It's no secret that the Bay Area is heaven for cyclists. But you don't have to be an expert — or spend hundreds of dollars on gear — to enjoy a leisurely, scenic ride. If you have a bike (or even if you don't; see below), a sense of adventure, and a summer day to spend, you're guaranteed to have a great time. All it really takes to be a cyclist is to hop on your bike and go. And remember — it's not a race, it's a ride. Go slow and enjoy.
What to Bring
Printed-out bicycle directions (even if you have a smartphone — losing service on a ride sucks!)
Plenty of water
An extra tube and a portable pump
Portable speakers (for extra fun)
What to Wear
It's good to wear shoes that grip if you don't have clips on your pedals. And if you're willing to spend a little money, padded bike shorts and fingerless gloves are worth it (and don't forget a helmet!).
Ride #1: Conquer the Bears
Start in downtown Berkeley, and bike through Tilden Regional Park and up Bear Creek Road, a gorgeous but fairly difficult ride that ends with lunch in Lafayette.
Distance: ~17 miles
Scenic Level: Very scenic
Difficulty Level: Pretty difficult (but definitely doable)
Start at the Downtown Berkeley BART station. If you want, head a few blocks north on Shattuck Avenue and stop at Guerrilla Cafe (1620 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) for your caffeine. From there, head east up Cedar Street to Spruce Street, turn left, and head up the hill toward Tilden. Remember to take it slow; you can do it! Stop at the reservoir at the top of the hill to hydrate and fill up your water bottles at the funky drinking fountain. Water is sparse after this point in the ride, so make sure you drink up.
Catch Wildcat Canyon Road — you'll take this all the way through Tilden. This part of the ride consists of gorgeous, rolling hills through shady eucalyptus groves. Make sure to catch your breath and catch the view at Inspiration Point — that's Mount Diablo in the distance. Follow Wildcat Canyon down the hill and across San Pablo Damn Road (you're in Orinda now). You've made it to Bear Creek Road — aka The Bears. These hills are pretty hard, but remember, you can go as slow as you want. Enjoy the rolling hills and views of the Briones Reservoir and feel the burn. Follow Wildcat Canyon until you hit Happy Valley Road. You're going to turn right here, but first, head a little farther up the road and turn right on Briones Valley Road so you can refill on water at Briones Regional Park.
Once you've rested up, turn back to Happy Valley Road and head southeast. The first mile or so is a steep but shady uphill — walking is allowed — but once you hit the top, you can coast the next three miles into Downtown Lafayette and straight to Chow (53 Lafayette Cir., Lafayette), where you'll eat the best lunch of your life. Get a beer, because you definitely just earned it. When you're done, you're only a few blocks from the Lafayette BART station.
Ride #2: The Hidden East Bay
You'll bike from El Cerrito through El Sobrante, Pinole, and Hercules, and end up in Port Costa, a tiny town on the Carquinez Strait. Then you'll bike across the Carquinez Bridge and take the Vallejo ferry to San Francisco.
Distance: ~25 miles
Scenic Level: Pretty scenic
Difficulty Level: Moderate (not many hard hills, but some busy streets)
Start at the El Cerrito del Norte BART station. Take Key Boulevard north and stop in at Smart Coffee (4820 Bissell Ave., Richmond), an authentic Brazilian spot, for some pasteles and coffee. Then you'll follow the I-80 Bikeway north through El Sobrante, where you'll turn left on Appian Road, which you'll follow until you get to Pinole. (Signs can be a bit spotty for the I-80 Bikeway, so be sure to bring your printed-out map.) Turn right on Sarah Drive and then make a left on Pinole Valley Road, which you'll take all the way to the water.
Take a break at Bayfront Park and take a look at the historic Bernardo Fernandez mansion. You'll then pick up the Bay Trail and make your way back to the I-80 Bikeway/Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway will take you through Hercules and Rodeo, through a very loud and dramatic oil refinery, up a slightly difficult hill, and all the way to the Carquinez Bridge. Don't cross it yet — head into Crockett and check out the spooky C&H Sugar Refinery and the Crockett Historical Museum (900 Loring Ave., Crockett). Keep riding through Crockett and take Snake Road — a beautiful winding road by the water with some small hills — and then take the left fork at Canyon Lake Drive and roll into Port Costa. You're here! Grab a snack at the Burlington Hotel Cafe (warning, it closes early) and marvel at the longest-operating hotel in California, which is rumored to have once been a brothel. Grab a beer or a cocktail with the bikers at the Warehouse Cafe (5 Canyon Lake Dr., Port Costa) across the street, take a picture with the taxidermied polar bear, and walk along the railroad tracks by the water. I know you don't want to leave, but you have to catch the last ferry from the Vallejo Ferry Terminal, a quick seven-mile ride away. The ride will take you back through Crockett and across the Carquinez Bridge, so leave enough time to enjoy the view.
Ride #3: Tour de Bay
This ride takes you from the Lower Haight neighborhood in San Francisco, through the gorgeous scenery of Marin County, and back to San Francisco via the Tiburon Ferry.
Distance: ~19 miles (not including getting back to BART from Fisherman's Wharf)
Scenic Level: Extremely scenic
Difficulty Level: Mild. Beside a couple of small hills, this is a relatively flat ride that sticks to the water.
Cost: ~$45 (Fish is a little pricey, but worth it.)
Take BART from the East Bay and get off at the 16th St. Mission station. Bike up 17th Street, turn right on Sanchez, and catch The Wiggle — a clearly marked bike route that avoids those gnarly SF hills — at Duboce Triangle. Take The Wiggle to Mojo Bicycle Cafe (639 Divisadero St., San Francisco) for some coffee and a bagel. You can pump up your tires and fill your water bottle here, too. Head back to Fell Street and take it through the Panhandle and through the park. You'll want to take Arguello Boulevard — which ends in a short, steep hill — up to the Presidio and take Washington Boulevard through the park. Watch out for that Andy Goldsworthy sculpture on your left and some serious bay vistas on your right. Catch Lincoln Avenue, which will take you straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. Put on your layers — it gets cold on the bridge — and bike on over to Marin.
Once you're across the bridge, follow the cycling crowds to Alexander Avenue, which will take you straight into downtown Sausalito. Bike north through town and take Bridgeway Road until you hit Harbor Drive — take a right and stop at Fish Restaurant (350 Harbor Dr., Sausalito) for a crab roll and a beer. From there, catch the Mill Valley/Sausalito bike path until you hit Bayfront Park, where you'll turn right and get onto Hamilton Drive. Follow signs to Tiburon and enjoy the scenery. When you get to Tiburon, have a Bloody Mary on the waterfront patio at Sam's (27 Main St., Tiburon) while you wait for the ferry back to Fisherman's Wharf (check ferry times at BlueandGoldFleet.com). The best part? The ferry takes Clipper cards.
Don't have a bike? No problem! Rent bikes by the day:
The Bike Hut
Pier 40, San Francisco, 415-543-4335
Hours: Wed.-Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
$27.50 per day to rent an adult road bike
Run by the Bike Hut Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes cycling through youth training and affordable bike rental, repair, and sales.
Bay Area Bikes
427 Water St., Jack London Square, Oakland, 510-836-2311
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
$40 per day to rent an adult road bike.