is some weird stuff on this road. For instance, there are mileage markers painted neatly on the route, but they were done by someone who was insane, had OCD, or had an agenda invisible to me, because they mark mileages like “24.76” and “32.99” (see photo). Almost never are they round numbers. Sometimes the markings are 1/100th or 2/100ths of a mile apart, so you’ll get to answer that question that plagues all cyclists: What’s your time in the 1/100th-of-a-mile sprint?

Weirder still, at one of the many bridges crossing the creek you’re following you’ll see what appears to be a section of freeway, cast aside and lying on the far bank of the creek (see photo). Anyone who has any idea what it’s doing there, or how it got there, let me know.

Mid-ride, it gets rockier

Just before the summit (at mile 15.6 for me), there’s an unexpected fork with no signage at all and each branch looking equally good. It’s only a momentary worry—the R fork turns to gravel almost immediately.

The psycho mileage markers

If you’re like me and you use Mapmyride’s elevation profiles to estimate your work load before heading out, you will be cruelly misled. MMR shows a profile of fairly constant pitch, steepening only slightly in the second half, and it says the climb to the summit averages 3.3%, which is next to nothing. So I expected the pitch to go from 2% to 4%. My experience was nothing like this. The first miles are almost flat, climbing at a pitch so mellow that when the first stair steps, around 5%, appear you welcome them as a diversion. But the steps get steeper and longer, until the final 6 miles are downright labor, with pitches of 7-10% one after another. Or I was just having a very bad day.

Shortening the route: Ride to the summit, as I did. If you want still shorter, ride until the scenery or pitch fails to please and turn around. It’s only going to get worse.

Adding miles: Ride Quartzville Road, the ride this is a continuation of.

The mystery freeway

Siuslaw River Road

Distance: 35 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2450 ft

(This ride is discussed as part of a much larger loop in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon: the Best Road Biking Routes from Mountaineers Books.)

The network of roads southwest of Eugene are an amazing cycling resource. South of Hwy 126, west of Hwy 5, and west and south almost without end, every road is good riding.

It’s all pretty much the same sort of thing: rolling gently through open, postcard-pretty farm and ranch valleys, along wooded streams, and over mellow hills, on small, relatively untrafficked roads with excellent pavement. Not an ugly mile to be found. No long, tough climbs. No busy highways to avoid. Courteous drivers. No litter. No broken glass.

Nothing here makes Bestrides’ Best Of lists, because it’s all classic PPO riding (Perfectly Pleasant Oregon). Nothing will take your breath away, but you’ll be happy. There is no such thing as a best route here. Feel free to wander. Loops can be effortlessly constructed, of all sorts of lengths.

To represent the area, here’s my favorite stretch of Southwest o’ Eugene road. It’s canopied riparian mossy maple creekside riding, but if you’re in the mood for open farm country it’s easy to make it a part of loops that include the best of the valley riding (see Adding Miles).

Begin in Lorane, which is an intersection with a convenience store. Ride Siuslaw (pronounced “sigh-OOH-slaw”) River Road (also signed Siuslaw Road) to its intersection with Wolf Creek Road, then ride back. Bestrides actually has another ride on the same river, North Fork Siuslaw Road, but that one’s on the coast where the river, now much larger, meets the sea.

The miles from Lorane to Letz Creek Rd are merely fine, and if you are only interested in outstanding you can skip them.

At first the road has a nice, almost effortless contour as it meanders along the river, which is a river in name only—it’s a big stream where it meets the sea but here it’s a mere trickle in late summer. Traffic is next to nothing—on a lovely August weekday midday, I saw 3 vehicles in two hours. The water itself isn’t pretty, and you can almost not see it even though it’s right beside you. You’ve come for the riparian vegetation—grand mossy maples mostly, often thick enough and backlit enough to give you that Oregon “nature’s cathedral” feeling. The foliage varies from good to breath-taking, between the inevitable Oregon clear-cuts and tree farms. Try to ride on a sunny day—without the light, the ride would be a couple of notches less dramatic.

You will ride past Fire Rd., which made me wonder if there was a road named Logging Rd. nearby. A short way into the ride you pass Siuslaw Falls County Park. It’s pretty lame—just water passing over a low shelf—but the half-mile ride in is pretty and fun.

Siuslaw Road is almost effortless until you hit the first real hill, and from then on it’s pretty constantly up and down, with three noticeably long pitches that won’t hurt but will make you say, “Hey, this was supposed to be my recovery ride!” (on the return ride, there are only 2 hills). 2450 ft of gain in 35 miles isn’t a lot but it isn’t nothing. Stick with it—the last couple of miles before the turn-around are as pretty as any on the ride.

Shortening the route: Start at Letz Creek Road. There is no turn-out but ample shoulder parking on LCR. Turn around at the first significant hill (but you’ll miss some pretty stuff).

Adding Miles: Literally, just go anywhere. Siuslaw River Road continues west from our turn-around, all the way to Hwy 126, which was a traffic nightmare the last time I saw it. At our turn-around point you’re actually on the route of our Gardiner to Eugene ride, which will let you ride west all the way to the sea if you ride it backwards. Wolf Creek Road heads north back into the Southwest o’ Eugene road network from our turn-around, so take it if you’re looking for a loop.

Siuslaw River Road

The obvious loop is Wolf Creek to Territorial Hwy back to Lorane. Some riders fear Territorial Hwy because, while it’s very pretty and has a wonderful contour, it’s narrow, has no shoulder, and is a bit trafficky, so there’s little room for you. It looked OK to me. If you’ve got more legs, keep going north when Wolf Creek deadends at Territorial Hwy by jogging over to Crow and working your way east by any number of routes (all good) so you can come south on Lorane Hwy, my favorite of the open ag valley roads. A little further east will net you McBeth Rd and Fox Hollow Rd, two more of my favorites.

Even on the side of the road away from the maples, the Siuslaw River woods are beautiful

South Upper Truckee Road

Distance: 11.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1080 ft

This is the only ride in the immediate Tahoe area in Bestrides.  That’s because I don’t like the riding around Tahoe.  I know it’s legendary, especially the ride around the lake.  The century that circumnavigates the lake is one of the most popular centuries in the country.  I’ve ridden in the Tahoe area a lot, including around the lake several times, and in my opinion it all sucks.  The roads, at least in summer, are insanely crowded.  The ride around the lake is 1/3 faux Vegas, 1/3 Tahoe City gridlock, 1/6 a slow tedious climb up Hwy 28 to 50 on a shoulder amidst whizzing cars, and 1/6 actually not bad stuff around Emerald Bay, if you don’t mind narrow, rough roads with no shoulder crowded with tourists gawking at the scenery.  But aren’t the views of the lake majestic?  Yes, for the stretch around Emerald Bay.  The rest of the loop, the lake can’t be seen.

The roads radiating out from the lake— 89 and 267 to the north, , 431 and 50 to the east, 89 to the south—are all straight, monotonous shoulder rides with lots of traffic (admittedly 89 to Truckee is easy and pretty—the rest are tough climbs).   Hwy 50 towards Sacramento would be a lovely ride if it weren’t heavily trafficked—I’ve never seen a bike on it or heard of anyone riding it.

OK, but what about the bike paths?  Lake Tahoe is bike path central.  There’s a path that runs along the road on the west side of the lake from Tahoe City to Sugar Pine Point, a path that runs along the Truckee River almost to Squaw Valley, a path that runs along the south shore from near the Y (the Hwy 89/Hwy 50 intersection) past the Tallac Historic Site, and a path that runs south from the lake to Meyers along Hwy 50.  They’re all fun at 8 mph on a cruiser or mountain bike, but they’re too small-scale for a road bike.  The prettiest by far is the Truckee River trail, and in season it’s packed with pedestrians.

Then there’s the Fallen Leaf Lake Road, a 10-mile out-and-back to a famously lovely little lake with a nice waterfall, Glen Alpine Falls, on the back side.  It’s in all the guides to Tahoe-area riding, and it’s the worst ride I’ve ever done on a bike—one lane of atrocious pavement that’s busy, even in the off-season, with cars, half of them in the act of backing up and pulling off the road to make room for the other half going the other way.  I did this ride in November, when everything around the lake was closed, and the car traffic was still awful—on some stretches I had to pull off the road every minute or two to let a car pass me.

But if you’re a Californian who likes to travel you’re going to spend time around Tahoe, and even hell has one good road ride, so luckily there’s South Upper Truckee Road.  I’d be tempted to add the ride to Bestrides on the name alone (I wish it were Old South Upper Truckee Road, but one can’t have everything—as we shall see, it’s actually Lower South Upper Truckee Rd.).  But it’s also a very sweet ride.  It’s only 11.5 miles long, but in that space you get a stiff 3.5-mile climb, gorgeous scenery, serious solitude, and a fast, straight descent.  The road surface on SUT can be rough, so our route doesn’t descent it, but instead comes down Luther Pass Rd., which is a wide-open, straight 35-45-mph shot.  The scenery is typical Tahoe aspen, granite, and pine—gorgeous—but the road is essentially one lane and you are IN the landscape in a way you never can be on larger roads.  It isn’t a long enough ride to fill a day, so do it and drive south to the better rides around Markleeville and Hope Valley.

November proved a little late for the annual aspen color display

Park at the intersection of Hwy 50 and South Upper Truckee Road, just west of Hwy 89 and the agricultural inspection station.  There’s plenty of roadside dirt on SUT.  For 3.2 miles you’re on flat ground among houses as you follow the Upper Truckee River, the upper reaches of the river that runs out of Tahoe and down to the town of Truckee.  Note how the first houses were built closest to Hwy 50, then later ones added further out, so as you ride they get newer and bigger, and still bigger, until the last house is spanking new and comically huge.  You go through some nice aspen groves which must be stunning during the fall color (I was too late).  You pass the clearly marked trailhead for the Hawley Grade National Recreation Trail, which is reputed to be nice.

Boulder heaven

Soon after the houses, the road turns up, and is constantly 8-12% for the next 3.5 miles.  These miles are why you’ve come.  Since Hwy 89 goes to the same place, there is no reason why a car should be on this road and you should have it to yourself.  It twists and turns deliciously, the road surface has some nastiness, and it gets very narrow—It’s signed “one-lane” at the top.  This is about as close to a mountain-bike trail ride as pavement can get.  I love the scenery—scattered pines and boulders.  This is probably the best boulder ride west of Boulder.  At the bottom of the climb you pass the downhill end of a busy mountain bike trail, which may involve you in some traffic.

After 4.6 miles you meet up again with Hwy 89, and you could turn L and ride the rocket ship back to your car, but our route crosses 89 and continues up a completely unsigned road with an intimidating gate (open except in winter) that is in fact more of SUT—it is quite literally Upper South Upper Truckee Road.  Continuing on has its risks—this 1.2-mile leg goes by a very large campground, then passes Big Meadows, perhaps the biggest of the trailheads on the Tahoe Rim Trail.  So I would imagine it’s hectic in summer.  I did it in November, and it was deserted.  It’s also utterly delightful, with all the virtues of lower Upper, but windier and with much better pavement.  It also has the novelty of being utterly unsigned at both ends—given the activity along this road, that’s inexplicable.

When upper Upper runs into Hwy 89 (again) at 5.8 miles, turn downhill, to the R (it’s easy to go the wrong way), and strap in for the 3-mile dead straight 7% descent, then 3 miles of flats that take you to 89.

Adding Miles: See the beginning of this post.

At the top of this ride you’re 2/3 of the way to Luther Pass, after which it’s a straight, fast descent to Hope Valley and all the Bestrides riches in the area.

A ride slightly out of the Tahoe area, not quite Bestrides-worthy but totally worth doing once, is Donner Pass Road, which parallels Hwy 80 from Cisco Grove to Truckee.  It’s 23 miles one way, so it makes a nice out-and-back with one significant hill.  From Cisco Grove it’s 13 miles of steady, mild climbing to the Donner Summit Bridge, where there’s a vista point with an unforgettable view of Donner Lake below you, then the one thrilling moment in the ride, an 1100-ft drop through two big esses to the lake.  Donner Pass Road follows the north shore of the lake, and it’s fine, but I prefer taking South Shore Dr. on the other side, which is quieter.  Both routes are lined with vacation homes.  South Shore goes directly through Donner Memorial State Park, then rejoins Donner Pass Rd., which goes through unappealing modern Truckee and ends in the old, charming downtown.

Old Meyers Grade, aka Lincoln Highway Trail, forks off South Upper Truckee Rd. shortly after the beginning of our ride and wanders through back country, crosses Hwy 50, and continues.  It’s reported to be worth riding, but I haven’t done it.

By the way there is a North Upper Truckee Rd., almost directly across Hwy 50 from the beginning of South Upper Truckee, but it isn’t worth riding—it looks appealing from the highway, but it’s soon mired in mountain subdivisions.

Afterthoughts: Once back at the intersection of 89 and 50, you can do a very short ride up 50 toward the lake and eat at Pretty Odd Wieners, a highly rated hot dog stand (actually a trailer) in a gas station parking lot on the R.  Or a stone’s throw up 50 from the intersection on the L is Burger Lounge, whose burgers are the standard by which all others are measured.

Adelaida Road/Chimney Rock Road

Distance: 23.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1980 ft

The country west of Paso Robles is a network of sweet, meandering roads with mostly vineyards for backdrop.  This route is the best loop ride in the area, a charming, pretty, fairly easy ramble that includes the best 6 miles of road in all of Paso Robles, as joyful a 6-mile stretch as any ride in Bestrides.  But you must ride the loop in our direction—going the other way reduces the 6-mile stretch from magnificent to merely good.

Adelaida is a fairly major artery through the Paso wine country, so traffic is an issue.  You’re going to meet a lot of cars if you ride during rush hour or on a weekend.  I drove it at 9 am on a weekday and had to pull over frequently to let mobs of cars pass.  Then I rode it at 11 am on a weekday and pretty much had the road to myself, seeing only the occasional farm or service vehicle.

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Santa Rita Road/Cypress Mountain Road

Distance: 45.5-mile loop
Elevation gain: 4860 ft

This ride has a lot of dirt—the only largely dirt ride in Bestrides.  I don’t do dirt, and my bike wasn’t made for dirt, but this is doable dirt as long as you have 25 mm tires, and the pleasures of the route make the dirt worth enduring.   Beyond that, Bestrides has two rides in Paso Robles and a ride in Cambria, and it would be lovely if there was a way to ride from one to the other without the grim tedium of Hwy 46.  This is the way, as the Mandalorian would say.

The route involves two pretty, deliciously isolated stretches of dirt road, both of which climb up and over a summit, one short tough pavement climb, a nice descent on one of Paso Robles’s classic wine trails, and some of the most spectacular vistas in all of Bestrides.  There is one mile of smooth but steep dirt climbing (10%+).

The loop can be started at any point, so just decide where you want to end up and start there.  But don’t go counterclockwise—Cypress Mountain Dr. is much tougher going that way, and the climb on Santa Rita much longer.  And don’t attempt this ride if the ground is wet—the roads will be impassible.

This ride can easily be cut in half if you aren’t up for a long day—just ride what’s above or below Hwy 46, whichever half appeals to you, then return via Hwy 46, which is big, boring, and relatively easy.  Santa Rita Rd. is prettier and easier; Cypress Mountain Dr. has the views.  If I was doing the Cypress Mt. half, I’d ride out Hwy 46 and back on CMR.  If you’re saying, “I can do 45 miles standing on my head,” remember that dirt is twice as tiring as pavement, climbing on dirt even more so.

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Shotgun Creek Road

Distance: 29-mile loop
Elevation gain: 2670 ft

This ride may not be for everyone.   It’s a rough and tough little loop with one hard climb, pavement that is consistently poor (not broken—just rough), a descent so steep you have to brake constantly, and 15 miles of shoulder riding.  It’s more work than the elevation numbers suggest, because most of the 2670 ft of gain is in one 4-mile climb, and the lone descent is so jarring that it beats you up.  Still, it has its merits.  The back road half is often beautifully wooded, the isolation is remarkable (3 vehicles in 15 miles), and even the shoulder riding is through lovely scenery.  At points the road is so narrow and the solitude so extreme that you’re as close to trail hiking as you can get on a road bike.  So it’s a ride where it’s less about the riding and more about being in this extraordinary place.

I wouldn’t do this ride without at least some sunshine.  The primary reward here is the magical woods, and you need light coming through the trees to get the full effect.

Navigation is in one sense easy, because there are few ways to go wrong, but in another sense challenging because there’s no cell service (so no Googlemaps) and several completely unmarked forks, and many of the roads are unnamed or confusingly named on maps.  So I’m going to be particularly specific about directions.  I’d carry a map, not because you’re going to get lost, but because it’s comforting when you’re alone for mile after mile.

See note about OHV traffic in Afterthoughts below.

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Mountain View Road

Distance:  50 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 8000 ft

This is one of seven rides (all detailed in the Adding Miles section below) that are worth doing around Boonville, a charming little town with good food and an interesting history, so I encourage you to find a place to stay in the area, make a cycling holiday out of it, and do all of them.

This ride is tough.  It may be one of the two hardest climbs in Bestrides (the other being Gilbraltar Road).  And the road surface is mostly shaky.   And there are only two rather ordinary “views,” despite the road’s name—the rest of the time, all you can see is the greenery on either side of the road.  The scenery is typical coastal forest—no better, no worse.  So it’s mostly about bragging rights, the sense of adventure, and the two charming towns at either end.  Philo-Greenwood Road just to the north is easier and prettier and has a better surface. Continue reading

Mendocino/Comptche

Distance: 46-mile loop
Elevation gain: 2083 ft

(Update 8/20: The joy of this ride has been seriously impacted by the Mendocino County road maintenance department, which has seen fit to lay down a brand new and very unpleasant chipseal, covered by layers and drifts of loose gravel in places, from Comptche to Hwy 1.  Apparently the new surface extends east from Comptche for many miles.  It means that climbing between Comptche and Mendocino is burdensome and descending is positively dangerous.  The scenery is intact.  Some of the new surface can be avoided by taking Little River Airport Rd., which is a sweet ride up or down.)

This may be the prettiest wooded ride, mile for mile, in California.  And it has the selling point of starting and ending in downtown Mendocino, one of my favorite places.  It climbs and descents up and over a summit among simply perfect piney woods, passes a classic country store, descends gradually along the Navarro River and its stunning riparian redwoods, and ends with a pretty but trafficky leg on Hwy 1 that’s thick with lovely, charming inns and one State Park to stop and explore.  The road surface is glass, except on Flynn Creek Road, where it’s OK to poor.   It rides equally well in both directions—see Which Way to Go? below for the comparative virtues of the two routes.  I’ve arbitrarily picked the clockwise route to describe.  It’s a bit harder than Mapmyride’s elevation total would suggest—I clocked 3300 ft of gain—but it’s never steeper than moderate.

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