Planning a Motorcycle Ride from Carson Valley

What kind of motorcycle ride are you looking for?

Twisty mountain pavement?

A great motorcycle ride in the Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe area might be all pavement, or mostly dirt, or a big day of both, depending on what you want. We are very fortunate to be very close to hundreds of miles—thousands, really—of scenic, twisty, uncongested roads. If you are a street rider and new to the area, we suggest heading out for some of the High Sierra passes. Carson Pass, Ebbetts Pass, and Monitor Pass are all within about an hour’s ride of the Carson Valley. Sonora Pass, Tioga Pass, and Donner Pass are all within two hours. A motorcycle ride over five of these great mountain passes in a single day is completely feasible. To do it, you’ll ride hard, return tired, and won’t have a lot of time to stop and see the sights. But you will have one of the best days of your life.

_MG_0636Motorcycle ride on Monitor Pass in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

Motorcycle ride on Monitor Pass in the Eastern Sierra Nevada


Or scenic backcountry dirt?

If you’re looking for a motorcycle ride on dirt and gravel roads, or technical single-track trails, there’s plenty of that, too. We’re surrounded by vast tracts of public land and huge portions of it are connected with unpaved, off-highway vehicle routes that are legal to ride. (Check with the appropriate land management agency for maps and restrictions.) In the Sierra, most of these areas are managed by the US Forest Service. In western Nevada, you’ll find most of the public land under the control of the US Bureau of Land Management.

The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is the largest national forest in the Lower 48 states. The 368,600 acres of the forest’s Carson Ranger District extend along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada, straddling the Nevada and California state line. The district is about 15 miles wide and near 100 miles long and stretches from northwest of Reno, Nevada, south along the Carson Range between Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley, then south to Sonora Pass. The district office is right nearby in Carson City.

Other national forests in the area are the Eldorado National Forest, the Sierra National Forest, the Tahoe National Forest, the Stanislaus National Forest, and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. Opportunities for an off-highway motorcycle ride inside the Tahoe Basin are very restricted. Exceptions, such as the Genoa Peak Trail—one of our favorites—and the eastern portion of the Rubicon Trail, can offer some spectacular riding. Most of the other national forests offer a lot of great dirt roads for backcountry adventure.

The eastern edge of the Carson Valley is defined by the Pine Nut Mountains with fantastic dirt riding. Wide, maintained main roads with firm dirt and loose gravel surfaces can get you into and across the mountains at surprisingly fast speeds. More technical routes will include steep slopes, deep sand, loose rocks, short sight lines, and some water crossings. And all of this backcountry adventure is just a short motorcycle ride on paved rural roads from friendly and affordable Carson Valley hotels and restaurants.

Backcountry dirt adventure motorcycling in western Nevada.

Backcountry dirt adventure motorcycling in western Nevada.


Our area offers a huge variety of great adventure motorcycle rides, however you define that, and whatever type of bike you like to ride. Grab your gear, decide whether you want to ride pavement or dirt, and then ask yourself, “How hard do I want to ride today?” If you need some help figuring all this out, or just want some local advice, sign up for our email newsletter, or c’mon up and ride with us. The 2013 Carson Valley / Lake Tahoe Adventure Moto is August 22-25 and you can register here.


What is Adventure Motorcycle Riding?

The adventure motorcycle segment has been the bright spot in a slow motorcycle economy for the past several years, according to most industry sources. But what, exactly, is an adventure motorcycle? And what is adventure motorcycle riding?

Two adventure motorcycles: A BMW R-100 GS, and a Kawasaki KLR650

Two iconic adventure motorcycles, photographed near Lake Tahoe:
A well-traveled BMW R-100 GS, with a Kawasaki KLR650 in the background.


Adventure motorcycles

There aren’t any exact specifications to define the adventure motorcycle box and determine whether or not a particular bike fits into it. But there are some general characteristics that most adventure motorcycles share. Features like generous fuel range, ample suspension travel, and crash bars are common. Also an upright riding position, comfortable ergonomics, and a seat that works for long days and hundreds of miles. In recent years adventure bikes have also skewed toward more power and more weight. And like most motorcycles, they have become more complicated. This can tend to make them less capable on the dirt and more difficult to repair in remote places. But it does make them more suited for long-distance travel, especially riding two-up with luggage, and great for exploring paved back roads. And if the pavement starts to disappear, it doesn’t mean the ride has to end.

Some bikes will be better suited to particular conditions or styles of riding. A big late-model BMW GS, Triumph Tiger, or something similar will be a great choice for a few thousand miles on pavement of questionable quality with perhaps some gravel and a bit of dirt thrown in to keep it interesting. A lighter, simpler, dual-sport bike such as a Kawasaki KLR650 or Suzuki DR650 will probably be a better choice if the trip has a lot more dirt. The big KTM 990 Adventure has a boot firmly in both camps. And there are many more bikes that are great for exploring out-of-the-way places, even some not typically thought of as adventure motorcycles.

We would go so far as to say that almost any motorcycle can be an adventure motorcycle. Because adventure motorcycling is about riding to new places, seeing new things, meeting new people, and having new experiences.


Adventure motorcycle riding

Adventure motorcycle riding shares at least one trait with pornography: You’ll know what it is when you see it. But defining it ahead of time can be difficult. For some, adventure motorcycling means riding on dirt rather than pavement. And for some of those riders, it’s not really adventure unless the dirt is technical and challenging. The Dakar Rally might be the biggest technical challenge a motorcyclist could face. But unless you are Jimmy Lewis, you probably won’t be riding the Dakar. So there must be more to this adventure motorcycling thing than extreme off-road rally racing.

One of the things that defines adventure is purposefully facing the unknown and dealing with whatever it throws at you. So adventure motorcycling generally means being prepared to ride in lots of different weather conditions, handle mechanical mishaps on the side of the road, and mostly, not allow unexpected challenges to ruin your day. Or your entire trip.

The adventure will depend upon the experience, abilities, and expectations of the individual rider. We’ve met motorcyclists who ride every day in San Francisco, but rarely leave the city. For those folks, riding Highway 4 up over Ebbetts Pass for a weekend in the Sierra could be a very big adventure. For a rider used to uncrowded mountain roads and wide-open deserts, riding in Los Angeles commute traffic could be a definite challenge. Adventure is all around; you just have to go looking for it.

For us, the key word in adventure motorcycle riding is riding. It’s pretty tough to avoid adventure if you actually get out and ride. And the more you ride, the more adventure you will find. Building your experience and skills will set you up to seek out even more. Successful adventures are all about stretching the boundaries of your own comfort zone. If you are doing that on a motorcycle, then you are an adventure rider.


Adventure motorcycle travel

So, what is adventure motorcycle travel? We think it means setting off on your bike, ready for adventure, and riding away from the familiar roads of home for a few days. Or weeks. Or more. Like motorcycling, adventure travel is very much an independent experience. It’s not about packaged tours, cruise ships, fixed itineraries, or gift shops. Certainly, it could be riding your bike to the tip of South America, or across the Sahara. Unfortunately, for most of us in North America the realities of our world make big trips like that a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If we’re lucky. It’s just not feasible to take four months off work for an epic motorcycle trip across a dozen international borders.

But a four-day weekend? That’s doable. And that’s what the Carson / Tahoe Adventure Moto event is all about. We created it to show off some of the best—and most accessible—adventure motorcycle riding in the US. The Carson Valley is just a day’s riding from most of the major population centers in the West, so we are easy to get to. Once here, you’ll find great riding on some of the best roads anywhere, whether pavement or dirt. And if you can stretch your trip out a few days, the roads between our home and yours can turn your long weekend into a truly epic ride.

Look again at the photo at the top of this page. We found that obviously well-traveled BMW R-100-GS parked at Lake Tahoe during our 2012 event. It’s covered in road dirt and the panniers are a little battered, with lots of stickers from lots of exotic places. And the license plate is from a town on the Rhine River, in Germany. It’s most definitely an adventure bike and the rider is most definitely an adventure traveler. Who rode here, to our part of the world, on an epic trip.

We think that says a lot.

adventure motorcycle at Lake Tahoe

License plate from Rüdesheim, in Germany’s Rhine Gorge.
Seen on a BMW R-100 GS, traveling near Lake Tahoe.


Do I Have the Right Motorcycle?

Wondering if you have the right motorcycle for the Carson / Tahoe Moto? If you ride it, the answer is yes, you do.

What’s the right motorcycle?

The right motorcycle for our event is the one you ride. Not the bike you wish you had but don’t. Not the one in your garage that you don’t want to get any bugs on. We designed our event for people who like to ride motorcycles. If you spend more time polishing the chrome on your bike than riding it then this might not be the place for you. And it’s definitely not the right event for those who decide on the right motorcycle by how it looks parked in front of a bar.

What's the right motorcycle for the Carson Valley Lake Tahoe Adventure Motorcycle Ride?

The right motorcycle for our event is the one you like to ride the most.


We feel very strongly that motorcycles are meant to be ridden. The right motorcycle, on the right road, on the right day is a thing of joy and beauty. For some riders, the right road is miles of smooth, twisty pavement. For others, it’s a scenic dirt road in the backcountry. For many, a great day of riding means some of each. We’re very fortunate to have a lot of great roads, both paved and dirt, within a short distance of our basecamp in Carson Valley, Nevada.

The right motorcycle for paved mountain twisties.

What’s the right motorcycle for our beautiful High Sierra mountain roads? That depends on how hard you want to ride and what you want to get out of a day on the bike. If you ride a sport bike and your tires don’t show any sign of chicken strips we’ve got some of the best curves in the Western US.

A high-performance sportbike is the right motorcycle for riders who like to go fast around corners.

Sport bikes on Monitor Pass


If you think the right motorcycle skews more toward comfort for long days in the saddle, maybe riding two up, then you’re probably riding something a little heavier, with more forgiving suspension, and a more upright riding position. Maybe with some luggage for carrying cameras and lunch, and a port to recharge your phone. The big adventure bikes are great for this sort of riding.

Two-up motorcycle ride in the High Sierra.

Two-up motorcycle ride in the High Sierra on a big adventure bike.


The right motorcycle for backcountry dirt.

The right motorcycle for our dirt routes is something that you feel comfortable riding on dirt. Most of our dirt rides are more about seeing remote backcountry and less about extreme technical challenges. So anything with dirt-friendly tires, a bit of ground clearance, and some protection for the vulnerable parts will be just fine. If you like to ride hard on the dirt you’ll probably bring one of the lighter dual-sport bikes. If you feel confident on a big machine on loose surfaces, then one of the big adventure bikes will be the right motorcycle for you.

What's the right motorcycle for backcountry adventure travel?

Checking the route in the backcountry. Two big adventure motorcycles and a smaller dual-sport bike.


Whatever you decide to ride, we’ve got some great routes that will leave you knowing you brought the right motorcycle, on the right day, for some of the best riding anywhere.

The 2014 Carson / Tahoe Moto is August 21-24. You can register here, or, sign up for our email newsletter.

Motorcycle Ride on Ebbetts Pass

A motorcycle ride on Ebbetts Pass is epic. California State Route 4 is one of the most beautiful roads over the Sierra Nevada. It’s a great way to get from the San Francisco Bay Area to Carson Valley or Lake Tahoe. And it is one of the least traveled of all the trans-Sierra passes.

Here’s a short four-minute video from our YouTube channel, taken on a motorcycle ride on Ebbetts Pass:


We’ve also written about other great motorcycle routes to Carson Valley. And we’ve got some information about when Ebbetts Pass, and the other Sierra passes, begin to open in the spring after being closed for winter.  For more, see the Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway Association at

And here’s a motorcycle ride on Ebbetts Pass, via Google Maps.

C’mon up and ride with us.