Joe Bike

Marin’s cycling splendor

Posted by on January 8th, 2014 at 11:29 am

Marin-Bay Area trip-27

Morning sun drenches Ridgecrest Blvd high above
the Pacific Ocean in Mt. Tamalpais State Park.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

During the winter break I spent time in the California Bay Area visiting family. While I was there I took full advantage of the sun, warm air, and the many miles of paved and dirt roads that surround my aunt’s house in Forest Knolls, a small community west of Fairfax in Marin County.

Marin is a fascinating place for a bike lover like myself. It’s the birthplace of two of America’s most important contributions to cycling’s rich history: the Safe Routes to School movement and mountain biking. Safe Routes was first piloted in Marin County in 2000 and mountain biking as we know it today was born on the dirt roads around Mt. Tamalpais in the late 1970s. Both of those innovations are still major components of the physical infrastructure and cultural heritage of Marin.

With a mountain bike (a Yeti Big Top 29er from Cyclepath) and a road bike (a Cielo from Chris King) at my disposal, I rode nearly every day I was there — waking up before dawn to minimize the loss of family time. From my base camp in Forest Knolls (map) my possible adventures were limited only by time and fitness: head north toward Petaluma, head west toward the coast, or head south into the dirt roads and trails of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed.

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Fairfax-Bolinas Road snakes around morning reflections
on Alpine Lake in the Mt. Tam Watershed.

In total, I rode five times in eight days (two off-road, three on-road). According to my GPS device and my new favorite website, RidewithGPS, I tallied about 204 miles and a whopping 22,000 feet of elevation gain. In the process, I befriended places like Nicasio Reservoir, Tomales Bay, Bolinas Bay, the legendary Fairfax-Bolinas Road, Camp Tamarancho, San Geronimo Ridge fire road, Ridgecrest Boulevard, and more.

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Cross-town bicycle route signage is very helpful.

Accessing these splendid cycling areas is relatively easy in Marin. They’ve got several official, numbered cross-town bicycle routes that are very carefully and consistently signed. Think of them like our neighborhood greenways, but through major streets and corridors. The other thing that makes riding easy in Marin is the sheer number of other riders. You don’t see many utility-oriented, daily commuter-type riders (which is very disappointing), but the number of serious, lycra-clad riders is very impressive.

Check out a few more photos below to get a sense of what the riding is like in Marin County…

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At the start of one of the best climbs in the county, Fairfax-Bolinas Road (with Bolinas Bay in the background). (Photo taken by my brother Joel Maus.)
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Further up Fairfax-Bolinas Road, my brother Joel rolls through a redwood dreamscape.

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Climbing in Marin comes with its rewards.
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My brother Joel rolling through redwood groves on Nicasio Valley Road just south of the reservoir.
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Sir Francis Drake is a major access point for cycling in the area so the county has updated the street design to facilitate bike access.
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Sunrise up on San Geronimo Ridge fire road. That’s the San Francisco Bay in the background.
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You can ride for days up there. (Photo by my brother Joel Maus)
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Camp Tamarancho is a private parcel of land whose owners (Boy Scouts of America) partnered with mountain bike advocates to create a fun network of singletrack and a super-rad, downhill-only flow trail. Day passes are $5 and we bought ours online. With nearly all of the Marin County singletrack off-limits to bicycles, this area is cherished by local riders.
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If you say so.
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My brother in Camp Tamarancho.
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Empty and beautiful Chileno Valley Road south of Petaluma.
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View south from peak of Mt. Tamalpais shows Golden Gate Bridge (upper left) and far beyond.
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Look what’s coming to Fairfax! I couldn’t think of a better home. (More info on Facebook.)
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Northbound on Highway 1 alongside Bolinas Bay (north of Stinson Beach).
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Ridgecrest Blvd in Mt. Tam State Park.

I highly recommend exploring Marin by bike. Strong rural and farming land conservation efforts have resulted in hundreds of miles of low-car roads that connect to small communities and commercial districts thriving with locally owned stores and markets. And if you love riding bikes, you’ll fit right in.

More info:
Marin County Bicycle Coalition
Walk Bike Marin
Marin Museum of Bicycling (coming soon!)

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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    Steve Hoyt-McBeth January 8, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    These photos take me back to a bike tour from Davis to SF that a co-worker and I did in early April at the turn of the 21st century. The part of the trip that your photos capture was my favorite. It was some magnificent riding, and drivers were very polite (probably helped that it was mid-week in early spring so it nearly all locals). Thanks for sharing Jonathan.

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    BURR January 8, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    What makes one a ‘serious’ cyclist just by donning a goofy lycra suit? Seriously, “serious” should be in quotes.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 8, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      calm down BURR. My use of the word “serious” in that context isn’t meant as a put-down to people riding without lycra. Unlike your use of the phrase “goofy lycra suit” I don’t think it’s good form to talk bad about people based on what they wear. (And FWIW, I proudly wear such a suit several times a week.) I used the word “serious” just to try and differentiate the type of rider I was referring to from the everyday, utility riders in normal clothes.

      Thanks for the feedback, I’ll consider finding another word.

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        BURR January 8, 2014 at 3:46 pm

        FWIW you yourself made the first assumption/judgement based solely on what someone was wearing – that they were ‘serious’ because they were in lycra. Anyone with a bit of cash or plastic can buy one of those suits and the bike to go with it, from Mother Teresa to John Wayne Gacy.

        Further, I agree with Dimitrios, ‘recreational’ would be the more appropriate description.

        Finally – go find one of those old pix of Joe Breeze or Gary Fisher bombing dirt on Mt. Tam on a first gen mountain bike – no lycra there, so were they ‘serious’ or not?

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          Jason H January 9, 2014 at 2:12 pm

          Haha, at the time they were all repacking’ on Mt. Tam “Serious” cyclists were almost all still in wool! I think we all got Jonathan’s context, no need for slings and arrows against fellow cyclists, even of a different ilk. He meant serious as in the amount of time spent cycling to increase endurance/speed/fitness IE the racer type, who really are FAR FAR more serious than what I’d call “recreational” (do you know of THE RULES, BTW?).

          Yes, there are also “serious commuters”, “serious cycling advocates”, “serious cargo bikers” etc. etc. and they are probably just as dedicated to cycling as any other creed. But in a bit of cat. 3 self deprecation, they probably smile a lot more while doing it than racers out being “serious” 😉

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        Pat January 8, 2014 at 7:10 pm

        I commute to work every day.. IN LYCRA.

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          Cold Worker January 9, 2014 at 10:37 am

          Jeez, why? Penance for something?

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            John Schmidt January 9, 2014 at 11:13 am

            I also, when I commuted, wore lycra. Why? because I am cheap. Lycra lasts a whole lot longer on a bicycle saddle chaffing away, than wool / poly dress slacks. Well and I am wimp also; i don’t enjoy saddle sores / doing “penance” 🙂

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    Dimitrios January 8, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    “You don’t see many utility-oriented, daily commuter-type riders (which is very disappointing), but the number of serious, lycra-clad riders is very impressive.”

    In this context, “recreational” seems the appropriate word to juxtapose “utility-oriented”.

    But, anytime you speculate someone else’s motivations you run into the risk of being insulting or close-minded. There are so many exceptions to these observations. You can probably count on someone who is the exception to the generalization reading your article on such a high-traffic biking website as this one.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson January 8, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Now I see why I moved back to Portland from N. Cal. Ha, Ha!
    Christmas in West Marin was our practice for a half dozen years. Sweet.
    Did you make it to “Bobo?”

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    Mike January 8, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Jonathan, first of all, you seem to lead a charmed life!! Marin is the birthplace of “serious” mountain biking but isn’t there a lot of conflict between cyclists trying to poach trails and conservationists trying to keep them out? My cousin lives in San Rafael and he taught me the beauty of single track. He is in his 40’s and still rides a steel ibis mojo. Bad Ass he is.

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    Chris I January 8, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    I have family in Napa, and I always love riding down there in the winter. It’s a nice break from the rain and cold up here. The wine is pretty good, too.

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    Craig January 8, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    God I wish there was a cycle path wormhole between between Portland and Fairfax. It would have to have appropriately spaced bollards to keep the automotives out of course. Is that too much to ask?

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    L January 8, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Had to laugh at the “nearly all single track is off limits to cyclists” – wonder why? Sound familiar??

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      Last of the Mohicans January 9, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      Having moved from Marin in the 80’s can tell you the horse crowd is responsible for that.

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    Kjurt January 8, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Bicycles MUST stay on singletrack!

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    Pete January 8, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Cool pics, thanks! The downside to the great bay area weather we’ve been having is ‘spare-the-air days.’ I’m down here in the south bay and while the riding isn’t bad it’s nothing like Marin County. You’ve inspired me to make it a priority in 2014 to do some traveling up there to ride! (Lots of supported century options there too).

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    bobcycle January 9, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Thanks for the info. You’ve highlighted some great cycling. I’m more familiar with Sonoma county which IMO has some of the best road cycling routes (scenic, low traffic) on the west coast. (Kings Ridge, The Geyers, etc.) But I’ll have to be sure to check out Marin County next time I’m down that way.

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    Jonathan Gordon January 9, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Gorgeous photos! Thanks for sharing. And with all the climbing you’re doing, I’m looking forward to seeing you at Ronde PDX this year!

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