This ride is one of the many options over the Skyline Ridge from the peninsula to the coast. Old La Honda is the easiest climb over the top at 3.37 miles and 7% grade. Dress for variable weather. It can be 30 degrees colder at the coast than in Woodside, no exaggeration. Summer weather pattern is generally warm and sunny in Woodside with a fog bank hanging on the west side of the ridge, all the way to the ocean. Even if sunny all the way to the coast, the temperature will drop considerably. In winter, prepare for cold and wet at the top of the ridge, with snow very rare but possible. You can take this ride in either direction, but OLH is not as fun a descent as Kings Mountain, as it’s too tight for a bombing descent.
Start out at Woodside Town Hall, which has ample parking and is close to all “Loop” options. Head down Whiskey Hill Road toward Sand Hill road. Take a right (west) on Sand Hill, and follow until you see the turn for Old La Honda on your right (about 2.5 miles or so). It’s not well marked, so keep your eyes out for the green road sign. Head up Old La Honda for 3.37 miles. This is a steady, but fairly challenging climb.
Top out at Skyline (Highway 35) and watch out for extremely fast traffic coming around the corners as you cross. Cross directly and head down west Old La Honda. This is a fun descent, with rollers and quick turns through the trees. As you come out into the open meadows, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the hills and ocean, if the fog is co-operating. Watch for gravel on the corners on this part of the descent.
Connect with Highway 84 and head left down towards the ocean. Route option: Take Pescadero Creek Road to add miles and end up at Pescadero State Beach and town of Pescadero. Hilly. Otherwise, stay on 84 ’till you get to Stage Road and the general store, which is a good place for coffee and a bite. Opens at 9 am most days. On this route, we take Stage Road north to connect immediately with 101 north. Route option: Take Stage Road south to Pescadero. Hilly. Otherwise, climb sharply up Stage Road northbound, and hook up with 101 north. Descend (fun!) down into the creek valley, and take in spectacular views of the ocean and cliffs (fog dependent). After crossing the ravine, take a right on Tunitas Creek Road.
Take Tunitas Creek road all the way back up to Skyline. It starts out shallow, winding through farms, then moves up into a steeper climb in the woods. The middle section is difficult, hitting what feels like about 8-10% grade consistently for a couple of miles on rough, patchy road. About 3 miles from the top, you feel like you’re coming to the end of the climb, but it follows along the ridgeline until Skyline (Highway 35).
Cross 35 and descend steeply down Kings Mountain Road. Watch for cyclists and cars, especially on the many hairpin corners. Surface is generally very good. Has very twisty sections near the top, and smooths out a bit nearer to the bottom, but is windy and fun the whole way down. Take care on this descent.
Take a left a the stop sign at Kings Mountain Road until you hit Highway 84 eastbound, and take a left into Woodside, back to the Town Hall.
Distance: 39 miles (63 kilometers)
Total Climbing: 3482 ft. (1062 meters)
The Good: You won’t believe this remote-feeling ride is right on your doorstep. Feels like hundreds of miles to the nearest city. Great climbs, great scenery.
The Bad: Fog bank can kill views and chill you to the bone.
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One of the million variations of “The Loop” in the Woodside/Palo Alto area, this ride is a team training ride for the Peninsula Velo cycling club, and starts at the 92/Canada Road car park area, pictured here. It’s pretty easy to find the group, just get there at 8:00 and look for some red/black/white Peninsula Velo kits milling around and getting ready. If you miss the 8:15 time, you can catch them at Buck’s in about 15 minutes.
The group meets at 8:15 on Saturdays when there’s enough light and racing is in season. This ride seems not to be as intense as the Tuesday and Thursday rides, as it has rest/regroups at Buck’s restaurant parking lot and the Chevron in Woodside on the way back (top of Whiskey Hill road). Group seems not to mind people just tagging on–there are a few riders from various teams and unattached riders in every ride I’ve done.
Starts out very mellow as the group warms up and makes its way down Canada toward Woodside and 84. Then a 5 minute “regroup”, which is really just a wait for any stragglers in Buck’s restaurant parking lot. Then it heads up 84 toward La Honda, but takes a right on Kings Mountain road, where the pace begins to edge up just a notch. Then take a left on Tripp road, where again the group ambles along. Then you’ll reconnect with 84, and move rapidly along the straightaway, with little room and a lot of a-hole drivers who don’t care for a big group of cyclists forcing them to slow even a little.
BEGINNING OF THE BURN
The group then takes a left on Portola just when 84 starts to move skyward, and the pace increases notably, winding quickly through the turns, up over the rise at Mountain Home road, and then a hard right towards the turnoff for Old La Honda. Pace continues to gain all the way along Portola as the grade steepens along the guard rails, with the occasional flyer going off the front. Good place to stretch the legs, but it’s all coming back together at the Alpine road intersection.
Hard left on Alpine. Catch your breath and enjoy the speed on the descent, because there is going to be an acceleration at the hard right onto Arastradero, and the first really hard pressing of the pace on the short climbs immediately following the turn. Everybody screams down the other side of the rise, and a few might sprint(ish) for the sign at Page Mill.
Regroup at the stop, then save a bit for the rise on Page Mill, where the group will press the pace again. Left on Junipero Serra, and a relatively calm but strong paceline will quickly get you to the turn at Alpine. Save it on Junipero, as the climbs coming up on Sand Hill road get faster and harder, and can turn truly gut-busting over the last rise before the descent to the turn at Whiskey Hill. Keep every bit of speed you can on the sweeper from Sand Hill onto Whiskey Hill, as they will press the pace hard here. The first rise on Whiskey Hill will often drop about 2/3 of the group, then a few guys will form a regroup, then someone will take a flyer one the last rise back into Woodside. Keep it in the big ring and dig, and you can stay with it. If you’re feeling it, this is a good time to really let it loose.
Stop and catch your air at the Chevron. 5 mins here, then gently up Canada Road again, until the top of the first set of risers, where the pace will start burning and a paceline will form. Drive on in a paceline until the last two climbs on Canada. The first rise will break up the group. Try to stay on the front and create a re-form, then drive another big ring climb to the finish. Someone will go for the “line” and if you’re feeling good it is the time to really let it rip.
Good fun ride, a great pace usually that pushes me hard, but doesn’t kill me. Solid interval training and a great place to brush up on those group riding skills. You need to focus and work hard to get the most out of the ride. Be careful and respect the group!
Distance: 34 miles (55 kilometers)
Climbs: No significant climbs. Rollling with some risers.
The Good: Good roads and shoulders (mostly), good pace, strong riders, nice variation in the pace. A good group will paceline strongly and make it hurt.
The Bad: Invariable jerk drivers on 84 and Portola in the narrow sections. Be careful. Can be cold and windy if fog bank is hanging over the hill at the start/finish.
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Here is the route map for this ride, which will link you to the downloadable Google Earth map. Just click “View this route in 3-D (Google Earth)”. Download Google earth if you don’t have the latest version, which I recommend for its much cleaner navigation interface.
The ride starts at the south end of the Golden Gate bridge. Parking can be found under the freeways along Chrissy Field or at various little lots in the Presidio. Head under the bridge and cross on the west side. The east side is for pedestrians only.
Obviously it’s a lot of fun riding over the Golden gate with the views of the Pacific and the Marin headlands pulling you along. After crossing the bridge, descend in to the town of Sausalito, where views of the city beckon you if you take a moment to look back the way you came. Pretty early in the ride for a lunch stop, but it’s a great town to wander through.
Out from Sausalito the route follows a bike path along the bay and freeway, and heads up into Mill valley, Larkspur, etc. Actually can be fairly confusing threading through these towns, but they are pleasant, eclectic, bike-friendly towns. The key point is to hit the Bolinas road climb up Mount Tam. The climb winds up a narrow road through houses clinging to the hillside, offering views of the residential valleys in Marin. It comes out of the trees at the golf course, and flattens a bit here. When it starts heading up again, it does so rather sharply, but it doesn’t last too long before you’re dropping down a twisting, fun descent into the reservoir. At the bottom, the road goes right over the top of the dam. This is a pretty good place to stop for a bite and a photo.
The climb from the dam winds up through the trees at a steady rate for about a mile or so, and then you come out into the open meadows on the ridgeline. Views of Bolinas, Stinson Beach and the Pacific stretch out before you, and after a bit you will come on some dramatic drops which more often that not are the site for hang-gliders launching off over the ocean. The climbing in this section comes in steep, short pitches, and I’ve heard some call the section “The Seven Sisters”, alluding to the seven short but punchy climbs that bring you to the top of the ridge.
The descent down the other side is a fast, bombing, turning, thrilling ride! One of the best descents in the area in my view. The road surface is good, and you can go fast enough that traffic is not really an issue, unless they get in YOUR way.
Then it’s back through Mill Valley and Sausalito and back over the Golden Gate. The ride is challenging, incredibly scenic, and offers a lot of surprises in terms of terrain and interesting things to find along the way. Who knew there was a reservoir and dam halfway up Mt. Tam? The views of the Pacific from the top of the ridgeline are nothing short of world class. All in all, it’s a memorable and unique ride, not to be missed by any bay area cyclist or visitor.
Distance: 48 miles (78 kilometers)
Mt. Tamalpais climb: 1949 ft. (594 meters) Challenging at times, but variable pitch offers relief when you’re ready to quit. Long.
Special features: Add a loop around Tiburon for an extra 15 miles and more incredible scenery.
The Good: Unique, variable and world-class scenery, cycling-friendly drivers and towns, good road surfaces, nice distance, city to suburban to rural environs.
The Bad: Jonesing for this ride when you get back home.
Filed under: Marin | 5 Comments
I did this ride over the Memorial Day weekend, and I can tell you it’s both tough and gorgeous. Ride starts from the park at the west end of Donner Lake, and IMMEDIATELY starts jacking up the Donner Pass highway, at about a 7.5% gradient. There is a respite after a few hundred yards, but after that it’s really steady going at that gradient. The steeper sections such as they are happen near the top, and it’s exposed and beautiful the whole way. Road surface is surprisingly good, seeing that the climb is covered in snow much of the year. The signature of this climb is an old 1930’s style bridge, like you’d see on the Big Sur highway, which takes you out over a hairpin bend just before the crest of the climb. Stunningly beautiful, and a classic California highway scene.
Once over the top, it’s a long slow descent down into Kingvale, dropping about as much elevation as you just gained slogging up Donner Pass. You pass a bunch of the little ski resorts that are sprinkled around the pass, as well as high alpine meadows and lakes. Then you cross over the 80, and it’s into the tall pines for a few miles before the turnaround in Kingvale.
The climb back is a grind. Pacing yourself seems to be the key here, and mentally allowing for the slow speed on the return climb up. It’s my view that this is the make or break section of the route, being the most mentally tough. On the initial ascent of Donner Pass, it’s a steep climb, and you really have no other option than to settle in and go threshold at your best pace–something that’s much easier for me to do on a steep climb than a slow, shallow dragger with lots of little rollers.
The descent is dangerous. Corners are tight, drops are precipitous, and taking chances doesn’t seem like it’s going to do much for your overall time. It is a fun descent with the incredible views of the high Sierra and Donner Lake almost the whole way, and as soon as you drop into the trees and the view evaporates, the road straightens out and it’s time for a tuck anyway.
After 3 days and some relatively easy riding on the “flats” at elevation, this ride was not as hard as I’d have imagined it. I did repeats of the climb on Tuesday, and did 21:35 and 22:17 in that order, which seems pretty decent compared to climb rates over Old La Honda, a very similar ride in Woodside (bay area). Recovery the next week was slow, and that’s the main thing I suffered with due to the elevation training. I’m looking forward to a nice jump in fitness next week.
Here is the profile and course map for the bike leg of the Donner Lake Triathalon. The goal was to scout out the course for the upcoming July 15 event, and get in some hard training at altitude. Always a challenge with 2 kids under 2 yrs. in tow. Thanks to “Map my Ride“, for the map and elevation profile. First time using this service, and it’s interesting if a little slow. Hope they keep working on it, it’s a great start.
DONNER PASS CLIMB
Start Elevation: 5951 ft
Max Elevatoin: 7169 ft
Vertical gain: 1218 ft
Length: 3.05 mi
Avg. Gradient: 7.5%
3.5 out of 5
“1” = Commuting to work in traffic
“5” = TDF mountain stage, summiting at l’Alpe d’Huez
The Good: Scenery, Scenery, Scenery. Mountain and lake views. Minimal wind. Great steady 3 mi. climb, minimal traffic. Great training at altitude.
The Bad: Short, but that can be adjusted. Start at park gives no warm-up. Dangerous but fun descent.
Filed under: Tahoe | 3 Comments
There is a good time trial series that’s run on the Peninsula, on the popular Canada Road, where a lot of peninsula cyclists ride and train, called the “Beat the Clock” time trial series. Oh, and there is an uphill time trial up Old La Honda as well, which I’ll be doing on June 30.
Fee is some $25 or so, and proceeds go to the Lance Armstrong foundation fighting cancer. I’ve done the Canada road event, and it’s good fun, well organized, and a very good course. It starts off on what is essentially a downhill, but it doesn’t look like it at all, and you really feel like you’re flying in the first 2 miles. What you don’t realize unless you’ve scouted the course is that it’s very much a downhill. The uphill sections in the “out” section (the course is an out and back) is actually deceptively shallow, and both climbs can (or should) be done in the big ring. Coming back is another story altogether! Again, what is actually uphill feels deceptively flat, and you feel like you’re struggling and you’re always trying to figure out why. What looks like a fairly steep downhill, those big ring climbs from the way out, are actually not that steep at all and require effort to keep the speed heading downhill at the right speed.
All in all, a very good TT course, and a good race. Painful, but fun.
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Pre-work ride off of Foothill blvd. Headed out past I-280 up into Stevens Creek Reservoir with the idea that we might take on Mt. Eden road or maybe try Montebello. Never climbed it before. First let me say that heading up to the reservoir on a weekday morning is fairly unpleasant, as the road is just choked with big rigs heading in and out of the quarry at the foot of Montebello. In a couple of miles, we must have been passed by 20 gravel trucks just on our side of the road, choking us with diesel fumes and making the passage both loud and somewhat treacherous.
As soon as we got past the quarry, I noted the sign for Montebello road, and sick of the trucks, took the sharp right up the hill. I immediately began to regret this decision, as you’re faced with a 15% wall from the first turn. Ugh. Particularly daunting when you can’t see the top and you don’t know the climb at all. Got my legs under me as well as possible and moved up the climb. The first hairpin offers much of the same, and the climb continues sharply up for a while. Some respite comes in the first mile, allowing you to get into a difficult but manageable rhythm.
The immediate benefits are the disappearance of trucks and their associated diesel and dust, and the almost immediate reward of views of the valley on a clear morning. The negative, in addition to the pain, is that what little traffic there is seems not used to much bike traffic, and drivers are not as accommodating as you might find of a more heavily bicycle-trafficked climb like Old La Honda.
The climb moves up typical peninsula hill terrain with brown grass and black oak hillsides spreading out steeply before you. This lasts for a mile or two, and then curiously moves into a more moist, more thickly wooded section of deciduous trees with the leaves turning and falling. Felt like New England for about a mile. Odd.
The road surface is generally good at the bottom, then degrades a bit as you climb and get into less and less homes. After the wooded section, you come out on to an open section which feels like you’re nearing the top and approaching Skyline Blvd. This was a bit of a surprise, as on the map it appears not to connect to skyline, and the top of the ridge appears to be still a distance away. But we ran out of time, and when the road started pitching steeply upward again, I became instantly more concerned about the time, particularly as my riding buddy was gapping me. I think my pride was further down the hill, so I suggested we head back down to find it.
We’ll take it on again soon, it’s a great climb with lots of variation, and a new route for us if nothing else. There seems to be a good bit of road to explore in the south bay that we haven’t gotten to yet.
Here is a link to a great site with the gradient of Montebello road. He also includes gradients for many other popular climbs in the area.
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Old La Honda Road is one of the classic climbs on the Peninsula, and, as I’ve learned has something of a history as a test of one’s climbing/riding level. I did it for the first time a few months ago training for the Sea Otter Classic century ride, and rode it for time the first time last Saturday. Well, I didn’t ride it for time, I timed myself climbing at what felt like a solid, tempo effort.
Much of the following borrowed from: http://felixwong.com/
- Distance: 3.37 miles
- Elevation gain: 1290 feet
- Average grade: 7.2%
- Max grade: 15% (18% inside switchbacks), never very long
The course record, according to various posts on USENET newsgroups, is a few ticks under 15 minutes (14:50 or so), and is either owned by Dr. Eric Heiden (the Olympic speed-skating champion who lived 2/3rds up Old La Honda), or a guy named Mike Murray.
The Western Wheelers even has a “rider category system” based on a rider’s times up Old La Honda. (This helps match cyclists with Western Wheeler rides of his or her appropriate level of difficulty). The system is as follows:
- Category A: total novice
- Category B: it takes the cyclist 40-60 minutes to go up Old La Honda
- Category C: 30-40 minutes
- Category D: 25-30 minutes
- Category E: 20-25 minutes
- Category F: under 20 minutes
Okay, so I came in at 25:45 on my baseline ride, before I’d seen this info. I knew people timed themselves from the bridge and I wanted to see where I was. Not sure what to say, other than Heiden wasn’t even a particularly good climber by pro standards, and his time (or the legend of his time) is staggering.
So I wonder how much I can shave off the 25:45? I came into the climb with 35 miles in my legs at a very good clip. Going to try it this weekend with a 15 mile easy warmup around the Woodside loop. I think I can come in around 24 with a decent effort, but we’ll see. Anyone else done Old La Honda for time?
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