MOUNT TAMALPAIS, Calif. — At about the third glorious turn into the ridge, as the slope from the pavement’s edge precipitously spills toward the Pacific Ocean 2,000 feet below, the odd feeling begins to take hold: You may have never before been within a hundred miles of Mount Tamalpais, but you sense you’ve been on this road before.
By the fifth or sixth turn, that feeling yields to a more overwhelming sensation: This road, West Ridgecrest, has to be one of the greatest bike rides in the continental United States.
Above the clouds, the twist-turning patch of asphalt rushes under your handlebars, curving to disappear beyond a bluff, carving into the ridge, then darting back, to the edge. Serpentine and sensual, the curves and mounds propel you through austere tawny grasslands.
It’s a place of shifting contrasts. Up here, the sun sears and dragon flies hover and zip. Below, the cooling fog creeps up the flanks of the mountain, swallowing the beaches and ocean, ghosting a stand of trees midway up the slope.
Occasionally, lagoons and dots of distant seaside villages peek coquettishly through the clouds.
Traffic is light on a midweek, early afternoon summer day, with cars only slightly outnumbering bicycles. If you’re up for quad-shredding climbing, you can start your bike trek at Alpine Lake, an idyllic sparkling swath of blue swaddled by the mountains. The way up Bolinas-Fairfax Road to the ridge is only a couple miles, but it’s a steep, switchback-packed road, through dense redwoods and cedars.
If you are more into only riding the roller-coaster ridge, you can park your car at a pullout near the junction of Bolinas-Fairfax and West Ridgecrest. Within a dozen or so pedals, you’ll be on the open, tightroped road along Bolinas Ridge.
The ride on West Ridgecrest offers the most viewpoints, but for the best one in all of the Bay Area, turn on East Ridgecrest Road to climb three peaks. The road ends at the last, East Peak, the summit of Mount Tamalpais. You can lock your bike in the lot or carry it the quarter-mile climb to the top.
The 360-degree view captures San Fran to the south, with the mountains beyond; Oakland and the Sierras to the east; Point Reyes and Northern California to the north; the vast Pacific Ocean westward.
It’s an idyllic and ideal place for a lunch break before heading back along West Ridgecrest to your car.
And that eerie, early feeling of familiarity? Turns out you have been to Bolinas Ridge, hundreds of times, transported by Porsches, BMWs, Lexuses. This stretch of road is the location lodestone for West Coast production companies filming commercials for high-performance cars.
Peddling exhilaration. Perfect, but no match for pedaling exhilaration.
MICHAEL J. BAILEY