A few years back I heard of this incredible website called https://pjammcycling.com/. It attempts to map the worlds hardest road bike climbs. That’s just code for “really beautiful biking areas”, because, after all, you need some sort of crazy geological structure to bike up.
One that stood out to me was Owen’s Valley. Here’s a sense of how many great rides are in that area:
- USA Rank 1-25
- Onion Valley Road
- 5.2k ft gain, 13 miles
- Hardest in California :)
- Horseshoe meadow road
- 6.6k ft gain, 19 miles
- 2nd hardest in California
- White mountain
- 6.3k ft gain, 20 miles
- 3rd hardest in California
- Whitney portal
- 4.5k ft gain, 11 miles
- 5th hardest in California
- South lake
- 5.5k ft gain, 19 miles
- 9th hardest in California
- Onion Valley Road
- USA Rank 26-50
Here’s a quick map:
The most surprising thing was that there ended up being a storm over the Western mountains. That was precisely the time we were biking up Onion Valley Road. The wind picked up gradually as we gained elevation, to the point that the gusts were easily exceeding 50mph. That was certainly the windiest conditions I’ve ever biked in, and likely the windiest situation I’ve been in at all.
The wind was also really chilly. We later learned that there was a cold front coming that would soon drop the temperatures in the mountains from over 60F to below 20F. This ended up being perhaps the only time that I’ve put a jacket and gloves on while biking up hill. I hadn’t even brought long pants for this trip.
I ended up barely making it to the top, and luckily we were able to find someone to drive us back down. Biking down was just out of the question – the wind was getting stronger by the minute and it was quite likely to throw us off our bikes if we descended.
In the end, we only got to do two out of the three rides I was hoping for, but the trip was still totally worth it. I already want to go again. It’s a bit of schlep to get out there, but it’s one hell of a magical place.
- Bring ample sunscreen. Most of the rides have no tree cover until near the end
- There are hot springs nearby in Bishop
- Tioga pass through Yosemite is awesome (my first time!) — hopefully I can bike that one day
- The best time to go biking I’d say is late spring/early fall. It can get fairly hot during the middle of the summer
- PJAMM California Map
- California bike climbs overview
- https://pjammcycling.com/zone/51.Owens Valley