Distance: 38-mile loop with out and back spur
Elevation gain: 3350 ft
(A Best of the Best ride)
(Note 4/20: Apparently all State facilities are closed to cars but open to bikes, so go ride Diablo, Mt. Tam, and any others you can think of NOW!)
The first half of this route is covered thoroughly in words and pictures at toughascent.com. It’s referred to by locals as “the Alpine Dam ride,” to distinguish it from other ways of approaching Mt. Tam, and it does cross that most unprepossessing of landmarks.
Once in the weeks before I went to Italy on a cycling vacation, I took a friend who knew Europe well on this ride. As we were passing over one of the more spectacular legs, he turned to me and said, “I hope you aren’t going to Europe to find better riding than this, because there isn’t any.” I second that emotion. Mt. Tam is a Bucket List ride if there ever was one, one of the 5 best rides in Bestrides.org, and the best ride in our list for grand vistas. (Remember to click on the following photos to see them full-screen.) It’s a lot of climbing (the elevation total above is Mapmride’s little joke—I usually record about 4700 ft), but there are only two serious pitches: right off the bat, and just past Alpine Lake. (The Mapmyride elevation profile is also very misleading, by the way.)
This is a pretty complicated route in the half after the summit. It wends its way through several busy Marin communities. So you’ll want to have a Garmin with the route loaded or carry your Marin Bicycle Map (see the section Introduction). And, because it goes through the most popular recreation area in the Bay Area, you’ll see a lot of cars. But two things will save you: all the traffic is on one side of the mountain (the south side), so for the first half of the ride you’re nearly alone, and all that traffic is coming toward the mountain when you’re leaving it (assuming you started in the morning), so it’s almost all on the other side of the road. But if the traffic or the urban navigating puts you off, in Alternate Routes below I’ll show you two ways to ride the mountain that avoid both.
Take something to walk in—you’ll want to explore the summit on foot.
Distance: 40 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1620 ft
Point Reyes gets in your blood. The first time I went there, it seemed barren, cold, featureless, and generally uninviting. Now I love it with an abiding passion. It isn’t obviously dramatic. It’s not Yosemite. It’s open, gently rolling wild grassland, and it’s often windy and frigid. But give it time. It will work its magic.
This ride comes with a bevy of caveats. First, I’d try to do it in winter or a shoulder season, but not in summer, and I wouldn’t go anywhere near it on a summer weekend—the traffic is like two-for-one day at Walmart. Second, the weather can be windy, cold, and damp on any day of the year. Don’t judge by the weather in Point Reyes Station, don’t trust the weather report, and don’t assume summer means warm. Pack at least one layer more than you think you’ll need. The last time I did this ride, on what began as a warm, sunny day, everyone packed one extra layer, and we were all one layer short. Third, the road surface is often bad, sometimes comically so, sometimes dangerously so. My local friend Ben says it’s the worst road surface in the greater Bay Area. Take your biggest tires and be cautious on the downhills, which tend to bottom out onto the worst of the broken pavement, cow poop, and/or treacherous cattle guards. The surface is worst in the 3 miles closest to the lighthouse, so if it gets to be too much you can turn around.
Distance: 48-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1620 ft
The network of roads in Marin County between Highway 1 and Highway 101 may be the most heavily ridden cycling roads in rural California. They aren’t the best riding in California. They’re fine. They’re nice. And they’re all the same—gentle rollers (look at that elevation total—next to flat) through dairy farm land on good road surfaces. So there is no best route. Feel free to ride on any road that catches your fancy, with two caveats: 1) try to minimize your time on the obvious main arteries—Pt. Reyes Petaluma Rd., Tomales Petaluma Rd., Sir Francis Drake Blvd.—and 2) be sure to include Chileno Valley Rd., which is a cut above the rest.
The century that covers this area is the Marin Century, and, since the roads are all about the same, it’s a perfectly fine introduction to the area, if you want to ride 100 miles of it, which I don’t.
For those of us who want to do fewer miles, here’s a representative loop, as good as any and better than some, and the food is fantastic—artisan cheese, great delis, killer bakeries, and the best bread in the world. So bring money.