Distance: 12-mile sloppy figure eight
Elevation gain: 1640 ft
(A Best of the Best ride)
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, and a ripping 18% descent you don’t have to climb back up. 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. Conzelman Road itself is named after Lt. Col. Clair Conzelman, a decorated soldier who was captured by the Japanese in World War II and died in captivity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.