Distance: 49 miles out and back
Elevation gain: NA
This is another of those “best in the area” rides—not a life-changing ride but one worth doing if you’re in the neighborhood. It’s in the midst of a network of southeast Bay Area roads that cyclists ride all the time and which I find sterile and barren: Mines, San Antonio Valley, Tassajara, Highland, Altamont Pass. All rolling grassy hills. But in the midst of this desert is Del Puerto Canyon Road.
On a map it looks like it would be featureless like all the others, but it’s through a little canyon of considerable charm. It winds niftily along a little creek (dry in summer), which means riparian plant life, canyon walls, lots of turns, and some shade. It’s also predominantly next-to-flat (Mapmyride gives an elevation gain of 4300 ft, which is bogus—the first 16 miles average 1-2%), which the others aren’t, so it’s ideal for a day when you don’t want to work. And it has one virtue that no other ride in Bestrides can claim: it’s 50 feet off Hwy 5, so from now on when you’re making that tedious drive from SoCal to NorCal or vice versa you can pull off midway and do a refreshing little out-and-back on the bike. (The other ride near Hwy 5 is the Paskenta loop.)
In Patterson, CA, on Hwy 5, take the Sperry Ave/Diablo Grande Pkwy exit, go west under Hwy 5 and take the immediate R turn onto Del Puerto Canyon Road. Park anywhere on the shoulder. Ride to the T at the end of the road, then ride back. You can begin at the other end, but the first 21 miles are uphill from the Patterson/Hwy 5 end so I ride it that way so I get the work out of the way. After a couple of miles through open grassy hill country, you enter the canyon and stay there until the summit at mile 21. As with most desert riding, the beauty around you may not be immediately obvious, and I encourage you to take the time to get into your surroundings. Watch for hawks playing games with each other in the air above you.
The pitch increases gradually. For the first 14 miles, it’s imperceptible. Then it’s noticeable. At about 17 miles it’s substantial. The last 3 miles to the summit are downright hard (8-10%), made harder by the deterioration of the road surface. If you’re out for an easy day, turn around when it gets tough, knowing that you won’t be missing anything important. Someone has painted large mileage markers on the centerline so you’ll know exactly how far in you are.
If you continue on past the summit, the road descends the back side of the pass for 3 more miles, then dead-ends on Mines Road. Skip it if you don’t want to climb back up, though it isn’t steep.
I don’t enjoy the first three miles of the return from the summit, because steep descents over rough pavement suck. After that, it’s a nearly effortless ride back to your car. Both times I did it I had a moderate easterly wind in my face, and I suspect that’s the norm—I think the normal Bay Area westerly can’t get through the pass.
The downfall of this ride may be the traffic. The first time I rode it I saw 2-3 cars total. The second time I met about 100 motorcycles head-on over a stretch of 10 miles. Both rides were on weekdays. In addition, there are a very large municipal park and a OHV playground about midway, both of which were closed when I rode (in late September). I have no idea how busy the area is on a weekend when they’re open.
Even though it’s in a canyon, this ride is still dry and hot in summer, so I recommend doing it in spring, fall, or early morning. See Russell’s excellent comment below for info on traffic and water re-supply.
Adding Miles: at the turn-around point you’re in the midst of a classic Bay Area ride, the “Mt. Hamilton Rd. out, Mines Rd. back” loop. To the R, Mines Rd. goes for miles, then ends near the southern-most point of our Morgan Territory Road ride. Mines Rd. was even on the Tour of California route one year—I remember standing on a climbing corner and watching a hard-working Lance Armstrong pass by me an arm’s length away. To the L, San Antonio Rd. climbs the back side of Mt. Hamilton and ends at the turn-around point of our Mt. Hamilton Road ride. I consider both rides tedious, and I don’t know anyone who has ridden up Mt. Hamilton from this side, which says something.
Afterthoughts: just across Hwy 5 from Del Puerto Canyon Rd. and unmissable is an Amazon “fulfillment center,” surely one of the largest one-story buildings on earth. Well worth a gawk.
A few miles into the ride, a large iron door is set into the rock wall. Thoughts of the mines of Moria are unavoidable. Can anyone tell me what it is?