Multi-modal, Mixed-terrain Bike Adventure

Caltrain from MV

One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is the network of (mostly) connected public transit you can use to get to a ride or finish a ride. Integrating public transit into your ride has some great benefits:

  • It’s easier to do point-to-point rides
  • You can skip over the portions that are less bike friendly
  • You can push your limits a bit and still have a bail-out option
  • And, of course, you can leave the car at home

Two of the great enablers are the Clipper Card which allows you to take just about every type of transit in the Bay Area without taking any cash and Google Maps on your smartphone which helps you find the next transit option.

And surprisingly, transit helps mountain bike riders and not just roadies. Sure, you can’t catch a bus up to Skyline and Demo but light rail goes to Santa Teresa, Alum Rock and Campbell which puts you within a short pedal of some decent trails. I’ve also taken Caltrain to Belmont and pedaled the 1.5 miles to Waterdog.

When we lived in the UK for a couple years we used the extensive rail network on a few multi-day loops and more frequently on day rides. Sometimes it was just to get in a bit of variety and other times it was to get back home after we got caught in the all-too-frequent downpours. When we moved to Mountain View, one of our reasons to pay the extra rent was the easy access to 2 different rail transit options and the 22 bus going up and down El Camino Real which means we aren’t so reliant on the car.

My old friend Andy introduced us to the Caltrain, Golden Gate Bridge, Mt Tamalpais, Tiburon dirt loop with return to SF via ferry. Starting a ride like this with a sunny-day pedal along the Embarcadero with views of the Bay Bridge and a crossing of the Golden Gate would make any tourist jealous. It gets even better once you hit the dirt in the Marin Headlands and make your way to Mt. Tam. The trails aren’t very technical, with the vast majority being fireroads, but the scenery is as good as you can hope to get so close to such a dense urban area.

I did a variant of the Mt Tam ride the other weekend with my target destination being the Gestalt Haus pub in Fairfax. It has to be one of the most bike-friendly places in the Bay Area with bike parking INSIDE, a range of quality beers on tap and reasonably-priced food off the grill.

GH inside

I also thought my new route (carefully mapped out on might be a bit easier since it didn’t climb all the way to the top of Mt. Tam. The stats said it would be 5000 feet of climbing but that COULDN’T be right could it?

My day started off with a quick ride to downtown Mountain View for a cup of coffee before I caught the first train North. There were a surprising amount of other cyclists on the train at this hour – maybe everyone had a big day planned.

I always like the first transit ride on any trip. Whether for a day trip or a month away there is a feeling of possibilities and excitement and never being completely certain what will happen. I arrived in SF just after 8:30 and was a bit surprised to find sunny skies and warm temperatures so early. All I needed was a light jacket for my pedal along the Embarcadero which was an easy cruise with just a few tourists at this early hour.

Bay Bridge fog

A huge cruise ship was docked just a bit further up the Embarcadero disgorging it’s thousands of customers into a long line of taxis that were idling in the bike lane. Not too much of a problem as I was going by but I had to wonder – when does ‘Bike Lane’ mean Bikes Only – just when it’s convenient?

taxis in bike lane

After this it’s a pleasant cruise through Fisherman’s Wharf, then Maritime Park where the swimmers are always out early and then the little climb through Fort Mason where I get my first view of Mt Tam seemingly a long way away.

Mt Tam across the bay

I had a brief second thought about the trip but considered what was waiting for me at Gestalt Haus, the perfect weather and the snowstorm my family was experiencing back East so I rode on towards Crissy Field. This was the first time I had ever done this ride alone so it was nice to stop wherever I wanted and not worry about time. I read a lot of the signs and stopped a bit longer than usual at every overlook.

Headlands view

The Golden Gate Bridge crossing is always spectacular and since cyclists are on the West side you get a view of ocean and wild lands that the pedestrians on the other side don’t get to enjoy as easily. Soon I”m across the bridge and up the road into the Marin headlands. Fairly stiff first climb of the day but hard to notice my effort with the view of the Pacific and the coast wrapping around to the South. Where the climb levels out I get my first taste of dirt on a downhill fireroad that’s fun and a little loose on the cyclocross bike. A great feeling since I know I’ll be on dirt for several hours now before returning to pavement just above Fairfax. Bottoming out in the first valley I have a view of green hills and lots of Poppies. Marin had a pretty good rainfall a few weeks back when the Peninsula got very little and the green hills and wildflowers are the evidence.


After a 15 minute fireroad climb out of the Valley I hit a little bit of singletrack and at the exact spot where I planned to take a short break I notice that my rear tire is going flat. Not a bad place to fix a tire

flat repair with a view

From here I dropped into Tennessee Valley and just to the North I got great views of the Coast

coast north of Tennessee Valley

followed by some steep roller coaster climbs as I ascended to about 2000 feet on the West flank of Mt. Tam. Then it was a fast, steep descent towards Fairfax with views to the North with San Pablo Bay just barely visible looking East

Almost in Fairfax

And then suddenly I was at quiet and very still Lake Lagunitas


and from there I had just a bit more dirt until I was in Fairfax.

There might not be a much more welcome site after a long day in the saddle


I had about 2 hours to hang out in Fairfax since the Larkspur ferries don’t run as frequently in the off-season so I enjoyed a couple of beers and a large Kielbasa piled high with sauerkraut. My day could have happily ended here but I still had a flat 7 mile pedal ahead and the 30 minute crossing back to SF. The Larkspur ferry is absolutely worth the price of admission with views of Tiburon, Angel Island, San Quentin, Alcatraz and seemingly the entire Bay Area on this sparkling day.

ferry view

At the SF ferry building with still an hour to wait for the ferry to Oakland so I decided to take BART to meet my honey and the rest of her group in time for dinner.

So that gave me 3 different transit modes and about 42 miles of mixed terrain goodness for the day. And best of all, my mini-vacation helped me see the Bay Area in a whole new light.

What about you? Do you have any favorite transit-supported rides?



Another Great Flow Trail Build Day


I went up for my second build day at the Soquel Demo Forest to work on the Flow Trail. MTBR sponsored the event and got the word out and there must have been 60 volunteers. The photo above shows the crew just downhill from us working on the berm for a 180 degree turn.

Below is a section of trail we worked on during the day. Very satisfying to get to a section of trail that isn’t rideable in the morning and seeing it get sculpted and shaped and almost ready to ride. I only wish I could see so much progress in a few hours at my day job

sculpted trail

Patty Ciesla started things off in the parking lot and she got the ‘Jesus Light’ treatment. Must be a sign that we’re doing the right thing


One of the things I like about working in the forest is seeing some unusual equipment. Pictured below is a hydraulic conveyor that the guys cutting firewood use to get the logs from where they are cutting up to the road.


Then there is the powered wheelbarrow that is sized perfectly for tight singletrack. It runs on rubber tank tracks so can go just about anywhere


Very satisfying day of work and great to see passionate riders out there giving back to the sport for others to enjoy. And big thanks to for sponsoring both days of the weekend!

New commute needs a new bike

I just changed jobs and the new commute is shorter and uglier. Rather than the ride I was doing that was mostly along the Bay going from Mountain View to Menlo Park, I now go South into the industrial bowels of Sunnyvale (industrial on a Silicon Valley scale that is). So rather than a mostly quiet and mind-clearing (my wife says emptying) ride through Shoreline Park and along the Bay trail I’ve been taking Evelyn then cutting over to Arques. The other option is Central Expressway but that’s basically riding on the shoulder of a freeway as far as I can tell so I don’t think I’ll be doing that.

Since I have showers and a gym at the new job I can now sprint to work whereas I used to have to avoid sweating. Plus, when I get to the gym I’m all warmed up and ready to tackle that goal of bench pressing 1/2 my body weight (hey, I’m a cyclist!). So the new commute had me thinking of either changing my MTB fixie conversion/town bike to make it faster or figuring out another option. I’m lucky enough to have quite a few serviceable parts around since I’m a part hoarder and I need to maintain bikes for my wife (she also races a bit) and me.

That’s my red fixie in the picture below

red bike with blue bike

The great thing about my MTB fixie conversion is that NOBODY IN HIS RIGHT MIND WILL STEAL IT. I still lock it but it’s not desirable at all like the true fixies you see around. And even if someone parted it out on ebay the parts fit in that nice niche where they are too new to be ‘vintage’ and too old to be ‘modern’. So the downside of retiring that bike is that I might have to worry about the new bike getting pinched. I had a thought that I could convert my old Trek road frame to fixed. So before I went too far, I thought about what I really wanted and came up with this list of features:

  • Fast
  • Able to mount a rear rack
  • Not too desirable for theft
  • Fender mounting option
  • Low maintenance

A fixed gear conversion fits this list pretty well. With skinny 700c tires and tall gearing it would be fast. The Trek frame has sufficient eyelets and other bits to mount a rack and fenders. It might be a bit more of a target for thieves but I didn’t really expect it. I was excited about this option. As efficient as bikes are, one of the areas that is still sub-optimum is the drivetrain. It really hasn’t changed that much since the first derailleur was developed and is due for a design breakthrough. Shift cables need frequent adjustment and get sticky and dirty in wet weather and the shifting performance goes south quickly. If I could avoid having to change gears, I’d still have my low maintenance bike.

However, when I started to shop around for the bits to convert my vertical dropout frame to fixed, I was shocked to find that the cheapest option was about $150. And for that kind of money I could just buy a basic steel track frame. And no, don’t even get me started on using a ghost ring for chain tensioning.

ghost ring

So I had to rethink this. I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money. And, one must admit, the rear derailleur is a mechanical device of great beauty. Plus it is even quiet when tuned well. The front derailleur on the other hand is a compromise. None of the beauty of the little jockey wheels and the exposed parallelogram linkage of the rear derailleur – just a couple of metal plates to push the chain to either side. You don’t really shift the chain on the front chainrings you DERAIL it. The large difference in the number of teeth between small and large chainrings is such a big jump that it can’t be anything but clunky. And you’re prone to dropping the chain if things go too far out of adjustment. So I would build up my old Trek with a single front chainring and use a 9 speed mountain bike cassette on the rear. That would give me a huge range so I could toodle to work on lazy days or drop it down into the small cogs for some good top-end speed for my bike lane sprints. And jettisoning the front derailleur gave me the bit of the simplicity I was looking for.

So over to the parts bin to see what I had. Amazingly I had almost everything – even some nice new bar tape to finish the job. Over a few hours of the long weekend I built it up, took it for a little shakedown ride and had my first commute on it last week. And it was FAST. Well it is a road bike so it should be. But even better, it has already made me think about some other changes I want to make…I just hope I have the parts.

Trek 9 speed

Soquel Demonstration Forest Flow Trail Build Day

Walk to the site

Really great to actually get some digging time at the Flow Trail! I had seen the plans but had not seen the trail until Saturday when I went out for the first official volunteer trail building day. A lot of work had already been done to machine-cut the trail but there is still more on tap to shape the trail and provide good drainage. When it’s all done we’ll have 4 miles of berms, rollers and other features to keep us entertained. It’s great to see this happening for Mountain Bikers.

Seeing ~35 volunteers turn out was impressive and we had a large selection of tools to pick from:


I was told that over 30 volunteer crew leaders had been trained over the last few months. The crew leaders for my team were Robert and my old friend Norm. After a safety discussion we grabbed a selection of tools and walked down to our section of trail where we discussed the work we had to do for the day.

That’s Norm on the left and Robert on the right at our lunch break. In the middle was Dirk who was another volunteer.

Lunch Break

The Stewards of Soquel Forest sponsored the workday which meant they had plenty of good food and drink both before and after our effort.

And we had 3 trail dogs along to entertain us. I didn’t get the name of this little fella but he was having a good time and those little legs of his were working overtime.

Mutant Dog

Keep an eye out on if you would like to help out on the next dig day on March 8 & 9

MTB riders really shouldn’t use @Strava

Trail Closed to Bikes

So I know some of us ride illegal (I call them undocumented) trails. I don’t advocate it but I understand it. In many communities even skateboarders get more love than the lowly mountain bike rider. Look at the proliferation of skateparks that allow skaters to do their sport the way they want and to progress it. There are few examples of similar public agency support for MTB riders so I understand the frustration – I was young once.

So now that is said, what if I told those people riding undocumented trails to do the following right after every single ride:

  • Call the local Sierra Club chapter and tell them where you rode
  • Let all your Facebook friends know, too
  • Email the local land manager – she is interested, too
  • Since your at it, tweet the cops

Give them information like: number of riders, your speed and don’t forget to let them know about any new trails you found.

Sound ridiculous? Nobody would ever do that, right? Well, every time you upload your ride on an undocumented trail that is what you have done.

So here are the new rules:

  • Ride open trails only and use Strava
  • Otherwise turn off your tracking device and don’t give the people who work against MTB access ammunition

Simple, huh?

And on the subject of using ‘handles’ on Strava rather than your real name –  it may protect YOU (probably not) but it doesn’t protect the SPORT. Don’t be your own worst enemy.