Sierra Road/Felter Road

 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 (OK, RWGPS says it tops out at 14%, but my legs say different) 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).

Sierra Rd. itself 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?”).

Just past the summit, beginning Felter (looking back)

Felter near the summit

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.

A rare moment of shade on Sierra Road

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 short 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.

Nearing the summit of Sierra

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.

Looking back from Felter at the summit, with San Jose in the background

Shortening the route: Climbing Sierra is the sort of thing you do for bragging rights, so it makes no sense to do part of it.  If you want something easier, just do the Felter half as an out and back.  It adds miles, but it’s prettier, easier, and more fun, a lovely climb through hobby farms and along rolling grass-and-oak hillsides.  You’ll still get a workout—1400 ft of vert in 6 miles, with the afore-mentioned 10% and 14% stretches.

One of many grand eucalyptus along lower Felter

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.

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.

6 thoughts on “Sierra Road/Felter Road

  1. Matthew W.

    As of 11/24/19, the summit parking lot has some inverted-U bike racks in case you want to lock up and explore some of the trails on foot.

    1. admin

      Sweet. It’s pretty stark up there—it’s all grass hills—but it’s nice to have the option.

  2. Eric

    Drove Sierra Road today (Sunday). Feels quite unsafe. There were lots of cars and blind spots but no shoulders. Guess I’ll be riding Monday morning.

    1. Jack Rawlins Post author

      I’ve never seen traffic on Sierra, but the new parking lot and trail system at the top may have changed things.

      1. Brian M

        I rode DOWN Sierra road last winter (at the tail end of the Calaveras Road climb) in a steady drizzle. The road was wet, my jersey was wet, and my glasses were completely fogged in due to the humidity. One of the worst and scariest rides in my life.

  3. Rick Mayberry

    I rode the BOB (Best of the Bay) ride in 2011. At mile 93 I made it to the bottom of Sierra Road and looked up. Oh crap… I am happy to say that I muscled my way up and didn’t get off my bike until I made it to the top. What a beast! Riding the BOB continues to be one of my most memorable rides.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *