Road Bike Tours are deeply entrenched in Alpine communities around the world. One of the most famous and legendary is the Tour De France running through the Alps. Each one typically has a story or a reason they come to fruition. So, what about the U.S.? Do we have one with an interesting anecdote? With the July 4th festivities fully underway, we’re on the eve of one of the oldest road cycling races in the U.S. You got it! It’s none other than the Death Ride California, and it definitely has a great story.
BD… Before Death Ride
“Only” in its 40th year, the Death Ride’s history and inspiration go further back in time. In the early 70’s, there was a tour named “SuperTour” organized by Carter Squires of the Diablo Wheelman’s. He categorized the ’75 race as an “utter failure because everyone finished.” To make up for it, the 1976 race was a monster of a course. Only five of the 27 brave souls survived the entire 1,000 mile race across two weeks. Now that’s a Death Ride!
The Great Markleeville Death March
One of the more unique aspects to the race was that each of the stages had a creative narrative written by a gentleman named John F Scott. It was he who saw the route sheet on Day 5 of the race and named it “Der Grosse Totenmarsch nach Markleeville” which translates to The Great Markleeville Death March. The route has evolved over the years but the inspiration of the name and route came from that eventful day on the SuperTour ’76.
Death Ride – How Tough Is The Modern Version?
Another monster-of-a-route in its own right, the modern day Death Ride constitutes over 3,000 cyclists using all kinds of two wheel modes to truly test their mettle. As a one day race, the elevation gain has increased to 14,000 feet! The course spans 103 miles with 6 rated climbs across three mountain passes deep in Alpine County, only two miles from historic Markleeville:
- 8,314-foot Monitor
- 8,730-foot Ebbetts
- 8,580-foot Carson pass
Start / Finish: Turtle Rock Park
If you want to learn more about grassroot tours like the Death Ride California, get tips on gear, or just learn about hidden destinations to explore on your mountain bike, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on everything two wheels: The Down & Dirty On Mountain Biking.