Are you a cyclist?
Do you have family and friends who love cycling? You probably arrived at this blog because you are and you do. Welcome!
We believe there is no other place on earth that offers as much opportunity to cycle year-round in one of the most topographically diverse and beautiful regions in our country. Our paved roads are lightly trafficked and a road cyclist can ride for many, many miles without encountering a traffic light or a stop sign. The abundance of dirt trails and tracks is almost endless with access to mountain biking rides ranging from super easy and leisurely, to highly technical and challenging — and everything in between.
Inyo County (the second largest county by area in California) and its northern neighbor, Mono County, are two of the least populated counties in California. Together these two counties cover just under 10% of the total land area of all of California, with a staggering 99% of land in Inyo County and 93.6% of Mono County designated as public lands.
What’s more — it’s not just the amount of public land available, it’s also the geography of the region that creates so much opportunity for incredible recreation. Inyo County is home to the lowest and highest points in the contiguous United States. The lowest point, Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, sits at 282 feet below sea level and a mere 85 miles west (as the crow flies) is the highest point, Mt. Whitney, at 14,505 feet above sea level. That means our topography is incredibly diverse. Within our lowlands, midlands, and highlands there are hot, dry deserts; warm, wet riparian river areas; cool, grassy meadows; shady, green high alpine forests; steep-sided, rocky canyons; snow covered valleys and craggy mountain peaks. It’s a pleasure‑seekers paradise.
Local residents are notably proud and pleased that we have so much space for a huge variety of cycling throughout the year. Our guests tell us that they visit often because each season offers something different and exciting to explore each time. And we know that many pro riders train in our big backyard so that they can get the benefit of high-altitude acclimatization, quiet roads, fantastic hill climbs and descents (on road and on dirt), and friendly hospitality in our welcoming western town.
Getting great rides requires a bit of planning. Our big backyard is huge and seasonal changes present different opportunities for various types of cycling. It’s important to know when and where to go to have the best rides for the type of biking you love to do. We suggest you study the information below and choose the biking adventures that best suit you, your family, and friends. You can choose as many adventures you like; find favorites and discover challenges.
Bishop is the heart of the Eastern Sierra. There’s a ton of fun riding to be done right here in our big backyard. Within little over than an hour’s drive north or south there’s even more!
Did you know?
Many road cycling websites and forums rank rides up steep mountain roads in categories like, toughest climbs, most elevation gained, highest elevation attained, most scenic, best mountain ride, and more. The mountain roads of the Eastern Sierra consistently rank in the top ten lists for California and the US, always outnumbering rides in any other region. As many as 7 of the 10 rides in some categories are in the Eastern Sierra.
Bring your bike to Bishop and ride
Whatever kind of cycling you like to do, there’s a road or trail or route for you to ride in the Eastern Sierra.
Road cycling is still one of the most popular ways to cycle. In almost every community around the world, it’s a method of commuting to and from work or school, it’s done as a form of exercise for physical and mental health, and it is also a highly competitive multi-disciplinary sport. It’s also a great mode of travel for a touring vacation and, for many around the world, it’s become a nomadic lifestyle.
One of the most important aspects of road cycling anywhere … is safety. Our Eastern Sierra paved roads are remarkably safe, some with good wide shoulders, and others with such light vehicle traffic use that a road cyclist can ride for hours and miles without seeing more than just a handful of cars.
Hundreds of miles of maintained paved road are rideable – from the lower elevations of the Eastern Sierra, at or below sea level in Death Valley National Park, to the higher elevations of the Owens Valley at around 4,500 feet above sea level, to the super high elevations of the mountain roads that climb up to incredible destinations such as: Lake Sabrina and South Lake, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and Mosquito Flat all near or above 10,000 feet above sea level. Come ride for fun, for exercise, or for training and enjoy the benefits of clean air, wide open spaces with huge vistas, small communities with excellent amenities, and a host of other fun activities.
Take a look at this Road Cycling page that is dedicated to how much great road riding can be done around Bishop and throughout the Eastern Sierra. We’ve created maps, routes, elevation profiles, descriptions, and ratings and we keep it updated with current conditions and new information. We’ve also included great information on multi-day touring in and through our beautiful region.
If you want to take it off-road in our big backyard, there’s also a ton of mountain biking to be enjoyed here. There are some easy, cruisy tracks and trails at all but the highest elevations of our region, and the permutations for gravel grinder routes is almost endless. But best of all, there are some seriously good, hidden gem single-tracks. This is not a bike park. This is the biggest backyard bicycle adventure playground imaginable. It covers about 750 square miles of accessible terrain and there’s something for everyone – from families with little tykes to full-on bike adrenalin junkies. This also means that you gotta do your homework.
Check out our page dedicated to all things mountain biking around Bishop. There are maps, routes, elevation profiles, descriptions, and ratings and we keep it updated with current conditions and new information. We’ve also included some helpful information on multi-day bikepacking in the backcountry of our big backyard.
Did you know?
The advent of smooth or paved roads was originally due to the growing popularity of bicycles in the 19th century in the United Kingdom. As the railway took over the horse-drawn coach trade, commuting by bicycle became popular with the working class. Families and individuals began to move out of city centers and into the suburbs and better roads were needed to improve their commutes. Roads were meant for bicycles!
Where and when to ride
Bishop is situated pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the Eastern Sierra – by distance, by elevation, and by time.
The region comprises the two counties, Inyo and Mono, and covers a distance of about 250 miles south to north. There is one main highway, US 395, that runs through the region with Bishop located just about halfway. Near the south-eastern end of the region, Death Valley sits at and below sea level, and most of the western side of our region rises to well over 10,000 feet along the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Bishop is nestled at about 4,150 feet between this enormous range and another giant to the east, the White and Inyo Mountains, which also rises to over 10,000 feet. Bishop is almost in the center of this elevation profile. The time it takes to drive from Furnace Creek, the tourism hub of Death Valley, to Bishop is a little under 3-hours. Onward and upward to the northern end of region, which ends at the Mono County and California state line, is a drive of about 2½ hours. So, this puts Bishop about halfway on the timescale.
Biking Buttermilk Country
There you have it. Bishop is the most perfectly placed mid-point for year-round cycling adventures in the Eastern Sierra.
When winter is cold and snowy in the upper elevations – we ride in our cool, high-desert big backyard or head lower down to where it’s even warmer. In summer when our low- and mid-elevations are hot and sultry – we ride at higher elevations and in the mountains where it’s cool and refreshing. Spring and fall are delightfully unpredictable and always stunningly beautiful. Keep tabs on the local weather and road conditions to know where to ride on any given day.
Not everything is available all year, but each season has something special to offer. It is important to plan your ride.
Did you know?
Britain’s Bicycle Touring Club formed in 1878, later renamed Cyclists’ Touring Club, is the oldest national tourism organization in the world. In the US the League of American Wheelmen was founded two years later in 1880. The organization is now known as the League of American Bicyclists and is a powerful bike advocacy and promotion organization in the US.
Plan your ride
Bishop, the Owens Valley, and nearby areas provide extensive opportunity for casual road riding and mountain biking for the whole family. Our big backyard is also perfect for seasonal training for competition cyclists on road and on dirt. As you plan your visit review the maps and list of potential rides for biking type, seasonal accessibility, and ride rating.
We’ve created four categories for each type of riding: Road Cycling and Mountain Biking. The rides indicated on the maps have a classification in each category and a description to give you an idea of what to expect so you can make an informed choice and get a great ride whenever you are in the Eastern Sierra.
Region: South. Central. North.
Elevation: Low. Mid. High. Variable.
Season: Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter.
Rating: Easy. Moderate. Strenuous.
Note that some of the routes are loops, which means you’ll start and end where you park your car. Others are point-to-point routes that can be done as out and back so, depending on your skill and fitness level, you could ride back to your vehicle. But a number of the steep downhill routes may require a shuttle. Make sure you know what to expect, what you can accomplish, and make a plan with a friend or family member if you need a pickup.
We have a great local transit service, Eastern Sierra Transit, that provides bus transport between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes (and beyond) all year. Plus, in the summer, the service provides twice daily roundtrip runs between Bishop and the Bishop Creek Recreation Area with scheduled stops at South Lake and Lake Sabrina and other intermediate stops along the way. Buses are equipped with bicycle racks making this a great way to get a shuttle in these areas.
Bishop and the Owens Valley have about a 92% chance of dry days, which means that there are about 335 sunny days a year for great cycling adventures in the Eastern Sierra. Just to be sure, call us at (760) 873-8405 or stop in at the Bishop Visitor Center at 690 N. Main Street in Bishop to check on current weather and road conditions.
Be prepared! Whether you are going road cycling or mountain biking, ALWAYS tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Many places in our beautiful big backyard don’t have cellphone signal. Dress in layers, have a basic bike repair kit, and pack a small headlamp. Wear sunscreen, even in winter. Carry plenty of water and energy rich snacks.
Choose your ride. Choose your adventure.
Did you know?
A recent study by the Outdoor Industry Foundation concluded that mountain biking is the second most popular method (after hiking) of getting on trails in the US. Mountain biking is considered to be somewhat more laid back than its counterpart, road cycling. It’s easy to get started and quick to improve.
A bit of background about the humble bike
Cycling as a sport and for recreation has evolved and grown massively in the last 25 years. Driven by desire and technology it’s now possible to ride a bike, albeit a specifically designed bike, on almost any kind of terrain.
Broadly speaking there are two categories of biking: road biking and mountain biking. Within these two basic categories of biking are bike subsets. Bikes for road riding are specialized for: racing, commuting, cruising, touring, and a few other niched modes – with each having further specialization for specific needs and styles. Mountain bikes are designed for specific mountain conditions and styles: trail, enduro, downhill, cross-country, and fat-tire biking – and these too have further options for specialization.
In addition to this array of bike types there are cross-over bikes for use on a variety of surfaces from paved road to gravel such as: cyclo-cross, dual-sport, and hybrid adventure bikes. And now, with the improvements in battery technology, electric bikes (e-bikes) are seeing a massive resurgence and creating a huge impact on cycling. The idea is not new, the use of electric motors on bicycles is documented as far back as the 1890s. Today the increasing demand and widespread application of motorized cycling is being earnestly debated and legislation is likely to define their use in the future.
Added to this extensive range of cycling styles and bike choices, there’s also the time factor. Biking is more than just an afternoon joyride or a day of training, it’s also a multi-day pursuit and a long-term lifestyle. Bicycle touring is about as old the bicycle and now encompasses everything from fully-loaded, self-supported road touring to mixed terrain rough-cycling to lightweight bikepacking.
Did you know?
Bikepacking is the most recent development in adventure cycling. Its roots are traced back to John Stamstad, who pioneered an unsupported individual time trial on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 1999. The term bikepacking was coined soon thereafter in the early 2000s.
There are some fantastic cycling events and challenges in the Eastern Sierra and we have great retailers and rentals to get you on the road and out in the hills. Take a look at these links.
Clubs. Events. Challenges.
- Eastside Velo
- Everest Challenge
- June Lake Triathlon
- L2H Challenge (Lowest to Highest – Badwater to Whitney Portal)
- Mammoth Gran Fondo
- Pamper Pedal
Bike Shops & Rentals
Plus, there is a wealth of information about cycling online and here are some links if you’re really keen to geek out about biking.
- Glossary of Cycling Terms
- League of American Bicyclists
- International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA)
- Sierra Eastside Mountain Bike Association (SEMBA)
- Adventure Cycling Association
- Mammoth Mountain Bike Park
- MTB Project
- US Forest Service Interactive Map
Did you know?
The world’s first official road cycling race was held in Paris, France on the May 31st, 1868. Although never officially confirmed, it is said to have been won by an Englishman, James Moore, who rode a wooden bicycle with iron wheels. Almost exactly 10-years later, on May 24th, 1878, the first bicycle race in America was held in Boston, Massachusetts. A Harvard student, Mr. C.A. Parker, is credited with having won the race. And the rest, as we say, is history!
This article was first published on the BishopVisitor.com blog page on 03/02/2020. Republished here courtesy of BishopVisitor.com.