The winter weather doesn't slow down devoted cyclists eager for a good, hard workout over an extended weekend. We've put together five rides all within a few hours' drive from Sacramento that offer something for everyone.
This time of year, mornings can range from chilly to downright cold, so you'll want to dress accordingly. For cyclists, that means layers of clothing that can easily be shed if the weather warms up. You'll often start with leg warmers, arm warmers and a nylon shell jacket, and start peeling them off and tucking them in a rear jersey pocket or large bag attached to your bike.
Choosing from the following rides may be a challenge in itself. Do you want moderate climbing practice without straying too far from home? Or do you want to cut to the chase and test yourself on one of the most difficult climbs this side of the French Alps? Or would you prefer to keep it simple and cruise along worry-free on the bike trail that meanders along the American River? Our area provides options for all.
1. St. Helena for wine, hills and back for more wine.
Start and finish this ride at Velo Vino, the tasting room for the Clif Family Winery it's the same Clif as in Clif Bar. You'll feel welcome inside, where it is decorated with a bicycle theme. You'll also find maps and routes offered for free. We did a 45-miler that started off with mostly moderate climbing before becoming increasingly challenging and scenic as we racked up the miles. And we returned to Sacramento with a few nice bottles of wine, especially the Bordeaux-style blend dubbed "The Climber."
2. Wine tasting along the Placer County Wine Trail.
We've got it good in the Sacramento region when it comes to quiet roads for cycling. Head up Interstate 80 toward Loomis, Lincoln, Newcastle and Auburn, and along many of the roads connecting those towns, you'll find wineries. That's the idea here. Stop as often as you want, and try tastings where it suits you. Our 25-mile ride gave us a good workout on the many rolling hills, and challenging Baxter Grade, and we were able to visit four wineries. Go to www.placerwine.com to zero in on which wineries interest you.
3. Out and back on the American River bike trail.
If you start from downtown, you can ride about 64 miles round-trip on what many consider one of the great bike trails of the world. This is a route that will make you appreciate how good we have it here. While the terrain isn't challenging you won't hit a hill of any note until you're 20 miles into the ride you'll get to see excellent river scenery and, if you're lucky, all kinds of wildlife, including hawks, coyotes, deer, rabbit, wild turkeys and perhaps a few ultra-decked-out fly fishermen.
4. Out and about in the Delta.
This area has a decidedly laid-back vibe. The pace is slower here and people seem just a bit friendlier. It's a place for fishing, boating, riding and relaxing. Because the route we chose was so flat, I opted to ride my fixed-gear bike. We started in the town of Courtland and mapped out a 31-mile loop. The biggest challenge is usually the wind. If you don't like hills, this is your kind of ride.
5. Tour de France-style climbing.
If you're wondering what it's like to ride a stage in the world's greatest road bike race, we have a local taste of it for you. You start in Auburn, head to Colfax, then dip down ever so carefully on switchback roads to the north fork of the American River. Take a deep breath, take in the scenery then prepare to suffer. You're about to climb to Iowa Hill. If you're not in shape and not a strong rider, you simply will not make it. But if you're up for the challenge, you'll love this brutal hill and the narrow, remote roads. It's 66 miles of joy and suffering. Check the weather. In winter, the roads can get icy.
For more information, go to www.centralcalifornia cycling.com.