Category Archives: Northern California Coast

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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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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Tin Barn Road/Annapolis Road

Distance: 38-mile loop
Elevation gain: 4845 ft

This is the loop ride directly to the north of the King Ridge ride—in fact the two routes share a few miles—so the question arises, how are they different, and which one should you ride?   They’re very similar.  They’re both great rides and serious efforts with much climbing.  Each has one pleasant, tiny town near the beginning of the ride, then you’re totally on your own.  The terrain and landscape are similar for both (pretty coastal hill country).  Tin Barn/Annapolis is further from Santa Rosa, the nearest large population center, so it gets ridden less.   TB/A has more redwoods, the climbing is spread out more, and the road surface is a quantum leap better though still flawed (there is no good pavement in Sonoma County).  TB/A has rhododendrons in the spring, a few miles of pretty, mellow Hwy 1, some totally ridable dirt, by far the better descent, and by far the harder pitch (1 mile of 15-20%).     TB/A, unlike King Ridge, can easily be cut short if you overestimated your resources.

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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

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 raparian 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 only OK.   It rides equally well in both directions—see Afterthoughts for the comparative virtues of the two routes.  I’ve arbitrarily picked the clockwise route to describe.

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Branscomb Road

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 highway 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

Avenue of the Giants

Distance: 32 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1780 ft

This is unlike any other ride in this list.  It’s short, easy, and almost flat.  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.     Continue reading