Distance: 12 miles one way
Elevation gain: 1700 ft
Sierra Road, a name that brings shivers to Bay Area riders, was made famous in 2012 when Chris Horner flew up its 18% pitches to lock up the win in the Tour of California. He rode those pitches at around 13 mph. I had ridden up the same slopes earlier that morning to watch the stage finish—at 4 mph or less. This is one of the toughest climbs in our list, a true feather in your cap, one of two climbs in Bestrides where I’ve been known to stop to recover (the other being Welch Creek Road, in the Adding Miles section of the Calaveras ride).
It actually isn’t all that wonderful a ride. It’s too steep to be fun, and the landscape is mostly barren grassy hills and vistas of San Jose bloat. But it’s a marvelous challenge, and the descent on the backside, Felter Road, is superb. For those more interested in scenery and riding pleasure than bragging rights, a better ride is Felter alone as an out and back, which I discuss at the end.
(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.)
Start at the intersection of Sierra Rd. and Piedmont Rd.. The climbing starts immediately (I ride around on Piedmont to warm up) and is immediately fierce. It’s going to stay like that most of the way to the summit (about 3.6 miles). The scenery is a bit bland and the view from the top, while admittedly vast, is mostly of San Jose sprawl (standing at the summit, Bob Roll looked at San Jose and said to me, “How did we go so wrong?”).
The summit used to be absolutely nothing but one-lane road and grass, but now there’s a spiffy new parking lot, benches (to take in Bob’s vista), and a map board introducing you to the trail system that takes off from the parking lot into the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve to the southeast. Signs used to implore you, “Do not throw manure over fence,” in case you had it in mind to do so, but they seem to have disappeared. Still no bathrooms or water, however.
Once past the summit, everything changes. Now the views are quite nice (the Open Space Preserve). You turn north and start to roll and descend on good road surface. Try to notice the “Livestock Keep Out” sign on your L—I guess the East Bay cows are a literate lot. At a minor intersection the road turns from Sierra Road to Felter Road (there’s a road sign marking the change, but it’s easy to miss). The pitch steepens until you’re almost literally flying down some sustained 10% and 14% stretches. Much of it is very fast, with no speed-killing sharp turns and with long sightlines and run-outs allowing for 45 mph if you’re up for it and just enough up-and-down and back-and-forth to add some technical interest. Flat-out exhilarating.
Felter changes its name to Calaveras Rd. when Calaveras enters on your R, then intersects Piedmont and our ride is over, because the ride back to your car is ordinary. To complete the loop, turn L on Piedmont and stay on it to your car.
Climbing Sierra is the sort of thing you only do if you want to suffer. If you don’t, just do the easier, prettier half—ride Felter from the bottom to the summit as an out and back. It’s a lovely climb through pretty hobby farms and along rolling grass-and-oak hillsides, and you’ll still get a workout—1400 ft of vert in 6 miles, with those 10% and 14% stretches. The bulk of the work is in the first half of the climb.
When I do the Felter out and back, I usually start at the intersection of Piedmont and Calaveras, to give myself some warm-up time—it’s all uphill from there, but at a milder pitch than Felter itself. Presently there are several large barriers across Calaveras at that intersection and multiple “Road Closed” signs, but they don’t mean closed to bikes—the signs even tell you you’re welcome.
Adding miles: Since this is the East Bay, you’ve got great riding to the north and south of you. The intersection where Felter becomes Calaveras is the turn-around point of the Calaveras Road ride. A stone’s throw to the south is the Mt. Hamilton ride.
Afterthoughts: In the middle of the summer the Sierra Rd. temperature can be nearly 100 degrees, and there are no services on the ride until the water and bathrooms at the Ed Levin County Park when the ride is almost over. If you can’t do the ride in the morning, I strongly encourage a third water bottle for your head. One afternoon I started the climb with two full water bottles and that proved inadequate—I had to beg water from a guy watering his lawn. And we’re talking a 4-mile climb here.