Santa Cruz County Mountain Charlie Road

A couple of friends are cycling from the Bay Area town of Campbell, California to Santa Cruz today. After ascending to Summit Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains, they plan to descend on the infamous Mountain Charlie Road for the first time.

One Lane Road

Mountain Charlie Road, named after the mountain man who first hacked a toll road through the hills to Santa Cruz, is a gorgeously serene ride up but offers a harrowing descent. The Strava segment for this descent should be telling, with local pros who know this road averaging 25 MPH on a 5% down grade over four miles.

Even people driving their cars don’t go much faster than about 20 MPH. People on motorcycles exploring side roads always turn back after about a half mile on Mountain Charlie Road.

Motor traffic is limited to the handful of people who live on this one lane, poorly maintained road. Tight off-camber turns, wheel busting potholes, and debris covered curves conspire to discourage even the bravest riders from picking up too much speed lest the fly off the mountain into the valley below.

Unless they’re headed to or through Scotts Valley, most people avoid this Mountain Charlie Road descent. About 500 people have logged their southbound Mountain Charlie rides to Strava, vs 5000 recorded rides on Soquel-San Jose Road with a minus 6% grade and a 47 MPH KOM owned by professional cyclist Freddie Rodriguez during the 2012 Amgen Tour of California. My own best effort of 34 MPH places me just above the bottom quartile of contenders.

Local cyclist Chad Frost shows a Mountain Charlie descent in this video. Enjoy!

I plan to bike up Mountain Charlie from Scotts Valley either next Monday or Tuesday (or maybe both?) for my morning commute beginning at 7 AM. Ping me if you think you’d like to join me for the ride to San Jose / Santa Clara. Remember we lose an hour this weekend. If you’re not familiar with Mountain Charlie Road, we might see four cars in the hour we’re on that road, and they’re all moving at about 20 MPH at the most.


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