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 ridewithgps.com) 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.

Poppies

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

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

GH

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?

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Multi-modal, Mixed-terrain Bike Adventure

  1. I love taking Caltrain to Belmont to ride the trails at Water Dog. I love taking Caltrain to San Francisco to ride around the bay and across the Golden Gate. I love taking the Capitol Corridor Amtrak to Berkeley or Sacramento for the weekend. Bikes + trains were made for each other.

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