Ride Report: Motherlode Century showcases Northern California road riding

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Rock Creek Road Bridge

Spinning along scenic Rock Creek Bridge during the Motherlode Century.Photo by Kurt Gensheimer

There are few better ways to see an area’s cycling terrain than to sign up for an organized century ride. You get 100 miles of well-marked course, rest stops every 15-20 miles, and invariably you’ll be surrounded by like-minded folk, all out to enjoy a relaxing good time on two wheels.

Northern California’s Motherlode Century is a perfect example. Held May 10, the event started and finished at EarthTrek Expeditions on the banks of the beautiful American River in Coloma, California. In between the route meandered along the bucolic back roads of the Sierra Nevada foothills. With nearly 10,000 feet of climbing, this ride was not to be taken lightly, though. There were no climbs longer than three miles, but the road was rarely flat. If you weren’t up for a tough all-day ride, there were metric century and 35-mile route options.

After loading up on pastries and coffee at Sierra Rizing Bakery Café, my day began with the 10-mile northwest grind along ever-rolling Highway 49 towards the town of Cool. After a quick spell on Georgetown Road, the route climbed up Greenwood Road, a quiet stretch of asphalt that wound through a sea of live oak and open meadows with nary a car in sight.

South Fork American River

Looking down on the South Fork of the American River. Photo by Kurt Gensheimer

Soon it was back onto Georgetown Road, losing all the elevation gained in the first 25 miles on a high-speed, winding descent toward the South Fork of the American River. An aid station at the corner of Georgetown Road and Rock Creek Road offered fuel for one of the most memorable parts of the ride, Rock Creek Road. This serpentine stretch of tarmac hangs above the South Fork of the American River, then drops down and crosses Rock Creek via a beautiful concrete arch bridge.

Beneath the bridge are massive boulders and numerous swimming holes, a great place to cool off on a sweltering day. Just mind your step, as numerous warning signs clearly communicate the perils of bathing among huge rocks and torrents of water.

Rock Creek Bridge

Rock Creek: Great for cycling over; maybe not so good for swimming. Photo by Kurt Gensheimer

After the bridge began a gradual climb to another well-stocked aid station on the banks of Finnon Reservoir where I grabbed handfuls of peanut M&Ms, strawberries, oranges and a Tahoe Trail Bar – a great tasting locally-made energy bar. A sign warned of the next stretch: a treacherous descent and the steepest climb of the day on Mosquito Road. Mosquito loses and regains more than 1,100 feet in just a handful of miles, with technical, off-camber switchbacks that demand full attention.

At the bottom of the descent, the road cut into a narrow, steep canyon where a striking wire suspension bridge crossed the South Fork of the American River. The Mosquito Road bridge, built in 1867, was by far the coolest visual of the day. The ensuing three-mile climb with a 16 percent average gradient in the first mile out of the canyon was among the hardest parts of the day. But once to the top, a well-stocked lunch stop was waiting at mile 50 in Placerville.

El Dorado Trail

El Dorado Trail is an old rialroad grade from the Gold Rush era. Photo by Kurt Gensheimer

After filling the tank with sandwiches and brownies, I jumped on the El Dorado Trail bike path, an old railroad grade from the Gold Rush. This led to Apple Hill, a 20-mile loop above Placerville that climbs to the highest altitude of the day, 3,200 feet 62 miles into the ride. Apple Hill was among the ride’s biggest highlights, rolling among vast vineyards and apple orchards, and availing views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Range. Traffic was non existent.

After a high-speed descent back through historic Placerville (known as “hang town” due to regular public hangings during the Gold Rush) it was on to the Weber Creek Loop. The 13-mile loop began on Lotus Road, which had too many cars for my liking. But upon turning onto Jurgens Road, a yellow sign read “Not a Through Road.” Things were about to get interesting.

After descending narrow, traffic-free Jurgens Road for a couple miles, I discovered why it wasn’t considered a through road. Weber Creek flowed right over the road. But barely 18 inches deep with a mellow current, it was easily rideable even on a road bike.

On the other side a steep climb awaited. After ascending for a couple miles, the last five miles was all downhill back to EarthTrek Expeditions where event participants could enjoy a refreshing dip in the American River, barbeque lunch, live music, and of course a few Sierra Nevada beers.


The proper finish to any self-respecting cycling event. Photo by Kurt Gensheimer

Sharing some roads used during stage 1 of the Tour of California, the Motherlode Century was a terrific way to spend a Saturday on the bike. Routes were well marked, scenery was beautiful, aid stations were well-stocked, and volunteers were unflinchingly friendly. I would highly recommend the event to anyone visiting the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Check out the gallery below to see more.

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.

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