Road Bike Rides Out and Back

Mt. Tamalpias

Experience the Bay Area’s dead ends

The San Francisco Bay Area is full of great road bike routes: long loops that even include a 200-kilometer circle of the Bay. Around the Bay are also various out-and-back dead ends that can be ridden not to go past somewhere but to arrive at a place knowing you must return the same way. Most of these are uphill, with every pedal upward to be traded later for a glide downward. Panoramic views missed while pressing up become a scenic backdrop to a braking descent.

Marin County

Two roads meet in Mt. Tamalpais State Pak before a three-mile ridge route turns eastward toward the peak. The combined road climbs only a couple hundred feet and provides a terrific view of San Francisco, when the fog doesn’t blanket the area. Bike touring below near the ocean, you could venture into mysterious Bolinas, hidden two miles off Highway 1, passing Bo’s Bike Shop (no relation) before pavement meets beach sand.

Napa & Solano Counties

Inland are two generally unheralded but also lightly traveled out-and-back climbs. Atlas Peak outside Napa and Twin Sisters Peak near Cordelia are both rigorous challenges but without ultimate payoffs as both roads stop short of their respective summits. Atlas Peak Rd. is a ten-mile stretch that reaches to the Sutro Ranch gate and Twin Sisters Rd. lass only two miles until it abuts an archery club.

Contra Costa County

Across the delta, the out-and-back Summit Rd. up Mt. Diablo does not stop short, however, the five-mile road terminal provides a whole world vista from a greystone observation tower at the end of an 18 percent gasp.

Far below beginning in flatland Alamo is a two-mile heart thumper named Castle Crest, with a half-mile 16 percent upward crawl curving up the steep ridge.

Alameda County

Far southward down the I-680 corridor, off Calaveras Ave. past Sunol, is scenic four mile Welch Rd., which steadily climbs through a laurel tree forest to the upper grassland hilltops with ranch estates and broad views.

Santa Clara County

Out of San Jose, the 19 mile road up Mt. Hamilton serves as an out-and-back for most Bay Area bikers (although the road actually continues eastward to Livermore). Five miles from the top is Kincaid Rd., which most summit-seeking bicyclists push past. For those who already have plenty of peak-bags, the six-mile-long Kincaid offers new terrain, including a 7 percent descent attained at a price later on the way back.
Out of Morgan Hill, the ten mile climb to the Henry Coe ranger station is half the Mt. Hamilton ascent with equally strenuous stretches. Clockwise to the northwest, along the Lexington Reservoir rim outside of Los Gatos, is the six-mile-long, remote Soda Springs Rd. with a substantial 9 percent mile-and-a-half middle section on the slopes of Mt. Umunhum (currently closed to the public). Umunhum is the local Native American name for hummingbird.

San Benito County

Farther south out of San Juan Bautista, the twelve mile ascent up Fremont Peak is even more rigorous than thee climb to Henry Coe, with panoramic views, while stopping short of the peak’s top itself.

San Mateo County

Less remote is three mile Pomponio Rd. near the San Mateo County coast, located off twisty Stage Rd. between Pescadero and San Gregorio. Named for an outlaw Native-American who escaped Mission Dolores from where he allegedly stole horses, the road is lightly traveled and beautiful on a green-grass, blue-sky spring day.
Up off Skyline Blvd., now isolated Star Hill Rd. was once the stagecoach road to San Gregorio. Now it’s a pleasant four mile descent off Tunitas Creek, offering an 800 foot drop and return climb for those who might not have time tot make an ocean-flanking Highway 1 loop.
Farther north, absolutely without any traffic, other than hikers and dog walkers, is Sweeney Ridge, which runs out of San Bruno’s Sneath Rd. 1.6 miles up to the ridge where Gasper de Portola’s expedition first spotted San Francisco Bay. The historical markers are less than a hundred yards south along the dirt ridge road. In the other direction, the pavement continues another 0.6 miles to an abandoned Nike Missile site (as opposed to a Nike outlet site, hah!).
The above dozen-plus roads represent the more major outs-and-back. Several smaller roads are also tucked in here and there, generally accessing residences who occupants probably would not appreciate any publicity. However, that said, one of this biker’s favorites is a little mile-and-a-half out-and-back with several mini-climbs that provided a good test. The Magna Carta-sounding Runnymeade intersects Cañada Rd. just before the first 1-280 underpass north of Woodside. The road turns and becomes Raymundo, which was the original name of the valley, called the Cañada de Raymundo, named for another Native American who tended herds nearby by distant Santa Clara Mission.

Published Cycle California, July 2011, Vol. 17, #6