This is a point-to-point ride made possible by the Bay Area's awesome mix of parks and transit. Following six miles of road spinup, into the singletrack jewel of Tamarancho. After dropping out of the backside, (almost) over Loma Alta and Big Rock Ridge
, the second mostly via a singletrack climb. The pain throughout the ride as each crest is a longer climb. The high point on Big Rock Ridge
is just that because the views are incredible.
This ride starts at the San Rafael Transit Center where bus/train lines from San Francisco to Santa Rosa and east to Contra Costa County converge. Best way from the East Bay is Golden Gate Transit's 40 bus from El Cerrito del Norte BART. Best way from San Francisco is Golden Gate Transit's 101 bus. The buses have front racks that hold three bikes on a first come, first serve basis. The 40 bus also accepts up to two bikes on board on a space available basis (driver's discretion).
(Another option from San Francisco is the Larkspur Ferry. From here either ride up the paths along Corte Madera Creek and streets beyond or the path through the Park Hill tunnel along the SMART rail and the streets beyond to the San Rafael Transit Center. By the end of 2019 it should be possible to ride the SMART train from Larkspur Landing to the San Rafael Transit Center to cut off a few miles.)
After a mile on Fourth Street getting through downtown San Rafael, the route becomes quite mellow yet still direct on streets parallel to the main motorist route. Just a bit more than five miles in, with a touch of climbing on winding pavement at the end, the dirt starts (actually gravel road here). At just under six miles, turn left to climb into the Valhalla that is Tamarancho. At the top, you can turn left or right as the route from here is a loop. The ride shown is to the left as that is the direction most ride it.
The Tamarancho loop is well signed, so no directions given here. There is even a sign that says bikes must stay on singletrack where there is the possibility of mistakenly getting on one of the fire roads! For real. The property owner prohibits biking on the fire roads.
The ride route shown goes about three quarters of the way around the Tamarancho loop where it takes a left to climb to the top of Endor
flow trail. It blows past to ride out the back on the White Hill fire road and descend mostly on singletrack. There are a number of other options. You could ride the flow trail then finish the loop and head home or climb back up and continue on this ride.
Continuing the ride, the second segment of singletrack descent appears to be about to drop onto Sir Francis Drake
(yuck), but just before a sharp left gratefully continues the singletrack taking you under the road where it goes over on a bridge. A short climb ends the singletrack at a fire road converted from a former railroad bed. A pleasantly flat part of the ride with a nice singletrack drop and climb near the midpoint.
After this a thousand foot ascent on fire road. You can short the ride here by returning to San Rafael via the 680 Trail
. Or you could climb higher over Loma Alta. The ride shown opts for a more interesting, less traveled fire road on the backside. A fast, fun drop to a low pass follows. Another kind crossing under a road, this one a tunnel built just for trail users. Then a 2.5 mile climb on singletrack that stays at 10% followed by a mile and a half of increasingly steep fire road to top out an 1100 foot climb.
The peak area is a burnt orange California moonscape in the dry season and becomes hills are alive in the the wet season. No trees or shrubs and two communication tower complexes. The view, which goes all around for tens of miles in each direction is incredible and adds to the feeling of being somewhere other.
The descent that follows is not just. It is a giant roller coaster. Too giant to spin up the climbs with momentum. And for the first half there are sand traps at the bottom of each drop due to the combination of motor vehicle traffic to the towers grinding up the rock and storm runoff washing the result into the dips. These cause even more loss of speed, whether because you slow down through them or surf them at speed with weight back.
The ride finishes out via a short stretch of streets and path to the Novato Hamilton SMART station. You can buy a drink on the train (and another on the ferry if that is your direction) to enhance the finish.