Angel Island no picnic

July 20, 2018

Nice view of San Francisco from south side of Angel Island.


I don’t know where I got the idea, but I always assumed the paved road circling Angel Island was flat. Wrong.

A visit to the island made my bucket list, so we headed for Tiburon to pick up the ferry; it’s a 10-minute ride to the island, which costs $15, plus $1 for hauling the bike. Tiburon is preferable to San Francisco when driving from a distance.

I considered renting a bike, but the cost of the rental, around $50, convinced me the logistical inconvenience was worth it. However, if you’re interested in renting an electric bike, this is a good time to try one out.

With beautiful weather, the bay crossing couldn’t have been smoother. We exited the ferry and I started riding on the fairly steep and unpaved single-track trail that climbs up to the perimeter road. It’s not a very friendly route for a tourist.

What’s odd is that there’s a paved road at the wharf that goes to the perimeter road. I’m guessing the park service doesn’t want to deal with yahoos blasting down the steep paved road into crowds of tourists.

I took a clockwise route so that the view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge would be my reward on this five-mile loop.

There’s a climb of about 7 percent for a ways before the road levels near the immigration station. A lot of history comes with the island, but I won’t bore you with the details.

The road begins climbing once past the somber-looking buildings of Fort McDowell. The south side of the island has the steep spots. I didn’t sign up for a 16 percent grade, but that’s what I read on my Garmin. It’s followed by a steep descent.

The best views of San Francisco are at the Battery Drew pullout, followed by Battery Ledyard. Skies were clear, so I enjoyed the spectacle.

In less than an hour I finished the loop, after another descent. I didn’t check out the dirt road higher up that circles the island, but based on what I saw of it, it’s best suited for a mountain bike.

While the ride itself is no picnic, I can recommend Angel Island as a place for a picnic.

Maybe in another dimension where bikes rule the land, this island is the site of a bike race. I can see that happening. It would be an interesting course.

View of Angel Island using a heightmap.

San Francisquito Creek flood control project nearing completion

July 13, 2018

Work continues on the trail along San Francisquito Creek in Palo Alto.


I checked out a portion of trail on San Francisquito Creek I’ve used over the years to reach the Dumbarton Bridge recreation path.

It starts at the Baylands Athletic Center in Palo Alto on the east side of Hwy 101. There’s still work to be done, but I can see a high wall along the creek that looks like steel panels. Ugly. It looks like it will be finished by the end of this year.

People who haven’t lived in Palo Alto for a long time may not know that the creek is prone to flooding during heavy, prolonged rains. My friend Jobst Brandt, who lived on Middlefield Road near Lytton, saw his basement flood in the 1980s when the creek went over its banks.

There’s a lot of other work associated with this flood control project.

Old Railroad Grade a rocky road

June 27, 2018

Gerbode Valley was going to be developed into a condo haven, but environmentalists rebelled in the 1960s. Good for them.

I hadn’t been up the Old Railroad Grade to Mt. Tamalpais since 2007, so I decided to pay a visit one last time. Maybe it’s age, but back in 1981 I’ll wager the road wasn’t as rocky.

There’s no denying the grade is rocky. The crookedest railroad in the world, built in 1896, reported 90 percent bedrock. However, they must have used ballast and aggregate to smooth out the road.

After all these decades, rains have washed away the topsoil, and everything else laid down, and now we have bedrock.

Another difference between now and the days of old is that West Point Inn has turned into a hangout for just about everyone living in Mill Valley. It was downright crowded.

The last grind to the summit was in a pea soup fog, so for the first time I was disappointed by the view. Because I was on a road bike, I headed back down Ridgecrest, Pan Toll, Panoramic, Hwy 1. Full suspension mountain bikes have their place, and one of them is riding down the Old Railroad Grade.

I knew Panoramic Hwy could be a zoo on a Sunday, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so bad with the fog. I gave thanks I wasn’t riding uphill.

Rather than taking the crowded Sausalito road back to the Golden Gate Bridge, we opted for Tennessee Valley and Marincello Trail, Bobcat. Because I had never tried the Baker Tunnel, we took Bunker Road, hit the tunnel light perfectly, and blasted through on a fast downhill. So fun.

Old Railroad Grade in 2007. Rocky road.

Bay Bridge sparkles on a bike

June 26, 2018

Bay Bridge path looking west to San Francisco. It’s fabulous. My shadow thinks so, too.


I’ve been on a tear lately, driving all over the Bay Area going on bike rides. It’s not my style, but sometimes there’s no other choice.

On Sunday I tried out the Bay Bridge path from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island, a one-way distance of 2.2 miles. It has been fully open since 2016. I’m impressed. No doubt it cost millions, but it’s a trifle compared to the $6.5 billion cost of the bridge.

Having recently ridden over the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB), I can make a comparison. The GGB is to be avoided after 8 a.m. on the weekend. In the afternoon it’s a zoo. If the crowds aren’t bad enough, it’s narrow. There’s so much equipment on the path that passing riders going the other way is a chore.

The Bay Bridge is wide and I doubt that it sees anywhere near as many cyclists as the GGB. It’s about as scenic a place as you could ask for in the middle of the bay.

Of course the GGB is iconic and I would never discourage anyone from riding it at least once, but be sure to try out the Bay Bridge one of these days. You won’t regret it.

From what I’m reading, a bike bridge/path is planned for the existing Bay Bridge into San Francisco. It will be bolted onto the old bridge. Completion in 2025, so they say. Maybe too late for me.

Sonoma Valley intact, but hills burned

May 31, 2018

The land around Cavedale Road in the Mayacamas mountain range suffered extensive burn damage in the October 2017 firestorm. The road offers views of Sonoma Valley and San Francisco.

On a recent ride to check out Sonoma Valley, I did not realize the surrounding hills were so badly burned in the October 2017 wildfires.

I headed up Cavedale Road, a gnarly, steep climb that’s similar to Old La Honda Road, only steeper in places. Cavedale Road residents took a hit from the firestorm that ravaged the hills. I saw burned trees everywhere, but the fire skipped around, so some spots were untouched.

It’s a six-mile climb at a 10 percent grade, with some steep spots of 16 percent or more, peaking at 2,100 feet. The ride down Trinity Road tested my brakes. It’s about 12 percent the whole way down to Highway 12.

I’ve visited Sonoma over the years, enough to realize that Sonoma and Napa Valley have become commuter havens for people working in San Francisco. The traffic on Hwy 12 and Arnold Drive is unbelievably heavy during weekdays. I can only imagine what it’s like on a weekend during peak tourist season.

The county plan for a bike path along Hwy 12 from Sonoma to Santa Rosa can’t come soon enough.

I checked out the Napa Valley Vine Trail, starting in Napa and going north. Eventually it will extend north for 45 miles, starting in Vallejo.

The trail is nice for staying off Hwy 29, but there’s Solano Avenue right next to the trail, which doesn’t have much traffic. However, the trail cuts through downtown Napa, reducing the hassles of riding in traffic. There’s an impressive recreation path spanning Hwy 29.

Fortunately, you can still avoid traffic by riding up the steep roads in Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley. Just be sure to leave EARLY to avoid valley traffic.

Sign pollution spoils the view

May 20, 2018

Palo Alto has a thing about signs. Not sure we need one in Stevens Canyon.


I don’t think much about signs, until I do, and then I start seeing the pollution. Do we need a city limits sign at the bottom of Stevens Canyon?

I’ve been riding in the canyon since 1979. Over the years it has gotten rockier. This is, after all, the San Andreas Fault zone. Erosion brings down rocks, and over time they accumulate.

Still, I recognized stretches of trail that hadn’t changed a bit in terms of condition. As for riders, I saw several on a Saturday morning. The guy and gal blasting up the hill must have professionals. They were moving.

When I started riding here, Jobst Brandt and friends were the only ones cycling the canyon trail. All we had were road bikes. Those days are long gone.

Along with popularity comes enforcement. Imagine my surprise when I saw a ranger with a radar gun. It wasn’t far from the end of the trail. I stopped immediately and we had a friendly conversation. I wasn’t speeding.

One important change I noticed is that the Stevens Creek crossing no longer has an easier option. It’s overgrown. Now you go down a four or five foot vertical drop to reach the creek. I’m sure some ride off it, but not me.

The single-track section toward the end has plenty of poison oak, so watch out.

Russian Ridge Open Space dazzles

April 25, 2018

Ridge Trail about a mile from Alpine Road, looking northwest.


Nothing beats a ride along Skyline on a weekday in the spring, wildflowers in bloom. I checked out Russian Ridge Open Space by mountain bike. My plan was to ride the Ridge Trail to Rapley Road and then make a loop via Crazy Pete’s Road and Alpine Road.

Ridge Trail about a mile from Alpine Road and Skyline Boulevard has views of the Pacific Ocean on a clear day. It’s mostly single-track for lovers of that kind of riding. The trail is narrow and there’s a vertical drop-off to keep your attention.

All the trail junctions are well marked. I headed down Crazy Pete’s, having ridden this road since about 1981. It’s a bit gnarlier than it used to be, but still rideable, except for one steep climb.

Seeing Alpine Road in its current condition depresses me. It used to be a real dirt road, maintained by San Mateo County. It was last graded in December 1989. Why San Mateo County insists on keeping a claim on the road is beyond me. It’s a trail today, lined with poison oak, rutted, a disaster. A washout higher up was “repaired” with a steep trail into the creek bed.

Years ago, the county proposed a recreation trail, but I haven’t heard of any movement to make it happen. The road maintained a grade of 8-10 percent, not bad compared to Page Mill Road.

After the massive landslide in the early 1990s, the road became much less pleasant to ride. So much for Alpine Road. I’m glad I had a chance to ride it in its glory days.

I took Meadow Trail uphill, and wished I hadn’t. It’s rocky, STEEP, and doesn’t have anything to offer in the way of views. Skip it.

Russian Ridge Preserve has some nice trails. Nothing too steep, although there are always those short stretches of hard riding. Charquin Trail certainly was a ranch road at one time. It seemed more like the kind of dirt roads I used to ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Russian Ridge preserve offers some nice dirt rides.

Santa Clara Valley Open Space Rancho is Golden

April 4, 2018

Bald Peaks Trail from the summit, looking southeast.


Today I toured the Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve by bike, and it reminded me that the mountain bike can take me to interesting places I would never go on a road bike.

As parks go, Rancho Cañada del Oro isn’t all that old, opening in 2004. Still, it took me long enough to discover it. Since 1993 I’ve been paying taxes toward the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, but I’ve never had the occasion to visit a preserve. I’ve read the occasional story about the authority buying up land somewhere south of San Jose, but that’s the extent of my awareness.

I’ve always been a Midpen user, even though I’ve never paid taxes toward that open space authority.

I’m not much of a mountain biker, not counting the hundred of miles of dirt roads and trails I’ve covered on my road bike. My biggest complaint is the gnarly climbs and descents most mountain bikers prefer. My two favorite mountain bike rides are easy stuff for most riders. Rancho Cañada now ranks as my second favorite ride after Almaden Quicksilver.

One of my least favorite routes is the nearby Santa Teresa County Park. I’d wager more than half of the trails are “rocky.” Rocky Ridge Trail says it all.

The preferred route is a clockwise loop that starts at the parking lot and goes west on Mayfair Ranch Trail, left at Longwall Canyon Trail, up Bald Peaks Trail to the summit, then all downhill on Catamount Trail. It’s eight miles, and about 1,800 feet of climbing. Ride time is about two hours.

Mayfair Ranch Trail starts out steep with several short switchbacks. All but the strongest riders will have to walk some sections, especially if you’re a senior citizen like me. This is decidedly single-track riding on a man-made trail. It goes on for about five miles. After about 1.7 miles of climbing and some level riding, there’s a brief downhill to Llagas Creek. It’s not technical and not all that steep.

The ride up Longwall Canyon Trail will test your gears and your fitness. If I were young and strong, I could probably ride all of it. The views of the valleys are spectacular, and you’ve got Mt. Umunhum looking down on you.

Some nice single-track on Longwall Canyon Trail just before Bald Peaks.

Bald Peaks Trail follows an old ranch road. At the water trough, catch your breath. There’s a short, steep climb that I don’t think I could have ever ridden up in my youth. It’s about 25 percent. But then the climbing is over and it’s all flat or downhill. You’re on top of the world here with a 360 degree view of the valleys and mountains. Well worth the effort.

The road is overgrown with short grass, but there’s no difficulty finding your way. It’s obvious. All junctions are well-signed. Take a right down Catamount Trail and enjoy the steep stuff. One short section is 25 percent, and a tad more. Control your speed and all but the most conservative riders will have no difficulties.

At the junction with Longwall Canyon Trail, I met up with some rangers spraying milkweed thistle. The stuff has medicinal value, so I’m told, but it’s no friend of the outdoors.

At the end of the descent, there’s one more creek crossing, the deepest of several. I walked it.

All in all, it was a ride worth the trip by car. The route has something for everyone, single-track, beautiful views, a few stiff climbs and descents to get your blood circulating, but nothing daunting. Best done on a weekday in the spring.

I’ve also hiked here. My favorite trail is Little Llagas Creek. It goes through an abandoned orchard and uphill on a single-track. The route I took is the only one available for bikes. Note that some of the ride goes through Calero County Park.

Note: I measured the route using a Cateye wireless cyclometer and a Garmin 500. The Garmin was 0.7 miles short, but maybe that’s because I carried it in my back jersey pocket. I’ll check. I rollout-calibrated the Cateye, and based on the park map mileages, it’s accurate.

Follow-up: The Garmin 500 works fine in the pocket, after I tested it, so the issue with Garmin is that it doesn’t do a good job measuring on trails. That’s all I can think of right now.

Rancho Canada de Oro borders Calero County Park to the south.

GPS vs. Avocet 35: Which is more accurate?

April 1, 2018

Avocet 35 cyclometer compares favorably against the Garmin 500 for miles ridden.


Don’t expect me to give you an answer to this burning question. The Avocet 35 was one of the most accurate cyclometers on the market, and still is today, long after it bit the dust.

I calibrated my Avocet cyclometer before the ride, and measured it against a known distance to confirm. The tire pressure may have been off a few pounds.

The result on a recent ride with some rocky trail was 46.55 miles for Avcoet, 46.47 to the Garmin Edge 500.

I looked up the accuracy of GPS and came across Sheldon Brown’s description (speaking to us from the grave) of GPS, which has interesting details explaining why GPS can have some variations. A must read.

On a ride back in 2008, I compared the VDO with the ancient Specialized Pro. My Hecker Pass route totaled exactly the same distance of 95.72 miles!

Two of my favorite cyclometers matched perfectly on a 95 mile ride. Uncanny.

Separated bike lanes the best solution

March 20, 2018

If I could ride on paths like this all day, I would. Coyote Creek Trail.


I’ve gone from being an advocate of Effective Cycling (ride like a car) to advocating separated bike lanes. I’m talking about a berm of some type that divides cars from bikes.

The more miles you ride, the more likely you are to get nailed by a car. It’s the law of averages. Over the past several years, I’ve changed my riding habits to emphasize recreation paths, and I stay off of roads with traffic, like Pruneridge, Homestead, etc.

Despite all this, I still got hit. I will avoid riding in what I consider “riskier areas,” going forward. That was my mistake.

However, in my case a berm divider would have definitely prevented the accident. I’m not saying all bike lanes need them. Put them where there’s a lot of traffic. They create a hazard to bikes in themselves, but the right design can reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

An outfit called CityLab has the same idea. I don’t know anything about the group, but their name came up first in a search. They point to studies that show dividers can be effective.

When you’ve ridden as many miles as I have, those odds I mentioned start going against you. It’s something that should be foremost on all cyclist’s minds. The more we can separate bikes from cars, the better off we’ll be.