Road cycling is big around Tahoe. Nearly every morning and afternoon you’ll see riders of all shapes and sizes pushing their pedals while pursuing a myriad of personal goals – and you’ll see many more on weekends.
There are plenty of iconic rides around the north shore, my friend Tim Hauserman even wrote about his favorite, “Blackwood Canyon to Barker Pass” in the local weekly magazine recently. My favorite rides though are in fact the same – just from different directions: The Triangle.
Utilizing highway 89 along the Truckee River, highway 267 between Truckee and Kings Beach, and finally along the lakeshore between Tahoe City and Kings Beach, the Triangle is about 37 miles long and features characteristics sought after in Tahoe rides: flats, hills, views, and the opportunity to challenge yourself.
Earlier I said these were my 2 favorite rides because each has its own personality, quirks, and challenges based on the direction you travel: Clockwise or Counter-Clockwise. A great deal depends on your start/finish point as to the profile of the ride, but as I live not far from highway 267, I ride from home.
While many might feel the clockwise direction (Tahoe City to Truckee to Kings Beach and back to Tahoe City) is easier because the rider gets the benefit of riding downhill while following the Truckee River, you pay for that descent when you have to climb back up Brockway summit from the Truckee side on highway 267.
I prefer Clockwise. I enjoy the warm-up of riding along the lakeshore from Kings Beach, through Tahoe Vista, past Agate Bay, through Carnelian Bay, and Cedar Flat before hitting the first little climb of the ride: Dollar Hill.
For newcomers to Tahoe road riding, especially those from sea-level, Dollar Hill can be a surprise. Steeper on the north side, it rewards a high cadence and sustained push all the way to the top. Reward yourself with a quick drink when you summit – you will have earned it, especially on a hot day, then zip your jersey and power on for a thrilling push down the south side towards Tahoe City.
The push down the Truckee River, past Alpine Meadows, then Squaw Valley offers the opportunity to really test your legs. With a slight decline in elevation, this is the chance to build a high cadence and push big gears. When you reach the entrance to Squaw Valley, you now have a choice: Continue north towards Truckee, OR turn left and add a quick 5 miles to your ride by heading to Squaw Valley’s Village. Either way, you’ll also find restrooms in the parking area where route 89 and Squaw Valley road meet.
Heading north while following the Truckee river, the road now offers very wide shoulders and plenty of visibility. Sometimes you get lucky and have a tail-wind – other times the wind is head-on. In both cases the ride takes you past campgrounds, fishing holes, and only a few small neighborhoods that have grown along the river. It is a great time to meditate, compose letters or blogs, and in general push hard.
Turning right onto West River Street in Truckee (just before the “mole hole”), we find we’re still going downhill. West River Street’s shoulder isn’t as broad as along 89, but thankfully the traffic continues to be light and bike-friendly. Be careful as you approach Brockway Road though as customer parking on the right can limit driver’s visibility – just be ready to stop if a vehicle pulls out unexpectedly.
The hard right onto Brockway Road (formerly route 267) immediately crosses the Truckee River and starts to climb. (After all this downhill, you mean we need to go back up? YES!) It isn’t far and it reawakens your legs as you climb past the Cottonwood Restaurant to your right. As you crest the hill, you find your legs stronger for the effort and ready for the flats. After passing one of Truckee’s traffic circles, turn right onto state route 267 at the traffic light.
As with 89, state route 267 in Truckee offers wide and smooth shoulders on which to ride. Be sure to hydrate well now as you’re getting ready to climb and you want that water in you, not hitching a ride in your bottle. The crosswinds as you ride into the Martis Valley can sometimes catch you off guard, so be ready. Also, enjoy this downhill ‘cause you’re about to start paying back all that altitude you’ve lost.
(The main reason why I prefer clockwise is this: The shoulder of 267 between Northstar Drive and Brockway summit is rougher and a little narrower than on the Kings Beach side. If I’m going to ride over a rough, steep road, I’d rather I was going slower and was more visible to motor vehicles. I’ve frequently made the descent from the summit heading north towards Truckee and it’s okay, just that the shoulder can be gritty and the expansion joints in the road a little jarring. These are things you think about when hitting 43+ mph going down.)
Climbing on a road bike is all about setting and reaching goals. “I won’t shift down ‘till that next street.” or “I’ll keep my cadence above a certain point, regardless of which gear I use.” The goals I have for climbing Brockway summit from Truckee are more to the point: “I’m not going to stop. No matter how steep or slowly I go, I will not stop.”
Towards the top, 267 kicks up to 11+ degrees which isn’t steep by alpine standards, it is steep for Tahoe. The best thing to do is keep going.
Have a big swig of water when you summit – you’ve earned it and so have your legs. Now comes the reward: 267 towards Kings Beach offers wide, smooth shoulders, a nice breeze, and nothing but downhill to home.
Counter clockwise offers a completely different profile – you’re steadily climbing nearly the whole way (after the initial big climb up 267 from Kings Beach heading north then the white-knuckle descent towards Northstar.) The gradual climb offers you the chance to push your limits without maxing out your effort.
The beautiful thing about this ride (or if you like, these rides) is you start and finish at the same spots. All elevation gained is lost, all elevation lost is gained and while 36 miles may seem lengthy and arduous at first, I’ve found that repetition is the key to making it easier.