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Length 14 miles
Time 2 hours
Total Climb 2200 feet
Fun Rating
Scenic Rating
Aerobic Difficulty
Technical Difficulty 

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Route 9
100% ROAD

This one is a simple out-and-back road ride. I include it here because I think it's a good training ride, even for a mountain biker: It's a serious enough climb to be a challenge, yet you don't have to be a medal-winning professional racer to pull it off. Plus, it's a good "benchmark ride". You can gauge your physical shape by coming back to do this ride five years after your first time and compare your ride duration to see how much better or worse you've become. Or you can (like me) use this ride as a descriptive benchmark when explaining other similar big climbs in terms of being "easier than Route 9", "twice as much as Route 9", etc.

The return trip down the road is fun, too. You just sit back and glide down the entire seven miles without interruption at speeds around 30 mph for about 20 minutes. That is, except for the traffic light (that was there at least as of the last time I did this ride) where the road becomes a one-lane way at which you may have to stop. I must warn you, though: The wind chill adds up! If you're doing this on a chilly day or early on a cool morning, you'll be freezing when you do the descent. So, come prepared with extra layers, a second thicker pair of gloves, and boots or liner socks for your feet, if possible. I've had friends who have even complained about how much their eyes watered due to the combined effect of the cold and wind during this long and fast descent. (Got goggles?)

The route traverses the entire ascent of Route 9 from the town of Saratoga to the intersection with Skyline Boulevard at the ridgetop. This is about 7 miles with a net elevation gain around 2150 feet. Other than a short portion of the road immediately after leaving Saratoga where you'll encounter narrow curves with no shoulder in some spots, the rest of the route is quite wide and feels reasonably safe, despite being a popular traffic route.

The grade of the climb is very steady overall. After gradually ramping up over the first 2.5 miles of the climb, the grade settles at a very even 6.5% for a while. Over the last third of the climb, it inches up slightly to 7%. But, you're much more likely to notice the local fluctuations of the grade around some of the tighter curves, than you are to feel this miniscule change in the average.

The pavement quality of the road is very good. Maybe it's not the most buttery smooth road surface you've ever seen but, if you have any discomfort or trouble during your ride, it's very unlikely to be due to the road conditions. The only reason I haven't rated the technical difficulty a "1" is the little bit of riding skill you'll need for negotiating the curves without flying off the road during the descent without braking.

Since the climb starts right at the doorstep of Saratoga, the most convenient place to park is along the "main street" of the Saratoga town center (Big Basin Way). This area has a number of public parking spots that are well marked. The parking link given on this page shows my favorite one of these.

There are a few clear extension options for this ride. Most mountain roads in the immediate vicinity are quite decent for cycling. Once you reach the top of the climb, you might naturally be inclined to continue on Route 9 a little further before returning or head out on a spur in either direction on Skyline Boulevard, and that would be fine, though that wouldn't be my first choice for an extension option. That's especially true for Skyline Boulevard, on which I prefer not to ride if I don't have to, because of its fast traffic that can be busy on weekends. A quieter and safer option would be to start a side loop by turning onto Redwood Gulch Road to get to Stevens Canyon Road. You can then, optionally, ride the dead-end part of that road heading northwest, which you're likely to have mostly to yourself, or head straight northeast to reach Mount Eden Road to use that and possibly Pierce Road to return to Saratoga.

For a post-ride treat, my typical stop after this ride is Big Basin Cafe in Saratoga. They have a good selection of salads and sandwiches, and good coffee and espresso. Try and see if you can avoid the temptation of their various pastries, pies, and cakes. On weekends, I usually have to wait in line for at least 5 or 10 minutes. They also have a good amount of indoor and outdoor seating.

© Ergin Guney


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