The bike ride of your dreams begins in Foresthill, the quaint Placer County town about 17 miles northeast of Auburn.
Any serious road cyclist and mountain bike rider is familiar with the area. Roadies are fond of the 50-mile route of moderate climbing and descending known as “Around the Lake,” as in Folsom Lake, which includes a nice climb up Old Foresthill Road, then crossing Foresthill Bridge on the way back to Auburn. And the knobby-tire crowd knows plenty about the great mountain bike trails around Salmon Falls and beyond.
But this is different. This may be the greatest ride you’re never done.
And it’s amazing from the get-go. Starting in Foresthill, where there are ample places to park your car, you make your way to Mosquito Ridge Road and go. If cycling is a metaphor for life, you’re on Easy Street for the first seven miles or so — yes, it’s almost all downhill!
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You sweep left. You sweep right. The seemingly endless curves on the two-lane road are gradual and easy to handle for all levels of cyclists. The slope of the road is about a 5-percent grade, meaning you’ll likely get in the low 30 mph range without pedaling. Five percent is considered moderate. Ten percent is when it starts to get steep.
Of course, after a couple of miles of this high-speed coasting, reality just might set in and you’ll soon think, “This is awesome, but I’ll have to go back up this hefty ridge on the way back.”
Yes, you will. But not yet.
If you’re up for it and you’re physically fit, there will be plenty more descending and climbing before you turn back and head for your car.
Welcome to Mosquito Ridge Road, which I have long considered the best route for cyclists in all of Northern California — a region with miles upon miles of wonderful bike riding routes.
Here’s why. The quality of the pavement is excellent. The grade of the hills is steady and moderately steep. Those hills go on and on, which makes for great climbing and descending practice. There are no driveways or crossroads where cars can pop out of nowhere. And speaking of nowhere, that’s pretty much where this amazing road goes — deep into the Tahoe National Forest and away from civilization. That means there are very few cars.
And oh my, that scenery! You may want to stop a time or two and snap a few photos of the views at elevation. We’re talking Tour de France quality stuff just an hour from Sacramento.
Turns out, I may have been selling Mosquito Ridge short. While I know plenty about riding in California, Bruce Hendler knows more. The accomplished cycling coach and former racer is the owner of AthletiCamps in Folsom, a business that holds clinics and does performance testing, bike fitting and more. Hendler sends most of his athletes to Mosquito Ridge to become better climbers, descenders and overall fitter, faster and stronger riders.
“I would go as far as saying it is probably one of the great roads to ride in the United States,” he said. “It’s pretty mind-blowing how great it is and how close it is. The road is immaculate. The grade is perfect. The scenery is incredible.”
Hendler has his better riders do an out-and-back route that adds up to about 50 miles. The road has markers every mile, allowing you to pick your distance. But be prepared. There is no Starbucks, and you won’t happen upon any convenience stores for mile after mile. That’s why Hendler suggests you bring extra water bottles and stash them somewhere along the route for the ride back.
From a coach’s perspective, the road “is a good grade because you can control your intensity. To have the grade at 4-6 percent, you can really sit there and relax your upper body and focus on your riding,” Hendler said. “It’s just a great road. You can do strength work (big gears, low spin). You can do high intensity. You can do everything.”
That’s what brings serious cyclists like Jason Rogers back time and again. Rogers, who lives in Auburn, likes to ride Mosquito Ridge Road on a weekday when he’s off work. There are times he’s ridden for 40 miles or more, he says, without ever seeing a car.
“It’s one of my favorite routes. Its a hidden gem,” said Rogers, who races on the Victory Velo cycling team. “It has very little traffic, most of the route is shaded and it’s a very consistent grade. You can change your pace or power output and do actual training on it and recover because the grade isn’t that steep.”
It’s nearly 10 miles from Foresthill until you bottom out after about 2,200 feet of downhill goodness, cross the bridge and start climbing. You can do that for another 10 miles before heading down again. Many top riders turn around at the 25-mile marker. But you can make this ride as long or as short as you like, though water supply is an issue. Rogers likes to freeze two extra water bottles and hide them, so he’ll have water the entire way.
While I like to stop in afterward at Sugar Pine Pizza, which has good food and a nice craft beer list, Rogers will often reward himself with a post-ride sandwich or a burger at Worton’s Market. Since the market is so busy, it’s best not to park there while doing the ride. There are plenty of other parking spots, including at the post office right near the start of Mosquito Ridge Road. Just try to be considerate of locals.
If you ride this route enough, you’ll no doubt become a much better cyclist and, after all that time on the bike, you’ll appreciate the natural splendor of this wonderful road.