Jan Barta and Christian Meier during the Tour of California
Jan Barta and Christian Meier ride the Tour of California

Where’s California’s best road biking?

I want to take a weekend road biking trip in California. What are your suggestions?

Jan Barta and Christian Meier during the Tour of California
Greg Melville

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At the risk of pissing off people who live in the Texas Hill Country, along Lake Champlain in Vermont, or just about anywhere in Colorado, I have to say that nowhere beats Northern California for quality, variety, or sheer volume of road rides. These three classics are just a taste.

King Ridge Road, Sonoma County
It may be in Sonoma, but King Ridge isn’t a leisurely wine-sipping route. Some of the world’s top cycling teams make the pilgrimage to train on this narrow, snaking strip of pavement, which rolls through wildflower meadows and redwood stands and offers open views of the Pacific. The most popular century route starts outside of Santa Rosa and meanders into Occidental before turning north on the Cazadero Highway, tracing Austin Creek until it meets King Ridge. From there, the route plummets down to Highway 1, turning south and then east. The Santa Rosa Cycling Club provides a great description here.

Bike shop: Norcal Bikesport

June Lake Loop, Mono County
Few people haul their bikes into the Eastern Sierra solely to ride the June Lake Loop. But if you’re planning on a long weekend at Mammoth outside of ski season, this 20-mile stretch of pavement in Mono County is the highlight. At an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet, you’ll feel like you’re in a scene from the Sound of Music as you pass beneath jagged peaks and along the shores of June, Gull, Silver, and Grant Lakes. Start at Oh! Ridge, follow Route 158 (which is closed in the winter) and loop back onto the somewhat busier Route 395.

Bike shop: Footloose Sports

The Unknown Coast, Humboldt County
You won’t find a more secluded or and spectacularly challenging ride than the second half of this coast-tracing century loop through Humboldt County. It begins in Ferndale and roller coasters its way south before merging with Highway 101 and turning into the famed Avenue of the Giants. From there, the route curves west and climbs Bull Creek Flats Road in Humboldt Redwoods State Park before ambling north toward the coast. The highlight of the final stretch is the mile-long, 22-percent grade climb, called The Wall, near mile 80 in Cape Mendocino. The Chico Velo Cycling Club organizes a weekend Unknown Coast tour, limited to 100 riders, every September. You can also find an excellent map of the course, and its intimidating elevation profile, on Map My Ride.

Bike shop: Life Cycle