Tunnel Road/Claremont Ave. Loop

Distance: 10-mile loop
Elevation gain: 1240 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

This little loop is, pound for pound, one of the most rewarding rides you’ll find anywhere. Its riches just keep coming: a lovely 4-mile climb on a small, winding road with almost no traffic, views of the 8-lane freeway far below you, the remnants of a historic tunnel through the mountain, several examples of “space-age” architecture, astonishing views of the entire central Bay (Oakland, San Francisco, Alameda, The Golden Gate, Alcatraz, Mt. Tamalpais, Angel Island, and so on), a breath-taking descent on glassy new pavement, and a world-class bakery at the finale.

There is a climbing pitch that is right between easy and hard. You know you’re climbing, you’re doing some work, but you aren’t suffering. You’re thinking, “Hey, climbing is fun!” and “I’m really climbing well today!” It’s about 4-5%. That’s what the Tunnel Road climb is like. Nothing to brag about but tons of fun.

This is a ride you don’t want to ride backwards (clockwise), because doing so replaces the great descent with a lousy one and replaces the moderate climb with a lot of 10-12% stuff.

The loop overlaps our Grizzly Peak Blvd/Redwood Rd. ride for 4.5 miles, so it’s an easy add-on to that ride.

(To see the map in a more user-friendly format, clip on the drop-down menu in the RWGPS box in the upper R and select “map.”)

We start and end our loop, as all good loops should do, in front of a killer bakery: Fournée on Domingo Ave., a tiny block in the shadow of the unmistakable Claremont Hotel. Before or after the ride, sample the almond croissant and die of pleasure.

Tunnel Road

From Fournée, ride the remaining 60 ft of Domingo Ave. and at the intersection turn L onto Tunnel Rd. (busy but with a very luxurious bike lane). You will now climb for 5.4 miles without pause.  At the first big intersection, go L onto Tunnel Road. This turn is hectic and confusing, with multi-lane traffic going every which way, so it’s best to look at a map ahead of time.  Ride Tunnel for a stone’s throw and take the first L onto the tiny (30 ft.) connector by which Tunnel jogs L, then R (the road you are leaving is here renamed Caldecott Lane). Stay on Tunnel through the L and R turns.

Hwy 24 below you with the Caldecott Tunnel entrances in the distance

Continue up Tunnel Rd. (which changes its name to Skyline Blvd halfway up) for 4 miles until it intersects Grizzly Peak Blvd. It’s a mellow, meandering, delightful climb, and the only car traffic you should see is a few locals.   Hwy 24, the main connector between Berkeley and Orinda in the valley to the east, is running alongside and below you, and you get some good views of it and the Caldecott Tunnel ahead of you where the 8 lanes of Hwy 24 disappear into 2 huge black holes.

Halfway up the climb, Bay Forest Dr. takes off to the L (clearly signed), the road bends R and changes its name to Skyline (I think there’s a sign), and there’s a prominent tree on your L that almost seems to stand in the roadway. Beneath the tree are two historical plaques and there’s a large dirt pull-out behind it. Stop here and read the plaques. You’re standing at the mouth of the Kennedy Tunnel—you can see a dug-out spot in the hillside right beside you where the tunnel adit was. The tunnel opened in 1903 and was rendered obsolete by the modern Caldecott Tunnel. It’s why the road you’re on is called Tunnel Road. The modern-day tunnel is directly beneath your feet. Try to feel the thousands of cars passing below you (you can’t).

Skyline, which is a percent steeper than Tunnel, returns you to Grizzly Peak Blvd.  There are some nearly-comical examples of “modern” home architecture along Skyline, houses that look like a James Bond villain might live there. There are several splendid views of the Bay off to your R, and you have my permission to admire them, but the views from GPB are better so save some awe.

From the Skyline/GPB intersection the ride duplicates the route of our Grizzly Peak Blvd to Redwood Rd. ride. Go L on GPB, which continues to climb at an easy rate for a while, then rolls. The Bay views along this leg are world-famous—I don’t know any views anywhere to top them.

San Francisco from Grizzly Peak Blvd.—double-click on photo to enlarge

The first noticeable L is Claremont Ave. It’s a stop sign at a usually busy intersection at the bottom of the first brisk descent of the route. You’ll probably need to come to a complete stop. Take Claremont to the L and enjoy a ripping, screaming, curving descent on perfect surface (for its first half anyway) that’s often dishing out 10-12% pitches. You have to back off a little on the second half, since the surface deteriorates, the sightlines get worse, intersecting streets proliferate, and the car and foot traffic increases, but it’s all exhilarating. Roll along the back side of the Claremont Hotel and return to Domingo St., Fournée, and your well-earned almond croissant.

Shortening the route: You really can’t. Neither Tunnel Road nor Claremont Ave. is a viable out-and-back.

Adding miles: Since you’re overlapping the Grizzly Peak Blvd./Redwood Road ride for 4.5 miles, you can do the rest of that ride. See the Adding Miles section of that ride post for other riding options nearby.

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