Northern California Mythic Motorcycling Roads
The word “California” evokes different images in people’s minds, depending on when and where you grew up and how much television you watch. You might envision sun drenched beaches, filled with bursting bikinis and beefcake. A wonderland where everyone surfs and is in the same yoga class as some celebrity.
If you’ve had to take a business trip to Los Angeles, you might envision a traffic ridden sprawl of fake paradise that vomits forth suburbs, strip malls and bad chain restaurants. A pinnacle of “Generica” that continues to spread like an epidemic. If you watch a lot of recent right wing news you might picture a post apocalyptic war zone overrun with Mexican invaders who crave the flesh of white children.
The reality is different and nuanced. Yes, California is filled with beautiful people, or at least people preoccupied with physical appearance. There are thousands of extremely talented people there, most of whom will never be noticed. A fleeting glance at modern entertainment reminds one that stardom and talent often have little to do with each other.
In that California everyone has tales to tell about the daily lives of celebrities. Yes that California used to be part of Mexico before it was part of the United States and the ties run deep. You’re never far from a decent taco truck and everyone knows a little Spanish.
Fine, so what does this mean to a motorcyclist? The California of all these poorly scripted narratives accounts for only 4% of the state. “That California” runs for roughly 250 miles along the coast from Santa Barbara to San Diego and about 20 miles inland. All this noise comes from a small sliver of the sixth largest economy in the world hides the fact that California is huge… and covered with the best motorcycling roads in the USA.
Go North Throttle Twister
“Best in the USA” is a bold statement. The resulting argument and the empirical research required makes life worth living. What makes curvy scenic motorcycle roads? Mountains, rivers and coastlines. Those tectonic plates that make California shake also produces these base ingredients in abundance. So enough with the geology, where’s the fun? The widest array of motorcycling dream roads are a short distance away from San Francisco.
To the east are the Sierra Nevada Mountains, known to tourists for Yosemite but this large mountain range holds a dozen great mountain pass roads up to 9943 feet high (3031m). Just north of San Francisco is the California wine country. Further north the mountain wilderness hides a network for great riding roads. The redwood coast running from San Francisco all the way to Legget is easily a top 10 world destination for sport touring.
The State of Jefferson and “The Serpent to the Sea”
The far northern part of California is a largely isolated wilderness with pockets of civilization and that’s using the term loosely. These rural communities are fiercely independent with a desire for as little federal involvement in their lives as possible.
It’s a place of contradictions if viewed through the normal bifurcated lens of American culture. Many residents would like this unique area of Northern California and Southern Oregon turned into it’s own state. There’s 1000s of miles of great riding here but the most notable single stretch of road is Highway 36 between Red Bluff and Fortuna.
Just outside of Red Bluff a road sign warns of curvy roads, next 140 miles. Local rider and designer of the Canyon Dancer motorcycle tie down strap, Kent Stubbs did everyone the honor of counting all 1811 curves. Thirty miles north highway 299 parallels highway 36. There are those who say it’s better, even though it gets more traffic and is more heavily patrolled it’s still an epic ride. Another great traffic-less run into the wild with fabulous curves is Highway 3 north of Weaverville, particularly good if you end it with a escape route to Gazelle. You can start comfortably riding this region by late April.
- See the map for Serpent to the Sea (If you’ve already ridden it but didn’t get the T-Shirt you can get it here).
- See the map for Highway 299
- See the map for Highway 3
Donner Party of 50, Your Table is Ready
California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains are vast, tall and sparsely populated. The roads through them and particularly over them on par with roads in the Alps but they are much longer and have much less traffic.
Like the any serious alpine pass, they are snowed in during winter. They open as early as April and as late as June. They generally close in late November. Of all of these, the most exhilarating, challenging and traffic free is the route through Monitor and Ebbets Pass. Another example that’s a bit easier but still very rewarding in vistas and low traffic is Sonora Pass.
A few examples of hidden local runs are Quincy Oroville Highway and Wentworth Springs:
- See the map for Ebbets & Monitor Pass
- See the map for Sonora Pass
- See the map for Quincy Oroville Highway
- See the map for Wentworth Springs Rd
The Best Coast
Who doesn’t love a great coastal ride? The sea air, the grand vistas and some great curves. The Amalfi Coast of Italy, Australia’s Great Ocean Road, the Costa Del Sol of Spain, these are great rides but California beats them all easily. California’s Highway One from Leggett to Mill Valley is the real coastal ride people dream of. Ride on cliffs high above the sea. Dart down to inlet curves where otters play in the river below.
See vast rock pinnacles just off shore. Playful birds float along the road beside you as they ride the coastal up drafts. This is the “Pacific Coast Highway” that many riders are envisioning but miss as they limit their ride to the roads between LA and San Francisco.
There’s little traffic on the road during the week, especially when you get above Bodega Bay. Besides all the great twists and views, this is the best place in the world to experience the wonder of the redwoods. There are several parks and a few hidden spots just off this the road to experience the majesty of these ancient forests.
Hey Wait Aren’t You Giving Away the Goods for Free?
Yes the author here is also the general manager of Leod Escapes a sport touring company. Leod’s headquarters are in Northern California for good reason. Aside from bounding all over the globe to foreign roads and MotoGP courses we also do tours on our home turf. Leod GPS self guided tours and full service guided tours link together many of these bits of twisty paradise with rental bikes, hotels, and recommendations for food and gas stops.
Our feeling is sure we’d like your business and if your the type of person who wants to pay for more “smiles per mile” that our expertise brings then you’ll be interested in our product. Some people aren’t interested but they are still our riding brethren and we want to send them where some of the best fun is. If your are good at logistics and travel planning and want to ride your own machine then we certainly don’t want to see you missing all the good stuff.
That would be a crime against motorcycling. So whether you do it all on your own or have Leod do it for you, get to northern California and ride these roads. Here’s another free tip, if you are going to ride anywhere in the far north or on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada plan your gas stops. There’s not much civilization in those areas and fuel stations are few and far between.
Here’s a few of the tours Leod offers that include, bike, hotels, GPS loaded with the routes, maps and a day by day guide.
- 3 Day Best of Pacific Coast Highway 1
- 5 Day Redwood Serpent Run (Coast & Hwy 36)
- 5 Day High Sierra Escape
- 7 Day California Curvin
- 8 Day California Curves to WSBK