Sacramento, Davis, Folsom. El Dorado Hills, Placerville, Pollock Pines, Auburn, Nevada City, Baxter, Lake Tahoe, Truckee — great places to ride a road or mountain bike — but there’s a difference between the first three and the others.
Sacramento, Davis and Folsom offer lengthy, pleasant routes that are flat for the most part. There are some nice rolling hills, but none are very long or offer much uphill challenge.
Knocking off 30 miles is relatively easy. They are good for developing riding skills and building long-range capability, which is fundamental to being comfortable on a bicycle. Even casual riders benefit from being able to spend an hour or two in the saddle.
The other eight rides have some flat areas interspersed with many more hills. A day of touring means a fair amount of work, or somewhat painful mountain climbs with relief at the top.
One well known climb is Iron Mountain Road, which connects Sly Park Road in Pollock Pines with Highway 88, topping out at the old Iron Mountain Ski area. It is a long, strenuous ride with an elevation gain of around 5,200 feet.
Drive south on Sly Park Road in Pollock Pines until you come to Iron Mountain Road at the far edge of Jenkinson Lake.
There is parking on the roadside just past the second dam. There is a trail head at Fleming Meadows not far from the dam and an information station a bit over 3 miles from Sly Park Road. Both provide parking areas.
There is plenty of room for bicycles on the paved, two-lane road. Most motorists are used to the cyclists and are generally very courteous.
The road climbs through the Eldorado National Forest so riders should be alert for tree trash — pinecones, branches and ground squirrels that like to play tag with moving objects.
There are occasional downhills and relatively flat spots — none of which lasts for long. It is a difficult climb.
After about 21 miles riders will come to a parking area at the top, the site of a snow park from November through May. There is a pit toilet available.
The return trip is mostly downhill. All of the small breaks you experienced on the way up are now uphills. It’s possible to pick up quite a bit a speed in numerous places. Ride only as fast as you’re willing to crash.
There are often rocks on the road in a couple of places. You enter a long, sweeping “S” turn as you pass Piliken Road where rock slides are common. Take your time as rocks tumble off the exposed side hill all the time.
Depending on fitness and skill level, the round-trip ride covers 41 miles and takes around five hours. There are no facilities so take enough water and food for a long day. Ride only when there is sufficient daylight. Make certain your repair kit is full. Cell phone reception is spotty.
Take a camera to capture the extraordinary views across the American River Canyon to the Crystal Basin Range, and of Pyramid Peak, Mt. Tallac and the lava flow above Silver Lake.
The road is not plowed in winter but is generally rideable until late November or early December. There may be snow at the top into July this summer.
The route will quickly test the strength of your legs, lungs and determination. Ride only as far as is comfortable. There’s always another day.