Category Archives: Backroads

Bicycle Getaways: The San Francisco Riviera

When most people think of traveling by bike they think of bicycle touring, where you carry everything you need to be self-sufficient for long distances: clothing, sleeping bag, tent, cookware. Like backpacking on wheels. Or perhaps “credit card” touring, where you skip the camping and stay in motels or hostels. Or supported tours, where guides plan your route and vehicles carry your gear (and you too, if you don’t want to ride that day).


When Dick and I bought our touring bikes last year, we didn’t really have a plan. I suspected we’d set out for credit card type tours, and we still may. But so far, our overnight bike trips don’t fit any of these models. I would call them “bicycle getaways”: 2-4 day trips, more urban than most touring trips, using transit to increase our travel ranges, and with luxury accommodations. Ideally a hotel with a fuzzy robes and great restaurants nearby.

Breakfast in Bed

So far, we’ve done four bicycle getaways: two to Sacramento, one to San Francisco, and one I planned recently for Dick’s birthday. Instead of giving birthday gifts, we have a tradition of going away for a short trips. Dick’s birthday being close to Thanksgiving makes things challenging. Airports and highways are full of holiday travelers and after nine years together we’d already visited all the closer spots. I was running out of ideas.

Then I thought of Tiburon, a small town on the north end of San Francisco Bay that along with neighboring Sausalito and Belvedere Island make up what’s affectionately called the San Francisco Riviera. I was sold.

Like our other bike getaways, the train made it easy to ride from home. Caltrain got us to San Francisco, then it was less than 30 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge and around the bay to Tiburon. We had our bikes available for a Marin day trip the next day, then home was just a ferry ride and train ride away. No holiday traffic like a driving trip would be, and more luxury than a full-on touring trip. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Where have you ever done loaded toured with your bike? Did you go hardcore with fully-loaded touring or did you “credit card” it for a lighter load?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Trip Details: Starting from home in Mountain View, we traveled this route for a total 165 miles: 80 miles by train, 75 by bike, 10 by ferry. Transportation costs: $29 ($11 for Dick’s train pass, $18 for ferry, free bike parking at hotel). Hotel: Water’s Edge. Restaurants: Capurro’s (SF), Caprice, Sam’s Cafe and Boathouse (Tiburon).

Tiburon Trip Map


Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Backroads, Travel


Peak of the Month: The Bayway to San Bruno Mtn

There are peaks like Mt. Diablo and Mt Tamalpais that are destination rides for cyclists from all over the Bay Area. There are peaks like Twin Peaks that are destination drives for tourists from all over the world. Then there are peaks like San Bruno Mountain that are largely ignored, despite their impressive views of the bay and coast.

The name doesn’t help. San Bruno the city is your basic working town: more grit that glamor, more substance than style. And the peak’s principal landmark is a Hollywood-style sign that proclaims “The Industrial City.” So it was only fitting that the route for this month’s peak ride explored the grittier side of the Peninsula, the often-abused land along San Francisco Bay, the home of garbage dumps, heavy industry and even a county jail.

Located just south of San Francisco, San Bruno Mountain is 40 or so miles north of Mountain View so we planned to ride from there and take Caltrain back. The route was loosely based on the “Bayway” route that the San Francisco to Google (SF2G) long distance commuters take every day.

None of us had ridden the complete route before, but we were able to piece it together without too many stops and no wrong-way detours. In addition to the grittier side, our route along the bay offered well-built bike paths sandwiched between the freeway and the bay, the headquarters of high-tech and biotech giants, jets landing and taking off, a multitude of bridges and fewer joggers and dog walkers than I expected.

The ascent up San Bruno Mountain was relatively short, relatively steep in a few places, with views of the city and the bay, Twin Peaks and Mt Diablo. And like all respectable peaks, it had more than its fair share of aging radio towers. We dropped down the ocean side into the fog, whistled quickly through the graveyards of Colma and managed to find something decent to eat in the industrial city at the base of an underrated peak.

Do you have favorite routes that you consider scenic in an non-traditional way? What is it about the routes that appeals to you?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Posted by on October 21, 2012 in Backroads


Peak of the Month: Rising Above It All on Twin Peaks

If you draw a big X spanning the four corners of San Francisco, at the crossing point would be a pair of peaks rising above all others, a remarkable distinction in a city famously known for its hills. But unlike Mt Tamalpais to the North and Mt Diablo to the East, these Twin Peaks fail to rise above 1000 feet of elevation. Despite their modest height, conquering these twin peaks was still a challenge that we could not resist.

The challenge was its urban setting, which meant our 52 mile route included over 10 miles on a gritty shoulder of a fast four lane highway, then navigating across an unfamiliar city in hopes of avoiding aggressive drivers. We’re suburban roadies, not hipsters on fixies, so we were a little out of our comfort zone. We adapted quickly.

At least the weather cooperated. An exceptionally hot day down in Silicon Valley translated into pleasant temperatures and minimal fog on the ocean-exposed ridge leading to the western side of the city. Developers named this district the Sunset despite the fact that sunsets are obscured by fog more days than not.

The payoff for our efforts was the clear view of the complete 47 square miles that make up San Francisco city and county, the ocean and bay that surround it, and even Mt Diablo and Mt Tam off in the distance. And for once, it wasn’t cold and windy at the top so we could relax and take in the view of a beautifully unique city.

How comfortable are you riding on big city streets? On the shoulder of fast busy highways? When have you ridden out of your comfort zone? Was it harder or easier than expected?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Posted by on August 14, 2012 in Backroads


Peak of the Month Club: Tourists on Mt Tamalpais

It’s July now, which in San Francisco means two things: hoards of tourists and rolling banks of fog. That is, shivering tourists spilling over from Fisherman’s Wharf across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin to visit the quaint town of Sausalito, the tall trees of Muir Woods and mighty Pacific Coast at Stinson Beach.

If we had thought harder about it, we might have chosen another month to tackle Mt Tamalpais, but we were already behind in our Peak of the Month Challenge and Mt Tam is a popular destination climb. And as Bay Area suburbanites we are tourists too, albeit better prepared for the fog than visitors from back East or overseas.

In an attempt to get out ahead of said tourists, who have the natural advantage of jet lag, we drove up to the city and rolled out before 9am, the time that weather report said the fog would lift. It didn’t. The fog didn’t clear until as we dropped down into the town of Sausalito, but it stayed clear for our 10 mile climb up Mt Tam.

In contrast, the tourist traffic didn’t clear until we were near the top, making the ride more hectic than usual. Cars and shuttle buses filled with tourists bound for Muir Woods and Stinson Beach roared past, leaving scant space on the edge of the road for us. I worried that my friends doubted my route choice.

But we did meet a tourist that wasn’t whizzing by in a vehicle, a man from Copenhagen riding up the mountain on a time trial bike. He stopped to chat us up and expressed his appreciation for American women riding the backroads. “Not so many women on the road in Denmark,” he said. “It’s great!”

As the traffic petered out and our legs tired, the road kicked up for the final steep assault between the twin peaks of Mt Tamalpais. From the top, the view of San Francisco Bay below was much appreciated, even if it was obscured by a marshmallow blanket of fog. We had conquered our second peak, we were sitting in the warm sun, and we had cold drinks and junk food from the snack bar. A heavenly reward.

After that it was (almost) all downhill, which means some sweet twisty descending and less concern about car traffic since we were moving at their speed. Strong and buffeting winds on the Golden Gate Bridge made the final few miles back more intense than expected, but it didn’t spoil our excitement. We celebrated in the parking lot with the most important question: “Mission accomplished on Mt Tam. What’s next?”

What’s next on your challenge list for the summer? Are you on target or are vacations getting in the way?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Posted by on July 11, 2012 in Backroads


Peak of the Month Club: The Devil in Mt Diablo

During his 1923 fund-raising tour, George Leigh Mallory was frequently asked what drove him to climb Mt Everest. His standard answer: “Because it’s there.”

The allure of climbing to new heights is not restricted to mountaineers, as I learned during one of our post-ride feasts. “I’ve never climbed Mt Diablo.” “I’ve never climbed Mt Tam.” “I’ve never climbed Mt Hamilton.” “I’ve never climbed any of them.” So marked the birth of the “Peak of the Month Club.” The goal: ascend all the major peaks in the Bay Area and a bit beyond. First on the list for April: Mt Diablo.

Rising over 3800 feet from its base smack dab in the middle of Contra Costa County, Mt Diablo is visible from almost everywhere in the Bay Area. That’s why in 1852 the US Coast and Geodetic Survey chose Mt Diablo as the base point for the north/south and east/west meridians used to establish land boundaries in most of Northern California and all of Nevada. Mt Diablo may not be the center of California, but it is of our maps.

Today it’s Diablo’s never-ending vistas that draws most people to drive up the narrow winding road to its peak. But for cyclists, it’s the hard work of climbing up 3200 feet in 11 miles with a brutal 16% grade for the last 150-yards that draws intrepid riders. For me, the view at the top is just a mid-ride treat. The long winding descent with expansive views the whole way down is my sweetest reward.

Why do we climb challenging peaks? Is it simply because they’re there? I think Mallory gave a better answer later: “What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”

What adventures bring you sheer joy? What do you live for?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Backroads, Local History


100 Miles of Fortitude

When you ride 100 miles over rolling terrain there are bound to be ups and downs. At mile 12, in fog so cold you can’t feel your fingers, you wonder why you paid good money for this. At mile 65, with the sun bearing down, you wonder if there’s room in your jersey pockets for your jacket, arm warmers, knee warmers and headband. At mile 24, a peanut butter sandwich is an elixir from the gods. At mile 82, you swear you’ll never eat it again.

At mile 54, there are seven flats amongst 10 riders and you wonder if the group has enough spare tubes for the remaining 36 miles. Yet no one flats for the rest of the day. At mile 60 a rider struggles to hang in the pace line, then gets a second wind and flies up the last 1000 foot climb starting at mile 80. This is how our group of 10 hardy women rolled at the Solvang Century.

A century bicycle ride is like a cross-country trip condensed into a single day. Comedy and tragedy, pain and joy, and long stretches of sheer boredom, all begun and finished between sunrise and sunset. You don’t doubt that you’ll finish, but you know not to look too far ahead ’cause it’s a freaking long way and it won’t be all sunshine and tailwinds.

But when it is, it’s a amazing, beautiful experience. And when it’s over and you and your friends have achieved your goal, you really don’t even care that the clouds have rolled back in. We met the challenge of the Solvang Century and we emerged victorious.

How do you handle the ups and downs of life? What helps you keep calm and carry on?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Posted by on March 13, 2012 in Backroads


A Craving to Traverse Mountains

Of the two old-fashioned ways to get a horse up a hill–the carrot and the stick–I prefer the carrot, especially when the carrot is a big sweet flaky pastry. For this week’s Solvang training, Rachel suggested riding over the hills to the beach town of Capitola. I jumped at the chance since Capitola is home to Gayle’s Bakery, the mother of all bakeries with an expansive case filled with every pastry imaginable, even King Cake for Mardi Gras.

But first we had to earn it. Katie and I started near her home in Los Gatos, climbing the hard-packed dirt on the Los Gatos Creek Trail (we cleaned the steep part!) to the Lexington Reservoir where we met the rest of the crew. From there it was a mild climb up Old Santa Cruz Highway, a roll along the ridge on Summit Road, and a fast descent down Soquel-San Jose Road to the bakery. Gayle’s Bakery delivered the sweet decadence as promised, then we took a slow cruise along the coast so our stomachs could recover before the long climb back.

What’s deceiving about a ride across the Santa Cruz Mountains is the expectation that you’ve done half the work when you reach the coast. In truth, the climb back is longer, often steeper and you’re doing it on tired legs. Our route back was Mountain Charlie Road, an old toll road built in the 1850s by Irish immigrant Charles McKiernan to connect San Jose to Santa Cruz. As a stage coach road, the grade is painfully steep in sections (13-18%), but flattens out between to let the horses rest. Or in our case, to let our legs rest.

Where some backroads are merely quiet and scenic, Mountain Charlie is a remote, well-shaded route that opens up to expansive views. If you look past the asphalt and mailboxes, it’s easy to imagine you’re back in the 1850s when Mountain Charlie built his redwood log cabin, cut the road to ship deer meat to the bustling port of Alviso, and was attacked by a grizzly protecting her cubs. He survived and lived to a ripe old age with a metal plate covering his damaged face. We don’t face such dangers today since the grizzly was killed off in this area. Now it’s just cars and I only remember passing one during the five mile climb.

Mountain Charlie wasn’t the only tough-guy Charlie in these mountains. One-Eyed Charley Parkhurst was a scrappy stage coach driver who traversed the San Jose-Santa Cruz route, plus many more in the California gold country. When shoeing a horse in Redwood City on his San Francisco-San Jose route, the horse kicked him in the face, costing him an eye. He eventually retired in Aptos and developed mouth cancer from a heavy chewing tobacco habit. It was only after he died that the truth was discovered–Charley was a woman.

What drives you to cross mountains? The reward at the end of the journey? Or the challenge of conquering the less-traveled path?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Posted by on February 19, 2012 in Backroads, Local History

Jubilo! The Emancipation Century

African Americans in the 19th Century: Slavery, Resistance, Abolition, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and the Nadir

Granola Shotgun

Stories About Urbanism, Adaptation, and Resilience

Fit Is a Feminist Issue

Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health

madeonmyfingers and design

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

The Independent Bike Blog

A blog for bike shops

The Tusk

Drunk on truth to stupid baby power.


A fine site


Living the urban/bicycle life

South Bay Streetscape

Exploring Santa Clara County's urban limits

I'm Jame :)

what's on my mind: food, fashion, marketing, cities, tech & more

Let's Go Ride a Bike

Adventures in city cycling

The Backpack Objective

Exploring with kids in the outdoors and in homeschool

Shop by Bike

How and where to shop by bike in Silicon Valley, California

The Empowerment of the Silent Sisterhood

The blog of the Beautiful You MRKH Foundation

Fix The Toaster

Nearly 32,000 Americans die in car crashes annually. 80% of car crashes are PREVENTABLE. If the TOASTER was killing that many people we'd think it was ridiculous. We'd un-plug it and say, let's Fix The Toaster.

%d bloggers like this: