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? See the vigorous debate about this in the comment section, with me on one side and everyone else on the other. And check out the elevation profile. The facts: clockwise gives you a 7-mile climb up a set of constant, tight 9% switchbacks, then a steep 3-mile descent, then a 9.5-mile mellow climb, then a 22-mile medium descent; counterclockwise gives you the reverse: a 22-mile mild ascent, a 9.5-mile easy descent, 3 miles of 9+ climbing, then a 7-mile descent down a set of constant, tight 9% switchbacks. My route goes counterclockwise. Wind direction is also a factor, since the middle 13 miles is open and fairly flat.
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.