Daylight savings time is here! I’ve just about recovered from the sleep disruptions and am a-l-m-o-s-t ready to get back outside on my bike. Are you?
If you’re in the Sacramento area and you have a couple of hours, I recommend you try a section of the American River Parkway (also known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail). Here’s a link to a map of the whole 32-mile masterpiece that is the bike trail.
Rules of the Road
The American River Parkway is great for beginning riders because it’s free of steep climbs and is well-marked with an orderly yellow dividing line. With rare exceptions, users are courteous and follow the rules for yielding and speed (15 mph).
If you are a beginner I do recommend steering clear on weekdays during commute hours. Bike commuters tend to be all-business. Also, weekend early morning is prime time for training groups, so hug the right and watch out for the peloton!
Saturday and Sunday afternoons can be busy, but I’ve observed that riders who go out during these hours expect a certain diversity of abilities and are kind to younger and slower riders.
As in U.S. driving, ride on the right and pass on the left. When passing, always announce “on your left” or ring your bell.
The Family Bike Ride Setup
On a Sunday afternoon not long ago, we set up for our ride in a gravel parking lot near Mile 22. There may be free parking in this area but I am not familiar with the neighborhood (it’s off Gold Country Boulevard), so we ponied up the $5 parking fee. Meh.
We don’t have a bike rack for the van so it’s always a puzzle getting four bikes in the cargo space. We build in time for staging and re-assembly (i.e., popping wheels back on).
Robin, our kindergarten-age kid, is a good rider but his bike is miniscule. His legs blur with the revolutions but he can only get up to about 5-6 mph. So we use this cool, but rather heavy, ride-along attachment on Ivan’s bike for him.
The Nimbus Fish Hatchery, at Mile 23, is a fun place to stop. It has a visitor center where you can learn about how the Fish and Wildlife Service manages the fish population on the river. You can also go outside and feed the little Chinook salmon and steelhead trout fry in their concrete tanks. We didn’t do that on this particular ride since the hatchery closes at 3pm and we were just starting out a little after 4pm.
Instead we rode up to where Hazel Avenue crosses over the Nimbus Dam. The American River was still impressive even though it was running pretty low at that time (end of May 2015).
The general trend in this section of the bike trail is upward. It’s a pretty gentle uphill with a few sections where you need to stand up.
Standing up in the saddle is still hard for Camilla, our 10-year-old. Rather than endure my “coaching” from behind, she let me pass and go in front. Then she’d get mad because she thought I was trying to leave her behind.
Get up on your dang pedals! Or, stay seated but gear down and pedal faster! Just, you know, pick one method!, I’d say. But I know: it can be hard with all the other mechanics involved.
As a child and teen, I didn’t ride much at all. I learned only the barest basics of two-wheeled locomotion. I started riding again at age 35 (four years ago), and was embarrassingly slow and teetery at first. So I know that uncertainty: the feeling that you can’t pull yourself upright. Or that shifting your weight forward over the handlebars will somehow tip you over.
Miles 24 to 27 take you right along the river. This section of the river is called Lake Natoma. Turns out we had just missed seeing a big NCAA rowing competition the day before! (If you’re interested in water sports, here’s a link to this season’s schedule of events on Lake Natoma.)
I did get a huge mouthful and noseful of gnats right by the river. Yum. I was glad at least my eyes were protected with sunglasses!
At Folsom Dam, Mile 30, we got off our bikes for a water break and turned around. The trail continues for two more miles to Beal’s Point, where there are picnic tables and other park facilities, and a view of Folsom Reservoir.
Here’s a sign showing some of the main features and stops on the bike trail. What the sign doesn’t say is that certain parts of the bike trail are better known for homeless camps than family-friendly riding. This would be the Cal Expo-to-Discovery Park section, roughly.
Still, for the most part the American River Parkway lives up to its reputation as an absolute gem. You can putter along—or choose a more sweat-inducing pace—maybe even see a jackrabbit or a fox, and not worry at all about car and truck traffic.
Do you have a favorite ride near you? Share your links in the comments so we can check it out!