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March 4, 2010

Tour of the Marin Headlands

Filed under: San Francisco — anotherheader @ 8:30 pm

Fort Cronkhite

With a break in the rains, Becky and I decided to roll Flash, our tandem, out of the garage and head up to the Marin Headlands.  This is a pretty standard loop for many cyclists but it is, shockingly, the first time that we’ve done a fuller loop on the GGNRA land.  A clear day and news of the impending road closures on the Headlands signaled that it was now a good time to check this area out.

Our route, more or less, to the headlands

Road closures on the Headlands:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/02/27/MNDI1C63EN.DTL

We decided to take Caltrains up to the City and start our ride from the terminal train station.  After purchasing tickets, we were set to load the bike onto the train.

The conductor stopped us.

“You can’t take a bicycle built for two on the train,” he announced.  “If I let you on, I could lose my job.”

We were dumbfounded.  This is the first we heard of this.

Part of the bunker complex near the Golden Gate Bridge

“But the train is mostly empty,” we pleaded.

The conductor eventually relented.

“I’ll let you on, but I can’t guarantee that you will be allowed onto the train on the way back,” he said after determining our destination.

We thought awhile.

“OK, we will take the chance.”

“Do me a favor and use the second bike car,” the conductor finished.

We loaded the tandem onto the train.  Flash was very lonely in the bike compartment.  But it didn’t matter.  We were on our way.

I can kind of see why this rule would make sense during commute hours though is loading one larger bike really harder than two individual bikes?  But on a near empty train on the weekend, it makes little sense.

The weekend train stops at every station.  It took about 50 minutes to reach the end of the line.

From 4th and King, we rolled to the bay, continued along The Embarcadero, dodged tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf, passed through Fort Mason and Crissy Field, and headed over the Golden Gate Bridge.  From the Marin side of the bridge, we climbed Conzelman Road passing the tourist overlooks.  Past the last overlook, Conzelman turns into a one way, 15 mph road, which winds down the cliff with left hand ocean cliff exposure.  I’m pretty sure that we exceeded the speed limit on this section.  Though short, it is one of the best descents in the area.  We passed the WWII gun batteries and closed the loop heading back on Field Road to Bunker Road.  The Bunker Road tunnel, in the eastbound direction, is a fast downhill.  Underneath US 101 and a right turn on Alexander put us back on the bridge and heading back the way we came.


This time of year, the views on the Headlands are spectacular.  There is no wonder why this is such an iconic bicycle loop.

Becky takes a break to straighten a guard rail

Back in San Francisco, our train schedule indicated that we had 15-minutes to cover the car clogged 3.5 miles and make the next train.  It was time to turn on the jets, split the traffic bike messenger style, and use the curbs to our maximum advantage.  Just when it looked like two bike felons on one bike would make the station in time for the train, we saw the Ferry Building up ahead.  We were hungry.  The lure of fresh oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. was more temptation than we could pass.  We stopped and ate.  We would take the next train.  Does Hog Island Oyster Co. have the best oysters in the Bay Area?  The raw oysters were their briny best goodness.

The service at Hog Island was fast and we were easily at the station in time for the next train.  We rolled the bike on to the platform and headed to the bike car.

“You can’t take that bike onto the train,” a conductor said from behind, seemingly coming from nowhere.

We had learned that standing silent for this was the best option.

“I can lose my job,” the conductor continued.

A gang of Segway riders preparing for an urban assault

“But there are only three bikes going onto the train,” I finally tried.

It didn’t work.  The conductor moved onto the guilt approach.

“I’ll let you on but I’m risking my job.  Do you really want me to lose my job?”

That was a pretty good line, if we really believed it.  But we were still determined.

The conductor eventually relented.

“Do me a favor and use the second bike car,” the conductor finished just as the earlier conductor had.

They must have a tandem dissuasion class for Caltrain conductors.

In the end, it didn’t matter.  The train took us back to Belmont.  As we exited the train, another conductor told us “Don’t try taking that bike on the train during the week.  They’ll let you on during the weekend, but not during the week.”

Our ride covered about 30 miles with about 3.5 hours of saddle time.  If you haven’t done this loop recently (or at all), do it now before the road closes.  It is a classic ride.  But, if you take Caltrain, you might want to leave the tandem at home.

Becky says that it is her turn to drive

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