Summer holidays in our household are usually a last minute decision thing with busy work lives meaning we tend to put off the sometimes drawn out process of the three of us working out where we would like to go. The past few years we have visited friends in the south of France. Having moved out there 6 or so years ago to an old farmhouse, we rarely get to see them and it’s a holiday that has something for everyone. My wife gets sun sun, culture and peace to read, my daughter gets to see her friends and engage with the animals and I get to ride my bike in the sun as often as I like (pretty much).
This year, however, we decided on our holidays back in April and I’m not quite sure how we ended up deciding on San Francisco. Ellie is now 13, so long haul is not going to be a nightmare and there is a lot of culture out there to keep my better half happy. As for myself, the headlands in Marin County, just over the Golden Gate bridge is the birth place of mountain biking.
I had hoped that I might be able to hook up with some locals, to guide me around some of the trails but a few posts later on Singletrack and a US forum shows that this seems to be a very frequent request and I got one offer from an MTB legend – repack rider or Charlie Kelly. It turned out that I didn’t get to meet him as subsequent posts and emails went unanswered.
So the plan was decided. I would sneak off for a day, hire a decent bike when I was out there and ride on my own. I’ve talked about solo riding before here, so I decided to take my Sidi shoes, some XTR SPD pedals and my RLSCC riding kit and work it out when I got there.
Bike hire was easy as there was a local Blazing Saddles right near our hotel. All you need is a credit card deposit, fill in a form and off you go. I took a town bike to the Columbus Ave branch where they kept all the decent mountain bikes and as I rode the local branch phoned ahead so they were expecting me. They had the choice of Marin bikes – very appropriate – and I decide on the 26in quad link full sus Mount Vision – about £40 for the day. Pedals were fitted, bike was checked and after a discussion on what map to take I was off.
A typical SF misty day
The day before I had been in bed ill, so I decided to take it easy, soak in the sights and see how I felt. I’d hoped to ride up Mt Tamalpais but that was going to be pushing it after feeling like I might not feel up to any sort of riding. I bought some water and a couple of Clif bars from a local shop before I hit the Golden Gate Bridge.
Once into Marin County I was glad I bought a better map from the shop. I rode on the road up to the start of the Coastal trail and chatted to a local roadie on the way up the hill. After a brief stop to admire the
Just before the real fun starts
view and sneak a photo, I was off down the singletrack, grinning ear to ear. I had told myself to take it easy as I was riding solo and hadn’t seen any other off road riders but to be honest the bike felt so good, the weather was warm and I was feeling the best I’d been in 48hrs.
I’d planned to ride the Bobcat trail but it took me ages to find the start of the trail. I took 2 or 3 wrong turns before finally getting onto it. I knew a lot of the trails were fire roads and so I wasn’t surprised to find myself slogging away for 20 mins up the trail. Just as I was starting to get hot I
The Bobcat trail
rode into the typical San Francisco mist and was cooled down. Normally I would have pushed myself up the climb but not today so I took my time and admired the view.
Once I got towards the top of the climb I had a decision to make. Do I push on to a longer loop or ride back down the Bobcat ? I couldn’t quite work out some of the intersections and I pondered for quite a while as my heart wanted to ride on but my head said to not push things. In the end I decided to head back down the Bobcat and reverse the route I’d taken as it was approaching 3pm. We had planned to eat out and I didn’t want to get back very late.
I’d seen video clips of the original repack riders flying down the fireroads and flying off on the loose gravel on corners. I’d put this down to the bikes and over ambitious attitudes but I soon found out that coming down the trail at 25 mph into a loose fast corner that it’s not as easy as it looks. I tried to use the cornering techniques I learned with Jedi but the front kept washing out and my 2 wheel drifts made things exciting.
Looking back across the bay to San Fran, the weather had brightened up, I paused to take in the
Riding the Bobcat trail
sights before heading back across the bridge. I had a gentle pootle back along the beach, stopping for a coffee at a nice little cafe before tackling the hill on Mason street back to the hotel.
While I sipped my coffee I reflected on the days riding. I had mixed feelings.
- I’d felt like death 24hrs earlier so I was relieved to have clocked up 30 or so miles and 300ft of climbing
- I’d ridden in Marin county on the trails I’d read about 20 years ago.
- The exercise was welcome after a week on holiday.
- The views had been amazing
- I’d really wanted to ride further
- I was irritated that I wasted time trying to work out where I was some of the time
- Most of the riding was fire-roads and not as challenging as I’d have liked (but I knew it was mainly fire roads so not sure why I’m disappointed)
I had a cracking day out and it would have been nice to have spent a much longer day riding. San Francisco is such a great place that we will be going back at some point and I will be making an effort to ride a lot more when we do.