Climbs USA

Questions about bike hire abroad and everything light bike related. No off-topic chat please

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by Dalai

In the On the Road discussion prendrefeu made a great comment "Having traveled the world extensively and still going, California is one of the best places in the world to ride. North, South, East, Coast, it doesn't matter - California is solid.
The climbs of Europe are magnificent indeed, and the famed roads are challenging, but California has plenty of capable challengers, many of which are not often talked about."

Can't see myself getting across to the US in the short term, but looking at the photos posted in the above topic and watching the Tour of California does get the juices flowing for some challenging climbs in the sun...

So some logistical questions for California would be great. Where and when to go, stay, lists of climbs etc!

I've also heard of climbs such as Mt Lemmon in AZ and Independence Pass CO, so details for other worthy areas across the country would be appreciated. :thumbup:

by Weenie

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by bikeman71

I feel qualified to answer this after living and riding in California for the past 15 years. Currently, I live in Pollock Pines, at about 4000 feet and 25 miles to Lake Tahoe. Our county(El Dorado)hosts some of the best riding I have encountered. There is no such thing as a recovery ride, as everything is up or down. Two gems that I might recommend right out the back door include Mormon Emigrant Trail, a 26 mile climb on perfect pavement with big shoulders and no traffic. It features plenty of 8-10% grades followed by lesser grades that allow for recovery. The summit of this climb is the backside to one of the featured climbs on the Death Ride out of Markleeville. A second, and more obscure climb is Icehouse Road off of Highway 50. This is the paved road that leads to the Trailhead of the Rubicon, the most famous rock crawling off road trail in the world. Like MET, the roads are glass and the traffic is non-existent. I would recommend doing the full ride to Loon Lake.

Look at the Death Ride map for more epic rides.....Monitor pass is hard, but the pavement and views are unbelievable.

Also look at the Everest Challenge route for more Eastern Sierra routes. Bishop hosts some of the best winter riding in the world. The rock climbing crowd have this place completely dialed in the winter....I'm trying to figure out why the pro teams haven't figured it out yet. It's no problem to start at 4500 feet and climb to 8000 under bluebird skies and 60F temps.

There are countless other rides like this right out my back door. If any of you are in the area and would like a grand tour, just shoot me a PM.

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by tonytourist

If you want a rough ride you could check out this one, I haven't done any of the climbs but I know a few guys who have and said it's pretty rough... (Ridgecrest, CA)

Not very far from Ridgecrest is Kernville, and there is plenty of good mountain biking to be had there.

If you find yourself in Palm Springs, try this climb out: Palm Springs Tramway Road:
I did it last year in 100+ weather and it was a bit rough :lol:

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by btompkins0112

Gotta throw Boulder, Colorado out for the most epic routes/climbs in a condensed could honestly get a hotel in Boulder and ride for two weeks and be in cyclist heaven.

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by eric

Boulder is a great city, is very cyclist friendly for the USA, and has a lot of pretty women. But the riding, especially the climbing, is not as good as in California. Compared to where I live, there's only a few climbs within riding distance of the city. Maybe five or six. But here (silicon valley/santa cruz mountains) I have at least 20. Heck, I live on one of them. (not planned; I wasn't cycling when I bought the place).

Dalai, the ToC doesn't do the really spectacular alpine climbs. It's too early for most of them as the snow is usually not cleared by May.

The Everest Challenge route is incredible. ( Multiple 6000' climbs to 10,000'. Each one starts in the high desert and climbs to the high mountains.
There is also the Death Valley Road and Mt Whitney Stage races (same organizer as EC) which does similar on some other big climbs in the eastern Sierra. The DVRSR's second stage is only 12.5 miles... and 5200' of climbing. Unfortunately Son Of Death Ride is not happening this year, I would like to do that one too.

For non racing there's a bunch of stuff (and the EC has a tourist category). There is a series of three timed centuries with lots of climbing in Southern California in the spring ( which goes over some of the nicer climbs down there. There are many other mountainous century rides like the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge and the Shasta Century (Mt Shasta is a somewhat Mt Ventoux like volcano, only higher).

There are cyclo-tourist outfits that specialize in California riding. Undiscovered Country tours is one ( Most do relatively easy routes but UDC does offer some more challenging stuff including the climbs from the Death Ride.

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by djconnel

I recommend John Summerson's book series for a nice review of some of the best/hardest climbs in various regions. He has a national book and several regional books, each with more focus on the particular region. He's going to be coming out with new editions in the near future, but the first edition is still recommended.

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by prendrefeu

I'll add this in regards to California: some events (pro or sportive) don't even cover 1/5th of the great climbs available here. Similar to the ASO/TdF in that they can still pull out roads that have never seen the Tour yet and become legendary once they're televised, there are a lot of great places to go. The limitations are often weather/time of year and how much time you have.

For example, this route was done by a small group of us to test out an idea (5 total) last Fall:
It starts off on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range (most of which is taller than the Alps), crosses over to the Western side through a National Park - and then back. If you can arrange to have your things waiting for you in Yosemite National Park (at a campsite or the Wawona Hotel), it won't be nearly as difficult. But the climb from Hwy395 just to the gate of Yosemite is called Tioga Pass. The road through Yosemite will take you just short of 10,000ft

Sherman Pass is a little bit further South of that.

California as a whole:

Countless roads with "major rolling climbs" and heavily shaded, deep forest, you're-the-only-ones-around"
Mt. Shasta area and anything west to the Coast.
Sierras North of Lake Tahoe are great
Tahoe Lake & vicinity is great for both road and mountain.
The area just south of Tahoe, around Markleeville, is home to many of the mountain passes used for Death Ride (difficult) and the Alta Alpina Challenge (very difficult)

Mid-North/Bay Area
Terrible Two is an event which covers an area just north of the Bay Area (San Francisco) - look up their route as they cover a number of great climbs on very single-lane-European style roads
Riding in Marin County is just plain amazing and gorgeous. There's a reason so many of famous frame designers and founders of the sport come from there.
Mt. Diablo is just a skip from Oakland, magnificent climb.
Santa Cruz Mountain range is to the South, a veritable playground (and testing ground for Specialized, Bell, Giro and Easton)

Hwy 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) mostly follows the coast and features steep rollers and dramatic changes in flora.

Santa Ynez Valley is most often the place where both pro and amateur teams hold training camps. Plenty of roads & climbing, sometimes no traffic, and lots of wine.
Santa Barbara is a great little town featuring the famous Gibraltar Climb, called the "Alp d'Huez of North America" by some. US Postal used to do training loops of Gibraltar/Painted Cave/San Marcos Rd twice, which comes out to ~7,000ft in 100mi, most of which is steep.
Hwy 33 out of Ojai. Go mid-week (Tuesday is best) and you won't see a vehicle for hours - and it's all uphill. It won't ever be ToC featured because it has to be done as a loop in order to get back to civilization, which won't make for a dramatic finish on television.
Santa Monica Mountains have too many climbs to count, most of which are Cat 2.
Angeles National Forest features many Cat 1 climbs, a few HC. Some have been in the Tour of California
San Bernandino Mountains have great climbs - Mt. Baldy for example
Palomar Mountain - HC with Chris Horner as your current leader.
a little east of San Diego, the Cleveland National Forest has plenty of climbs to challenge you, most Cat 2 and of course gorgeous. Go in the early Spring.

Riding Death Valley (it's a National Park) is simply monumental and deceptively difficult. Outstanding landscape. Most climbs are Cat 1 and HC. They would most likely never feature in the Tour of California though because it is a National Park, very remote for the general public, and weather-timing is difficult. Go in the Winter or very early Spring. Cross your fingers because some days may find 25mph+ headwinds no matter which direction you go.
...basically any road heading into the Sierras west of Hwy 395 will be Cat 1 or HC. There are too many to count. Late Spring or late Fall is your best bet to avoid heat, but you may find the top cut short with snow. If you climb in the Summer, your starting temp at Hwy 395 may be 90F with snow or hail at the top of the climb.
Mammoth Lakes, CA is a great resort town. During the Summer it is a cycling haven - open roads, plenty of climbing with a base elevation of 6,500ft, and the entire mountain ski area is open for mountain riding. It is possible to do 100mi, 9,000ft of climbing and only encounter 3 stop signs for the entire ride. Loop over to June Lake for views so scenic you may consider just stopping for a few hours by a lake.

Sequoia National Park
King's Canyon National Park
Yosemite National Park
... and more in the area.

Use Strava's Segment explorer to see various climbs (it will only show the more popular ones however, there are more out there). For example start off with "Mammoth Lakes, CA" and then just move the map around.
Last edited by prendrefeu on Mon Jul 23, 2012 7:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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by Frankie13

I want to point out Six Gap in Dahlonega North.GA. Great challenging climbs ridden by the pros during the tour of Georgia. I'm holding fully supported cycle camps here and everybody loves the climbs and routes.

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by cmh

As prendrefeu indicated...there's just so much to choose from...Morgan Territory->Mt. Diablo being my favorite regular route. Close second route in the Bay Area being Page Mill->Hwy 1->Tunitas->Old la Honda...everytime I have friends in town to visit me in San Francisco they can't believe we're still in/near a city during this ride, one of the nicest imaginable imo. Third would be Mt. Tam or Mt. Ham...

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by cmh

Frankie13 wrote:I want to point out Six Gap in Dahlonega North.GA. Great challenging climbs ridden by the pros during the tour of Georgia. I'm holding fully supported cycle camps here and everybody loves the climbs and routes.

I've ridden out there quite a bit incl Brasstown when I lived on the east coast. Nice riding but can't compete with CA for sustained efforts imo...definitely worth it if someone is in the area and looking to ride though.

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by stella-azzurra

How far apart are these places in California?

Seems like if you lived in Boulder or Denver Colorado it would be ideal.

You do not to have to drive out to these place with the bike.

The ideal would be to live no more than 10 miles away.
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by uraqt

Nor cal..

worth the drive

I would second cmh on Tunitas, Old la Honda, and Kings but I don't want all you pro's screwing up my strava segments :D


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by HammerTime2

cmh wrote:Third would be Mt. Tam or Mt. Ham...
These should be spelled out for those not knowing what they are. Mt. Tamalpais. Mt. Hamilton.

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by cmh

Yep sorry...although Tam isn't one of my regulars just due to the tourist traffic. That said, it's hard to beat to be able to get on the bike in San Francisco, go over the Golden Gate, hit this climb and head back. Great training loop...or just for fun. :)

by Weenie

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by Dalai

Thanks so much everyone for the suggestions. Exactly what I was hoping for!

Coming from the Southern hemisphere, I personally look to travel anywhere between July - October to escape north for some sun. Would look at spending at least a month on the road.

I know some of these areas you mention, as I have spent ~8 months over 2 trips in the States in a previous life rock climbing (over 15 years ago so feels like it). Mostly based in San Fran... So know exactly what bikeman71 means about Bishop, Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes. How good are those hot springs!

We have friends in Colorado Springs, so would enjoy heading out to Colorado again too!

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