Distance: 27-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 1500 ft
If you look at a good map of the area east of Lincoln, north of Newcastle, and west of Hwy 49, you’ll see a little patch of squiggly lines. If you drive past the area on any of the highways (193, 80, or 49) you’d never guess there was any good riding there, but this is one of my favorite places to ride. It’s not a single road or route—it’s a cozy little network of crooked roads working their way through pretty, moderately hilly hobby farm country. The area is small enough that you can ride all the good stuff in an outing, and every road is fine. Just go explore. The joy is that the scale is so small—the riding is always changing, you’re constantly turning onto a new road, none of the climbs last too long, etc. You’ll see on the map that the roads to your west, just east of Lincoln, straighten out and scribe rectangles, which tells you the land has turned into flat, conventional ranch country. If you like flat and grassy, these roads are perfectly pleasant. But that’s not what brings me to the area, so I don’t go there.
(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.)
Here’s a route that covers most of the good stuff: Start at the intersection of Virginiatown Rd. and Fowler Rd. Just park on any wide spot of shoulder. Riding counterclockwise, ride east on Virginiatown (pause to read the plaque on the Virginiatown historical monument), R. on Gold Hill, L. on Ridge, continue on Ridge until it ends at Taylor (no sign), L onto Taylor for 100 ft, L onto Ophir (signed), L on Lozanos (at the fueling station), R when Lozanos T’s, an immediate L onto Bald Hill, L. on Mt. Vernon, L. on Baxter Grade, continue onto Wise, then a hard R on Chili Hill Rd., which turns into Virginiatown and your car.
There are only two significant climbs in this area, Bald Hill Rd. and Baxter Grade, both uphill heading north. If you don’t feel like working, plan a route that avoids them. The other side of the coin is, Baxter Grade is the one whoop-and-holler descent in the area, so if you’re looking for that thrill, plan a route that takes you to the top of it, as my route does.
I was introduced to the Lincoln Hills by the Tour de Lincoln, a friendly, enjoyable metric century put on annually by the locals. But the century only spends about 1/3 of its time on our prime roads, and the other 2/3 riding through other, less-good roads. So you miss half the good stuff and spend a lot of time on the OK stuff. Which is the typical downfall of centuries, and which is why I don’t do many centuries.
Shortening the route: Skip the Virginiatown Road lollipop stick. Crater Hill Road, which isn’t on our route, is a short connector that lets you ride either the top half or the bottom half of our figure-eight as a loop. I see no reason to recommend one loop over the other.
Adding miles: From the Lincoln Loop you can easily and pleasantly ride to the Dog Bar Road ride and the Iowa Hills ride. Just ride north and east via the small roads of your choice, working your way to Placer Hills Road, which will take you to both rides. Dog Bar connects to our Lower Colfax/Rollins Lake Loop ride. By car you’re about 25 miles from the Mosquito Ridge Road ride. See Doug’s thoughts in the Comments section about adding the Indian Hill area just to the south of our routes.
Afterthoughts: For some reason a lot of paper maps don’t show some of the Lincoln Hills roads. Even Mapmyride pretends some of them don’t exist. Trust me, they’re all there, they’re standard two-lane country size, and all the road surfaces are good. The AAA map of the Gold Country shows the area well (as well as all the other Gold Country rides in our list).
There are no services in the network proper, but you’re a short ride from two tiny towns worth visiting, Newcastle and Penryn. Newcastle is a small spot of upscale charm where you least expect it: a nice deli and other amenities prettily ensconced in some restored old buildings. Penryn used to be regionally famous wth cyclists for Trailhead Coffee and Cycling Lounge, but it’s now closed—Yelp says Red Barn Roasting has moved in, but I can find no trace of them.