March 11, 2015
Riding around Lake Tahoe is as close to cycling heaven as you can get. Located in the Sierra Nevada, Northern California, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America with an elevation of 6,225 feet, and a depth of 600 feet. The mountains around the lake rise to over 9,000’ above sea level. Some fun facts:
- The outside scenes of the TV show Bonanza was filmed at Tahoe to promote colors on the new color TV technology.
- That map that you see catch fire during the credits is an actual map of area: Virginia City, Carson City, Truckie are featured in the show and they really do exist.
- Portions of the Godfather II were filmed on the north shore.
- The California-Nevada border runs down the lake’s center from north to south.
- Frank Sinatra once owned the CalNevada Casino, which sits on the border and has the borderline painted down the center of the main dining room. One side of the hotel has slot machines, the other side has photos of the local Indian tribe.
- The Tahoe region is home to Squaw Valley, America’s largest ski resort, close to Heavenly Valley, Incline Village and a few miles away, Donner.
All of these facts add to the mystique of riding around Tahoe. The road straddling the shore is 72 miles long. Recent road maintenance and upgrades have made the road silky smooth in most sections, ideal for road biking. The total elevation gain over the 72 mile distance is approx. 4,000’. Combined with the high elevation, some people may find this ride challenging.
Twice yearly, an organized ride is held around Tahoe. The June ride is called “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride”. No arguments from me, but in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t ridden every other Beautiful Ride – I’m simply biased towards Tahoe. The second ride in September is simply called “The Tour de Tahoe”. Both events are very popular with over 2,000 riders participating in each event.
The drive from Silicon Valley to Lake Tahoe is 220 miles and takes 4 to 6 hours depending on time of day. San Francisco is closer by about an hour and Sacramento closer again. The drive to Tahoe is worth it. What makes it attractive for seasoned riders is the long stretches without intersections or traffic signals, along smooth road surfaces. All the while accompanied by lake vistas that are simply spectacular from any point on the ride. Riding clockwise, you have the lake on your right, with magnificent pines trees on your left.
Riding around Tahoe in the organized rides have allowed us to clock average speeds approximating 20mph over the 72 miles. It’s an exhilarating workout with changing views every mile. There’s no downside to this ride – a great workout on a superb road with spectacular views – highly recommended.
There are many highlights. These are my favorite, starting the ride in the south shore and going clockwise:
- Emerald Bay: this is picture-postcard beautiful. The approach is a stiff climb of approx. 800’ on a narrow road with steep drops on either side. At the top of the climb is the lookout with ridiculously beautiful views of the lake and Tea House on a tiny island within Emerald Bay. This video taken with the Fly6, gives a feel for the descent from Emerald Bay – exhilarating.
- Homewood to Tahoe City to Tahoe Shores: The road is mainly flat with long stretches between traffic signals. This is your chance to really hammer.
- Lakeshore Boulevard: for about two miles, you pass vacation homes whose front gates alone are more expensive than my home. Wait – some of those gates cost more than my net worth. Oracle’s founder, Larry Ellison, has been building his mansion for over 2 years and it’s still not done. Although huge, these homes are architecturally designed in keeping with the feel of the lake. It’s hard to stay focused as you ride past these homes, so slow down.
- Ponderosa to Spooner Junction: approximately 12 miles, with 1,000 feet of actual elevation gain (but much more in total gain due to rollers). Riders find this to be the most challenging part of the ride due to the long continuous climb. The lake views change constantly due to the changing road contour. The road runs through Lake Tahoe National Forrest, so there’s very little development on either side.
I should also mention that a bike path runs around much of the lake, but I don’t recommend it. It’s mainly for beach cruisers, kids on bike, hikers. It’s tempting to ride it on a road bike, but anything over 15 mph is positively dangerous.
Tahoe is also home to one of America’s famed mountain biking trail: The Great Flume Trail. You can read about it here. It’s considered one of the top 10 MTB rides in the western United States. The trail rises from 7,000 to almost 8,000 feet with spectacular views across the lake. The trail is approx. 4 feet wide. If you’re afraid of heights or of falling down 200 foot slides, then you may want to hike it, The Kiosk at the trail head rents a good range of mountain bikes, including high end full suspension 29ers. They make it easy to take a ride with little planning before leaving home.
Approximately south of Tahoe is a small town called Markleeville, home of the very popular “Tour of the California Alps”, aka “Death Ride” – 130 miles, 15,000 feet of climbing. But that’s a story for the next Cycliq blog.
The video included with this blog was taken with my Fly6. I normally don’t keep all the footage, but this was special. The three people in this video are my two daughters and son-in-law. For all the times we ride together, this was one of the few times I was able to capture them on video, in a location we all love. Thanks Fly6! Glad you came on the scene when I needed you.
About the Author
Joe Longo is an Australian expat, living in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1987. He created Club Longo (www.clublongo.com) to keep his family and friends updated on their weekly rides. Joe covers over 4,000 miles a year. His favorite rides are the Tour de Tahoe (72mi / 4,000 ft) and the Death Ride (130m / 15,000 ft), both located in Sierra Nevada ranges east of San Francisco. Joe visits his hometown in Melbourne annually and never misses a chance to ride Beach Road from Brighton to Mornington. His dream is to keep up with the Hell Ride one year and will train hard until that day comes. His every-day bike is a Pinarello Prince; his rain bike is a Wilier Mortirolo; his city bike is Tommasini Sintesi and his mountain bike is a full suspension Specialized Epic. You can find Joe’s biking videos on YouTube here. Joe can be reached at [email protected], or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/joelongo