Some of my best and worst memories of riding bikes are from the middle of winter. When the snow would start to fall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I can remember taping garbage bags to myself before hitting the road in an effort to stay somewhat dry and warm. My water bottle would be frozen solid usually by the fifth mile and all feeling in my fingers and toes would be gone by the sixth. The 3, 4, or sometimes 5 hours of riding were always miserable, but the feeling of satisfaction upon finishing a big training day in these kinds of conditions made it all worth it.
Since turning professional, I have been fortunate to spend the majority of my winter months in the warm California sun. While I sometimes miss that feeling of accomplishment after finishing 40 miles of wet, freezing riding through snow and ice, I definitely prefer short sleeves and sunscreen through the rolling hills of Cali. With that, I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite winter riding spots:
With sunshine just about every single day and temps usually in the mid 70s, Death Valley is a cycling paradise during the winter months. Many of the roads see very little traffic and whether you like rollers or long climbs, there are plenty of both to keep everyone happy. In this photo, you have the lowest point in the continental United States down below at -282 feet (Badwater.) It sits over 5,500 ft below this lookout, which is known as Dante's View. The ride from Badwater to Dante's is about 60 miles and uphill the entire time, reaching grades of 15-18% towards the end.
About 50 miles west of South Lake Tahoe, Placerville, CA has some of my favorite road riding on the west coast; but you have to know where to look. Many of the roads are busy, rough, and just sketchy. However, if you pick the right network of backroads, you can ride for hours up and down the steep California foothills without seeing a single car on perfectly smooth asphalt. This is the only place I've ever ridden where you can find paved single-lane roads that are well over a 20% grade for several miles. When I need to work on climbing, Placerville is my go-to destination.
While the lake isn't much these days, the trails around Folsom are awesome. They have a little bit of everything with a wide variety of features. Most are pretty technical with short, punchy climbs rather than the long, relentless hills I'm used to in Tahoe. With different trailheads all around the area, piecing together a 50 mile ride is no problem, making it a worthy mountain bike destination if you're looking for a long ride.