Distance: 30 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1470 ft
Note 1/19: After 2.5 years of being closed by construction, this ride is finally open to traffic.
Calaveras Road (“skulls road” in Spanish) has the best, most interesting road contour in the East Bay—better than Mt. Diablo, better than Mt. Hamilton. It’s like the Palomares Road ride on steroids—same concept but longer, harder, and wilder. Instead of going through manicured hobby farms, it spends most of its time in undeveloped country, the first half climbing up through an oaky wooded draw and the second half rolling along an open, grassy sidehill with big views across Calaveras Reservoir.
This is another of those rides where you start at the beginning of the road and ride until the road ends, then turn around and ride back. There’s something so tidy about that. It isn’t hard—1400 ft vert in 14 miles. And if you want harder, there are two excellent add-ons: the 6-mile climb up Felter Rd. (moderate to hard), and the 4.7-mile Welch Creek Rd. spur (brutal)—see Adding Miles for both.
(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)
Park at the northern end of Calaveras Rd. There’s a lot of good dirt shoulder in all directions. Much like the Palomares ride in the beginning, you start out fairly level for about 3 miles. Those first 3 miles are a busy working road, heavily trafficked by huge trucks from the sand and gravel plant about 2 miles in, but once past the plant the traffic should dwindle to next to nothing and the riding and scenery are all excellent for the rest of the route.
Next you do about 4 miles of constantly varied, moderate climbing (never over 6%) through shady oaks with steadily improving views of the creek canyon on your L, up to the reservoir level, then climb some more to get up above it, then roll up and down and back and forth below the ridge line until a very short drop to a dead end at Felter Rd. That last short drop isn’t particularly fun, and it’s a real grind coming back, so unless you have a strong Zigarnik I give you permission to skip it.
The ride back is just as good. The first 8 miles of rollers gains about 600 ft, so don’t exhaust yourself on the ride out. After that, it’s a very nice 3-mile descent that’s of a pleasant pitch. The minor flaw in this paradise is the road surface, which is never bad but has a lot of fore-and-aft cracks filled with dribble tar. This road is almost carless—I met 5 cars in 28 miles once past the sand and gravel plant—so you’ll be tempted to get cocky on the descent and start taking the whole road. Do not do this—I promise you, you will meet at least one car on that descent. Once you’re off the hill, 3 miles of near-imperceptible descending (and more gravel trucks) take you back to your car.
Adding miles: This is another Best of the Bay leg, so you’ve got rides from our list to the north and to the south.
Going north, six miles down very trafficky, narrow Niles Canyon Rd. takes you to the turn-around point for the Palomares Road ride.
Our ride’s turn-around point is at Felter Rd., the northern half of the Sierra Road/Felter Road ride. Felter to the Sierra Road summit is a great out-and-back, more built-up with hobby farms than Calaveras and much more work ascending (1400 ft of vert in 6 miles, vs. 1400 ft in 14 miles), with several 8-10% pitches and some moments of 11-14%. For details on Felter, see the Sierra Road/Felter Road ride.
“Nibbles,” a Bestrides reader, tipped me off to Welch Creek Road, a 4.7-mile (one way) out-and-back beast on your L off Calaveras, just north of Geary Road. It’s a gorgeous, delightfully gnarly climb. The scenery is prettier than Calaveras, and the road is half the size, so you’re right in the midst of it as you crawl up a narrow creek canyon. Check out Nibbles’s excellent description below. It’s absurdly steep—c. 2000 ft in 4.7 miles, which pencils out to about 10% average, with plenty of 18% stuff. Probably the hardest 4 miles of climbing I’ve ever done—took me almost an hour. Much of the ride down is too steep to be fun, but the flatter parts are as playful as a young colt. A must-do ride at least once. To my surprise, there are a few houses at the end of Welch Creek Rd, so a car or two is possible but statistically unlikely.