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Where to Ride in the Bay Area

by SRP on September 29, 2020

You may not have realized it, but by working within Stanford Research Park, you have movie stars for neighbors. Well, sort of.

A short bike and pedestrian path cuts across the Research Park — the Bol Park Bike Path. And halfway down the path is a gated pasture where two donkeys named Perry and Buddy graze. These are the Donkeys of Barron Park, and in addition to being favorites with area children, Perry was the inspiration for "Donkey" in the classic animated feature, Shrek.

All this goes to show, there's always something weird and wonderful to do or see whenever you step out your door. And many of these weird wonders are accessible by bike!

But finding your way via bike takes a little planning and forethought, and we’re here to help. Below are tactical tips, route resources, and some alternative places on the web to find scenic or recreational routes. Finally, there’s a “Starter Kit” to give beginners some inspiration.

What makes for a "good" route?
If you’re a beginner, here’s what to look for when you're planning a bike route.

Paths: Paths are fully dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists, so there's zero chance of coming into contact with cars except at crossings.

Bicycle boulevards: These are typically residential roads that have been blocked off to through traffic at certain key intersections, usually using landscaping elements or extended curbs. Bike boulevards are signed and are typically marked by sharrows (more on those below).

Low-traffic / low-speed streets: Weaving through the neighborhoods isn’t the most efficient way to get where you're going, but often it's more pleasant. When there are fewer cars on the road and they’re traveling at low speeds, drivers are better at giving cyclists ample space when they pass.

Streets with bicycle infrastructure: Infrastructure can mean lots of things, but mainly it's a stand-in for bike lanes. Roads with bike lanes are generally preferred to those without, although some cyclists prefer low traffic/low speed streets to busy high-speed roads with designated bike lanes. For instance, Page Mill Road, the main road that bisects SRP, does have a bike lane, but many cyclists prefer to use Hanover St. + Porter Dr., or Bol Park Bike Path. The best kind of bike lane is a protected bike lane — those separated from traffic lanes by physical structures like traffic islands, planters, or soft hit posts.

Shared lane markings or “sharrows”: These are paint on pavement depicting the bicycle symbol crowned by an arrow. Generally sharrows are less preferred than the above options since they don't offer cyclists dedicated space or physical serration from vehicles. Nonetheless, they do indicate to drivers to be on the lookout for cyclists.

Routes free from hazards: Generally avoid routes where there is significant construction. Debris, like nails and other sharp items that puncture bike tires, often make their way into the roadway. Additionally be on the lookout for train tracks, and always cross tracks slowly and perpendicularly to avoid sticking a wheel and going over your bars.

Flat, paved surfaces: Wheels of all kinds like smooth, pot-hole free roads, and bikes are no exception.

Using Google Maps for routing
Maps is the most popular tool for finding a good bike route between a particular origin and destination. For a video tutorial on how to use Maps for cycling directions, see here.

Always check Google’s recommended bike routes on the web before you head out, since the algorithm seems to value bike lanes on busier streets and flatter routes over the lower-traffic side streets you might prefer.

One of the more helpful features of Maps is the "Bicycling" menu option. If you click on the three horizontal lines at the upper left, then “Bicycling” to show bike routes, the map will become awash with green squiggles. These lines indicate roads or paths that are generally good for cyclists. This feature is also available in the Google Maps mobile app - so you can route yourself on the go!

Beyond Google Maps
Maps is a jumping off point and a way to virtually explore an area or route ahead of riding it. It should help you generate ideas or on-the-spot routes between A and B. But there are some alternative sources you should check out:

City and county bike maps
Most municipalities have a map that designates bike routes, and lucky for us, the Silicon Valley Coalition collected most bay area maps by region. If you’re looking for bike-friendly routes around SRP, check out our in-house bike map — these are "bunny slope" routes sourced by actual SRP employees who ride every day.

Three popular apps when it comes to bikes and routes are: Strava; RideWithGPS; and Ride Spot. Of course, there are many others, but those three should get you started if you want to dive into the world of bike apps. All require a user account; and most features are then free.

Strava is for those who like metrics, and if you’re interested in tracking your rides and keeping tabs on your progress, Strava is absolutely for you. The other two apps, RideWithGPS and Ride Spot, are more concerned with helping users find great routes and providing turn-by-turn directions for said routes — both those created by others or by you with their route builders.

Club group rides
Local bike clubs typically have route libraries. So even if you’re not looking for friends to ride with, their sites will likely have route resources. Once again our backyard bicycle coalition, the SVBC, has a great list of local clubs. Another place to check: your local bike shop. Shop associates are generally experts on anything bike, including routes and rides in the area.

Bay Area Trails Collective
Check out this site for a comprehensive map of off-road trails in the Bay Area.

Bay Area bike ride starter kit
If you’re new to riding, below is a list of classic Bay Area rides and routes to get you rolling!

Paradise Loop
An iconic ride that begins in San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge, loops around Tiburon, then skirts back to the city.

The Butter Lap
This is “a weekly leaderless social bike ride around San Francisco,” although the route is fairly short, simple, and does its best to avoid streets with cars. It begins at the Ferry Building, winds around the northern edge of the city, through the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, and then ends in the Mission District.

Crystal Springs
There’s a small system of off-road bike paths around the Crystal Springs Reservoir on the peninsula. This is a great ride to take the kids on, especially on Sundays, when an adjoining 3.8-mile segment of Cañada Road along the trail is closed between the Filoli entrance and Highway 92.

Iron Horse Trail
This is a multi-use trail in the East Bay connecting Concord and Pleasanton, and follows an abandoned railroad grade.

Bay Trail
Eventually, the Bay Trail will be a 500-mile walking and biking trail that circumnavigates the entire Bay. Portions of the trail are open now, and very pleasant to ride, especially with small children.

Guadalupe River Trail
This trail links south San Jose to Alviso, and eventually will be a 20-mile network of trails in that region. If you do make it to Alviso be sure to poke around a bit — a marine ghost town is nearby!

Questions? Email us!


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