Cycling Northern California: Rider Review

San Francisco General Store

Known by many Californians as the city by the bay, San Francisco is the launch point for epic bike trails that connect riders to a wild north coast. While I’ve spent a healthy amount of time in the saddle over the past year, I’ve yet to discover the plethora of riding available in Northern California. Best labeled a cycling mecca, I can ride thirty miles outside the city limits in any direction and find myself on a new route — queue Strava. Whether it be in the midst of the Redwood Forest, amongst the rolling hills or off highway 1, I still can’t quite grasp the scenic beauty that’s available by bike, especially in this region. Even better, you get to meet an honest, genuine, and outgoing cycling community, to enjoy it all.

Does riding in the Redwood forest sound magical? Check these trips out:

Cycling the Redwoods

  1. Redwood State Park
  2. Arcata to San Francisco

Through my daily adventures, I have recorded a few of my favorite rides –some long, some short, all unforgettable — starting with a recent trip to Boonville, CA, with a group of friends. A memorable trip to say the least, we stayed at the Bunkhouse in the charming Toll House Inn — it’s a yurt!

Yurt at Toll House Inn

With three houses, and a yurt on site, this riding destination was originally built in 1912 — an ode to the regions historic rolling-oak hills. Not uncommon for the area, I met fellow visitors who own a winery and offered a free bottle premium wine each night. I obliged. I stayed here for two nights, gearing up for a 108mi loop from Ukiah to Mendocino to Boonevill via Highway 253/153 — a loop I found from Ted King. It was brutally cold, but every bit of fun.

This latest experience is one of many to be had in Northern California. As I prepare for the region’s best weather yet, it’s time to share six other rides that I recommend:

Rider notes by Aaron Tirazona

Cycling in Northern California

Old La Honda Trail to General Store to Tunitas Creek: 60 miles plus, there and back.

Staring in Woodside, Ca, this ride offers somer serious greenery — scenic from beginning to end. The evenly grated terrain isn’t incredibly steep, but is known for challenging even seasoned climbers — legs will be burning. General store is a great pit-stop before descending the steep Tunitas Creek Road. Bring the pocket camera for this ride.

Alpine Dam to Seven Sisters to Mt. Tam: 60 miles.

Looking for more punishment in Marin County? The Alpine Dam to Mt. Tam will test your love for cycling; but it sure is pretty. Similar to Old La Honda Road, the ascent is consistent and lined with views that seem to alleviate the burn. However, there are numerous stops along the route that are cyclist friendly. May be a good time to fuel up; the trip home is fast and demands focus.

cycling trails in San Francisco

Four Corners to Panoramic Highway to Stinson Beach to Highway 1: 50 miles

Notice a trend here? Northern California is the cycling mecca that we all dream of. Starting above Muir Woods, this ride combines steep pitches, flat valley’s and stunning ocean views. None of this tops the feeling of riding through healthy groves of Redwood; towering over the asphalt — am I dreaming?!

Cycling in Northern California

Hawk Hill to Rodeo Beach to Battery Townsley to Upper McCullough: 30 miles

Looking for a convenient ride to get to? Start with Hawk Hill. A challenging yet predictable climb, this route presents plenty of ocean views to fill the soul. Yet again, northern California presents a ride where you must choose between the scenery and the road ahead. What goes up must come down; Hawk Hill is one of the fastest descents in the region.

Hawk Hill Ride at sunset

Riding Hawk Hill, San Francisco

Mt. Diablo: 12 miles of gruesome uphill climbing

It’s not called ‘diablo’ for no reason. Much more dramatic than Mt. Tam, this climb ranges from 5% grade to 13% grade without letting up. This ride is entirely known for it’s view at the top – a panorama like nowhere else. Look off into the distance and wave, to Half Dome! And yes, the descent is a fast cruise back to level grade.

Mt. Rose to Lake Tahoe: 28 miles

Tired of climbing yet? A quick flat-land warm up leads to highway 431 where the ascent begins. Check wind conditions prior to the ride; conditions can become unfavorable in no time at all. Mt. Rose is another mental challenge with a combination of switchbacks and grade changes. Somewhere near mile 15 or 16, the climb provides a short-lived break in the action. This ride is a great proving ground for your stamina, legs, and riding I.Q. But please watch traffic closely.

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