This past Sunday seven of us tried out an experimental ride to Tiburon that started in the East Bay rather than San Francisco. Starting in Point Richmond at cozy Little Louie’s Cafe the route I was testing was to take us across to Marin via the Richmond-San Rafael (RSR) bridge. Such a route was not possible just a few years ago because it hadn’t previously been open to cyclists at all. With the debilitating increase in cyclists on the Golden Gate Bridge I was interested in exploring a different way to get to and enjoy the Tiburon loop especially since I live in the East Bay. Going to San Francisco to then ride across the GGB is literally ‘a bridge too far’ for me. Having an East Bay Tib loop might encourage our East Bay members to do the Jersey Ride if we can coordinate the meeting of the two groups at least to have lunch together at Woodlands Market in Tiburon and preferably to ride Paradise Drive together.
David Gaus came along much to my surprise and delight. David and I haven’t ridden together in a long time, probably not since the 2019 Pride Ride if not before. Joan came too on her mountain bike, which was going to be fine on this ride. David Pritikin, who is a ‘fellow traveler’, signed up—I hadn’t seen him since the 2019 Pride Ride; and two of his friends, Eric and Steve, decided to join the fun.
If you haven’t yet ridden across the RSR, you ought to do it at least once. This bridge at 5.5 miles in length is a lot longer than the Golden Gate, (1.7 miles) the Dumbarton (1.6 miles), the Carquinez (0.66 miles), and the Antioch (1.8 miles). The only longer bridge is the San Mateo at 7 miles but we can’t bike on it (yet/ever?). Unlike the others the RSR has two humps, which relieves the boredom I guess. Speaking of boredom, one thing that will drone on you is the relentless sound of a zillion automobile tires right next to you because the bike lane is just a repurposed car lane with a super-long K barrier between you and death. You get five and a half lovely miles to get used to that sound. On the other hand the view from the bridge is certainly different and can be enchanting. The first time I rode it I was struck by the placidity of Richardson Bay on the north side of the bridge. The last stretch of the bridge you’re almost at water level and the wetlands are gorgeous. Once you’re on the Marin side you take the 580 flyover on the shoulder that has been converted into a protected bikepath. The tricky part is finding a route around the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and the 101 freeway, which crosses Corte Madera Creek right there. The easiest way, which we were using, is to get on one of the walkways on the exit/entrance ramps. The east walk is barely wide enough for one person; if you encounter a cyclist or a wheelchair coming the opposite way, you’ll end up having to back out. The west walk is a bit better but it’s still rather narrow. We took the west sidewalk and then tried out a spiral pedestrian/cyclist overpass to get us back to the eastern side of the freeway on the frontage road. It was fine if a bit steep but Lord help you if another user is descending while you’re climbing! From there it was easy to get to Paradise Drive.
On Paradise Joan, Eric and I took off and barreled along at 20-22 mph, swooping through each inlet and racing up the inclines. We got to Tiburon in a trice and I was thoroughly worn out. We took a long lunch at Woodlands out on the deck and then headed back through Corte Madera skipping Camino Alto in favor of the lower bike path by 101. We then caught the Larkspur Path, which eventually got us back to the east walk of 101 over Corte Madera Creek.
When you return to the RSR on Sir Francis Drake Blvd you roll past San Quentin up a small hill where it becomes the entrance ramp to 580. The bike path coming from the RSR is on the opposite side and it looks like you should cross the road to take it. That’s a dangerous move: traffic is at high speed in both directions and you would have to judge the exact right moment to cross over to avoid being smashed. The actual route is to continue on the “bike path”, which is just the shoulder, and looks just like a shoulder. But there are a couple of small signs that tell you this is the way despite the debris and narrowness. You flow downhill onto 580 and immediately get off at the very last exit in Marin and then go under the freeway to catch the bridge. Unfortunately three of us were ahead and just presumed the others would take the “logical” route. But they didn’t see where we had gone and they predictably thought that getting on the freeway was wrong. So they crossed over. Roger was last and couldn’t warn them not to cross over. We all met up at the western landing of the RSR.
Crossing eastward you start at water level and you have to get over the two humps before landfall in Richmond. We had been fighting a west headwind all day and this was the only time it worked to our “advantage”. Since it was actually coming through the Golden Gate and hitting us sideways, it was more of a sidewind. But at least it wasn’t a head on! The RSR doesn’t get the dense, packed usage that the Golden Gate gets. There aren’t scads of rental bikes nor tourists taking selfies as they cross. It’s a functional bridge to get across the water and it’s lack of icon quality is exactly what makes it a perfect route for a Jersey Ride with little traffic and no danger except the errant trash tossed or blown onto the bike path.
When you descend on the path from the abutment to Point Richmond for some reason the builders put in a series of annoying lumps. If they were intended as speed bumps, they are unlike any I’ve ever seen being more of hobby-horse, washboard quality than true bumps that force you to slow down. But they can throw off your steering if you’re not attentive as happened to one cyclist just a few months after the bridge opened. He crashed and died.
At the bottom you have to cross the exit ramp from 580 and this is a time you should not blow through the light. Cars heading down have a real head of steam and have no time to react to an errant cyclist on the road. Be patient and push the walk button to cross. And even then keep a wide eye open to any cars that might miss the red light! Just a few blocks later we were back at Little Louie’s.
Although everybody had a good time on the ride, the routing was functional but not ideal. The intersection in San Rafael with 101 is a mess. The sidewalks are a sketchy way to get to Paradise and the only option is to head further west to Bon Air and catch the Larkspur Path. It would be safer but longer and you would have to repeat it coming back. The return by San Quentin is counterintuitive and requires some nerve to overcome the fear of using a freeway. We’ll try out a modified route next time. The total mileage was a little more than 36 miles, even shorter than the standard Jersey Ride at 47.