Distance: 50 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 3215 ft
(A Best of the Best ride)
This is one of my favorites. There’s a purity about it, because you begin at one end of a road and ride that road until it ends. I found it via my favorite ride-finding technique: I looked at the AAA road map, spotted a thin, wiggly line, and said, “That’s got to be a great ride!” It’s one of several rides in this list that begin at the California coast and climb straight up, usually through lush ferny coastal rainforest. In this case, the climb is 7 miles of demanding (often 8-10%) but thoroughly rewarding pitch, after which the road rolls through pretty forests and meadows to the turn-around point in Laytonville on Highway 101. Along the way you get an huge old lumber mill, a general store that served the mill and still functions, and an exquisite little stand of redwoods in a State Recreation Area.
Part of the joy here is that you’re in on a secret. Branscomb Rd is almost unknown to cyclists—I’ve never seen another bike on it, and few cars (though one reader warns of logging truck traffic during the week)—partly because it leaves Hwy 1 from a point in the middle of nowhere, and partly because until about 2011 it was largely dirt. Which means the pavement was (in 2011) pristine, and is still mostly good.
The ride works well in either direction. If you start from Laytonville you put the climb in the middle of the ride when you’re warmed up. You also stand a better chance of avoiding the chronic morning fog near the ocean (see Afterthoughts below). But you put the descent before the climb, which always feels wrong to me. Continue reading
Distance: 32 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1780 ft
This, along with the two San Francisco rides, is unlike any other ride in Bestrides.org. It’s easy and almost flat and can easily be done by a non-cyclist on a rental cruiser (ignore Mapmyride’s elevation profile—most of the “climbing” is 1-3%). The appeal is entirely in the scenery—you’re riding through some of the greatest redwood forests left on earth. It’s not my favorite Redwoods ride—that would be Big Basin, which in addition to Redwoods has wonderful climbing and descending—but it’s certainly the ride with the biggest, most awe-inspiring trees. (There is a list of Redwood rides on the Best of the Best page.) It’s in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, but the car traffic isn’t bad—since the Avenue is paralleled by the main highway just a stone’s throw to the west, all through traffic is diverted and you’ll share the road with the few cars hip enough to linger. If you want to make the ride longer or harder, there is good riding on either end (see Adding Miles). Continue reading
Distance: 68 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2064
Update: Genessee Valley suffered a fire in 9/19. I’m not sure how much damage was done to the scenery.
There are more awe-inspiring rides, but there is no prettier ride in California than this one. It’s a short form of the Indian Valley Century. It goes along the lip of two flat, postcard-perfect valleys framed by mountains (with snowy peaks, if you time it right), and you’re just a bit up off the valley floor, so you get all the scenery without the flat—the road bobs and weaves and rises and drops and thus provides you with a delightfully varied road contour. Then the outward leg ends with a ten-mile climb that’s entirely doable and parallels a tumbling, rocky creek. I’ve cut off two loops from the century route I don’t need, but I’ll tell you they’re there and what you’re missing. All the significant climbing is in the last 10 miles out, so if you skip it the ride is easy. Continue reading
Distance: 81-mile loop with a spur
Elevation gain: 3370 ft
The Mix Canyon leg of this ride is covered thoroughly in words and pictures at toughascent.com.
This loop goes through the best riding in the area between the Wine Country and Davis. I learned it from my Sacramento bike club, the Bike Hikers, who ride it every year. It’s got two great climbs, two scenic farming valleys, and a few boring miles through the outskirts of Fairfield to get from one valley to the other. There is no great wow factor, but, with the exception of the Fairfield miles, it’s all very pretty and pleasant.
You want to think about when you do this ride. On summer afternoons, it’s hot. On weekends, the traffic around Berryessa is obnoxious. On Monday and Tuesday everything in Manka’s Corner is shut down, so you will have one and only one opportunity for resupplying water and food: the shopping center at the corner of Waterman and Hilborn in Fairfield.
If you aren’t up for a big day, it’s easy to take about half of the hard out. Just skip both of the climbing detours.
There is a bike shop in Winters, closed Monday and Tuesday.
Distance: 26-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1410 ft
Note: This route was untouched by the Camp Fire of 2018.
This loop consists of roads covered by the Wildflower Century, my hometown cycling club’s annual spring ride, and since 4000 cyclists do it every year there’s a good chance you’ve been over these roads. But this loop goes backwards to the Wildflower direction, and it’s a wholly different, and better, ride. It’s got a lot of points of interest besides the riding—a famous dam, century-old olive orchards, a state-of-the-art sustainable farm, a covered bridge, nationally renowned wildflowers in season, a Gold Rush cemetery, and two old Gold Rush towns complete with historical plaques and one-room museums.
This is the rare Bestrides ride where you have some hard choices about which way to ride the route—see Alternate routes below.
Do not do this ride on a weekend day during wildflower season—the roads are absolutely unsafe for cyclists (see more below).
Distance: 18 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2660 ft
6/20 update: in the days following 11/8/18 the Camp Fire roared through this area. The trees took a serious hit, but the landscape is still pretty—more open, more wildflowers than forest now—and of course the road contour is unaffected. Still a great ride. JR
This little gem is one of the sweetest 18-mile rides you’ll ever do. It’s a delightful roller-coaster back-country climb on glassy road surfaces through pretty foothills farms and woodland to a spot where the road turns to dirt. The road contour is constantly varied, up and down and back and forth, with no two climbs or curves the same, and it’s good riding in both directions. It’s also a workout—you’ll log almost 3000 ft of gain in less than 20 miles, with a couple of short pitches up to 15%, but none of the climbs lasts long. It’s smoother and faster than the average back road, and you can touch 40 mph a time or two. Continue reading
Distance: 31 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2760 ft
This is a nice, pretty climb from the edge of the Sacramento Valley up through the foothills and into the cedar forests of the western Sierra with a classic mountain store as a destination and a sweet potable spring along the way. It’s pretty much all up, but with lots of variety in the scenery and the riding conditions so it’s never a slog. Continue reading
Distance: 54 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 5960 ft
Update 11/18: The Camp Fire raced through Paradise and parts of Magalia in the days following 11/8/18. Paradise was destroyed. The extent of the damage to Coutolenc Rd. and the rest of this route I don’t know, but the road through Paradise to Magalia is open. It’s possible to drive up Hwy 32 and begin the ride from Butte Meadows. JR
This ride actually starts in Magalia, the small community just up the hill from Paradise, CA, but who doesn’t want to ride in Paradise? The route strings together four distinct rides, three of them treats, and the other…well it gets you from one of the treats to the next. The four rides are, in order: a classic rolling stair-stepper, a short fast descent followed by a long straight slow upwards slog (the non-treat), a perfect serpentining climb through NorCal pine-and-cedar forest, and a rolling ramble across the top of the world on a spanking new (as of 2013) state-of-the-art mountain road.
This is a demanding ride with a ton of elevation gain. If you want less, see Shortening the Route below.
There are three similar roads that run due north from Chester. They’re all short—in each case after 6-13 miles the road turns to gravel. They’re all fairly easy steady ups, featuring mellow climbing through unspectacular generic regional conifer forest. They all have major road surface problems. These are definitely “best in the area” rides—not great, but worth doing if you’re at Lake Almanor and want to ride. I can’t honestly say any one of the three is the right one, so I’ll list their differences and let you decide:
Warner Valley Road is the longest, biggest, widest, busiest, and easiest, and it has the only vista—a nice shot of Mt. Lassen in the distance.
Juniper Lake Road is the steepest and curviest (and thus has the most thrilling descent).
Both WVR and JLR are plagued by paved-over tree roots and frost heaves that make the road surface often wavy. Both roads are pretty densely sprinkled with summer cabins.
Road 10 (that’s its only name) is the narrowest and the smoothest, and it has the longest, most extended descent. It’s by far the most undeveloped and isolated. Do this one if you like solitude.
WVR and JLR touch, so combining them into one ride is a natural. Combining either with Road 10 would require riding an easy 5 miles through some beautiful, interesting north Lake Almanor shoreline.
Warner Valley Road
Distance: 26 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1100 ft
Distance: 18 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1140 ft
At last count there were 2,347 roads on the West Coast named Mill Creek Road. Bestrides has three: this one, Mill Creek Road #2 by Fremont, and the Wine Country one in the Adding Miles section of the Pine Flat Road ride. All three are super-sweet little rides.
This one is Just down the road from Lassen Park, in Mineral, CA. It’s a thoroughly charming back road that in 9 miles manages to pack in a lovely mountain meadow, a mild 1-mile climb through piney woods, a 2-mile slaloming descent that’s as sweet as cotton candy, and a flat ride along a creek. Then you get to do all those things in reverse. The climbing is consistently 3-5%, just steep enough to make you say, “Wow, I’m climbing strong today!,” the scenery is prime throughout, the road surface is glass, and there is no traffic. I’m not making this up. Midway there’s a classic mountain store, like something straight out of Jeremiah Johnson.