Mt. Madonna … Off-Roading with a Road Bike

This was a ride, designed by Ben, which went up Hicks, then onto Mt. Madonna, then over to Eureka Canyon.  What was unique about this ride was some of the climb on Mt. Madonna was unpaved, and was hard-packed dirt … essentially off-roading, using road bikes.

This was a strong group, but missing from here was Ramon (Bostic), Marco (uspspro), and Ruthness (Ruth). Well, Marco and Ruth were doing the Everest Challenge, and Ramon? Well, let’s say thunder and lightning played a factor, and he wasn’t able to sleep well overnight.

We had chrisoco, mellum76, ygduf, silentben, dl33, and bam show up. Although Bam had to leave a little early, so he headed back before our water stop at Uvas.

It was nice to actually do Hicks without climbing Bohlman/On Orbit … and we got Hicks out of the way the first thing in the morning.  The group was going at a faster pace than I normally climb up Kennedy and Shannon.  However, this is the first climb of the day.  Hicks was still kicking our butts, but our legs definitely felt fresher. At the bottom, when we normally make a left turn at Almaden, they were doing some construction, and we had to cross a short dirt path to get onto the regular road. Hmmm … this is a sign of things to come. Off roading on road bikes …

We then proceeded for a bunch of rollies, what Ben calls mostly flat! In Ben’s defense, he didn’t realizes the rollies we had to do, but I have to rib him on that. The group was pushing a really fast pace, and I was not able to keep up all the way. I couldn’t narrow the gap, and I ended up time trialing a good 7 miles of it, going south on Uvas Rd.

After a quick water break at a park (I remember mellum76 saying where the heck are we?), we continued on to tackle Mt. Madonna. Half of Mt. Madonna is paved, but the second half, the higher elevation portion of the climb, is unpaved, dirt, but at least it is hard packed.

Here’s the paved portion …

and the unpaved, hardpack dirt portion

What made this unique was not just that it was about 9% grade, and that the climb from bottom to summit is 1200 feet, but that you have the combination of dirt and 9% grade. This was hard … normally, when you get to a steep section you want to climb standing up, but if you put too much power, your rear wheel will slip, and loose traction. So I had to climb the last 700 feet of it in the saddle. I’d like to see them use this as a LKHC.  Having dirt pavement probably made this climb twice as hard as it actually was.


Here’s Chris trying to take a group shot, by leaning two bikes against each other, and placing the camera on the saddle, and hitting the self timer.

… and the results … not bad


Off we go onto lunch, and the fast descent down Hecker Pass … yes, Hecker Pass.   I can only imagine how fast the tandem would have gone down this stretch, but I was being very cautious down this stretch. There were a few tight turns, and since I wasn’t familiar with these switchbacks, caution was the order of this descent.  I was averaging around 25-35 mph down this stretch, and even though I was taking it cautiously, it was a lot of fun descending that fast.

I think lunch was at Watsonville, but not sure. Anyways, it was in a remote area, and we stopped off at a general store, which had everything you’ll need in a small little farm town. They had food, first aid, old trinkets like earplugs (not walkman headsets) … they even had an old fashioned phone from the 1800’s.

This is Ben and Michael waiting for their sandwiches to be made.  The store was run by a single man, and it must have been daunting to have 6 customers all come in for sandwiches, all at the same time … but I’m pretty sure he appreciated the business.

Next climb up … Eureka Canyon. This climb was not a majorly advertised part of the route, but it was still pretty significant climb. It was 8 miles, and 1600 feet climbing. The grade itself wasn’t too bad, ranging anywhere from 4-8%, but you gotta remember this is after doing 60 miles, and about 6000 feet of climbing already.

Oh, as if we didn’t have enough off-roading for this ride, in order to get back to the cars, we had to go through Lexington Dam, and then traverse … you guessed it … unpaved, dirt roads, leading all the way back to downtown Los Gatos.

Note the sign … Walk your bike … we didn’t walk our bikes.

And this is what we had to look forward to …

What this picture doesn’t really show you is how steep the drop off is.  If you look at the picture below, you can see how steep it goes down, and since this is on dirt, descending on road bikes is very precarious.


This was a definitely a different type of ride than we have done in the past. Thanks Ben for that adventure. Now we gotta all wash down our bikes.

Total Stats:

86.6 miles, 7089 feet climbing



4 thoughts on “Mt. Madonna … Off-Roading with a Road Bike

  1. Kevin


    I had been thinking of doing a route very similar to this myself, starting/ending in a different place. Do you happen to have a link to one of the ride sharing sites (connect,,,,,, etc) that would show the full route so that I can learn from it? Or if you happen to have a copy of a route sheet that would work great, too.

    Also just curious if you remember why you descended via hwy 152 instead of continuing down mt Madonna Rd? I drove hwy 152 and it didn’t look very bike friendly at all, although I could see that descent being fun if there weren’t angry drivers tailing you.


  2. Kevin

    Thanks for the quick reply and link! I’m guessing this was long enough ago that you don’t have any suggestions about changing the route.

    1. sevencyclist Post author

      It was actually my friends route, and I was just participating in the ride. What I do remember is the descent on Hwy 152 was fast and furious.


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