Distance: 50 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 8000 ft
(Note: all Boonville rides are made better if you can do them during the Mendocino County Fair, a classic old-school rural fair of great charm.)
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
Distance: 46-mile loop
Elevation gain: 2083 ft
(Update: In 2020, the joy of this ride was impacted by the Mendocino County road maintenance department, which saw fit to lay down a brand new and unpleasant chipseal, covered by layers and drifts of loose gravel in places, from about 4 miles west of Comptche to Hwy 1. It meant that climbing between Comptche and Mendocino was chattery and descending was risky. By 10/22, the chipseal, as chipseal will, has had its rough edge worn off by traffic and is now fully bearable, though still a bit of a burr in the saddle of the descent. The western half 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. It is, by far, the Bestrides route that has elicited the most “Best ride I’ve ever done!” responses from Bestrides readers. 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 half the time—on Flynn Creek Road it’s OK to poor, and the western half of Comptche-Ukiah is merely OK. 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 harder than Mapmyride’s elevation total would suggest—RWGPS says 3600 ft of gain—but that’s still not much and it’s never steeper than moderate.
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—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. Several readers wrote in to complain of logging traffic, but I’ve never seen a logging truck in my several trips up Branscomb, so I think it must have been temporary.
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 and the Monterey Bike Trail, is easy enough that it can easily be done by a non-cyclist on a rental cruiser. 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 (at least before it burned), 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 20/19: Genessee Valley suffered a fire in 9/19. I’m not sure how much damage was done to the scenery.
Update 2021: Greenville was completely destroyed by fire in the summer of 2021. I assume similar damage was done to the surrounding countryside.
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. 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 (except the Mix Canyon descent), 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
(A Best of the Best ride)
6/20 update: the Concow area has burned twice in recent years. There are two areas of noticeable burn on the ride—the first couple of miles after the Concow/Nelson Bar intersection, and the turn-around where the road turns to gravel. Between, the woods are intact and still lovely. 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, and the best ride in the Chico/Oroville area. 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 few short pitches of 11-12%, 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 first couple of miles of this route are scorched by the fire. The rest of the route is undamaged. 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 lot of elevation gain. If you want less, see Shortening the Route below.