There are many destination points for bike touring but most lead to a campsite or an unmarked spot conjured up by worth of mouth and eaten up by a friend who’s dragging you along for the ride. Bike touring in California has limitless options. The tour doesn’t always have to end at a campsite, but more often than not it does. This first write-up is to serve more or less as a simple guide explaining the basic etiquette for bike touring and to help you prepare on your first time journey.
If you’re reading this and you’re not starting from San Francisco or passing through these parts the article may serve as a good point of view on what to expect on your first tour.
My supply list and route is located below for your reference, and even though I have included a Strava route always make sure to double check for any detours as things are continuously changing on the roads out here in California.
Bike touring takes many different forms, slow, fast, long, steep, bumpy, etc. Some cyclists choose to ride wider tires, some skinnier, some choose to bring a roll-up sleeping mat, some choose not to bring anything at all. What’s most important is that you come into this with an open mind and an open heart and accept the diversification of cycling and the places you will pass through. No place is the same, no rider is the same, and no bike is the same.
In bike touring, there are many different setups, you will learn this quickly. The most important setup is your own, and you can truly rig your bike up however you choose. I attached a photo at the end of this article that shows my first touring rig, the one I did on this ride, and my most current. What you decide to carry is up to you, some folks go real bare and some go real heavy, this is all going to depend on your riding style and how fast you want to move.
At the end of the day the main goal when you embark on your journey is to make it back alive and a little wiser. I bring this up because unlike mountain bikers and most roadies, long distance cyclists are riding on roads designed for automobiles, so we must obey the laws of the road. I would highly recommend you look up the cycling laws in your state. California’s laws are listed here.
First and foremost, always be aware and ride defensively. In areas where it gets steep or the shoulder gets down to a foot or less make to sure to make yourself visible (take the lane). In cycling and bike touring, the most important skill set you can have is to make yourself visible on the road so that cars are forced to go around you and not super close to you by trying to squeeze into the same lane as you when they’re making a pass. The idea is to more or less force them to go around you by occupying enough space so that they have to be aware of the oncoming vehicles, this typically ends up being about 3-5 feet into the lane.
If you’re taking up a lot of lane, make sure that you are visible and you have both a back light and front light, at all times! I would also recommend a hi-vis vest or a jersey/jacket with reflective features. There have been many recent studies that recommend wearing colorful shoes and socks for higher visibility, or even strapping lights to your ankles. The circular motion of the lights is much more likely to catch the eye of a driver than a static piece of apparel such as a jersey, shorts or helmet.
Last but not least, don’t let pride get in the way of a pit stop to catch your breath and fuel up on some food if your form is getting bad.
This ride starts from the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, takes you to Point Reyes National Seashore Sky Camp and loops back via PCH1 to take you back through Sausalito and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Total mileage is 83.74 miles (133 km) with 6,000 feet of elevation gain. (bring lots of water and energy)
Starting from the Conservatory of Flowers located on the east side of GGP you’ll be riding halfway through the park and quickly entering Presidio Park. With a nice ride through the Presidio you’ll quickly reach the gates of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re doing this ride on a weekday the West side of The Bridge will be closed until 3:30PM so you’ll have to ride across on the pedestrian side if you show up before then. The reason the cycling side is closed on the weekdays until 3:30PM is because crews are constantly doing work to keep old Bridgette going.
The best advice I can give for The Bridge crossing is take your time, and be patient. Understand that not everyone is as educated in riding a bike as yourself . With that being said you’ll get a lot of people who are filming on their phones and not paying attention so be very cautious when making passes, especially if you’re on the pedestrian side.
From the Golden Gate Bridge you’re going to make a right and drop down into Sausalito, a quaint little town made up mostly of tourists and locals coming down from the hills for lunch or coffee. If you’re not stocked up on enough food for two full days of riding there are plenty of grocery stores on the way to camp.
Cibo is a great place to stop for a good breakfast or lunch before embarking on the rest of the trip. Their outside patio allows you to keep an eye on your bike, which is a big plus if you’re riding all alone. I prefer to bring my own food on overnight trips just because I don’t like having to drag my bike into the store if I’m all alone. If you’re riding with friends, then you can always have one person watch the bikes while the other shops.
From Sausalito you’ll continue to make your way along the Sausalito-Mill Valley Path for about 2-3 miles with nice views of the Bay until you reach Sycamore street. From there you will pull off the bike path and turn left and then a quick right. From there you keep going straight through the light towards your first climb up and over Camino Alto. This climb is roughly 300 feet and should be a nice warm up for the the hills to come.
Note on climbing … riding up hill can be extremely daunting at first.
When riding uphill it’s important to catch a comfortable cadence and keep that pace steady. More likely than not you’ll be in your lowest gear when you’re climbing hills so you should find some comfort within that range. Always keep your knees within the width of your bars and make nice circular motions using your hamstrings to bring the cranks back up (kill the leaky pedal habit).
… and then a note on bike fit. Proper bike fit and good form precedes everything that you do especially when you’re riding with an additional 20-40 pounds of gear. If you can’t afford a bike fit do some research on what others around your height ride and play around with your seat adjustments, bar positioning, and stem length. Before your first tour you should be comfortable riding 50-70 miles without any gear loaded onto your bike.
From Camino Alto you’ll drop down and merge onto Magnolia Drive, which is a 5-6 mile ride that takes you through safe neighborhood roads with marked cycling signs. Eventually you will merge onto Sir Francis Drake where you will have to endure a 500 foot climb with a really nice descent on the other side.
After the decent, you will pass Samuel P. Taylor State Park, a great place to stop and camp if you have the time. Cyclist pay only $7 per night here and it’s a breezy 65 mile roundtrip from the Conservatory of Flowers so it’s fairly popular amongst those looking for a quick getaway. I recently camped here and it was quite accommodating for its small size.
Eventually you will reach Olema, a small town made up of a few businesses just before the final leg of the ride. Olema Liquor and Deli is the last store before camp so if you need any supplies make sure to pick them up here.
The Point Reyes Seashore camp is located about 2 miles north of Olema. After about a half mile you’ll turn left onto Bear Valley road, you’ll take this until you see the big red barn. The camp center is located behind the barn. For operating hours follow the link to the Point Reyes National Seashore website. The center hours change throughout the season so if you show up and the center is closed you can drop an envelope with your funds and go find a camp spot.
Most of the spots are walk-in only so typically there are 2-3 spots left at each campsite at the end of the day. There are 3 other major camp sites so you have your picking, each campsite is $20 per night and can accommodate 3-5 people.
After you take care of that administrative stuff, you’re going to continue North from Bear Valley Road until you reach Limantour Road, you take this paved road until you see a sign for Sky Camp pointing left towards a small parking lot. From there you get on the fire access road and follow the signs all the way to camp. The ride is about 1.9 miles, which is fairly moderate to easy. If you’ve got some juice left, you should be able to pedal through it, but it’s also an easy walk if you’re not in the trail riding mood. This an old fire access road so you could get away with road tires but I wouldn’t recommend riding on this road on anything skinnier than a 28 sized tire (photo below for reference)… I mean you could get away with a 25 but it’d be rough doin’.
Sky Camp has a total of 12 spots, spot 1 and 2 are fairly open to the elements, spots 3-12 are fairly tucked away in the tree line. Some of the campsites are group sites so you might have to share a camp if you show up later in the day.
This trip took place early January and the weather was definitely chilly, hovering around 42-65 degrees the entire ride. I would highly recommend leg and arm warmers if you have some. If you’re camping in this type of weather, make sure you bring your rain fly for insulation and a 3 season sleeping bag with some sort of blanket. My sleeping bag actually opened up at the zipper on this trip and I froze my ass off but got some sleep in the morning as it began warming up.
The ride down from camp the next morning was especially cold because you’re not moving for about a mile or two as you descend down Limantour road.
Once you’ve made the descent and you’re back on Bear Valley road you’ll continue to down Highway 1 for 10+ miles. This portion of the ride takes you through a small beach town called Stinson where you’ll have options for lunch or breakfast. I do recommend Stinson as a resting point because after Stinson you’ve got 2 big climbs before rounding back to Sausalito. The portion after Stinson is probably the most difficult climb of the journey. Luckily you don’t have to do it all at once and there are plenty of places to pull out and rest. The views are spectacular.
After you get through the two climbs, you will descend passing a 7-11 and then an AM/PM. Make a right at the AM/PM and continue down to until you reach the Sausalito Bike pathway. If you care for good coffee, hit Equator across the street from the AM/PM. After Sausalito you’ll endure one last climb and then you’ll cross back into San Francisco via The Bridge.
So there it is, your first tour. I hope this intro ride helped you make your first touring trip a success. If you’re not in the Bay Area, pick a campsite outside of your city and follow the same guidelines.
Below I’ve included a link to my route and the list of the supplies I used on this trip. One thing I’ve realized from the beginning of my touring adventures is that you will always want to change your setup, there’s always a tweak here and there you can make to become more efficient so prepare to geek out.
The first bike I ever took on a tour
Bike: Fairdale Weekender 2015 Model … I’ve used this bike for city riding and touring for 2 years straight and have had zero major issues. The gearing ratio is a true 10 speed with a 11-40T rear cassette, which allows for real smooth uphill riding and low maintenance when it comes to chain issues.
Frame Bag: Revelate Tangle Bike Frame Bag … I stash my tent poles in between the top portion of the frame bag and the top tube in order to conserve space. The interior compartments have enough room to hold a multi-tool, 2-3 tubes, hand pump, patch kit, and 3-4 bars.
Map: always try to pick up a local map, always. You can usually pick these up in RangerStations otherwise make sure to keep that GPS charged up.
Seat Bag : Ortlieb Seat-Pack Saddle Bag – great seat bag, some prefer to go with the panniers. My theory on this is, the more space you have, the more you’ll want to carry. I actually downsized from a back rack and two panniers to a single seat bag.
Tent: I’ve used a variety of tents, from a 20 year old 1 person tent to an REI half dome on my touring trips. I settled with the Marmot EOS 1 P because of it’s size and weight, it also fits under my top tube, which has a clearance of 54 cm between the head tube and the seat tube. For this particular tent I would say 54cm top tube is minimum in order to fit the ten poles.
Sleep mat: I use a basic blow up mat, some riders prefer not too because it takes up too much space.
Sleeping bag: I use a pretty compact sleeping bag by Sea-to-Summit, it’s great for 1-2 season but I bring an extra rolled up blanket incase it get’s below 55 degrees.
Smaller items include …
Patch kit ( w/ at least 5-10 patches), 1 extra tube, hand pump. If you’re carrying Co2 tanks make sure your have at least 3. You never know when your luck will make a u-turn.
3 water bottles
Back and Front light.
7-10 bars and about 5 gels.
The route link below… also notice that the PCH 1 after Stinson is still closed for repairs, so now you’re forced to take the Panoramic Way, which is another way to get back onto that Sausalito bike- path, which will take you back up into Sausalito and across the bridge into San Francisco.
Strava GPS link can be found here…