Distance: 16-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1302 ft
There are three Bestrides rides in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area—Dog Bar, Red Dog/Pasquale, and Lower Colfax—and there is no simple way to decide which you should do first. They are all pleasant up-and-down strolls through nice woods—no grand vistas, no awe-inspiring crags, no waterfalls, nothing of the sort. Dog Bar has the best descent (on Rattlesnake), but it’s also the most built up. Dog Bar goes to Grass Valley. Red Dog/Pasquale begins and ends in Nevada City, and it goes through arguably the prettiest woods. Lower Colfax probably has the most charming road contour. But there is no clear winner.
I learned this route from the good folks at the Outside Inn, a dedicated cycling, mountain-biking, and kayaking mecca of a motel, lovingly restored from a rundown old motorcourt and now sporting rooms with outdoor themes like the Singletrack Room. By all means, stay there when you’re in the area, if you can (they’re routinely booked up on weekends). Even if you can’t get in, go by to learn about good rides in their library of good rides, each separately Xeroxed and free for you to take. If you mountain-bike, they have trail maps too. Didn’t I say they were good folks?
(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.)
Navigation is a little tricky on this one. From Broad Street, downtown Nevada City’s main drag, ride south out of town on Pine St., which turns into Zion. Continue on Zion past the SPD Market (named after the pedals, no doubt) straight through a busy four-way intersection that clearly marks the end of town. You’re now paralleling Hwy 49/20. The next road on your L is Banner Lava Cap Rd. Take it and immediately cross Hwy 49/20 on a high overpass/bridge. Continue up Banner Lava Cap, a steady moderate climb of 6 miles through pleasant inhabited woods. Take the time to appreciate the houses you’re riding past—they’re all different, all tasteful, all interesting, and all out of your price range. Idaho-Maryland Rd. merges from 5:00 o’clock on your R. The product of the merger is still called Banner Lava Cap. Stay on it until it ends at a stop sign and a T. At this point the climbing for the route is all over. By then the road has changed its name to Banner Quaker Hill Rd. The road sign at the T reads “Banner Quaker Hill Rd.” to the R and “Quaker Hill Rd.” to the L. Turn R. Now hold on—you’re about to go down a short, steep pitch with an obvious road sign reading “31%.” The run-out at the bottom is good, so you can let ‘er go if you want to, but there is cross traffic on this road. You won’t come back this way, so you don’t have to ride it back up.
Soon after the drop, you meet Pasquale Rd. on your L and take it. If it doesn’t show up soon, you’re lost. Pasquale is the real reason you’ve come, a beautiful, mostly level meander on a tiny road with good surface through pristine woods that look like Columbus never happened. Every time I ride it, my heart yearns to build a cabin in these woods.
Pasquale ends at Red Dog Rd. Take Red Dog to the R and it’s a fun, ripping descent with traffic through built-up neighborhoods straight into Nevada City and your car.
Shortening the route: Since there are no cut-off roads, this is a hard loop to shorten. If you’re determined not to do it all, I can only suggest driving to Pasquale Rd. and riding it from end to end as an out-and-back.
Adding miles: In Nevada City you’re surrounded by good riding in all directions. Another good loop is: From Broad St. in Nevada City go out Bennett to Monroe, which turns into Old Downieville Hwy. ODH ends at Hwy 49. Go L a stone’s throw and go L on Newtown Rd. When it dead-ends, go L on Bitney Springs Rd. When it dead-ends, go L on Ridge Rd. Ride through and past the outskirts of Grass Valley until you hit a large 4-way intersection, the same one you rode straight through in the early miles of the Red Dog/Pasquale ride. This time you go L, back toward downtown Nevada City, and return to Broad St. by riding the opening miles of Red Dog/Pasquale backwards.
Another nice loop from town is Willow Valley Road > Scotts Valley Road > Scotts Flat Road > Scotts Flat Campground Road > Dam Road > Pasquale > Red Dog, which lets you ride the best miles of Red Dog/Pasquale over again, which I know you want to do.
These and a dozen other good rides are mapped for you at the Outside Inn.
Afterthoughts: Nevada City is a magical place, and you should definitely explore it at least once, but it’s become thoroughly tourist-ified and the food and housing have become accordingly expensive and precious. Cheaper and more down-to-earth is Grass Valley 3 miles away, which used to be a sleepy, working-class, charmless burg but has become quite a pleasant spot, with real stores, interesting, unpretentious eateries, and one of the finest small theatres I know of. Be sure to find out who’s performing there when you’re in town.
Both towns have lots of good places to eat. My favorites are in Nevada City and next to each other: Fudenjuce, a health-food mecca with great wraps and smoothies, and, across the parking lot, The Ham Stand, a salumeria (Italian sausage maker) where all the meats are made in-house and delicious/expensive.