Holly and I did a very modified version of the Port Costa Loop this morning (saturday). in order to beat the heat we got up early and were at the Pleasant Hill BART station by 8am.
This is the first recreational/distance ride I've done in about 20 years, so I don't know how it rates among Bay Area road rides, but it was lots of fun. it's also easily the longest I've gone on a fixedgear!
Those of you who have the Kingman book, Short Bike Rides San Francisco, know that the book's ride meanders into Martinez from Pleasant Hill BART, and then goes out to Port Costa via a mostly-closed-to-cars road, the Carquinez Scenic Drive. The ride then returns to (UN)Pleasant Hill via a western route from Martinez. Because much of the first part of the ride was on trails which were closed, our version was shorter and simpler: we went to Martinez and back via the return route. By the time we got to Martinez it was already getting very hot, and suburban weekend traffic was also heating up, so we decided to skip the Carquinez scenic drive and just turn around. The total distance was about 20 miles according to the book.
If you try this ride, be aware that much of the Contra Costa Canal trail is closed for improvements. Bring a decent map of the area and just take the big roads--surprisingly, most of them have bike lanes. They are generally smooth and fast, with few interruptions. Much better than the bumpy dark trails crowded with headphoned pedestrians.
I guess it's good to go out into hellish suburbs now and then to remind myself just how alienating and auto-dependent they are. I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the damage that car culture has done to our society, and a little trip out to Contra Costa is just the thing to remind me that it's as bad as I think it is. In between Pacheco and Martinez things got a little bit country, which was a nice change before hitting the junction with Hwy 4 and the mobs of impatient drivers.
The cycling was a sheer joy. We rode for miles and miles without stopping. The Alhambra Valley/Reliez Valley Rd section of the ride is a great series of rolling hills, good for hammering up and then spinning crazily down. Fixed-gear bikes seem very well suited to this type of riding. I think I could even go touring on one if I got my equipment in order. Why not?
Note that some of the roads have little paths next to them. Sometimes these paths are good alternatives when the road is narrow and traffic heavy; just make sure they don't lead you off into some dead end you have to climb back out of. There was one path that paralleled part of Reliez Valley Rd that we found useful for a long uphill.
In theory, I like Kingman's style of patching together trails, roads, and abandoned roadways, but in practice I think sticking to the big roads is more fun. It's faster and smoother, with fewer stops, and I am hereby totally sick of riding on Bay Area multi-use trails anyway. In any case, I need to mount some wider tires before we go tackle these abandoned roadways he's so fond of. Meanwhile I think we will use the bike route info at 511.org to put together some speedy east-of-the-hills rides that, say, go from Pleasant Hill BART to Pittsburg BART via the Carquinez Strait, or something like that.
Whatever we do, we'll probably do it on a Saturday so we can catch an early train to take advantage of the cool mornings. By the time we got to Pleasant Hill BART to go home, it was searingly hot, traffic was nuts, and we were glad to be on our way out of the 'burbs. We detrained in Oakland to find the day cool and breezy, and went directly to Christopher's on College to lunch on some mighty fine burgers and fries. A good conclusion to a vigorous morning's ride.
Here's some photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/41385865@N00/sets/532507/
Forgive Holly's gears, she advises that she only used two the whole time. We're still working on her Peugeot conversion.