Travelogue: San Francisco and Surrounds by Motorcycle

It’s All Over

With some sadness, I handed the Triumph Tiger Explorer back to Dubbleju at 5pm local time. My ride here is over, and I don’t know when I’ll be back in California to ride.

There are few places in the world that offer the variety and quality of riding around San Francisco. Actually that’s probably not that true, there may be many. But that still doesn’t negate the awesome riding in this part of the world.

Friday saw me pick up the bike in what the weather channel assured was “100% Precipitation.” It was wet, grey, and cold. But given the bike rental was paid for, there wasn’t time to let a little discomfort get in the way of a great ride. First things first, head south to Palo Alto to check into my hotel, then up Old Page Mill Road to the 84 and the World Famous Alice’s Restaurant for lunch.

The 280 South is arguably a nicer higway than the 101 through Silicon Valley. Still, in the pouring rain, fairly strong winds, with limited visibility on a strange bike, it takes all your concentration to navigate and stay safe on this 8 – 12 lane road. Even having done this ride before, using the iPhone & Google Maps is critical. As in many developed parts of the world traffic flows at insane speeds, and you need to position yourself for a safe exit. Patience for ignorant drivers and last second lane changers is not very high.

The Mountains

From Palo Alto, head west on Page Mill Road, past Hewlett Packard Enterprise, under the 280 and you get into the Los Altos Hills. Then it’s all scrub forest with switchbacks and hairpins until Skyline Boulevard, where it changes to pine. Given the gloom, driving rain, and slippery roads, it was slow going. Very slow. Slow enough to let a couple of cars pass me. No point in pushing to the limit to come around a corner to debris or a puddle across the road.

Take a right and it’s about 6 or so quick miles with sweepers to the famous motorcycle watering hole, Alice’s Restaurant. Usually you can’t find a park with the hundreds of bikes there, although a 5pm on this sodden Friday it was cagers that made up the clientele. Mine was the solo bike. Alice’s makes The Old Road Cafe, and Pie in the Sky on the Old Pac outside Sydney look like roadside shacks. The restaurant has old world charm, friendly staff, and an awesome menu. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until 9pm. If you’re here, on a bike, you have to go.

Actually, if you’re here, you have to go.

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Coming back in the dark, down the unlit, unguarded, Old Page Mill road reminded me a little of India. Nowhere near as rugged, or scary, or awe inspiring, but definitely requiring skill, effort and endurance.

South & West to Santa Cruz

Saturday looked promising, and as a good friend was in Santa Cruz surfing for the week-end before his work gig, that looked the best route for the day. Whilst there are motorways that will get you to Santa Cruz quickly, that wasn’t the point. So again up Old Page Mill road, straight into a rain shower. Doh. By the time I made it to the only bridge to stand under, it was almost not worth putting waterproofs on.

At the top of Page Mill, you turn left rather than right to take Skyline to SC. Filled with way too much overconfidence I was riding sans navigation. Only when finding myself on a single track path did I realise one of the inocuous turns way back led to my destination. A u-turn saw me on Bear Creek Road, which does eventually drop you onto the Santa Cruz highway. Of course not directly to the highway, so another 50/50 coin toss saw me riding up Montevina Road. Whilst this leads, pretty much nowhere, it winds up another mountain. Which makes it a fantastic ride, with spectacular views.

At the top of Page Mill, you turn left rather than right to take Skyline to SC. Filled with way too much overconfidence I was riding sans navigation. Only when finding myself on a single track path did I realise one of the inocuous turns way back led to my destination. A u-turn saw me on Bear Creek Road, which does eventually drop you onto the Santa Cruz highway. Of course not directly to the highway, so another 50/50 coin toss saw me riding up Montevina Road. Whilst this leads, pretty much nowhere, it winds up another mountain. Which makes it a fantastic ride, with spectacular views.

Any road that has no traffic, which by and large means little if any enforcement, good tar, and winds up or down a hill, is a good road.

Then it was on the 17 through Scott’s Valley into Santa Cruz. This is both a seaside, and university town. Although the weather meant that most of the beachfront was closed. There was a lone surfer in the water, which considering Dave didn’t answer my calls, I assumed was him. Seems I’m not the only mad nutter enjoying his passion in inclement weather.

You may get rain, but you also get rainbows
You may get rain, but you also get rainbows

PCH – California 1 South

If the PCH is meant to be spectacular sea vistas, and twisty cliff roads, south from San Francisco to Santa Cruz (or in my case returning north) is not that section. To be fair the road extends almost down the entire state, from Leggett in the North, to Dana Point, Orange County in the South – some 656 miles or over 1000 kms. In short, pretty far. Most of this route, with the possible exception of traversing metropolitan LA, is indeed spectacular. But this section would be what anywhere else in the world we’d call a motorway. I.e. Boring. Not entirely of course, but this was a 70-80 mph ride, adjacent to a spectacular sunset, back to the city.

Metropolitan San Francisco

On Saturday night I stayed at a hotel in the Marina, and of course I collected and returned the bike right on the other side of town. So traversing this city has become somewhat of a specialty.

As with most US cities, navigation is easy. Everything is always laid out in a grid, and the grid is labelled consistently. Invariably one of the sets of parallel streets is numbered, and the other named. The names will either be in alphabetical order, or follow a theme. But left, right, 4 blocks, left, left, right. Like I said, easy.

Traffic can be a nightmare. For a grid arranged city, they simply haven’t been able to phase lights intelligently. So 4 km’s across the city can take you 30 mins.

This in itself is pretty disconcerting. This afternoon my fuel, BT headset, iPhone, and time, all decided to race to empty. In rush hour traffic. There’s nothing like a little stress to end a great week-end of riding is there? No, there really isn’t. But it seems a theme of mine.

It doesn’t seem you can park bikes for free as in Sydney. Although I did see a number of bikes, back to the curb. Whether they park between cars, only outside of metred hours, or simply paid, I don’t know. There are 3 or so motorbike parking spots, but good luck finding a space. So I found a hotel with free parking and either Uber’ed or walked everywhere I needed/wanted to go whilst in the city.

PCH – California 1 North

Sunday. True to it’s name, was glorious. A late night with friends (3am) meant a late wake-up, breakfast at a cafe, then load the bike and head North towards Stinson Beach on the PCH.

Now that’s what I’m talking about.

First you have to traverse the Golden Gate Bridge. Which, let’s face it, is Awesome! At almost 2 kms (1966m to be exact) this is almost twice as long as that other awesome bridge to traverse, the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s 1.1km (or rather 1,149m) Other similarities are the speed limit, 45 mph or ~70 kph, and no-one drives the speed limit. However, this has much wider lanes, which in California you’re legally permitted to split.

Next is off at Tamalpais, some 3 or 4 junctions north of the bridge. Wind through the homesteads, and then open her up in the twisties.

You can either stick to CA-1, the PCH, which after a little forest breaks out onto the cliff, and hangs there all the way into Stinson. Or you can head right onto the Panoramic Highway. This is about equidistant, but a slightly slower route. It runs through state forest, and just one of those sublime roads to ride. On Sunday I returned this way. It was dry, and relatively traffic free, allowing me to swoop round corners on the big blue machine and accelerate out with a grin so large the Cheshire Cat would’ve been jealous.

On Monday, however, the SF fog rolled in, and it was spooky, cold, with water run-offs everywhere. Still better than the OPH north of Sydney.

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The PCH itself, is well, spectacular. Unguarded road extends to the cliff edge, overlooking the mighty Pacific ocean, not living up to its name, with a maelstrom of surf and rocks below.

Once past Stinson, the road to my northernmost stop, Port Reyes, turns in big sweepers through forest and farmland, and past a lake. Your speed opens up, and there is just enough cornering action to keep on the road.

I had Sunday lunch at the Farm House. Another themed restaurant, that is was probably never a farm house. Still the food is great, the ambience Americana, and that is precisely why we’re here.

Fin

And so, back to where it all started. I delivered the bike at precisely 5pm (thanks to lane splitting), checked it in, called an Uber, and rejoined corporate America.

So glad I made the effort…

…If you get the chance. If you have to come to SF for any reason. Check out these roads.

 

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