As spring winds to a close and the days start to warm up, the trails in the Sierra Foothills become less and less appealing. It is still a great time to ride, but the grass is getting longer and the thistle is creeping in.
It’s during one of these mid-late spring days where I rode Exchequer Mountain Bike Park. Exchequer is a a small, built for mountain bikes trail system at Barrets Cove on Lake McClure. The trails are maintained by a small but dedicated group of riders primarily from the Modesto area. There are about 12-15 miles of trails, with the signature trails being a couple of fast flowing downhill trails called Flying Squirrel and Down and Out.
The big appeal of this park is the trails are built by mountain bikers with mountain bikers in mind. You’ll find jumps, a rock garden, and all the trails have good flow from top to bottom. Finding your way around Exchequer is a snap, there is a single trail in and out of the park called Tarantula, which leads to the main climb into the park. You climb up the central double track and drop down the single track on either side of the trail.
The group I was riding with avoided the big jumps, but we definitely enjoyed the flowing single track on the return trip.
While the trails at Exchequer are well made and fun, they are short, and the high grasses and occasional thistle patches really detract from the experience. Worse, as the hot Sierra foothills summer dries the place out, the grasses will dry out and the now budding star thistle will take over.
Exchequer is one of those places which are fun to enjoy when you are local but not a place you travel to specifically to ride the trails. Also, the prime time of year to ride here is quickly coming to a close. Due to the tall grass and hot, dry summers, winter or early spring are the best times to ride here.
I just finished building a new Niner One 9 single speed and I’m extremely happy with the way it turned out. Final weigh in today puts the bike at almost exactly 21 pounds, not record setting by any means, but pretty darned good. I kept the weight down by using Next SL carbon cranks, a Fox Factory fork, and carbon wheels.
The wheels are easily my favorite new part, I went with some super wide carbon rims from a Chinese company which Pimpbot recommended called “Light-Bicycle”… yeah seems a bit shifty but a lot of people I know have had good luck with their wheels so I took a gamble. The wheels are super light weight, 1600 grams, and extremely wide, with an inside diameter of 30mm (almost 1.2”).
The wide rims push out the sidewalls of the tires, they are a bit wider where the rubber hits the dirt, and because the air volume is much higher, I can run them at lower pressure. And that’s exactly what I did, all the way down to about 20-25PSI which is pretty low for me. The result on ride quality was pretty great, super traction and the wheels were so compliant it almost felt like I had suspension in the back.
I love the bike and the new wheels in particular. I’ll try and give a more in depth review of the wheels after a bit more riding, but so far it’s a big thumbs up from me.
Bruce suggested we meet at Red Hills this Sunday and knowing the flowers were going to be in full festival colors I decided to hop onto the ride. Along with Bruce and I, George, Josh, and Uncle Matt showed up to enjoy the day.
One of my favorite sorts of rides are point to point rides, particularly where I get to plan them out or if it’s a fairly unique route connecting a bunch of disparate trails. The last day of our January trip to Southern California was one of those rides. We were staying at my uncle’s house in Westlake Village and I’d scouted out some routes up along the ridge-line in the previous couple days which led up to Los Robles trail. So on the last day there, I pedaled up to Los Robles trail and pedaled most of it’s length to a short short connecting trail that led to Sycamore Canyon Trail and meet Fiona at the beach. The total ride was about 26 miles long with about 3700 feet of climbing. There there was a fair amount of just connecting stuff up with dirt roads, there was a fair amount of single track and it was a ton of fun with lots of great views and a really epic ending down at the beach along highway 1.
During the summer, the Sierra Foothills lose a bit of their luster. The days are often uncomfortably hot and the hills turn an ugly brown. The during the fall, things start to get better as the rains come and cool things down a bit and knock the dust off the trails, December we have to deal with rain, short days, and wet trails… But things are starting to green up again… It is this time of year though where the Sierra foothills are truly magical. The wildflowers are in full bloom and the days are moderate and lengthening. Trails are often muddy, but in the Sierra most of them drain well and we get a lot of hero dirt days where traction is amazing and it feels like we can turn on a dime. It is this time of year wh en I really feel like the Sierra Foothills are best experienced.
For those of us who live in the foothills or in the Central Valley, that simply means we get out a bit more often and the trails we ride regularly are just a little nicer than usual. For others, this is a great time to check out what the lower parts of the Sierra offers while we all wait for the snow to melt in the high country and the longer, more mountainous trails open up.
These are some images from Lake Hogan and Red Hills, but Auburn, Glory Hole, San Joaquin River Trail (east of Fresno), and many other great trails are lurking just on the fringes of the Sierra for you to explore.
The wheels are finally in motion. Sometime in the next 18 months, we are going to pack up and move to Oregon. This is a big deal for us, we’ve been in the same place for nearly 30 years now.
Northern California is a pretty awesome place, but we’re ready to move on… but before I do, I want to say goodbye to a few places which I think are awesome. So from now until I move, I’m going to be trying my damnedest to ride as many of the great trails I’ve ridden in NorCal. This is a pretty tall order, there are a LOT of really amazing places to ride in Northern California so it’s going to be really tough trying to cram as many of these places in while we’re simultaneously moving to Oregon, and I’m working a full time job.
I’ll be posting my progress and lots of photos here on my blog, but here’s a preview of my checklist. I’ve If you know some really great trails that I’ve missed, please let me know!
It was supposed to rain all weekend, so I’d planned to spend most of Sunday indoors, but I got lucky and there was a 5-6 hour “window” of rain free day, so I tossed the single speed on the back of the car and boogied down to one of my favorite wet/ rain friendly trails, Red Hills and was rewarded with a spectacular (if a bit wet) day of riding with great views and amazing trails.