Author Archives: Jack Rawlins

San Juan Canyon Road

Distance: 22 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2700 ft

This is the best ride in the Hollister area, a conventional climb-out-descend-back ride through varied, dramatic, and beautiful  terrain (in April), with a mountaintop, a simple State Park, and a stunning view westward at the turn around.

The image of Hollister is hot, dusty, dead flat agricultural fields and a culture stuck in 1955.  Some of that is true.  Hollister is hot and dry in the summer, and cold and dead in the winter, so I would try hard to schedule my riding for late spring (April) after some rain, when the grass is green and the area is momentarily a gorgeous, lush garden.  The town of Hollister and the surrounding agricultural valleys (Santa Ana Valley and San Juan Valley) are pancake flat, but they’re surrounded by small, rolling hills rich with meandering roads offering ideal riding contour.  The three Bestrides rides from the area all have substantial climbing.  As to the culture, Hollister is not especially hip, but it’s a pleasant, easy-going town, and San Juan Bautista 6 miles away is a small Old California treasure with a grand Spanish mission and adjacent historical State Park well worth an afternoon.

Hollister in April would be a cycling mecca were it not for one thing: the road surfaces in San Benito County typically vary from poor to awful.  The only exception I know of is this ride, which is one of the main reasons why it’s #1.   The surface isn’t great, but it’s good enough that you can actually enjoy the descending, which isn’t true about large portions of the other two Hollister rides in Bestrides.

The ride is harder than the elevation total suggests.  The first 4 miles are very mellow and only net you 500 ft of gain, and the last 3 miles are easy rolling, which leaves you with 2400 ft (by my computer) in the 4 miles in between.  Those 4 miles get gradually steeper as you go, so the last 2 miles are serious work.  Fremont Peak State Park, your destination, seems to be largely unvisited, so the traffic is next to nothing—on a beautiful weekday midday in April I saw perhaps 6 cars in the 22 miles on a lovely spring weekday, and there was one car in the Park parking lot.

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San Juan Grade Road

Distance: 18 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1700 ft

A few words about riding around Hollister generally.

First, the image of the Hollister area is hot, dusty, dead flat agricultural fields and a culture stuck in 1955.  Some of that is true.  Hollister is hot and dry in the summer, and cold and dead in the winter, so I would try hard to schedule my riding for late spring (April) after some rain, when the grass is green and the area is momentarily a gorgeous, lush garden.  The town of Hollister and the surrounding agricultural valleys (Santa Ana Valley and San Juan Valley) are flat, but they’re surrounded by small, rolling hills rich with meandering roads offering ideal riding contour.  The three Bestrides rides from the area all have substantial climbing.  As to the culture, Hollister is not especially hip, but it’s a pleasant, easy-going town, and San Juan Bautista is a small Old California treasure with a grand Spanish mission and adjacent historical State Park well worth an afternoon.

Second, the road surfaces in San Benito County vary from poor to awful.  You just have to live with it (or ride somewhere else).  The one exception is our Fremont Peak ride, where the surface is OK.  If for no other reason, that makes Fremont Peak the best ride in the area.  I’d do it first, then this one, unless you don’t want to work.

San Juan Grade: very pretty country (in April)

San Juan Grade Road is an relatively easy (1900 ft in 9 miles of up) climb and descent over a low pass, then a return climb and descent back to your starting point in the town of San Juan Bautista.  It’s a “highway” in name only, since it’s a back route to Salinas (on various mapping sites it’s labeled “Salinas Highway,” “Hwy 3,” or “Salinas Road”) and almost all traffic takes the modern multi-lane.  In 22 miles I saw 9 vehicles.  

The wooded north side

The north and south sides of the summit pass are about equal in climbing effort but radically different in character: the north side is mostly wooded, through very pretty, riparian oak forest with a very poor road surface (see above); the south side is all fine vistas of open,  rolling grasslands dotted bucolically with picturesque cows and of Salinas in the distance, with a surprisingly good road surface, viz., it’s not terrible (there’s a distinct line across the road where the surface suddenly improves).   It’s still bad enough to put a slight damper on the otherwise swell descent.  Descending the north side is borderline misery.  Both sides serpentine pleasantly, not a moment of the climbing is strenuous, and the scenery is consistently charming and human-free (in April—see above).   A very pretty little ride.

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San Francisco’s Wiggle Loop

Distance: 18.4-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1100 ft

A Best of the Best ride

This ride is one of the best rides in California and a Bucket List ride if there ever was one.  Like the Golden Gate Loop, it’s more a cultural experience than a bicycle ride.  It takes you on a non-stop Greatest Hits tour of most of San Francisco’s iconic landmarks—a rolling introduction to almost every spot on a visitor’s to-do list.  You’ll experience about ten of the City’s most charming neighborhoods.  You could easily crank out the route in under two hours, but you don’t want to do that—ride slow, look around, take it in, stop often.  Bring a lock, money, and walking shoes, put on your puncture-resistant tires (this is, after all, a city), and schedule as much time for the ride as you possibly can—five hours at a minimum.

Prepare for sensory overload.  In 19 miles you will ride by, among other things,

The Ferry Building
The Embarcadero
The Exploratorium
Coit Tower
Pier 39
Fisherman’s Wharf
The Maritime Museum
The Hyde St Pier of Historic Ships
The Hyde St. Cable car turn-around
The Buena Vista Cafe
Aquatic Park
Fort Mason
The Marina
The Marina Green
The St. Francis Yacht Club
Crissy Field
Fort Point
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Presidio
Sea Cliff
The Legion of Honor
Land’s End
Sutro Baths
The Cliff House
Ocean Beach
The Great Highway
Golden Gate Park
The Panhandle
The Painted Ladies
Market Street
City Hall
The Opera House
The Asian Museum

Any one of these is worth from an hour to a full day.  Good luck budgeting your time.  Since most of the landmarks are familiar images, I’ve used the photos in this post to show some of the less familiar sights along the route.

So how’s the riding?  It’s mostly flat, with two noticeable climbs (as you pass the Golden Gate Bridge and ascending to the Legion of Honor).  Yes, SF is famously hilly—17 streets in the City top out at 30% or more, but none of them is on this route.  You ride over roads, broken pavement, sidewalks, bike paths, bike lanes, glass, and lots of trolley and cable car tracks, and ride through hordes of pedestrians and tourists.  It’s a bit chaotic and nervous-making at times, though there are stretches of near isolation.  Best of all, SF is perhaps the most bike-friendly city in the United States, and thousands of cyclists are following this route in bits and pieces on any given day, so it’s well-marked and blessed with bike lanes—I wouldn’t encourage you to go otherwise.

By the way, the Wiggle is a zig-zag bicycle route through a 17-block stretch of town just before our route returns to Market St.
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North Fork Siuslaw Road

Distance: c. 45 miles out and back
Elevation gain: c. 2830 ft

This is another ride leaving Hwy 101 and following an Oregon river upstream.  It’s different from our others (Gardiner to Eugene, Elk River Road) because the North Fork of the Siuslaw River is big, and the land around it is that wide, open flat marsh/meadow unique to big Oregon river mouths.  So for the first half of the ride you aren’t in forest or canopy—you’re in full sun, with trees on your L and the marsh/meadow on your R.  After 12 miles, you leave the river and the ride becomes conventional, lovely western coastal Oregon forest.  Like our other Oregon coastal river routes, it’s an easy ride—in the first 12 miles you’ll climb 350 ft.  Not a life-changing ride but a very pleasant day on the bike.

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Elk River Road

Distance:38 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1200 ft

This, like many of the Oregon rides, was suggested by Friend of Bestrides Don.

Is there such a thing as a perfect ride?  Elk River Road is as close as it gets—a beautiful, essentially flat out-and-back roll through my beloved Southwest Oregon coastal rain forest on a good road surface with little traffic and just enough pitch to make the return ride a brisk romp.  Add a spritely rock creek along the entire length, an optional ride to a lighthouse for character, and free snacks in the form of wild blackberries.  Most of the road is on National Forest land, and the road turns to dirt at our turn-around point, which means there aren’t many people up there except campers in the undeveloped campsites along the road.  Once into the Forest, I met 5 cars on the ride in (in 12 miles), on a lovely August Saturday at midday.  The only drawback is…nope, can’t think of any.

This ride is a lot like the first 40 miles of our Gardener to Eugene ride—both gorgeous, canopied forest on a basically flat road along a pretty river—so which should you do if you can’t do both?  GTE is longer, it’s flatter (so there’s no sense of downhill if you ride back downstream) and straighter, it doesn’t turn to dirt (so you can through-ride it), it’s not in National Forest so it’s a little more developed, and the scenery has less variety.  The Elk River canyon is narrower and steeper, and thus the river does more tumbling that the Smith does.  Overall, Elk River Rd is a more dramatic, more intense ride.

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Scott River Road

Distance: 55 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2650 ft

The land surrounding the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area may be the richest cycling region on the West Coast.  Almost every small road is pretty, interesting, mostly car-free, well-paved, not killer steep, and paved, at least in the main.  Loops are easy to construct.  The only drawback is there aren’t many communities up there, so you have to plan overnight stops carefully, unless you’re self-supporting.  The area is represented in Bestrides by two rides, Forks of Salmon and this one, but they’re the tip of a very rich iceberg—see Adding Miles to see the big picture.

This ride is representative of the area: smooth-surfaced, lightly trafficked, very pretty, and surprisingly easy.  It’s one of the easiest 55-mile rides I know.  It accompanies the Scott River for its entire length, so it’s gently downhill going out and gently uphill returning, but the difference is negligible—I rode out the 40-mile version (see below) in 2 hrs and back in 1.5 hrs.  The only noticeable hill is the last mile or so descending into Scott Bar, our turn-around spot, so if you’re really into mellow you can skip that, leaving you with nothing but constant gentle rollers, just enough to vary the riding experience without ever making it laborious or tedious.  You climb 2650 ft in 55 miles, which is less than half our sport’s norm for a climbing ride (100 ft per mile).  You could almost leave the granny gear at home.

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Leggett to the Sea

Distance: 44 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 6030 ft

This ride was suggested by Friend of Bestrides Brian.

The position of Bestrides has always been, avoid Highway 1 like the death-trap it is. The traffic is constant, irritable, and staring out to sea, and there’s no room for you.  But all generalizations have their exceptions, and this stretch of Hwy 1, the northernmost, while still busy, is more than worth your time.  It’s grand.  It’s a lot of climbing (only about 2 of the 44 miles are anything like flat), and there is only one break in the forest wall, at the turn-around.  But that one break is a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean, the forest wall is often primeval redwoods, and none of the climbing is brutal.  The road contour is perfect for descending—endless serpentining, curvy enough to be exhilarating, not so tight that you’re constantly on your brakes, all beautifully banked for speed.  And of course you can continue on from the turn-around point and ride as much of Hwy 1 as you want to.

There are two flies in this otherwise-blissful ointment.  The first is traffic.  It’s busy.  But it’s less busy than almost any other leg of Hwy 1, because most tourists are interested in the stretch between Fort Bragg and Big Sur.  And it’s nobody’s commuter route, so the drivers are not in a hurry.  The real problem is construction equipment: any wet winter causes damage along Hwy 1, so most summers there’s a steady stream of gravel trucks going to and from the construction site(s).  It’s not as bad as it sounds—there is little shoulder but room to pass—but if it bothers you you might choose to ride in the fall, when the construction is probably complete.  Even so, I did this ride midday on a Monday in July, the road crews were busy, yet I did long stretches of riding the center line in solitude.

The second ointment fly is the road surface.  It ranges from glassy to tooth-rattling chipseal.  When it’s rough, it definitely takes the edge off the descending.  When it’s smooth, there is nothing better.

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Covelo Road

Distance: 58 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 5844 ft

This ride was suggested by Friend of Bestrides Brian.

This is a good, solid ride.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, though it has no extraordinary features.  It’s got some nice rollers, a very pretty, flat stretch through a fairly dramatic river canyon, one fairly easy climb, one somewhat harder climb, and a totally unremarkable town, Covelo, at the turn-around.  It’s 10 miles down the road from my beloved Branscomb Rd. ride, and I wouldn’t do this one until I’d done that one.

It’s the only paved road by which Coveloans can leave town, and the river attracts lots of water seekers in the summer, so traffic can be substantial.  I recommend doing it early in the morning or sometime other than summer or both.  Anyway, the Eel River Canyon is prettier in early morning, before the sun gets high.  The seven-mile stretch from the Eel River Bridge to Dos Rios is the ride’s best scenery, and it’s essentially flat, which makes it a rarity in Bestrides.  The Mapyride elevation total gives the impression of a fairly laborious outing, but it’s actually a piece of cake.  The only time you’ll work is the 2-mile climb back to the summit from Covelo, and that’s only 6-7%.

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Bald Rock Road

Distance: 22 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2385 ft

This is another of those “worthwhile if you’re in the area” rides.  It’s 22 miles of small two-lane back road through pretty but not extra-special Sierra foothill forest.  You pass through a small but bustling mountain community, Berry Creek, which unfortunately makes the first third of the route surprisingly trafficky for a foothill road.  You will do some work—I recorded 2400 ft of gain in the 11-mile ride out—but it’s never steep.

Two features elevate this ride above the perfectly pleasant.  First, rollers.  The road is all up and down, so much so that there is only a 1465-ft. difference in elevation from start to turn-around but 2400 ft of vert on the road (in other words, you nearly ride every vertical foot twice).  This has its charm.  It means the climbing on the ride out is constantly interrupted by little descents, and on the ride back the descending comes in short, fast runs interrupted by short risers, so about the time you think you have to brake the contour does it for you.  The riding experience is ever-changing.

Second: Bald Rock, the greatest rock formation the world has never heard of (see photos at the end of this post).  Take slippers or sandals and plan to get off the bike and explore—you will be enchanted.

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Philo-Greenwood Road

Distance: 21 miles one way
Elevation gain: 2835 ft

This is one of seven rides (all detailed in the Adding Miles section of the Mountain View Road ride) 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 road parallels Mountain View Road, which is 5 miles to the south, and the two are similar.  Both roads are isolated trips through standard coastal pine/redwood forest with a good dose of 8-10% climbing.  This one is prettier and easier and has a much better road surface, and it  makes for a shorter loop if you’re returning on Hwy 128, so if I was just doing one of the two I’d go with Philo-Greenwood unless I wanted a) a bigger climbing challenge, c) more Hwy 1 riding, or c) to visit Manchester.   I’ve mapped the ride as one way because I assume you’ll want to return on 128, which is covered in the Mendocino/Comptche ride.  The Philo-Greenwood/Cameron Road/Hwy 128 loop is 42 miles.

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