Category Archives: SF Bay

Cañada Road Plus

Distance: 35-mile loop plus three spurs
Elevation gain: 2270 ft

There are two Cañada Roads in the Greater Bay Area, one in Redwood City and one in Gilroy. The one in Redwood City is essentially a multi-use recreational freeway—meh. Ours is a super-pleasant jaunt through the rolling hills to the east of Gilroy. It’s just west of Henry Coe State Park, and one of its spurs takes you a few miles into the park. It’s a leg of the Terra Bella Century, which encircles Gilroy, though the TBC rides it in the other direction.

It’s not a life-changing ride, and there are no natural wonders or heart-pounding thrills, but it’s an outstanding ride nonetheless—35 miles of mellow, pretty, solitary riding on good road surface. You will work only once, on a four-mile climb of moderate pitch near the beginning of the ride. The rest is basically flat (check out that unthreatening elevation total), with enough constant gentle rolling up and down to keep your interest.

The loop offers up four different ecosystems. The first is the first half of the climb, through a thicket of trees in a small, narrow creek canyon. The second is the second half of the climb, through the same classic grass-covered bald hills you see throughout the East Bay. The third is dense forest canopy as you skirt the edge of small meadows. The fourth is riparian woods along Coyote Creek. All four are very pretty. The decor is classic California foothill: oaks, dales, sycamores, and creeks that go dry later in the year. Much of the foliage is evergreen, so the ride feels pretty lush even in December, though ideal season is late spring/early summer.

The loop has the distinction of having three eminently ridable dead-end spur roads taking off from it: Jamieson Road, Gilroy Hot Springs Road, and Coyote Lake Road. They’re all much like the loop itself: mellow, essentially flat, fun, and pretty.

There isn’t a whole lot of humanity along the bulk of this route—only the occasional house, dairy, or hardscrabble farm. From the beginning of Cañada Road to Gilroy Hot Springs Road I’ve seen perhaps 3 cars, even on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May.

I’ve only done the ride counter-clockwise, but the ride should work equally well in either direction. Clockwise, my guess is the climbing would be shorter (so maybe steeper) and the 4-mile pitch on the south side would make for a longer, somewhat more exhilarating descent than you get going my way.

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38272166

Start at the intersection of Leavesley Rd. and Dryen Ave. You can start anywhere on the course, but starting here gives you a easy 20-min. warm-up before you hit the Cañada Road hill. Ride east on Leavesley and almost immediately take the first L (actually straight ahead when Leavesley turns R) onto Crews Rd. (there is a sign but it’s hard to see). Follow Crews to its dead-end at Ferguson Rd and take Ferguson (boring) briefly to its dead-end at Pacheco Pass Hwy. Take your life in your hands and go L onto very busy PPH (there’s a traffic light with an arrow for your turn) for a blessedly brief stint, then turn L onto Cañada Road (clearly signed). This turn across the near-constant traffic is brutal. I simply pulled off the road and settled in for the long wait until there was a substantial gap.

The Cañada Road climb

Cañada (which means many different things in Spanish: ravine, glen, arroyo, animal track, but not canyon) is flat, straight, and built-up on one side for the first half-mile, but then it transforms into a small, winding 4-mile climb up through a pretty wooded canyon beside a small, usually-dry creek, then through grassy hills. At the top, the work of the ride is done. At the top of the climb you meet the first dead-end spur, Jamieson Road.

Jamieson Road

Jamieson runs through the heart of a small, pretty ranching valley for a couple of miles, then turns to dirt. It’s flatter, straighter, and more open than the rest of the route, but peaceful and pretty. Ride to the dirt and turn around.

Back on Cañada Road, ride to the intersection of Cañada and Gilroy Hot Springs Rd. This leg is to me the star of the route. It rolls gently up and down through the trees along the lip of several small meadows populated with the occasional low-rent cattle ranch. Turn R on GHSR and ride 3 miles along the shore of Coyote Creek. Coyote Creek, which is a major stream after rains, dries up every summer, so that’s an argument for doing the ride early in the year—by mid-May it was already a trickle. GHSR is a main route into Henry Coe State Park, so there’s a bit more traffic here, but almost all the traffic is going to a large trailhead staging area a stone’s throw into the park (Hunting Hollow), so you should have the road to yourself after that.

Gilroy Hot Springs Road

Gilroy Hot Springs Rd. obviously goes to Gilroy Hot Springs, an old resort which has an interesting history but has been closed for many years. Check out the history on google. A group of

preservationists have been trying to restore and reopen the springs—apparently access is now (12/21) limited to one docent-led tour (no bathing) a month. So at the end of the 3 miles you cross a large wooden bridge over the creek and meet an intimidating barb-wired gate that emphatically orders you to turn around. I’m all for riding on gated-off roads, but this one is a serious no-no. Obey the sign and turn around.

Gilroy Hot Springs Road

Ride back on GHSR and continue on it past the Cañada Rd. turn-off, to the turn-off to Coyote Lake Rd. on the R (unmissable). Coyote Lake is a pretty but fully-developed reservoir, so the road is a constant series of campsites, boat launches, and such. I had the place to myself in December, but it might be a madhouse in July—be warned. It’s another sweet, gently rolling, pretty road, but it’s certainly the spur I would skip first if I was trying to reduce my mileage. The road goes to the far end of the lake and turns to dirt. Ride to the dirt and turn around.

Coyote Lake

Return to Gilroy Hot Springs Rd and take it to the R—at this point GHSR changes its name to Roop Rd. (clearly signed at the intersection). You could stay on Roop until it dead-ends at the delightfully named New Ave., then ride south on New to Ferguson and east on Leavesley if you wanted to, but there’s much better option: when Roop goes hard R, go straight onto Leavesley Rd.

Leavesley Road

Leavesley is not to be missed, a twisty descent, often through dramatic oak canopies—the only real whee on the loop. I liked it so much I turned around, climbed it, and descended it again. It bottoms out right where you left your car.

Shortening the ride: Skip the three spurs—this leaves you with 17 miles of loop. If you’re thinking of skipping one or two of them, the best is Gilroy Hot Springs Road, then Jamieson, then Coyote Lake Road.

Adding miles: About 6 miles due north by back roads is E. Dunne Rd., the main road into Henry Coe State Park, said to be a rewarding, challenging climb. On the other side of Hwy 101, beginning to the west of Gilroy, is a small mountain range, and all the roads in it are reputed to be good—Day Rd., Watsonville Rd., Uvas Rd., Oak Glen Rd., McKean Rd., Sycamore Ave./Dr., and Redwood Retreat Rd., most of which are part of the Terra Bella Century route. If you string them together, you can ride from Gilroy to San Jose on bike-friendly back roads, something I intend to do some day.

Wildcat Canyon Road/Happy Valley Road/Nimitz Way

Distance: 32-mile lollipop with two spurs
Elevation gain: 3400 ft

In this route I’ve strung together four of my favorite little East Bay roads. The stellar bits are connected by some residential riding that’s surprisingly pleasant and one 4-mile grind of a climb, for which I apologize up front. It all begins with Wildcat Canyon Road, the hoariest of chestnuts for Berkeley riders, the ride you do once or twice a week when nothing bigger is afoot. You’ll see a lot of e-bikes and townies in the first couple of miles, because it’s easy, but there’s plenty of work further along in the route.

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37122828

Begin at the intersection of Grizzly Peak Blvd. and Wildcat Canyon Road, which is the same starting point as our Grizzly Peak Blvd. to Redwood Road route. There is no formal parking nearby, but there is always curb parking on GPB to the south, and most riders are going to get there by climbing Spruce from the Shattuck area anyway.

Ride down Wildcat Canyon Rd. From the gun, it’s simply perfect, a gently meandering road with constant variety of contour and a perfect surface through lovely woods sprinkled with tasteful, expensive houses and with occasional vistas of the Wildcat Canyon watershed on your L. Notice a geographical anomaly: you are “descending” from a ridgeline “down” to the creek at the canyon floor, but in fact you gain 120 ft. elevation in the process. This means that, however wonderful the ride to the creek is, the return ride you’ll be doing in 2-3 hours will be a quantum leap better because it’s imperceptibly downhill.

Wildcat Canyon Road

“Descend” to the creek. You’re riding through Tilden Park, which is rich with wonders, and there are a number of things worth exploring along this route—a merry-go-round, Lake Anza, and the Botanical Gardens (at the creek crossing) among others.

Climb gently from the creek to Inspiration Point, which is on the spine of San Pablo Ridge between Wildcat Canyon and the San Pablo Creek watershed. There are fine hiking trails and good dirt roads open to mountain bikes and gravel bikes along this leg.

The Wildcat Canyon descent

Inspiration Point is only minimally inspiring, because shrubbery has been allowed to grow up and block most of the view, but if you go 50 ft. to the left of the official viewpoint (the one with the informational placards) you can get a pretty good vista of the area to the north towards San Pablo Bay. There are also brick bathrooms, where the Nimitz rec trail takes off.

Wildcat Canyon Road descends from Inspiration Point to San Pablo Dam Road/Camino Pablo (the road changes its name at the WCR intersection). It’s a grand descent, through gorgeous oak canopies and with every curve unique and interesting. It would be one of my favorite descents if the road surface was better. It’s not awful, but it’s rough enough to make holding a line occasionally problematic, and that knocks it down from bucket-list to merely very very good.

Halfway down the descent from Inspiration Point to San Pablo Blvd is an absolute gem of a road. El Toyonal forks off Wildcat Canyon Road to the R at an unmissable intersection (not sure there’s a street sign, but it’s big—recently there’s been a sandwich board reading “free compost” and showing an outline of a horse). Take it (you can do it on the ride back if you don’t like interrupting descents). It doesn’t look impressive, and the first half mile will make you think you’re on the wrong road (an imposing gate, a ramshackle bridge, and a stretch of dirt), but persist and you’ll ride an absolutely perfect two-mile stretch of road (see photo below). It’s a mild climb leaving WCR and a crackerjack descent returning through pristine woods and car-free isolation (since the road is gated off at both ends). Ride to the built-up houses (around the Vista Del Orinda intersection), turn around, and ride back to Wildcat Canyon Road. Friend of Bestrides Thomas put me on to this jewel, which I’d been riding past and ignoring for 25 years, and for that we are in his debt.

Neither of our maps includes the El Toyonal out and back, so if you want exact mileage and elevation totals add 4 miles and a hundred feet or so to our totals.

Bear Creek Road—some people like that sort of thing

Continue on down Wildcat Canyon Road. Cross San Pablo Dam Road. You’ll probably see groups of cyclists at the intersection, because you’re now on the Three Bears ride, the most popular big ride in the East Bay. I hate it. It’s almost all long, tedious, unvarying climbs and descents over a series of smooth, grassy hills in the blazing sun on a big shoulder of an even bigger road. My notion of hell. But we’re going to have to do a leg of it to get to something really good, so strap in, head down Bear Creek Rd., and grind out the next 4 miles, at which point Happy Valley Road goes off to the R.

Happy Valley Rd. is happy enough, but there is absolutely no valley to be seen. It’s a short, steep (but never fierce) climb on a tiny, fairly rough road through canopies of very pretty trees. It’s a favorite of mine. You’ll have it to yourself (if the construction that started in the summer of 2021 is completed).

Happy Valley Road

At the summit everything changes. The road goes smooth and wide (though not at all straight) through up-scale built-up residential. You’ll be tempted to let it rip, but if you do you’ll be in trouble, because the road is still steep and surprisingly twisty, and several of the corners punish the overly aggressive. It’s tons of fun, especially after the steep pitch moderates and you can really carry some speed.

Soon you reach the intersection of Happy Valley Road and Upper Happy Valley Road, which paradoxically is below HVR. You can go either way, R onto Upper Happy or straight onto more of HVR. They’re both very nice moderate, fast descents through residential streets on good surfaces. I’ve mapped it via Upper Happy, mostly because I love the name.

Upper Happy dead-ends into El Nido Ranch Road, the surface road running along the edge of Hwy 24. Take it R and stay on it through several name changes—El Nido Ranch, E. Altarinda Dr., Orindawoods Dr., Santa Maria Way—until it meets Orinda Way in downtown Orinda. This leg varies from big-road boring to pseudo-golf-course posh.

Take Orinda Way R to avoid a short stretch of Camino Pablo, which is busy and fast. When Orinda Way dumps you out on Camino Pablo, you’re stuck with it. CP has a mostly large and mostly pleasant shoulder/bike path, so it’s painless. Ride back to Wildcat Canyon Road and climb WCR back to Inspiration Point (if you skipped El Toyonal before, do it now).

This climb, which was borderline great as a descent, is now splendid. The road surface problems won’t bother you, but the scenery is just as gorgeous and the road contour just as interesting as it was an hour or so earlier. It’s a perfect pitch, just hard enough to make you feel like you accomplished something but not hard enough to hurt. Another of my favorite climbs. It isn’t car-free, but the cars are civil.

If you’ve done the climb from San Pablo Dam Road to Inspiration Point a dozen times and you’re sick of it, or you want something tougher, ride south on Camino Pablo to El Toyonal Rd. (the other end of it) and climb it back up to Grizzly Peak Blvd.  ETR wanders among typical charming East Bay woodland homes and is often 9-10% pitch.  When ETR meets the beautifully named Lomas Cantadas Rd., take LCR to Grizzly Peak Blvd. Worth doing once.

Nimitz Way

Back at Inspiration Point, you could keep retracing your steps and ride back to Grizzly Peak Blvd., but you don’t want to yet, because at the Inspiration Point parking lot is the trailhead to the Nimitz Trail (aka Nimitz Way), a 4-mile (one way) paved multi-use trail that is simply a hoot. I know, I hate rec trails too, but this one is special. It runs along or just below the spine of San Pablo Ridge, through dry but charming countryside, with frequent stunning views of SF Bay spread out before you to the west (benches provided for musing). The best Bay view is a mile+ in, at the Bertold and Inge Hannes memorial bench.

The Hannes Bench on Nimitz Trail, with The Bridge and Angel Island at 11 o’clock, Mt. Tam on R horizon

The trail climbs and drops and weaves just enough to keep you interested (680 ft. of gain in 8 miles). There’s a nice post midway that informs you that you are simultaneously riding the Nimitz Trail, the Bay Area Ridge Trail, the Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Trail, and the East Bay Skyline Trail.

At the end there’s a gate, the path turns to dirt, and there’s an abandoned Nike missile site to check out (unsigned but visible, up the hill to your R as you stand facing the end of the pavement).

The weather on the Nimitz is often windy, the Bay views are often obscured by fog, and it can be crowded. Still, do it. My last outing was a lovely Saturday afternoon in August, and the people were plentiful but no problem at all. Yes, they slow you down, which is not a bad thing—this is not a training ride. The crowds get thinner the further you go.

If you’re on a gravel bike, the Nimitz continues on excellent dirt from the end of the pavement all the way down the spine of the ridge until it peters out in Richmond. Now that would be an adventure. Also, a friend says that the trail to Grizzly Peak, which takes off from Nimitz about halfway out, is a great short hike with a great vista at the end.

Return to Wildcat Canyon Road and ride back to your car. One sweet surprise remains. As I mentioned, the leg from Wildcat Creek to the Grizzly Peak ridgetop turns out by some miracle to be an imperceptible descent, so you end the ride whizzing along at terrific speed through luscious curves, wondering where you suddenly got all that oomph. It’s as sweet a 2 miles as you’ll ever do on a bike, and when it’s over you’ll want to ride it again.

Shortening the route: Ride to San Pablo Dam Blvd. and turn around. Easier still: ride to Inspiration Point and turn around. Dead easy: ride to the Botanical Gardens and turn around. Add Nimitz to taste.

There’s a 20-mile route that bags the bulk of the good stuff from the long route: ride from our starting point to Inspiration Point; ride to the end of Nimitz and back: descend Wildcat Canyon Road to El Toyonal; ride El Toyonal out and back; ascend WCR to Inspiration Point and return to your car. It’s an easy 20 miles, since it skips the steepest section of the WCR climb, which is below the El Toyonal fork.

Adding miles: The beginning of this ride is also the beginning of our Grizzly Peak Blvd to Redwood Road ride.

El Toyonal

At the other end of the loop, the roads circumnavigating San Pablo and Briones Reservoirs are, as I’ve said, hot and boring, but the roads circumnavigating Briones Regional Park, immediately to the east, are nice riding. To reach them from our route, where Happy Valley Road ends at Deer Creek Rd., follow DCR, the surface road along Hwy 24, east to Pleasant Hill Rd., and take PHR to Reliez Valley Road. Ride Reliez and Alhambra Valley Road.

Paradise Drive

Distance: 20.5-mile lollipop
Elevation gain: 1490 ft

This is another SF Bay shoreline ride with great views of the Bay and its attractions. It’s a bit more strenuous than the Golden Gate Bridge loop and less strenuous than the Conzelman Loop (note that mild elevation total), and less dramatic than either. It’s a fairly quiet, rolling ride through pretty woods and occasional $10-million homes to three uniquely charming Bay locales: Tiburon, Belvedere Island, and Belvedere Lagoon. As with all Bay Area shoreline riding, this ride isn’t about the work—instead, ignore your heart rate monitor, slow down, and take in the many delights that surround you. The ride profile is perfect for a recovery day: constant serpentining, back and forth, gently up and down. The road surface is borderline problematic but never bad enough to disturb your wa.

Now I will say something I say nowhere else in Bestrides: you might plan to do this ride when it’s busiest. Paradise Drive is Cycling Central on weekends—on my last Sunday there I saw perhaps 200 bicycles—and, while I’ve done it in solitude and loved it, there’s a kind of Woodstock (SXSW?) atmosphere on the weekend that’s exhilarating.

(Ignore the jagged elevation profile—the actual profile is mellow.)

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37651823

Find a place to park around the west end of Paradise Drive. This area is fully built-up, with churches, schools, parks, and neighborhoods, so there are lots of options. I recommend the Nugget Market parking lot, just east of Harbor Dr. Ride east on Paradise Drive. In the beginning, it’s a multi-lane without appeal, but soon the build-up ends, the road goes to small 2-lane, and you’re into woods. You’re riding along the hilly shoreline of the Tiburon Peninsula, so views of north SF Bay, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, San Quentin, and the like are frequent through the trees and in the infrequent breaks in the foliage. There is the occasional house, but you’re on a sidehill so they’re largely above or below your line of vision, and anyway they’re typically much too rich and snooty to let you see them. A realtor’s billboard advertises $7-million houses (or are they bare lots?—hard to say).

Paradise Drive

The road rolls sweetly and never makes you work. Soon you hit a Y and Trestle Glen Blvd. splits off to the R. You don’t want it, unless you’re determined to ride a loop, in which case when you leave Tiburon on the ride home you can take Tiburon Ave. and use Trestle Glen to get back to Paradise. The far better ride is to ride Paradise Drive out and back, as I’ve mapped it.

Paradise Drive drops down into Tiburon, one of those Bay villages you never want to leave. You debouch at Shoreline Park, a grass strip with benches right on the water where the views of Angel Island, Raccoon Straits, the main Bay, San Francisco, and the Bridge are peerless and the people-watching is prime. Sailboats invariably are busy in the Straits, and usually there are dingy regattas underway in front of the Corinthian Yacht Club on your R. (“Corinthian” in sailors’ jargon means “amateur” or “in the true amateur spirit”—apparently the people of Corinth were great sportsmen.)

Golden Gate Bridge and the Presidio in the distance, from Shoreline Park in Tiburon

The tiny village of Tiburon consists of one small block but, as Spenser Tracy put it, “Every bit is cherce”—several good restaurants (which during the pandemic are serving at open-air tables on closed-off Main Street), an Italian bakery, small, tasteful shops, and two ferry terminals (to Angel Island, SF, and Sausalito). If you want to do the true Tiburon experience, eat at Sam’s, a restaurant famous for having its own boat dock.

At the end of one-block Main Street turn R (still on Main Street, in fact), immediately stay R at the Y to stay off Eastview St., and pass the quaint little shops of Historic (or Historical, as one sign puts it) Ark Row lining the street on your R side. It’s the kind of place where the buildings have plaques on them detailing their past lives. If you’re in the mood for food, I recommend Lola’s taqueria—get the free avocado salsa. Main turns into Beach St—stay on it and you’re swept onto Belvedere Island.

Typical bungalow on Belvedere Island

I love this place. This small, hilly rock is crammed with small streets and absurdly expensive, very old houses—perhaps the classiest place to live in the Bay Area if you’re a fan of Old Money. Or expensive cars—in Belvedere the cheapest car you’ll ever see is a Lexus. I passed a house with three cars in the carport: a Bentley, a Porsche, and a Tesla. The marina below you as you start making your way around the island is the San Francisco Yacht Club, whose name is the basis for a local trick trivia question: “In what town is the SF Yacht Club?” (The correct town address is “Belvedere Tiburon.”)

Because the slopes of Belvedere are very steep, the houses and gardens tend to be vertical, and they make for an architectural and horticultural fairyland. You can follow the shoreline, but if you’re craving more expansive vistas (or some serious climbing), explore the inland streets, where you can find 14% pitches. Golden Gate Ave.>Belvedere Ave. is the main bisector of the island, but since it’s the thoroughfare the house and garden viewing along it is poor—much better gawking along the smaller streets. I like Bella Vista Ave., but you have lots of options—just wander, and keep looking up (unusual posture for a cyclist). The views of the surrounding geography are stunning—to the northeast Belvedere Cove, Tiburon, Raccoon Straits, Angel Island; to the northwest Belvedere Lagoon; to the south Richardson Bay, Sausalito, the central bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Sometimes it helps to sneak into someone’s parking lot for the best views.

View from Belvedere of the SF Yacht Club, Belvedere Lagoon (L), and a bit of Tiburon (R)

As you leave Belvedere Island, with San Rafael Blvd. on your R, you’re passing what is to me a magical place: Belvedere Lagoon. This artificial archipelago of charming cottages each with its own dock has ever since my childhood seemed like the most idyllic place on earth to live. Our route essentially circumnavigates it. Take a moment to explore it via its side roads. You can’t see the best part—the backyard docks—but each of the bungalows is unique, tasteful, and lovingly kept up.

As you near large, busy Tiburon Ave. (in the neighborhood of Hilaria, though I see nothing funny about the place), turn R onto small Lagoon Rd., which parallels it, to avoid the traffic (hard to see). Lagoon Rd. returns you to downtown Tiburon. From there return to your car the way you came. Again, if you’re dead set against out-and-backs, from Tiburon you can take Tiburon Ave to Trestle Glen and go R on Trestle Glen to get back to Paradise, but you’ll miss out on a great return ride. It’s mostly slightly downhill, so it’s a faster, more up-tempo ride that the ride out.

Shortening the route: This ride is easy enough that you probably won’t want to shorten it, but if you do, ride to Tiburon and return.

Adding miles: The nearly limitless riding options nearby are detailing the Adding Miles section of the Golden Gate Bridge Loop ride.

San Quentin through the trees on Paradise Drive

Conzelman Loop

Distance: 12-mile sloppy figure eight
Elevation gain: 1640 ft

This ride is a spur off the Golden Gate Bridge Loop ride, and as such it can be added on to that ride or ridden as an alternative to the GGBL’s post-Bridge second half. It adds considerably to the work load, since the GGBL ride is essentially flat and this ride is almost never flat, but it jacks up the drama and scenic power of the ride by a factor of about 10, because, even though the scenery from Sausalito to Tiburon is just fine, the vistas on this loop are simply staggering…if you can see them. The Marin Headlands are often wrapped in fog, especially in the summer (see final photo). In fog this ride has its magic, but I’d try to wait for a clear day.

The riches packed into these 12 miles beggar the imagination: spectacular views looking down on the Golden Gate Bridge below you and SF Bay in the distance, glimpses of inaccessible beaches along the north shore of the Golden Gate, a lighthouse, a charming little museum, World-War II gun batteries, a battleship’s 16-inch gun, a lovely cove with a beach and surfers, a lagoon, a Cold-War missile base you can tour, a ripping 18% descent you don’t have to climb back up, and on and on. Don’t just ride it—explore, drink it in, wander. Every foot of paved road is worth riding, and there’s history and natural beauty at every turn.

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37826602

If you’re riding across the Bridge, you’ll have to work your way to the west side of Hwy 101. Ride out the north end of the parking lot, ride the shoulder of Alexander briefly until there’s an obvious intersection, then carefully cross Alexander and ride through the little tunnel to Conzelman. If you’re driving, take the Alexander exit and go south on Alexander briefly to Conzelman, then turn into the parking lot at the base of Conzelman overlooking the Bridge.

Your warm-up ride

Conzelman is instantly and seriously steep, so I ride the Bridge sidewalk to warm up. Depending on the day and hour, you may have to ride over to the east side to do this, but that’s easy to do. Once on Conzelman, the pitch is at its worst in the beginning and gets easier. The road is one-lane one-way for cars so you have tons of room.

Ride up Conzelman to the roundabout and continue on Conzelman uphill. Soak up the views of the Bridge below you and the City across the Gate, and keep an eye out for glimpses of hidden beaches snug along the shoreline west of the Bridge.

At the top of the climb there is a sign reading “18% descent.” I question that figure, but it’s steep, and the view of the road curling below you to Point Bonita and the Point Bonita Lighthouse is matchless. Take your photos before you get up a head of steam, because it’s hard to stop mid-plummet. There’s a nice run-out at the bottom which lets you carry some serious speed. As the road levels out, you pass several World War II gun batteries. The guns are gone, but you’re welcome to explore them and contemplate a time when San Francisco expected enemy fleets to sail into the Bay.

Partway up Conzelman and masked for Covid, with SF, Alcatraz, and the Bay Bridge in the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge closer, and Mt. Diablo on the horizon to the far L

Ride to the end of Conzel- man. You can’t ride to the lighthouse, so you might want to bring a lock and shoes so you can walk there. At the western terminus the road does a U and becomes Field Rd.

Find the Nike missile base, a relic of the Cold War. You’re allowed to poke around on Saturdays, and once a month there’s a docent tour where they actually elevate a missile on its launch pad.

Ride Field Rd. to Bunker Rd., stopping at the museum—it’s a nice one. Go L on Bunker.

Now find the loop to Battery Townsley. It’s to the north of Rodeo Lagoon, and it’s inexplicably left off a lot of maps or represented as a hiking trail, but it’s old pavement and perfectly rideable. It’s unmarked on our map at the extreme NW point of the route. Stop at the summit to muse on Battery Townsley, where they have on display a 16-inch gun from the Battleship Missouri in lieu of the battery’s own guns of a similar size. Its dimensions are mind-boggling, as is the fact that it fired a projectile weighing over a ton. There are docent tours once a month.

The Conzelman descent (center of photo), with Point Bonita on L–the lighthouse is on the tip of the point

Before leaving, savor the incomparable view of Rodeo Beach and Point Bonita below you. Continue on to the beach. Watch the surfers and the pelicans.

Continue on Bunker Rd. At the intersection of Bunker and McCullough you will have to choose between two return routes. If you continue on Bunker, the return ride is a very gentle climb that goes through a fairly dreary tunnel and returns to Alexander—go R on Alexander to return to your car or the Bridge. If you want more work and more fun, turn R on McCullough and you’ll have a nice, moderate climb back to the roundabout of Conzelman, whence you get a very nice descent back to your car.

Rodeo Beach and Rodeo Lagoon from Battery Townsley, with the Golden Gate and SF behind

Shortening the route: You can save one substantial climb by driving to the roundabout on Conzelman and starting there. You could skip almost all the climbing by driving to the lagoon area and riding around on the flats, but you’d miss a lot.

Adding miles: Do the Golden Gate Bridge Loop. For more excellent options, see the Adding Miles section of that ride.

The Conzelman descent on a typical August morning

Mill Creek Road #2

Distance: 9 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1390 ft

At last count there were 2,347 roads on the West Coast named Mill Creek Road. Bestrides has three: the Mill Creek Road by Lassen National Park, the Wine Country one in the Adding Miles section of the Pine Flat Road ride, and this one.   All three are super-sweet little rides.

This Mill Creek Road is out of Fremont, CA. It was a gift to me from Friend of Bestrides Nabeel, in gratitude for the rides Bestrides had shown him. Isn’t that lovely? It’s one of the shortest rides in Bestrides, but mile for mile it’s as good as any—4 miles of meandering, recently re-paved (though still lumpy) one-lane gorgeousness that wanders through riparian oaks along a little creek you can’t see and alongside typical East Bay rolling hills of grass. The profile is one of constant variety, always turning, climbing, dropping—rarely can you see more than 1/10 of a mile ahead of you.

The only downside besides its skimpy length and lumpy surface is that it doesn’t link up easily with any other ride by bike besides Morrison Canyon, and Morrison Canyon is a worth-doing-once ride. So if you want a longer day of it, drive to MCR, then drive to another nearby ride (Calaveras Road, for example). Or be prepared to ride some distance on surface streets (see Adding Miles). Or ride MCR twice, which isn’t as silly as it sounds.

MCR looks a lot like two beautiful rides nearby that I like a lot: it’s like the north side of Morgan Territory Road, but narrower and with smoother pavement (which are both good things); and it’s like Welch Creek Road but not nearly as steep (which is a good thing). Still, it’s an authentic climb—1400 ft in 4.5 miles, which averages out around 7%, but it’s harder than that sounds because it’s typically 8-10% for a while, then 3%, then 8-10%, in stair steps.

The landscape is mostly undeveloped—a couple of working farms and 4-5 gated mansions mostly hidden from view—and you’ll spend most of the ride in a beautiful oak canopy. The road ends at a locked gate, so expect to see no more than a car or two, but it’s a popular walking route for locals, so expect to share the road with lots of strollers later in the day on weekends.

(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37941549

I’ve mapped the ride from the base of the climb, but unless you live in the area you’ll probably start from the Fremont BART station. From the station to MCR is 4 miles of flat or slight incline through typical, not-unpleasant urban residential with good bike lanes—a perfect warm-up.

Mill Creek Road itself starts climbing immediately. The road is narrow enough that there are paved turn-outs to facilitate cars passing each other, and it’s never straight. It rolls up and down for a while before settling in to an extended climb, but still there’s a lot of variety in the pitch so you never get bored.

You pass a vineyard that catches you by surprise and immediately deadend at a gate, beyond which the road is unpaved. Whether you can continue on a gravel bike is uncertain—one sign reads “Entering regional park, no hunting or shooting,” which certainly implies you may proceed, but another sign reads “No public access.” You make the call. It appears to be the Mission Peak Regional Preserve, if that helps, and the second half of Mill Creek Road is its northern border.

The descent is a mixed bag. The top half (the section above the one hard 90-degree turn—easily seen on the route map) is much steeper than the bottom half, and rougher (not broken pavement, but lumpy), so it’s mostly braking and teeth-rattling. Below the hard turn, things are much better—the pitch is shallow enough that you can really rip it, the turns don’t require much braking, and the road surface, while still far from smooth, can be endured. In many places it’s literally breath-taking—I think it’s possible to get airborne in a place or two—and would be a best-of-Bestrides descent if they paved it properly. It’s a descent that’s much better the second time, because the first time you have to be cautious. So if there was ever a time when you did a ride twice, this is that time. Once you know the road, you can carry a lot of speed safely. You can top 30 mph without pressing at all, and that’s a lot on a curvy one-laner.

Afterthoughts:

There is no mill on this ride. Or on the other two Mill Creek Road rides in Bestrides.

I’ve received a couple of emails saying that this ride is unsafe for bikes, that riders have been killed, that it’s full of deadly snakes, that it’s been ruined by wildfires, and so on. As far as I can tell, it’s all lies (told by locals trying to discourage cyclists, I’m assuming), so I haven’t posted them.

Shortening the route: You’d think you’d have to be nuts to want to shorten a 4.5-mile route, but it turns out there’s some wisdom in doing exactly that. Since the road above the hard 90-degree turn is steeper and rougher that the road below it, coming down that top section isn’t much fun, so you might consider turning around at the turn and just riding the good stuff. An added bennie: you can now ride the good stuff twice.

Adding Miles: As I said, there’s really only one ride easily reachable by bike from MCR, Morrison Canyon Rd., which is short and a bit of a novelty. There’s wonderful riding to the south of you, if you’re willing to ride some miles on surface streets: (from north to south) Felter, Sierra (both discussed in the Sierra Road ride), and Mt. Hamilton, the last being 17 miles south of MCR.

San Francisco’s Wiggle Loop

Distance: 18.4-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1100 ft

A Best of the Best ride

This ride is one of the best rides in California and a Bucket List ride if there ever was one.  Like the Golden Gate Loop, it’s more a cultural experience than a bicycle ride.  It takes you on a non-stop Greatest Hits tour of most of San Francisco’s iconic landmarks—a rolling introduction to almost every spot on a visitor’s to-do list.  You’ll experience about ten of the City’s most charming neighborhoods.  You could easily crank out the route in under two hours, but you don’t want to do that—ride slow, look around, take it in, stop often.  Bring a lock, money, and walking shoes, put on your puncture-resistant tires (this is, after all, a city), and schedule as much time for the ride as you possibly can—five hours at a minimum.

Prepare for sensory overload.  In 19 miles you will ride by, among other things,

The Ferry Building
The Embarcadero
The Exploratorium
Coit Tower
Pier 39
Fisherman’s Wharf
The Maritime Museum
The Hyde St Pier of Historic Ships
The Hyde St. Cable car turn-around
The Buena Vista Cafe
Aquatic Park
Fort Mason
The Marina
The Marina Green
The St. Francis Yacht Club
Crissy Field
Fort Point
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Presidio
Sea Cliff
The Legion of Honor
Land’s End
Sutro Baths
The Cliff House
Ocean Beach
The Great Highway
Golden Gate Park
The Panhandle
The Painted Ladies
Market Street
City Hall
The Opera House
The Asian Museum

Any one of these is worth from an hour to a full day.  Good luck budgeting your time.  Since most of the landmarks are familiar images, I’ve used the photos in this post to show some of the less familiar sights along the route.

So how’s the riding?  It’s mostly flat, with two noticeable climbs (as you pass the Golden Gate Bridge and ascending to the Legion of Honor).  Yes, SF is famously hilly—17 streets in the City top out at 30% or more, but none of them is on this route.  You ride over roads, broken pavement, sidewalks, bike paths, bike lanes, glass, and lots of trolley and cable car tracks, and ride through hordes of pedestrians and tourists.  It’s a bit chaotic and nervous-making at times, though there are stretches of near isolation.  Best of all, SF is perhaps the most bike-friendly city in the United States, and thousands of cyclists are following this route in bits and pieces on any given day, so it’s well-marked and blessed with bike lanes—I wouldn’t encourage you to go otherwise.

By the way, the Wiggle is a zig-zag bicycle route through a 17-block stretch of town just before our route returns to Market St.
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Carquinez Loop

Distance: 24-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1700 ft

This loop is a classic Bay Area cycling club ride, and it offers a number of pleasures: a lovely, rambling section of the San Francisco Bay Trail, much of it closed to cars; two small, charming Bay Area communities and proximity to a third; a train; two grand bridge crossings over the Carquinez Strait, where the Sacramento River Delta empties into San Pablo Bay; two old urban cemeteries; a nice optional climb, and swell views of the Strait from every angle.  It’s mostly moderate up and down, neither easy nor hard (the Scenic Drive leg of the ride is 14 miles, 1370 ft of gain, out and back, for instance).  There are about 4 miles of unrewarding, rundown residential slog.  There is no reason why you can’t ride the loop in either direction, though everyone seems to go counter-clockwise.

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Del Puerto Canyon Road

Distance: 49 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 3200 ft (from RWGPS)

This is another of those “best in the area” rides—not a life-changing ride but one worth doing if you’re in the neighborhood.  It’s in the midst of a network of southeast Bay Area roads that cyclists ride all the time and which I find sterile and barren: Mines, San Antonio Valley, Tassajara, Highland, Altamont Pass.  All rolling grassy hills.  But in the midst of this desert is Del Puerto Canyon Road.

On a map it looks like it would be featureless like all the others, but it’s through a little canyon of considerable charm.   It winds niftily along a little creek (dry in summer), which means riparian plant life, canyon walls, lots of turns, and some shade.   It’s also predominantly next-to-flat  (the first 16 miles average 1-2%, and almost all the elevation gain is in the two miles before the summit), which the others aren’t, so it’s ideal for a day when you don’t want to work.   Where RWGPS gets that elevation gain total, I don’t know.  You can in fact control the effort precisely—the pitch goes from flat to imperceptible to moderate to steep, and you can just turn around when you’re worked as hard as you want to.

In addition, DPCR has one virtue that no other ride in Bestrides can claim: it’s 50 feet off Hwy 5, so from now on when you’re making that tedious drive from SoCal to NorCal or vice versa you can pull off midway and do a refreshing little out-and-back on the bike.

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Purissima Creek Road

Distance: 8.3 miles one way
Elevation gain: 550 ft

The San Francisco Peninsula has a spine running down its center.  On the east side of the spine is Palo Alto, Silicon Valley, Stanford, and a crush of people.  On the west side is a lot of deep, dark woods, open rolling hillsides sloping to the ocean, and the laid-back hamlets of Half Moon Bay and Pescadero.  It’s one of my favorite areas of California, and the stretch of Hwy 1 along there (Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz) is second only to Mendocino in my book.  There are few roads on that western slope, but what’s there is great riding.  Bestrides has two rides in the area, this one and Pescadero/Tunitas Creek Road.  P/TCR is a epic adventure; this one is a little jewel.

This is an easy, perfect little rambling climb and descent that winds sweetly through all the classic features of the region: small, hand-tended fields of row crops set off by the local black earth, unpretentious horse or dairy farms, rolling coastal hills, eucalyptus groves, and a few redwoods.  The tiny road’s contour is constantly varied and interesting, the road surface is good, and there’s nothing up there except a few homes and  the largely unknown Purissima Redwoods Open Space Preserve, so you should have the place to yourself.  It rides equally well in either direction (a bit harder clockwise).  The route is one continuous road, but it has a different name at each end—it’s Purissima Creek Rd. at the south end, Higgins Canyon Rd. at the other.  Midway through the ride you pass by the Preserve, a nice place to hike if you brought walking shoes.  It’s a little harder than Mapmyride thinks it is (I clocked 1010 ft of vert), and you’ll do one noticeable climb, but it’s still about as easy as it gets.

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Mt. Hamilton

Distance: 36 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4750 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

(Note 2021: Lick Observatory is closed due to Covid, though there reportedly is a water refill source near the gate.)

This is a grande dame of a ride, one of the three iconic climbs in the Bay Area—Hamilton, Mt. Tam, and Diablo.  It’s quite long—18.2 miles one way, all but a mile or so significantly up.  It’s much more sustained climbing than either of the other two icons, and it’s considerably over our 100 ft/mile benchmark for climbing difficulty.  Still, it’s easier than the numbers make it look.  When they built the Lick Observatory at the summit, starting in 1876, they needed to haul massive equipment up the road by mule, so they had to make the road at a shallow enough pitch that the mules could handle it.  So it’s a constant 5-7%—not a moment of 8% in the whole 36 miles.  And there are two nice descents along the way up to rest your legs.  Nevertheless, it’s work, just because there’s so much of it. You’ll be climbing, with two brief breaks, for something like 3 hours.

The route is all through pretty East Bay oak-strewn hills, and the road contour is constantly rewarding (endless serpentining) after the first couple of miles.  The vistas of San Jose, the southern end of SF Bay, and lands to the south start out grand and get more incredible as you ascend.  The descent used to be hampered by poor pavement, but the road from the observatory to Grant Park has just (in 2021) been repaved and now it’s all flawless and world-class.  And the observatory at the top is simply fascinating. All in all, a bucket-list ride, marred only by the fact that 16 miles of essentially unaltered 6% climbing gets a little monotonous.

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