Favorite Ride: Bay Area Peaks Trifecta

Bay Area Peaks ride
A pristine view of San Francisco Bay from the top parking lot of Mount Tamalpais. Photos by the author and J.P Pina.

My Grandpa rode an Indian and I decided to follow suit by purchasing a 2016 Roadmaster. I bought it one rainy January day–a prime time to shop for deals. Now, when I ride alone, I often imagine Grandpa or my recently passed father riding in the passenger seat.

With the bike freshly broken in and winter weather past, the first of many long rides ahead was in order. I decided to stay close to home for the trial run. My region is chock-full of great roads and interesting places to see, so all I needed to do was choose a route.

Three main peaks surround the San Francisco Bay area: Mount Tamalpais to the north, Mount Diablo to the east and Mount Hamilton to the south. Combining those three destinations into one day’s ride would make for a pleasing combination of fast freeways and twisty mountain roads that should be a good test run. Computer planning estimated 300 miles round trip. Nice!

Bay Area Peaks ride
Participants of the “Three Peak Ride” at the vista point on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. (Left to right: the author, J.P. Pina and Scott Hammond.)

While I enjoy riding alone, my most memorable rides have been with fellow riders. Two brothers from my local Christian Motorcyclists Association chapter were able to join me: Scott on his Kawasaki Vaquero and J.P. on his Harley Street Glide. The day of the ride the weather forecast called for clear skies and light winds. Those breezes would help with better than average clarity for photos we took of the peaks from roadside vistas.

I’d consciously chosen a weekday to minimize the challenges of weekend crowds in the parks. At 7:10 a.m. on a Friday morning we left a Cupertino Starbucks, fully fueled and properly caffeinated, and headed north on I-280. We pulled over north of Belmont at the Father Junipero Serra rest stop, and after years of drought, rejoiced at seeing Crystal Springs Reservoir almost full. J.P. immediately took charge of photos, and we continued north toward our first peak.

Bay Area Peaks ride
J.P. and Scott enjoy the view from the Mount Tamalpais parking lot, with the Pacific coast in the background and our trusty steeds in the foreground.

Though 19th Avenue through San Francisco was crowded as usual, we made reasonably good time to the vista point on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. This offered us the first exquisite views on that clear, sunny morning.

We continued north on U.S. Route 101 through the Robin Williams Tunnel, past Sausalito into Marin City. Mount Tamalpais is easy to find thanks to excellent signage. A well-paved twisty road made our first peak a joy. This was our lowest at 2,571 feet. Light winds had cleared the morning fog, allowing us breathtaking panoramic scenes of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Coast. There are facilities here and $8 day-use parking fees. A glance at the clock showed we had to pass on climbing a footpath that goes up to the very highest point, which likely held even better views.

We headed back out toward U.S. 101, topping our fuel tanks before turning north to traverse the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toward Oakland. This was the fastest route to Mount Diablo on paper, but an accident earlier that morning caused quite a backup. Freeway travel here can be seriously impacted by anything out of the ordinary, so it’s best to plan accordingly. Once across, we rode south on I-80, turned east on State Route 24, then south on I-680. Taking the Diablo Road exit and watching for Mount Diablo signage got us there handily.

Bay Area Peaks ride
This beacon tower constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s sits directly on top of the highest peak of Mount Diablo.

Mount Diablo, standing 3,848 feet high, was the only one of the three peaks offering naked-eye visibility of the other two on that day. The twisty road to the top is in great shape, but 20 mph speed limits and plentiful “Yield to Bicyclists” signs dampened spirited cornering. Once again steady breezes kept visibility clear and the panorama was superb. There is a $10 entry fee with good parking and facilities that include a museum.

Upon leaving, we stopped at Slow G’s Eatery at 440 Diablo Road. The fresh sandwiches were excellent and friendly staff graciously charged my iPhone while we ate. We fueled up at a nearby Chevron and took I-680 south. Turning east on I-580 resulted in a weekday commuter traffic snarl, so the few miles to the First Street exit in Livermore were arduous. We worked our way over to Mines Road and followed the signs toward the top of Mount Hamilton.

Bay Area Peaks ride
Mount Hamilton’s Lick Observatory: The Indian Roadmaster sitting atop the first of many milestone locations it will see with the author.

This was a beautiful ride through twisties filled with blooming wild flowers, full ponds and flowing brooks. About halfway up, we were pleasantly surprised to find the Junction Restaurant had reopened again. The Junction is a popular rest stop and watering hole for motorcyclists. We finally arrived at Lick Observatory, although regrettably too late to get inside the building. The view from the 4,216-foot-high vista was spectacular. The parking area, observatory and gift shop have limited hours, but there are no entry fees.

Bay Area Peaks ride
Bring your “A” game for the technical twisties that abound on the route down Mount Hamilton back into San Jose. Dark sunglasses or a tinted sun visor are essential for navigating the tight hairpins in the late afternoon sun.

The last few miles up the east side of Mount Hamilton felt technical and demanding but were comparatively simple compared to traveling down the west side. Cagers running wide and loose stones can make off-camber hairpins and tight, blind corners a challenge. The road down into San Jose will require your best riding skills, but the views on a clear day are well worth the effort.

Good things come in threes: brothers, bikes and peaks–looks like a trifecta ride.

Bay Area Peaks ride
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

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