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So far it’s a solo ride.

California Climbing: The Best Road Bike Climbs in The Golden State

Jim Merithew |

The online coaches and journalists are already writing their stories about everything we need to do to make 2024 our Best Year Ever. We need to add weights, touch our toes and get with the proper periodization. We need to add good fat, cut out the bad, monitor our salt intake and remember not to overly hydrate.

These are all good things, but when we think about the past year and the one on the horizon, what made us feel on top of the world were all the amazing climbs we rode and all the great ones we failed to get under our tires.

There is something magical about getting an epic climb under the wheels. When you tell your riding buddies you climbed Mount Diablo, the Seven Sisters, or the East Peak of Mount Tam over the weekend, there's a common reference point. Snagging a summit is a line in the sand, a clean accomplishment that says only one thing: you are an exceptional person of remarkable motivation. Plus, riding up mountains is pure metronomic bliss: meditative, medicinal and beautiful as heck.

As luck would have it, some of the best climbing in the US, if not the world, is right here in California. So, we made a list of some of our favorite ascents, and while you might know some of these, we are guessing you won't know them all. Add one to your 2024 list and get climbing.

Here are the California Climbs you need to ride or re-ride in 2024, as suggested by the extended Above Category family.

Mt. Vision - Chad Nordwall, AC Co-Founder

Mt. Vision would take my top pick. I love the ride getting to it and love the ride back since we do vision quest off the back side. But the climb itself is beautiful, a super narrow road with no lane markers. It starts steep but seems really cool with the switchbacks that come fast and heavy at the start. You get a few false flats here and there if you cook the beginning too much and the view! Clear days are insane, and even the foggy/dreary/misty/rainy days are superb. It's also far enough out of town that it's rare to see anyone on it, so you have it all to yourself most of the time.



Refugio Road - Brennan Wertz, Professional Gravel Racer

My favorite climb in CA would have to be Refugio Rd from the Paso Robles/Solvang area up and over to the coast north of Santa Barbara. We've done it twice on the Coast Ride, and it's been a big highlight of that trip each time. It's a roughly 20-minute climb when 'giving it the beans' with the Coast Ride Crew, and it's dirt all the way to the top. The descent is pretty blown-out pavement, but the ocean views are tremendous, and the dirt climb is easily rideable on a road bike, or at least it has been the two times I've done it. It's an excellent way to mix up the Coast Ride and add something interesting into the mix.



East Peak - Sara George, Speed Merchant

My favorite road climb is Tam from Marion to Four Corners, then up to East Peak. It's satisfying because it takes me exactly 1 hour at a hard pace, and I get transported from cozy homes and redwoods all the way up to a panoramic viewpoint overlooking the ocean and the city.



The Seven Sisters - Mary Spalding Robbins, Pretty Rapid Against the Clock

The Seven Sisters - all of them! Heading north is the way I do it most; it's a bit more net downhill (but I can't quite remember). They're fun because the combination of short climbs/descents and turns/undulations makes you stay in the 'flow' the whole time. If you ride it well, you can minimize the climbing and make the turns feel fluid - but you have to stay very focused to do it. Honestly, I've never ridden that stretch perfectly. It is such a nice variety that it is hard to nail 'perfectly'... although typing this makes me want to take my gravel bike out there soon!



Breckenridge Road - Nate Ripperton, Route Planner of Some Repute

Breckenridge Road is not as long or as steep as some of the famous big climbs, nor does it reach the elevation in Colorado that its name evokes. It does, however, transport the lone cyclist from one world to another: from a hot, dry valley floor to a cool, forested summit. In this age of infinite knowledge, it seems to have been left behind and undiscovered.



Cavedale Road - Ryan Garrison, Wearer of Flannel

I lived a mile from the base of Cavedale Rd. in Sonoma Valley for 16 years and spent much of my 30s and 40s riding and meditating on its rambling curves and steep pitches. A gateway to 19th-century homesteads, terraced vineyards, big timber and hearty folk, this narrow ribbon of asphalt rises 2000' as it transports the rider into this remote southern end of the Mayacamas mountain range. Along the way, the rider is treated to sweeping views of San Francisco Bay and accompanying peaks.

Passing back and forth between Hooker and Whitman canyons, the road tops out after a little more than five miles and then follows the ridgeline before a carnival ride of a descent on Trinity Rd. Cavedale's history also includes several rounds of intense wildfire, including the 2017 Nuns Fire, which ripped through the wooded terrain and burned down dozens of homes over the course of several days. But the mountain is still there, and rebuilding efforts in the area have included paving the road for the first time in decades. And yes, there is a cave.



EL Diablo / Gibraltar - Jim Merithew, Happy Snapper

I have two climbs, if you're inclined. Numero uno is El Diablo - the definition of Type 2 fun. The kind of fun that is only gratifying after the climb is over. The climb is relatively steep and relatively long; if you remember correctly, to try and break up the peloton, the professionals had to go up it twice during the Tour of California, but it is one of the big three of the Bay Area. And sure, Mt. Tam is prettier, and Mt. Hamilton is longer, but Diablo is the piece de resistance of the Bay Area big three. We've climbed in the scorching heat. We've climbed in the bitter cold. We always tell ourselves we are never going to climb it again. But we will. And you should, too.



For my second choice, there's little to say, other than I've never had a good day on Gibraltar. And I can't wait to go back.


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