The Sacramento region has some of the best roads and terrain for serious bike riding anywhere in the country. Throw in year-round riding weather, and it’s easy to see why Sacramento continues to have such a strong presence in regional, statewide and national-caliber bike races.
How do you get in that kind of shape and develop the skills necessary to be a competitive cyclist? Ride around the lake.
Yes, the name of the region’s best and most popular route for road bike training is known to pros and amateurs alike simply as “around the lake.” When you tell other cyclists you rode around the lake or did the lake loop, they know you’re referring to Folsom Lake and the counter-clockwise 50-mile route that includes three challenging climbs, two speedy descents, lots of great scenery and an overall test that is neither simple nor severe.
These hills are hard whether you hit them at 7 or 17 mph. To be clear, this is not a route for beginners. It’s too long, too hilly, too hard.
If you’re just getting started, you’ll need to build a base of strength and endurance little by little, starting with short rides of 12-15 miles, working up to moderate routes of 20-30 miles and then start hitting the hills. You go a little farther and a little faster and, in no time, you’re ready to ride around the lake.
But first you’ll also want to have solid bike-handling skills and road awareness, as the downhill stretches along Salmon Falls Road can top 40 mph and the winding route down Highway 49 from Cool to the American River is steep and replete with turns.
Once you get to the bottom of the valley, you hit my favorite part of the route, making the long climb up Old Foresthill Road, taking a left on Foresthill Road and then crossing Foresthill Bridge, the tallest in California.
The ride: Around the lake
Distance: About 50 miles
Elevation change: 4,455 feet
Directions: There are several possible places to start. Last time, I parked at Mraz Brewing, 2222 Francisco Drive, El Dorado Hills. From there, take a left on Green Valley Road, then a left onto Salmon Falls Road. In about 10 miles, watch for Rattlesnake Bar and turn right, then a left onto Highway 49. After riding through Cool and descending to the valley floor, cross the bridge and turn right onto Old Foresthill Road.
At the top, turn left onto Foresthill Road, cross Foresthill Bridge and begin the final tough climb to Auburn. Turn left onto Lincoln Way, then make your way to Auburn-Folsom Road. Turn left on Oak Hill Drive into the Beals Point Campground/Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. After passing the check-in building, turn right onto the American River bike trail.
In a few miles, turn right to leave the trail and get on the bike lanes beside the Folsom Lake Crossing. Continue along Natomas Road, then turn left on Green Valley. In a few miles, you’ll hit one more short, steep climb and take a left on Francisco Drive to finish.
Editor’s note: This article was changed Dec. 31 to correct the direction cyclists take around Folsom Lake. They ride counter-clockwise around the lake.