Distance: 45 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4290 ft
This ride has very little “wow” factor—no grand vistas, no towering monoliths. But it is an exceedingly pleasant bucolic stroll, gradually ascending through foothill woods, meadows, and horse farms, with lots of variety to the contour. The landscape is quite handsome, and particularly so in the spring when things are green. The level of traffic is more than I would wish, even on weekdays, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker. And you turn around in Grass Valley, a community I’m very fond of. I learned the route from Steve Cimini, who has introduced me to many of the rides in this list via his guided club rides with the Sacramento Bike Hikers.
It’s 22 miles of almost uninterrupted up, but it’s all mellow—less than 100 ft per mile—and I don’t think of this ride as a lot of work. The descent coming back down Rattlesnake Road has wonderful, whoop-inducing moments and is almost good enough to make the Best of the Best list.
5/17: I rerode the route on a Sunday, and was disappointed. The traffic was constant. Worse (because it can’t be avoided by riding on a weekday), the area has been built up, so the sense of bucolic countryside is lost for long stretches. I’d say avoid this ride on weekends, and in general do it only if you’re in the area and don’t want to do the work of Iowa Hill.
(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.)
From Clipper Gap, CA, take Placer Hills Rd. north. This leg of the ride is more domesticated than Dog Bar—wider, busier, smoother (recently repaved)—but lovely, and, depending on your tastes, possibly your favorite part of the ride. Take Dog Bar Rd. when it takes off to the L. Almost immediately you will plummet for a mile down to a small bridge across the Bear River, the nearest thing to high drama on the ride. At the far end of the bridge is a small dirt turn-out, and from there a footpath goes upriver to a spectacular stretch of river strewn with big boulders, perfect for swimming in the summer—all of which is a strong argument for starting the ride here, so you can switch to hiking boots and hit the river after the ride.
From the bridge Dog Bar climbs pretty steadily to the end, but not one foot of it is steep, and there are plenty of rollers to give the legs some respite. In fact, this may be the only ride in Bestrides.org where I feel like Mapmyride’s elevation gain total overestimates the work load.
Two-thirds of the way up the road, Rattlesnake Rd. takes off to the R (clearly signed). If you’re keen to get to Grass Valley as soon as possible, stay on Dog Bar, which turns into La Barr Meadows Rd., which runs straight into downtown. But Rattlesnake is much the better ride: smaller, windier, steeper, a bit less built up, and less trafficked.
When Rattlesnake dead-ends at Hwy 174, take 174 to the L and into Grass Valley. For lunch, you have lots of good choices, thanks to Grass Valley’s recent modest gentrification. If you want old school, have a pasty (pronounced PASS tee), the traditional lunch of the Cornish miners who dug the gold out of the nearby hills.
Turn around and ride home. Again, Dog Bar is the more direct route and Rattlesnake has by far the better descent. Either way, the ride back is almost entirely downhill and a piece of cake except for the mile of climbing on the far side of the Bear River. After the ride, drive back to that bridge on Dog Bar and go swimming.
Shortening the route: Ride Rattlesnake Rd. only.
Adding miles: There is a lot of good riding around you on this ride. Our route takes you within a stone’s throw of the Iowa Hill Road ride. From Clipper Gap it’s a pleasant ride on side roads paralleling Hwy 80 heading south to the Lincoln Hills ride. From Grass Valley you’re only 3.5 miles from Nevada City, site of our Red Dog/Pasquale ride and everything in the Adding Miles section under it. To get to Nevada City, ride NE on Main St, which turns into Nevada City Hwy, which turns into Zion. It’s not a 3.5 miles I enjoy.
A mile or so past the Bear River bridge on our outbound route, Magnolia Rd. takes off to the L (clearly marked). It’s a manicured, picture-perfect road well worth riding until you near Lake of the Pines, when all sense of tranquility and isolation ends and you should turn around.
You can make a very nice loop out of our route by riding up Rattlesnake Rd. until it meets Lower Colfax Rd. on the R (just a stone’s throw before Rattlesnake meets Hwy 174, clearly signed), taking Lower Colfax to its end at Hwy 174, taking 174 south to Colfax, then taking Tokayana to Placer Hills Rd. and following PHR back to Clipper Gap and your car. I learned this route from Sil, whom I met on Rattlesnake, and I haven’t done Lower Colfax myself yet, but I trust it’s good. Of course you’d be giving up the lovely Rattlesnake Rd. descent.