Ride Report: Taking on the Alpine County Death Ride

In this guest post, Nick shares his experience taking on the epic Death Ride of Alpine County, CA on his Cruzbike S40. The Death Ride boasts more than 15,000 feet of climbing over five mountain passes and 125 miles. Thanks, Nick for the awesome writeup and photos!

I don't know the entire story of the Death Ride, but this is the narrow path I rode on my first try.

Alpine County is correctly named, averaging two people per square mile and curled by a few highways over the Eastern Sierra Nevada. They host an annual ride (climb) up five 8,300'+ mountain passes gaining 15,000' along 125 miles. I never thought I'd cross its path, but heard about the ride for years. I signed up after a great time at the Cookie Fondo, and success at the Mendocino Monster near-century, with a weekly commute up to 200 miles and 10,000 feet. I felt strong!

Death Ride Alpine County elevation profile map
The course is λ-shaped. The lower legs are climbs over Monitor and Ebbetts, down the far sides, then turn around to climb back. The upper leg is a distance to Carson and back. Each pass gets a sticker. Collect all five to win. Home base is at the center, Turtle Rock Campground, two miles north of the county seat of Markleeville, population 210.

Death Ride Alpine County, CA course map preview

The S40 is a great design. Standard chain-length, great riding position for views, comfort, and aero as good as the super-tuck but nothing on the V20. Standard 700c wheels bring you eye level with cars, and there are mounts for seemingly any combination of components. Spoiler: I felt great at the end of the ride. Gearing for my 150 pound 5'10" self is 160mm cranks, 42T oval chainring, and 10-50T cassette.

Start down the southeast leg as early as you'd like - I chose 4:30 and traded nighttime sleep for daytime heat.

Pre-dawn start on the Cruzbike S40

The summit stop doesn't open until 5:30, but you can skip #1 and nab #2 at the turn-around, and it still counts. Monitor is the newest of the highways, perfectly graded and paved. I beat the sun to the top and grabbed a handful of boiled potatoes. Go heavy on the salt. This is the best part of the day.

Enjoying early morning cycling conditions in the Death Ride of Alpine County, CA

Descend to almost Nevada, then turn around. The sun is brighter, hotter, and you'll start to see what the day holds. At this point I was utilizing my lowest gear more often than planned. How is it 80 F? The other side was as low as 39 F.

Nick takes a selfie riding his Cruzbike S40

If you miss the bag drop at the base of Monitor, you'll probably forget any other opportunities, so enjoy carrying your jacket and lights all day long. Support areas at every summit and base, with water at the halfway points. Very grateful for the volunteers and organizers for creating an epic day!

Ebbetts is next. The width, curvature, pitch, and surface of this road is workable but you'll only appreciate Monitor after it's gone. Temperature touches 90 F but hopefully you can out-climb it. This is a mountain road, not a highway. The trees, granite, and alpine lake alongside are your reward.

Alpine lakes and the Cruzbike S40

The return climb takes an hour, but cost me the most, feeling low on fuel. I took a long lunch with friends in the 97 F shade before heading to Carson. Had a great time trading pulls with a rider through Markleeville at 30 mph!

Trading pulls with another rider on the Cruzbike S40

This section is open to cars, signed for 35 mph, and is type II fun. [I: immediate fun, II: retrospective fun, III: never fun.] The headwind is kicking up, and I admit there is pleasure in passing each standup bike. I won't know their saddle and wrist suffering. Above 8,000' there is a battle between mild hypoxia and lust for ice cream. Apply sticker #5, sign the poster, take a bike photo, and slide home.

Death Ride Alpine County, CA stickers - collect all five

Celebrating the end of Alpine County's Death Ride

And he's done!

Overall, it was a fun seven hours of riding uphill punctuated by a few descents. Averaged 190 W climb #1, 170 W climb #2, and 160 W for the last three climbs. I'm no Jason Perez but solidly median! https://www.strava.com/activities/2529886871

- Nick E


  • Sree

    This was an amazing post !! Inspires me to try it out once I have the confidence that I can conquer this (or just dive straight in to the deep). But great photos and blog. Thanks for sharing your ride !

  • Nick

    Oops, I re-answered questions because I went top-to-bottom. Here’s the new answers!

    Michael – no issues with Yoeleo C50|50 DB SL Clincher/Tubeless. Did not have truing issues, they were perfect. Just being cautious. A spoke did loosen up (and be re-tightened) after 3000 miles, which I consider normal wear.

    Alejandro – on bumps / cattleguards I sit up and jump a little bit to let the ground raise the bike. Feet-first gives you a few milliseconds of warning.

    OH HEY RICH SNY! Oval chainrings: short lever in the cycle when all your leg muscles are strongest, long lever in the cycle when muscles are at their weakest (the dead spot). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apAPzrA19v0

  • Nick

    Paul – The wheels are Yoeleo SAT C50|50 DB SL Clincher/Tubeless, 27mm wide, SRAM XDR hub, bladed spokes. Order if you believe in your ability to audit wheel quality. In 3000 miles I’ve had one issue: one spoke on the rear wheel lost tension, so I tightened it back up. Noticed by listening while tapping each spoke with a finger.

    Paul – for hydration, I have a 100 ounce camelback that I tied to a through-hole in the top of the seat. Thin rope and shock cord can make 1000 accessories. I have flavored tablets of salts / caffeine to add to water and usually carry 1.5 liters to make it between rest stops.

    RobW – I bike home every day up a 450’ hill with 20% grade sections. Dust is moderately annoying, rain is fine, tire choice makes the largest difference in traction. Conti GP 5000 is the best I’ve used yet. I don’t quite remember the grades of Death Ride but would trust Strava: https://www.strava.com/routes/16471739 I’ll keep my gearing when I do Death Ride again, need to drop 10 pounds…

    From stock, best improvement was getting mechanical-to-hydraulic brakes, going full hydraulic would probably be worth it. Next was the gearing, more range required for 1-by.

    Steve – I found the largest oval that fits my SRAM direct mount crankset, I think it’s an Absolute Black 38T SRAM direct mount oval. Switched this year, only noticed it the first hundred feet after installation, but definitely won’t go back to circular.

    Mark – SRAM GX Eagle groupset for the 10-50T cassette; required a wheelset to match with SRAM XDR freehub. All in!

  • Rich S

    Awesome job on an amazing bike. Been eyeing the cruzbike since you first sent out pics. Looks like the best of all worlds. Feet on the ground at standstill, eye to eye with the cars on the shared spaces. Read ‘oval chain ring’ and wondered what that describes? Are you maximizing the power stroke angle?

  • Lorne Anderson
    If you can climb hills with recumbents, I really need this idea! Now I will look into this trying one out. Looks to great to ignore.

  • Alejandro Cabeza de Martillo

    good job getting bent, but how do you bunny hop those cattle guards

  • Michael

    Great write-up and awesome ride!
    Question about the Yoeleo wheels.
    1. Did you get the STD or the PRO version?
    2. You mentioned “verify tension & dish & trueness.” Is that a known issue to watch for or you had problem with them?

  • Paul

    Thanks for the write up. Great ride and great pics. Fellow S40 rider. Can’t say enough about how well this bike climbs.

  • Nick E

    Vicki – Trike stability reduces a lot of climbing task loading, for sure! The climbing formula I used is power-to-weight @ gradient finds speed, then preferred cadence @ speed finds gearing. Lowest gearing has to work at the highest gradient :)

    Mark – This is a SRAM GX Eagle, mountain bike groupset. Yoeleo carbon wheels with a SRAM XD-R driver, to accept the full 1×12, 10-50T Eagle cassette.

    Steve – Absolute Black 42T oval chainring, using direct mount of a SRAM DUB crankset. I’ve used oval chainrings for a year, after the first mile I couldn’t feel the difference, but I can appreciate that it extends the high-force portion of each cycle. I think it helps, but isn’t a game changer.

    Andrew – Thanks! Would recommend Yoeleo wheelsets, verifying tension & dish & true.

    RobW – My daily commute ends with a 450’ high 18% average grade, a few corners of 25%. Dry, dusty days have the lowest friction, rainy days are nice and sticky! 28mm tubeless tires at 65 psi have infrequent brief slips, but I have lots of practice now delivering smooth power on that climb, and avoiding gravel traps. Would recommend bigger gravel-style tires for extended climbs and poppy power.

    Interesting components: Mechanical-to-hydraulic brakes, would go full-hydraulic brakes on the next build, the automatic-trim and control-at-threshold is excellent. Using a 12-speed bar-end shifter for the SRAM Eagle groupset – because road bike handlebar diameter != mountain bike handlebar diameter. Wheelset is carbon 50mm rim from Yoeleo with SRAM XDR driver, would recommend if you can verify tension & dish & trueness.

    Thanks all!

  • paul E cappiello

    Nice ride and post. What wheels are you running and can you provide a little info on your hydration set up?

  • RobW

    Nice write-up. What sort of maximum grades did you find? Been interested in the S40 for a while, but we have quite a few local grades in the 15%+ region and wheelslip is a definite worry for me, especially on not fully dry roads.

    Also interested in your setup – doesn’t sound like a stock build with SRAM 12spd or something like on the back. Any other interesting custom bits (wheelset, bars etc.) you’d care to share.

  • Andrew Koros

    Nice report! You have a beautiful bike! Nice wheels too!

  • Chuck

    I’ve known a few riders that have done the Death Ride. You made it sound too easy. Great job, good story!

  • Steve

    Nick, thanks for the great ride report and pics! Congratulations on completing an epic ride. It brought back fond memories. What oval chainring are you using and how long have you been using that style?
    Steve ( also an s40 rider)

  • Mark

    Thanks for sharing. That ride sounds great. As a new S40 owner, I’m wondering what derailleur you have that can accommodate a 50T ring?

  • Gary

    Great photos! Thanks for sharing your ride!

  • Vicki

    I have driven those passes, most recently Ebbets, and my car has trouble! Kudos! I am only a good climber on a trike, not as good on my Silvio. Hmmmm… the trike.

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