Frequently Asked Questions
I'm a late-start mountain biker who started biking in earnest only around 2006, in my late 30s. I've been riding around the San Francisco Bay Area regularly since then. Typically, I try to ride somewhere new on as many rides as I can. I'm also a bit of an obsessive record-keeper and I always use a GPS on my rides due to being a geek. As a result of this, after about one ride per week on average over these years, I've ended up with first-hand knowledge of and the GPS track data for most of the places around the Bay Area where one can do mountain biking. I've just taken a rough count and, as I write this, the list adds up to about 80 different locations around the Bay Area (without counting different trails and routes in the same park as separate).
I had considered building a site like this a number of times before, to make this information available to all other riders out there, and now I've finally found the motivation to put it into action. My aim here is to help people in discovering and picking new places around the Bay Area where they might like to go mountain biking. There are plenty of other good websites out there about mountain biking in the Bay Area. Most of the amateur ones, while containing valuable first-hand information, have a limited selection of places listed or don't give too many specific details of the logistics for each ride. Some commercial "trail databases" have a reasonable amount of ride specifics listed, but most are national rather than local, so the number of rides they contain in this specific area is not very high. Many books describe many more local rides in this immediate area with plenty of detail and description on each ride, but, of course they are usually unable to provide downloadable GPS tracks or clickable links to mapping websites for trailhead and parking information. And there are some sites where you do find many downloadable GPS tracks, but they are usually accompanied by no narrative about the ride.
For these reasons, I think this site may address a distinct need by being a place where you can find some verbal description and subjective opinion about each ride, coupled with all the details you could ever need for planning the specifics of doing the ride. I hope you find it useful!
I prefer trail rides as much as I can. The vast majority of rides you'll find on this website will be trail rides. For a mountain biker, that might sound like stating the obvious, but I find it worth pointing out because I also do road rides sometimes (such as immediately after rain showers, when most trails are muddy and fragile). Therefore, there are pure (or partial) road rides listed on this site as well, despite the fact that it's titled "Bay Area Mountain Bike Rides". Road rides give you some things that trail rides don't (and vice versa), but I mainly try to stay away from the pavement for the most part, simply because I find it risky to be subject to the mistakes of the drivers with whom I share the road.
Like most mountain bikers, I have a preference for singletrack trails. You'll notice that bias in most of my selections and descriptions. Many rides you'll find here have been planned in a way to maximize the singletrack portion of the route. Still, I don't shy away too much from fire roads either, and you'll find plenty of rides here as well that consist of pure fire road routes. It's just that they're usually "second-class citizens" in my view.
The descriptive information you'll find on this site is, naturally, the subjective view of one individual. Therefore, it might help you in gauging the ride descriptions and estimates you see here if I describe to you my riding style a little bit.
I've been doing mountain biking regularly for several years now, but that doesn't mean I'm an advanced mountain biker in the usual sense. I might place myself as an intermediate-level rider, perhaps. I'm not a fast rider, and the rides I do with my usual riding buddies are never about speed. To me, mountain biking is still about sight-seeing as much as anything else. I never "catch air". Not even bunny hops. The most you might catch me doing is a lift of the front wheel over a minor fallen tree branch once in a blue moon. I still have fun on a technical singletrack descent as much as the next guy and enjoy the sense of accomplishment from completing a long and challenging climb. But, rides, to me, are less about what my average speed has been compared to the last time I did the same route. Instead of an hour or two, a regular ride for me can last four hours or more (though some are shorter, of course).
My riding is also regularly interrupted by the rainy season in the winter and travel in the summer, so that I find myself repeatedly falling out of shape and getting back into shape. When I'm out of shape, I can't say that I revert back to the level of a non-sporting person who's getting on top of a mountain bike for the first time, perhaps, but I do regress to a level where, say, a 10-mile trail ride with 2000 feet of total climb might become challenging to me again.
So, when judging the duration figures and difficulty descriptions you see here for a ride or in interpreting what I've said about how fun a particular ride is, knowing these about my riding style might put things in perspective for you. In addition, the duration I list for each ride is typically the exact amount of time reflected in the timestamps of the GPS track of that ride. As such, all rest stops are included in it, as well as time spent being distracted by trailside attractions, shooting photos, filming videos of my riding buddies retrying difficult trail sections, coffee stops, and sometimes even a lunch stop. Gauge them accordingly.
This is the amount of fun I would expect to have on the ride purely from a riding point of view. In other words, only the characteristics of the trail(s) and what you'll be doing on your bike to get through it that factors into this rating. The ride may have stunning views all around but be on a flat and featureless fire road and its fun rating will still be dismal. Neither will trail-side attractions and other interesting diversions during the ride affect this. The fun rating is purely about the riding experience.
|1/10||Better hope you'll be seeing something special during this ride, because the ride itself will not give you anything in terms of riding fun.|
|5/10||There are some interesting parts of this route in terms of riding experience, but they don't constitute enough of the ride. Unless it's your first time here or you're doing the ride for additional reasons, you might not be too interested in this one.|
|10/10||Everything you could ever expect from a mountain bike ride. It would be worth driving a hundred miles to be able to do this ride.|
This is a measure of how interesting the things you'll be seeing around you during the ride will be. By this, I mean mostly distant landscapes and open vistas. You might be a lover of lush jungle-like forest environments (and I share that with you) but a ride that gives you a lot of that wouldn't result in a high scenery rating here. This is a scenery score only in the sense people mean when they say "this house has a great view".
|1/10||Nothing at all to look at other than the trail itself and what's immediately on either side. (This might be a dense woodland, for example.)|
|5/10||More views than what you would expect from just any mountain bike ride, but it's either for a brief period, or not very "long" views (i.e., it's only to neighboring valleys, ridges, etc.).|
|10/10||Never mind the bike ride, this is one of the best vista points in the whole area. It would be easily worth coming here for the views even if you won't be riding.|
The physical difficulty of the ride in terms of the exertion and stamina that it requires. Note that this is the overall difficulty of the ride. A ride with a relatively low rating may still have short sections that will take a lot of effort to clear, or even that you might have to walk.
|1/10||No physical challenge worth mentioning at all. This is a ride where you can easily bring along not just your (non-rider) family and kids, but even small kids riding their own bikes will probably be perfectly fine.|
|5/10||When you're out of shape, this is a ride that might count as a reasonable workout, but won't present a challenge for you. If you're in good shape, you won't think this is enough of a workout. But people who don't work out at all (biking or something else) might have difficulty finishing this ride.|
|10/10||This ride is either a real "epic", or it traverses a lot of crazily steep climbs. Attempting this ride when you're in anything but your best physical shape is almost certain to be a mistake.|
This is the difficulty of riding a bike along this route. Things that would contribute to this difficulty could be rutted or rocky trails; narrow trails along steep hillsides; drops or obstacles on the trail due to rocks, roots, or man-made steps; or steep or slippery descents.
|1/10||If this is not a paved road, then it must be the best maintained fire road. You could probably drive a low-slung exotic car on this trail.|
|5/10||There are enough technical sections along this ride to get a beginner mountain bike rider into trouble, but an advanced rider might not remember this as a particularly technical ride. It's still technical enough to provide some riding fun to advanced riders, though.|
|10/10||If you can pull this off, you might want to think of getting into professional downhill racing, perhaps. This might be a good ride to wear protective gear. And forget about "no-dab" completion of the route, unless you're a biking demi-god.|
The written descriptions you'll find at this site for each ride will not include turn-by-turn directions for the ride. The descriptions are intended only to give you a general sense of what to expect from the ride, with the addition of some highlights and caveats you might want to look out for. As far as navigating your way through each turn of the ride, you're expected to either download the GPS track of the ride, upload it to your own GPS receiver and take that with you on the ride to follow along, or, at worst, to print out some of the maps and try finding your way using those. Other than those, you're on your own for successfully tracing the route that is implied for the ride. Much time has passed since I did some of these rides, so I don't remember enough specifics to be able to give you turn-by-turn instructions, I'm afraid.
The downloadable GPS track that I make available for each ride is the actual track I've recorded during one particular ride of my own of that route. Since I made no edits to any of the recorded GPS tracks, they still reflect every movement that my bike has taken during the ride, including things like repeated loops, small side excursions, answers to nature's call, and aborted wrong turns. So, use the GPS tracks accordingly, rather than treating them like gospel. In addition, the total ride distance that I quote is almost always the exact full length of the raw GPS track, so keep these additions in mind if you definitely need to have an accurate measurement of the total ride distance.
In addition, if you click on the "GPS Track" link and your browser shows you the contents of an XML file, it's because your browser is choosing to open the file as if it were a document, rather than giving you an option to save it somewhere. If that happens, you'll want to go back and (instead of left-clicking on that link) right-click on the link and select "Save Link As" (or your browser's equivalent) from the pop-up menu to save the GPS track to your computer.
Last but not least, don't let the availability of ride details fool you into a false sense of confidence. Trails and trail conditions change frequently, and archived GPS tracks couldn't ever hope to reflect that. So, keep your eyes open and use your head. Neither can a website like this keep you up-to-date on trail use changes or seasonal closures. You'll need to consult the park's or territory's own website for that.
A mountain bike can take you deeper into the wilderness (and away from help) much more quickly than you can go on foot. You should be extra careful whenever you're planning a ride at a place that's not already familiar to you. Always use heaping doses of common sense, think ahead, be attentive, and be prepared for the unexpected. And that applies doubly when you're biking alone.
So, keep in mind that you'll have to answer for yourself while you're riding out there and that I can't be responsible for anything that happens to you.