Lovely scenery along gently rolling foothills has always made Yolo County an ideal place for cyclists, but who knew everyone took it so seriously?
There are more than a dozen recognized bike rides in the county, which draw visitors from all over the region. Most start and stop in Davis, and with good reason. It’s simply impossible to talk about bicycling in Yolo County without putting a spotlight on its central city. As a Platinum-certified “Bike Friendly City,” home to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, a bicycle museum, the site of America’s first bike lane and the self-proclaimed “Bicycle Capital of the U.S.,” Davis demands center stage.
“Davis has the highest bicycle road-share rate in the nation — we’re about 40 times the national average in terms of bike riders as a percentage of the population,” says Dave “DK” Kemp, Davis’ active transportation coordinator. “Most people here have embraced cycling as a way of life, health and fitness.”
Indeed, a culture of cycling has been deeply rooted in the area, and it wasn’t by accident.
It began with UC Davis’ first Chancellor, Emil Mrak, himself an avid cyclist. As he was planning the University’s initial development in the 1960s, he called for designs that incorporated and encouraged bicycle transportation. Then, in 1964, UC Davis Economist Frank Child took up a cause to incorporate cycling citywide with a petition to the City Council requesting bicycle lanes on all arterial streets and bicycle parking at all shopping centers.
The petition was rejected and what followed could be described as a peaceful revolt.
Child formed a citizens group and enjoyed a groundswell of public and media support for his proposal. By 1966, the bike lane proposal had become a major city issue, reaching a crescendo with that year’s city council election. Two pro-bike-lane candidates, Norm Woodward and Maynard Skinner, won by landslides, ousting the incumbents and spawning a new pro-bike council.
The new council acted immediately, and Davis had the nation’s first legislated bike lane in development by 1967, to be followed by a network of bike lanes and pathways linking Davis’ communities to open space and recreation areas.
As a bike friendly city with a premier university, Davis began to attract people who appreciated the health, environmental and recreational benefits of cycling. By 1992, Davis unofficially branded itself the “Bicycle Capital of the U.S.” and incorporated the silhouette of a 19th-century Penny Farthing into its logo.
The continued cycling emphasis gained Davis designation of being the nation’s first Platinum-level, bike-friendly city by the League of American Bicyclists, helping to attract the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame when the organization launched a national search for a new headquarters in 2009.
All the focus on Davis, however, shouldn’t lead anyone to assume that the rest of Yolo County hasn’t heartily embraced the cycling culture.
“A bike-sharing program is currently being discussed between Sacramento and Yolo Counties, and the smaller communities, like Woodland and Winters, are becoming secondary hubs for cycling enthusiasts,” says Alan Humason, executive director of the Yolo County Visitors Bureau. “Hotels are even making rental bikes available simply so visitors can enjoy the cycling opportunities here, and a number of smaller cafés and shops are embracing the cycling crowd.”
Indeed, for the family that still has kids on training wheels or hard-core, 100-mile riders, Yolo has a bike ride for everyone. Here are some of the most popular, according to the Yolo County Visitor’s Bureau, which features an entire section on cycling — including maps, details and turn-by-turn directions — on its website, yolocvb.net.
DAVIS TO WINTERS
Probably thee most popular ride, rolling Davis to Winters is the quintessential Yolo County bike trip. At 15 miles, it’s doable for most riders, with the reward of pleasant, rural scenery along the way (especially in the fall) and Steady Eddy’s Coffee and Juice at the end. It’s mostly flat, but you will have to share the road with cars in some parts. Headwinds can be a challenge depending on the day, but for a serene ride through the countryside, it can’t be beat. There are actually several Davis-to-Winters routes, but traditionalists start from the Starbucks on Lyndell Terrace and follow the road north for two miles before turning left (west) onto County Road 29. For the return ride, catch the Russell Bike Path. For a more challenging ride, keep heading west from Winters and ride nine more miles to Monticello Dam at Lake Berryessa.
While the “official” ride is a 22-mile loop, this is really an opportunity to choose your own adventure. From downtown Winters, head south on Winters Road to Putah Creek Road and turn left. Continue east on Putah Creek road and go under Interstate 505. Once you cross 505, you are officially on the “backroads” and can chart your path along farmlands and orchards.
DAVIS BIKE LOOP
Easy for everyone, the Davis Bike Loop is a 12-mile tour of the city that includes most of the bike-friendly features that have made Davis famous. It’s designed to be “safe and pleasant, but not fast” and is ideal for a casual ride enjoyable for riders of all ages. It’s a great date on a fall afternoon, especially if you take time for plenty of stops along the way. Just Google “Davis Bike Loop” for a map.
CLARKSBURG & BOGLE
This 44-mile ride starts from the Southport Town Center at the intersection of Lake Washington and Jefferson boulevards in West Sacramento and runs south along the Sacramento River for eight miles (including about three miles of gravel road) before cutting to the southwest, and taking you on a tour of delta country. You’ll hit Clarksburg around mile 14, where Husick’s Country Store is suggested for café and deli treats, or push on two more miles to Bogle Winery.
DAVIS TO WOODLAND
Starting again from the Starbucks on Lyndell Terrace, head north to start a 35-mile loop that runs along some of Woodland’s nicest roads. For a lunch stop, Ludy’s Main Street BBQ comes highly recommended, as does the Fat Cat Café. While in Woodland, take a little time to explore Main Street before making the final push home.
CACHE CREEK NATURE PRESERVE
From the Lyndell Terrace Starbucks, this 30-mile, out-and-back ride leads to the Cache Creek Nature Preserve just west of Woodland. The preserve is at the halfway point and offers a nice place to stop, rest and take in a little bird watching. Just be sure to go when the preserve is open to the public — weekdays 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on the third Saturday of the month. Visit cacheconserve.org for details.
LAKE SOLANO LOOP
A 41-mile classic, this ride starts from Davis (yes, Starbucks again). You’ll go north along Highway 113 for two miles and then cut left, heading west until you cross Interstate 505, basically taking a longer route to Winters. From there, you’ll continue west along State Route 128 for about two and a half more miles to Pleasant Valley Road. There, you’ll turn left and enjoy an idyllic but uphill one-mile ride to the summit of Mt. Solano before dropping down into the recreation area.
As chief executive officer of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), McKeever oversees planning and funding processes for cycling transportation projects, so he’s interested in what works and what doesn’t.
An unemployed engineer and an e-waste recycler walk into a bar. The engineer takes the recycler’s electric bike for a spin. And, a year later, The Electric Bike Shop opens its doors in East Sacramento.