New asphalt! Highway 1 along Tomales Bay is getting repaved. Looks like they will do at least 20 miles, from Point Reyes Station up through Tomales. On Labor Day new blacktop was in place from Tomales (mile 45) to just north of Marshall (mile 35.5), with about half of that northbound.
New pavement, lush scenery, great food, and challenging profiles make for great riding in West Marin. Today's 2 routes offer an easy and a hard option to get from BART in San Francisco to the Russian River, and there's plenty more pain available if you want to seek it out.
This northbound Embarcadero BART to Guerneville route is 95 miles with maybe 6,000 feet of climbing. It's definitely no picnic, with Bolinas-Fairfax and Joy Road added to rolling terrain and prevailing headwinds. The first time it may be wise to use a flatter route north and leave harder options for the return.
Elevation profiles in West Marin are downright deceptive. I enjoy climbing something long like the north side of Diablo on a consistent grade where you can get a rhythm, but I always find myself cursing out loud at some point while riding north along the "flat" section by Tomales Bay against the wind. Although the profile looks pretty flat the rollers are nonstop and it's impossible to find a steady rhythm, you're always punching it to get over one more crest. If you are also fighting the wind it's very taxing. The few times I have cramped up on a bike have almost always been on long, windy West Marin rides.
This route ends at Coffee Bazaar on Armstrong Redwoods Road, a good spot for rejuvenation. Guerneville has long been a weekend getaway for San Francisco, and offers a range of lodging ranging from house rentals to motels to camping. We like the Creekside Lodge on Neeley Road when our in-laws place gets too crowded.
This southbound route is about as flat and quick as possible (85 miles, about 4,000 feet), starting at Coffee Bazaar in Guerneville.
The stretch of Highway 1 through Stinson Beach and Muir Beach to Sausalito is a beautiful route but very narrow. A lot of tourists drive it with their eyes on the scenery, so I tend to avoid it on busy weekends.
Some tips on bike friendly sections, organized south to north.
Crossing San Francisco early in the morning you can stay on the waterfront using Jefferson Street to a shoreline path next to the Maritime Museum, or use the bike lane on Northpoint all the way to Van Ness if you don't mind the small incline. Take Van Ness to the water's edge and follow the path up and over the hill, then along the marina and through Crissy Field.
Follow the bike path off Lincoln to the bike lane on the west side of the Golden Gate bridge, then drop through Sausalito to catch the Sausalito-Mill Valley path that traverses the bay shore for a couple of miles east of Mill Valley.
From Corte Madera to Larkspur a bike path by the freeway connects Lomita Drive to Meadowsweet Drive with very little climbing. Camino Alto does more climbing but the consistent grade, decent shade, and nice scenery make it worth the effort.
Check the map for the bike routes that parallel Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from Larkspur through Fairfax, there's many zigs and zags. Be aware that Sausalito, Larkspur, Ross and other towns along this heavily used bike route tend to care more than average about cyclists running stop signs.
On the northbound map, Bolinas-Fairfax (or Bofax) Road rolls up and down through some secluded and scenic woodland alongside Lake Alpine. The road meanders up and down for a long while, then after crossing the dam at the end of the lake the road turns sharply right and tilts uphill for a long, grinding climb. Lots of shade, and recovery sections following the steepest parts take the edge off this hard climb. Watch out for bumpy pavement around the corners on the downhill after the saddle. There's not much traffic but any vehicles tend to use the whole road so keep your ears open.
On the southbound map, San Geronimo Valley Road is a relatively well shaded 2 1/2 mile alternate to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard between Woodacre and the hill. It is not as level as the main road, but there is less traffic, some shade, and quiet.
A key discovery for me has been the full length of the Sir Francis Drake bikeway - a mixed dirt and paved path with the eastern end at a footbridge on the north side of the road about 1/2 mile west of Lagunitas. On the map Park Road running out of Lagunitas should connect to the trail, but there's a chain link fence blocking the access as of Labor Day 2010 so you still need to take SFDB through the first narrow, winding section with no shoulder. The first 3 miles or so of the trail are dirt fire road, but after you cross the bridge into the campgrounds it's paved to the end.
Platform Bridge Road is a slightly longer way to ride to Point Reyes Station versus going over the hill to Olema and along Highway 1, but there's much less traffic.
Smooth and wide Mesa Road in Point Reyes Station takes you around the back side of town, bypassing over a mile of highway.
Heading west out of Tomales on Dillon Beach Road then north on Middle Road adds a bit of climbing versus staying on Highway 1 with much less traffic. At the north end of Middle Road the Marsh Road spur is little-used and saves about half a mile on the highway. Coming home, southbound the climb out of Valley Ford on Middle Road is steep and hot but mercifully short. The grade is mellow on the southern section until the 100 yards before Dillon Beach Road.
The Joy Road climb is steepest near the bottom, but it is shaded most of the way up. Bohemian Highway is a much easier option up to Occidental but gets more traffic and sun, and has virtually no shoulder.
After the descent from Occidental continue straight on Main Street into Monte Rio, it is wider and straighter than the stretch of Bohemian Highway on the right (east) side of Dutch Bill Creek.
My favorite food stops out here include Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station (vegan whole wheat scone, pizza slices), Tomales Bakery (mini-pizza/focaccia, oat cakes, coconut-chocolate-pecan bar), Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone (double chocolate espresso scone), Marshall store (oysters!), and Fairfax ice cream shop. Stinson Beach, Point Reyes, Tomales, Valley Ford, Freestone, Occidental, Lagunitas, Olema, Woodacre, Fairfax, and Marshall all have little stores for drinks and snacks.
There's a water fountain in the park by the stop sign in Stinson Beach. In Point Reyes I fill up my water bottles at the bakery, fire station, or a faucet on the NE corner of the bakery building near the phone booth. I've seen a sign for public restrooms pointing south down Mesa Road but I haven't tried them. Other bathrooms along the way included Mill Valley Community Center and Samuel P Taylor park, both next to the path, and Bear Valley Visitor Center near Olema about 1 mile west of Hwy 1.