Category Archives: Southern California

Caliente Loop

 

Distance: 44-mile loop
Elevation gain: 4320 ft

If you’re like me, you think Bakersfield is hot and flat, which is what you see driving through on Hwy 5.  But a Friend of Bestrides wrote in to say I had to overcome my prejudices and try the area.  It turns out that Bakersfield, while it is smack in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, is at the Valley’s southernmost tip, so it’s surrounded closely on 3 sides by mountains like the Tehachapis, and there are good roads in those mountains.   The Caliente Loop is considered one of the local gems.

The loop is essentially three different rides: a meander through a small, rocky creek canyon; a mostly flat roll across a wide valley dotted with horse farms, and a thrilling series of switchbacks through thick foothill shrubbery.

Why I didn’t ride (that and the 20-mph wind, and the cows)

First, a mea culpa: I haven’t ridden it yet—the only ride in Bestrides I haven’t done.  The one day I set aside for it, the fog on the course had visibility down to 100 ft, my wipers were going a mile a minute, the road was a slimy morass, the wind was 20 mph, mostly in the rider’s face, and free-range cows were wandering the road (in the fog) during the 9% descent that ends the ride.   I thought of my wife and children and drove the course, photographing from my car.  But Bestrides needs to recognize Bakersfield, so I’m putting the loop in.  I’ll get back and ride it, I promise.

Before you get on your bike, you have a decision to make: Which way to go?  Clockwise gives you a 7-mile climb up a set of constant, tight 9% switchbacks, then a rolling leg through a wide valley, and finally a 22-mile almost imperceptible descent.  Counterclockwise gives you the reverse: a 22-mile almost imperceptible ascent, a rolling leg through a wide valley, and a 7-mile descent down a set of constant, tight 9% switchbacks.  I’d go counterclockwise, and my description goes that way.

This is a ride you want to time correctly, and the window is small: ideally you’d ride in the spring, when the creek you’ll follow for the first 20 miles is babbling and the grassy fields of the second leg are green.   But spring means spring run-off, and any significant run-off closes the road, because Caliente Creek Rd. has several places where flash flood gullies flow right over the roadway.  I’d ask about road conditions at a local bike shop.  And expect to find a “road closed” sign and ford some streams any time before summer.
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Parkfield Grade

 

Distance: 19 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2770 ft

This is another of those rides that has location going for it.  What else are you going to do if you’re stuck in Coalinga?   It’s a classic climb from the lip of the Hwy 5 corridor up 10 miles through hardscrabble hills of grass, rock, and oak.  The scenery is quite lovely in its way.  It’s at its best in spring when the grassy hills are green.    Grand vistas of the San Joaquin Valley below abound.  The road surface is sound (which is all you can ask, since no one uses this road save the rare ranchers who run a few head of cattle on the hills), and, while the pitch is a tad monotonous, the back-and-forth contour is constantly stimulating.  It’s a fair amount of vert (2000 ft in 6 miles), but it’s just a steady moderate effort, never steep enough to be a grind.  The road turns to dirt at the summit, which will keep cars and most bikes out of your playground.  All in all, a thoroughly rewarding little outing.
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Tepusquet Road

Distance: 30 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 3170 ft

What is more delicious than discovering a great ride where you thought there was none?  Tepusquet Road, surely one of the better road names in Bestrides, was suggested to me by a Friend of Bestrides who has local knowledge of Santa Maria.  It’s a delightful surprise.  Rising out of the flat, dry, dusty agricultural fields, it climbs easily and steadily up through lush, shady canopies of riparian oaks to a pass, then makes a joyous little descent into the valley on the other side.   Rewards include grand vistas, lots of banked switchbacks, and a ton of solitude.  Not a life-changing ride, but a very good one, made all the more pleasant by how little you were expecting (or did I ruin the surprise now?).

This is an excellent ride for through-riders, because there’s good riding on either end—see Adding Rides below.

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Maricopa Highway

Distance: 44 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4900 ft

This road goes by several names: the Maricopa Highway, the Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway, and Highway 33.  The road contour isn’t fascinating.  It’s a “motorcycle road,” designed to be exciting at 60 mph but at 12 mph is fairly tame.  This ride is mostly about the scenery and the solitude.  It’s a remarkably isolated, stark, and rather grand high desert landscape, with varied and striking rock formations and large vistas, land that seems untouched by Man and so harsh that you understand why.

You can do this road several different ways.  You could ride the entire road as an out and back, starting at Meiner’s Oaks on the outskirts of Ojai and turning around at the intersection with Lockwood Valley Rd., giving you a 70-mile day with about 8000 ft of vert—big but not undoable by any means.   But the southern 13 miles, from Meiner’s Oaks to Rose Valley Rd., are a grind going up and not particularly exciting going down—by far the least rewarding miles on the road (about a mile north of Rose Valley Rd. there’s a small overlook where you can see several miles of what you’re in for).   There’s one moment of interest, Wheeler Gorge, a small rock crevasse bisected by two tunnels, that you’ll be missing if you skip it.  You could ride the entire road one way from south to north, which starts the ride with a 30-mile climb and leaves you with the problem of shuttling back to your car.   You could ride the entire road one way from north to south—certainly better than south to north, because it minimizes the climbing and turns the southern 13 miles into a painless downhill—but you still have the shuttle problem.  The best route is the way I’ve mapped it: start at the Ozena Fire Station just south of the Hwy 33/Lockwood Valley Rd. junction, ride to Rose Valley Rd. and turn around.  This gives you all the good scenery, one good, short climb and one good short descent, and a lot of moderate rolling.  And that’s why they pay me the big bucks.  Of course this does leave you with the problem of how to get to the intersection of Hwy 33 and Lockwood Valley Rd, so the second best route is my route starting at the southern end, which involves you driving 13 miles from Ojai to Rose Valley Rd. and back.  Every route has its own inconveniences.

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Nacimiento-Fergusson Road

Distance: 53 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4720 ft

( A Best of the Best ride)

This route is covered thoroughly in words and pictures at toughascent.com.

This is the best ride in California and Oregon.  It’s a long way from anywhere, so you’re going to have to go out of your way to get to it, and it goes from the middle of nowhere to a blank spot on Hwy 1.  This is all to your advantage, because it means you’ll pretty much have the road to yourself (see update below).

It’s one of those rides where you just ride the road, from its start to its finish, then ride back.  In the process you’ll ride through four distinct ecosystems and experience four distinct kinds of riding, each a perfect example of its type: first, easy rollers through a valley full of golden grass and magnificent oaks, then gentle climbing along a pretty creek as it ascends a small riparian canyon, then vigorous climbing as you leave the creek and ascend to a saddle through oak forest, and finally a steep plunge down a steep, twisting road to Hwy 1 with views of the sea and coastline that are simply astonishing.  The riding on the return is different but just as wonderful: a challenging 7-mile climb up from the ocean, a flat-out slaloming descent, an easy roll along the creek, and finally the oaken valley.  It’s all just perfect—you’ll swear Disney built the course.

Update 5/17:  Highway 1 is currently closed south of NFR thanks to two large mudslides.  I’m not sure how much traffic on N-F will be increased by this.

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Glendora Ridge Road

Distance: 43 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4930 ft

Our Southern California ride list has three rides that are all big, chest-thumping rides up a mighty mountain: Mt. Figueroa, Gibraltar Road, and Glendora Ridge.  Of the three, Glendora Ridge is the most monotonous climb, both in pitch and scenery.    But it also has the best ridge ride, a rollicking roller coaster, often along the precise ridge spine (see photos below).  All three rides are detailed in toughascent.com, and I encourage you to familiarize yourself with his write-ups.

Despite the title, the ride is actually two very different rides, a long steady climb up Glendora Mountain Rd., then a roller along Glendora Ridge Rd. to the ski town of Mt. Baldy.    My computer recorded 5930 ft of vert, which puts it in the same category as Figueroa and Gibraltar, but it felt easier and I’m guessing the pitch is less intense.  Or I was having a very good day.

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Tuna Canyon Road Loop

Distance:  27.5 miles
Elevation gain: 3540 ft

Some of this route is covered in words and pictures at toughascent.com.

The Santa Monica Mountains are THE road network for cycling in the LA area (see LesB’s excellent overview in the comments section of this ride and follow its links).  Everything between Hwy 101 in the north, the ocean in the south, and between Deer Canyon Rd. to the west and Topanga Canyon Blvd. to the east is worth exploring, except the major through-routes.  If you haven’t been there, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of your LA stereotype—lovely serpentining climbs and descents on small roads largely without car traffic or houses, through wild, rocky, shrubby, narrow, steep canyons.

Most loop routes involve riding a stretch of Hwy 1, the Pacific Coast Highway—you ride the PCH, climb up into the mountains, ride east or west, then descend back to the PCH—but the PCH is surprisingly pleasant.  Sure, it’s a zoo, with masses of traffic both automotive and human, but it’s a “scene,” easy to enjoy, and there’s usually ample room for bikes.  Once you leave the PCH you will climb, often at 7-10%.  The only alternative to steep climbing heading north are the main arteries, Malibu Canyon Road and Topanga Canyon Blvd, and they’re both very busy.  This route is only one of many, but it includes what I think is the best descent in the area, and one of the best on the planet: Tuna Canyon Road.

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Gibraltar Road


Distance: 22 miles one way

Elevation gain: 3410 ft

Our Southern California ride list has three rides that are all big, chest-thumping rides up a mighty mountain: Mt. Figueroa, Gibraltar Road, and Glendora Ridge.  Of the three, Gibraltar is the hardest.  All three rides are detailed in toughascent.com, and I encourage you to familiarize yourself with his write-ups.

Gibraltar is an iconic ride—a demanding, uninterrupted 9-mile climb up the mountain to a summit, a delightful 2-mile serpentine descent, a 2-mile climb to a lesser summit, and another long descent down the back side.  It’s c. 5000 real ft of gain (fewer than Mt. Figueroa but it feels much harder) and one of the toughest climbs I know.  That may be because it’s without rest or variety, and, unless you know the route, you can’t see how much climbing lies ahead, so the climb seems eternal.  You keep thinking it’s over, and it isn’t.  To guard against this, know as you set out that you are going to climb at a moderate-to-challenging pitch for 9 miles, with one short descent near the top that is only a set-up for heartbreak when the climbing comes back.  Despite my gloom, this ride has spectacular vistas, good surfaces, some crackerjack descending, and a general sense of epic grandeur.  The feeling of accomplishment when you’re done is unmatched.

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Jalama Road

Distance:  28 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2150 ft

There’s a whole genre of literature that testifies to Man’s need to make for the sea occasionally.  Amen to that.  Especially on a bike.  Not ride along the sea—head straight for it.  Here’s a ride that does that in classic fashion.

This is not a life-changing ride.  You won’t be able to brag to your friends that you bagged it.  It’s just a lovely rolling ride to the beach, with a Sixties throw-back beach community straight out of a Gidget movie at the end of the road.   It’s all gentle up and down, with one hill in the middle that’s a bit more than that.  The scenery is perfect coastal hill-and-dale, as you ride up a creek drainage, sometimes in the gnarly riparian oaks and sometimes in the grassy hills above them.  The road surface is a bit rough about 1/3 of the time, but nothing to spoil the mood.   Not a “big” ride but a jewel.

Word has it that Jalama is scheduled for resurfacing soon (written on 5/17), so a) the surface problems may be a thing of the past, and b) you may run into road work.

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Mt. Figueroa

Distance: 40-mile loop
Elevation gain: 3990

(A Best of the Best ride)

Our Southern California ride list has three rides that are all big, chest-thumping rides up a mighty mountain: Mt. Figueroa, Gibraltar Road, and Glendora Ridge.  Of the three, Figueroa is the prettiest, by a long shot.  All three are detailed in toughascent.com, and I encourage you to familiarize yourself with his write-ups.  I find it’s helpful on big climbs like these to know exactly what lies ahead, so I’ve tried to be unusually detailed about mileages and pitches.

Since there is no reason to drive this road except to gawk at the scenery, and it’s a tough drive, you should be pretty much alone.  When I rode it on a Monday in January, I saw 4 cars and no bicycles on the mountain (in 20 miles).  It’s nice to have the road to yourself, but you also can’t expect to be rescued, so take everything you might need.

Figueroa is a ride through farm country, then a ranching valley, a climb up the mountain, a ride across the ridgetop, a drop down the back side, and a ride through another valley.  The climb was made famous as a favorite training ride for the Discovery pro cycling team and a certain Texan, whose name slips my mind, when the team did an annual spring training camp in the Solvang area.   It’s a substantial ride—my computer recorded 5080 ft of gain in 40 miles, which is not to be sneezed at, and there’s a lot of 8-10% stuff—but it’s never leg-breaker hard and if you pace yourself it’s very doable.  It’s all seriously gorgeous, in its way as pretty a ride mile by mile as any in Bestrides.org.

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