Tips & Tricks: Disc Brakes Pad Replacement


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Hydraulic disc brake. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As cycling changes, so does cycling technology.  The biggest change to road cycling in the last ten years is the use of disc brakes on road bikes. While road disc brakes are still making inroads into the professional peloton, they are present on most new road bikes at every level.  Cyclocross bikes have been using cable-driven disc brakes, most road bikes now use hydraulic disc brakes that have greater power, but require more maintenance in general.  Many experienced road cyclists understand use and maintenance of rim brakes and even replace their own. Although disc brakes are substantially more complicated in nature, replacement of brake pads is only slightly harder.  In this article we will cover the types of disc brake pads available along with a step-by-step guide to replacing your own disc brake pads.

Disc Brake Pad Selection

While most mechanics will tell you to replace worn brake pads with like-kind, there are several aftermarket manufacturers which make replacement pads to fit any caliper type an size.   We have used aftermarket replacement pads from both SwissStop and Kool Stop to replace the pads in our disc brake equipped mountain bikes and disc brake equipped road bikes.  As we have personal experience with these pads, we will discuss the selections from these manufacturers in our discussion of brake pad selection.

Disc brake pads consist of a braking compound bound to a metal backing plate.  There are two main types of disc brake pad compound materials : (1) sintered (metallic); and (2) organic (semi-metallic).  Knowing the difference between the pad compound types and the qualities of each can make your pad selection easier based on your riding style and environmental conditions.

Sintered Pads

Sintered pad are made of a metallic braking compound bound to a metal backing plate.  Some of the metal backing plates are aluminum, others are brass for increased heat conductivity.  Sintered pads are the standard material that comes stock with both SRAM and Shimano systems.  Sintered pads are better in wet weather than their organic counterparts.  They also have a long life and the braking power does not reduce when the pads are hot (high heat resistance).  However, sintered pads are very noisy and take a long time to bed in properly.   The metal to metal contact between the pad material and the rotor creates a very reliable braking surface in all weather conditions, but in our experience the noise from the metal to metal contact became very annoying and we changed out otherwise serviceable sintered pads for organic pads.

 

Organic Pads

Organic pads are made of proprietary mix of organic materials that are blended and bound together using a resin and then bound to the metal backing.  There are trace elements of metals in the organic pads as well, but much less than in the sintered, hence the name “semi-metalic” pads.  The SwissStop organic pads consist of a mix of Kevlar, Ceramic and Brass materials.  Organic pads provide excellent braking power along with better power modulation through the pull of the braking lever than sintered pads. Organic pads have consistent performance in both wet and dry conditions while maintaining excellent pad life.  Once broken in, the noise in dry conditions is minimal except when the rotors and pads are very hot.  There is some noise in wet conditions, but not as much as with sintered pads.

 

 

Other Mixes and Variants 

In addition to the standard sintered and organic pads, aftermarket pad manufacturers have been attempting to improve on both sintered and organic compounds by making variants of each and revised backing plates that maximize braking power and consistency, increase pad life and reduce braking noise in all environments.

Brake pads with cooling fins are the one variant of the disc brake pad that attempts to reduce the temperature of the brake pad material and rotor by maximize the surface area of the backing plate.  This is accomplished by adding a cooling fin heat sink (like on a computer chipset) to the backing plate.  The cooling fin acts as an air-cooled radiator that dissipates heat from the brake pad material without transferring it to the rotor.  Reducing the temperature of the rotor and pad material increases the braking power and modulation along with extending the life of the pad and rotor.  One example of a brake pad with a heat sink is the Kool Stop Aero Kool pad.

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Kool Stop Aero Kool Pad with copper backing plate and add-on cooling fin

Another example of a brake pad with a cooling fin is the SwissStop EXOTherm pad.

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SwissStop EXOTherm Pad with built-in cooling fin

SwissStop has also made a variant of its organic pad compound with its Disc RS compound.  The Disc RS compound remains organic, but seeks a balanced combination of brake performance, durability and incredibly low noise in all conditions.  This is accomplished with a revision to their organic compound mix along with a reduction in the backing plate thickness that provides the preferred thermal characteristics, strength and stability of steel while reducing weight and increasing pad thickness.  The Disc RS was debuted in August 2017, so we have not had the opportunity to test out these pads.

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SwissStop Disc RS

 

Brake Pad Replacement Process

Once you’ve selected the brake pads that are right for your style of riding, then its time to install them.  The process of replacing the brake pads is relatively simple, though a bit more complicated than for rim brakes.  Follow these simple steps and the pad replacement process will go quickly.  One thing to keep in mind is that hydraulic disc brakes require the lines to be bled at certain points in the life of the system, however, manufacturers (SRAM v Shimano v Campy) vary on how often you should bleed the hydraulic brake lines.  This is a very involved process that should be performed by your mechanic at the proper maintenance point.  Refer to your disc brake manufacturer’s instructions for the specific time frames.

WARNING: During the brake pad replacement process, DO NOT squeeze the brake lever unless you are using a pad spreader tool or until the wheel is back on the bicycle.  

Step 1

Either attach your bike to a stand or flip it upside down and remove the first wheel.  When removing the rear wheel, its best to shift the chain to the further outboard gears (largest chainring in the front and smallest cog on the cassette in the back).  This allows for quick chain alignment when putting the wheel back in place.

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Step 2

Remove the locking mechanism for the pads.  This can either be in the form of a cotter pin or a locking clip and pad retention bolt.

Step 3

Remove the pads and spring (the metal part holding the pads in the caliper).  The pads are removed toward the disc.

Step 4

Reset the caliper pistons to be in the fully retracted positions (flush with the caliper surface).  This can be done with a plastic tire lever to avoid damaging the pistons.

Step 5

Install the new pads and spring followed by the cotter pin or pad retention bolt and locking clip.

Step 6

If you have a pad spreader tool, insert it between the pads and depress the brake lever to ensure the free movement of both pistons.  If you don’t have a pad spreader tool, skip this step.

Step 7

Reinstall the wheel.  If you skipped Step 6, depress the brake lever once the rotor is reinstalled and check for the free movement of the pistons.  Rotate the wheel to ensure that neither pad is rubbing.  If the pads are rubbing, continue to rotate the wheel and determine if the rotor needs adjustment or if the caliper adjustment needs modification. Once the pads are replaced, it’s time to go for a ride and bed in the new pads.

Brake Pad Bed In Process

One of the idiosyncrasies of  disc brakes, as opposed to rim brakes, is the necessity to “bed in” the pads.  Bedding in is the process of working the pad compound onto the rotor in order to maximize the braking power.  Brake pad performance and noise can be affected by the bedding in process.  Once a pad has been properly bed in it becomes more effective and less noisy in most conditions.  The various types of pad compounds can be bedded in by using the following procedure recommended by SwissStop:

Step 1. On a gradual downhill slope, drag each brake for 20-30 seconds, alternating between front and rear. Repeat 2-3 times.

Step 2. On a steeper slope, engage and drag the brakes for 10-15 seconds then increase lever pressure until the bike slows almost to a complete stop. Repeat 2-3 times.

Pro Tip: The front pads will have been heated more than the rear. To achieve optimal performance, exchange the front and rear pads then repeat Step 2.

CAUTION before replacing or exchanging brake pads it is essential to let all parts cool.

After we installed new SwissStop organic pads on our hydraulic disc brake equipped road bikes, we followed this process for bedding in the pads.  While the process took a couple of rides to complete due to the swapping of the pads, the stopping power was there quickly and the brakes are typically quiet other than when the rotors are hot.

More Information on Disc Brakes

For more information on disc brakes, see Bicycling Magazine’s The Beginner’s Guide to Disc Brakes.

 

 

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Promoting Bike Culture in the US


By Featured Writer Jenny Holt

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Bike culture has seen a dramatic change in the last decade.  According to the 2014 Statista Report, there are more than 67 million riders in America, an increase of 20 million riders  since 2008. Where car sales have stabilized or even decreased, bicycle purchases have more than doubled. As more people see the health, economic and other effects of cycling, more trips that used to be made by care are being replaced by leg power.  Cities like Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. are seeing more and more bike commuters each year.  However, even with the ever increasing number of cyclists on the road, there are still many challenges facing bike riders in the US.

Challenges of Riding a Bicycle

In cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen where biking is the norm, in the US, a majority of people, especially drivers, still see cycling in a different light.  This difference in perception has created invisible barriers to increasing overall cycling activity. The results of a study commissioned by PeopleForBikes.org in 2014 revealed several of these barriers. One is the lack of bike infrastructure (i.e., protected bike lanes and separate paths).  This was found to dissuade a third of respondents from cycling more often. Other problems include lack of access to bicycles especially among lower-income households.  The study found that the major issue why Americans cycle less often is safety.  In the study, 54% of respondents admitting that they are afraid to be hit by vehicles while cycling.  This is a significant concern for cyclists in areas without protected bikes or wide shoulders for cycling.  The study found that 46% of its participants would be more inclined to ride a bike in protected bike lanes, ones that are physically separated from vehicular traffic, as opposed to being forced to ride in the same lane as traffic.

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Solutions to Increase Bicycle Participation

If a city has the goal of encourage a greater amount of cycling, politicians would be well-served to review the concerns of those who, but for the safety concerns, would cycle more often and replace a greater number of car trips with bicycle trips.  Overall, the survey results indicated that respondents want to see more protected bike lanes because it found safety was a major concern of the participants.  The first thing that is needed in greater quantity is biking infrastructure. Another major issue is bike theft.  To help combat bike theft, the construction of secure parking for bicycles is also important.

Cities in the US that have high cycling rates, such as Chicago, San Francisco and Portland, all have good support and investments from city governments.  In San Francisco, the SF MTA has constructed bike lockers and have installed bike stands throughout the city.

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Other systems, like BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) has bike parking which offers protection from the rain and a safe area where bicycles can be left without fear of being stripped at the end of the day.  These are two systems in San Francisco that are helping make commuting by bike safer and more worry free.

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There are also bike lanes and pathways, parking and well-connected bike roads are a few examples of initiatives by governments to promote use of the bicycle. The San zFrancisco Bike Coalition has helped map out many of the routes used by cyclists, some of which are now being made into protected bike lanes.  Others like the Marin County Bike Coalition have helped with the transformation of “rails-to-trails” throughout the county as well as advocacy for improvement of the road surfaces.

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Bike education programs were also rolled out which included safety tips such as fitting bicycles with proper lights like LEDs to enhance day or night time visibility, wearing of crash helmets, high-visibility clothing gear and the like.  In addition, there were bike-sharing and cost-sharing programs that largely, encouraged more people to ride bicycles than drive motor vehicles whether it is for recreation or as a means of transportation.

As the number of cyclists in the US grows, the number of cyclists and car encounter also grows.  The key to keeping people on their bikes is education and keeping everyone (both cyclist and driver alike) as safe as possible while they are on the road.  Happy riding and keep the rubber side down.

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MTB Trail: Miwok Trail – Tennessee Valley to the Marin Headlands


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If you are up for a challenge, the Miwok Trail adds a degree of difficulty to your ride with its technical climb out of the Tennessee Valley back towards the Marin Headlands.  With its horse trail stairs and deep ruts, this is no trail for beginners.  Conquering this trail gives you appreciation for your front shock and builds your climbing prowess.

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Distance: 5.75 miles  (9.3 km)

Elevation Gain: 1068 feet (325 meters)

Difficulty: This trail has a technical assent with stairs and a fast descent back toward the Marin Headlands.  This is definitely an intermediate ride.

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Starting at the Tennessee Valley parking lot, walk your bike through the Miwok Stables until you see the trail on the right next to the manure pit.

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This is the beginning of the Old Springs Trail.

The Old Springs Trial has a series of stairs and bends as you climb the 1.3 miles to the Miwok Trail.

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This trail can get technical in spots where the dirt gets larger rocks and the pitch increases.

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Continue to follow the Miwok Trail as it continues to roll over the wooden bridges before turing onto the Miwok Trail.

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At the top of Old Springs Trail, make a right onto the Miwok Trial and start the descent.

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The descent is fast, so check your brakes and stay in control.  Watch out for the deep ruts and hikers on the descent as well.

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As the descent flattens out, watch for a turn to the left to return to the Bobcat trail and the Marin Headlands.  The left turn is 2.75 miles from the start.  If you make the left, watch for a quick right just after a set of stairs.  Follow this trail for a few hundred feet to the bridge and make a right, then a left on the other side of the bridge to return to Bunker Road.

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Or…

If you miss the turn (like I did on this particular run), continue straight on the Miwok Trail and you will end up in a parking lot along Bunker Road.

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Make a left on Bunker Road and follow it to the entrance to the Coastal Trail on your right, the same trail you came down on our Bobcat Trail route.

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Follow the Coastal Trail as it climbs its way back to the roundabout in the Marin Headlands.

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Go through the gate and start up the trail.

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As you experienced on the way down, this trail narrows in places and has loose rock in others.

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Continue winding your way back up the trail and through the narrow single-track.

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At the top of the climb, you’ll be back at the parking lot next to the roundabout and will be able to see the familiar red paint on the North Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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While challenging, the Miwok Trail is rewarding not only for the views, but also the sense of accomplishment once you realized what your mountain bike and you can do!  Enjoy and stay safe.

 

MTB Trail: Bobcat Trail – Marin Headlands to Tennessee Valley


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Mountain biking was invented in Marin County and there are numerous trails you can ride as you get deeper into Marin County.  However, if you live in San Francisco, don’t have a car, or just don’t want to drive your bike to the trail, then there are a few trails just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge that you can ride to from the City.  The first of these is the Bobcat Trail.   This is a beautiful, but steep route which takes you up and down the Marin Headlands and then winds its way to Tennessee Valley.

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Elevation Map - Bobcat Trail

Distance: 6.3 miles (10.1 km)

Elevation Gain: 943 feet (287 m)

Difficulty: The loose terrain and ruts in the single track portion of the ride is a bit difficult, but the remainder, while steep, is wide and smooth.  This is a good ride for intermediate cyclists.

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Starting at the roundabout on Conzelman Road, about halfway up the Marin Headlands route, head past the restroom and to the dirt trail.  Follow the trail as it winds down the back of the headlands to Bunker Road.

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Make a left at Bunker Road and follow it a few hundred feet to the next dirt trail which heads toward a parking lot on along Bunker Road.

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Continue following the trail and make a right to cross over the bridge.

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After the bridge, make a left at the intersection to continue on the trial.

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The trail merges with the Bobcat Trail at a tight intersection, watch for oncoming bikers and hikers as you turn right onto the Bobcat Trail.

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Follow the Bobcat Trail as it winds its way up and over the hills for the next two miles to the next trail intersection.

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Continue along Bobcat Trail to the left down the deep descent.

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Continue climbing until the Bobcat Trail turns into the Marincello Trial and continue toward the right as the trail crests.

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After the crest of the hill, check your brakes, take the fork to the right and get ready to descend then next 1.5 miles to the Tennessee Valley trailhead parking lot.

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Where this route ends, your next choice begins.  You can either head back to Sausalito via Tennessee Valley Road and the Marin Crossroads.  Option 2 is to ride the Tennessee Valley trail to Tennessee Beach or the Coastal Trail.  The final option is to ride back to the Marin Headlands via the Miwock Trail after walking your bike past the stables.  Stay tuned to for future installments and trails.

 

MTB Trail: West Point Inn to East Peak, Mt. Tam, Part 2


Reaching the peak of Mt. Tam is an achievement for any biker, road or mountain.  The second part of the ride from West Point Inn to East Peak is relatively tame, but worth the additional time for the wonderful views and sense of accomplishment.

Map - West Point to Tam

Elevation - West Point to Tam

Length: 1.7 miles (2.7 km)

Elevation Gain: 534 ft (163 m)

Difficulty:  The second part of the climb is very tame with an optional steep grade at the entrace to the parking lot at the East Peak.

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At the West Point Inn you will encouter the interstection with Old Stage Road.  Old Stage Road is the trail that will take you back to the ranger station at the intersection of Panoramic Highway and Pan Toll Road as seen in the road bike trail …

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From the West Point Inn, continue climbing and go toward the right past the interstection with Old Stage Road.

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The climbing continues for just under two miles.

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The trail ends at the “saddle” of Mt. Tam.  The “saddle” is the  dip between the Middle Peak and East Peak.

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The top of the trail is marked by a gate.

Past the gate is East Ridgecrest Drive.  From the gate, make a right and onto the road.  Follow the road another hundred feet and your big decision of the day presents itself.  There is a bike and pedestrian walking path on your right and the road to the parking lot straight ahead and the entrance to Eldridge Grade Trail to your left.

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Eldridge Grade Trial will take you down the backside of Mt. Tam toward Ross and Fairfax.  Following East Ridgecrest you will encounter a short, 18% climb leads directly to the parking lot and panoramic views all around.  Taking the path winds you below the parking lot directly to the picnic table and bathrooms.  It’s a much easier way to reach the top and just a quarter mile long.

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To your left, just past the picnic benches is a short path that leads you up to the parking lot, which have sweeping views of the Bay Area.  At this point you’ve reached one of the pinnacle climbs in the Bay Area.

Enjoy the view and get ready for the 8.5 mile descent just ahead of you.

MTB Trail: Old Railroad Grade – Mill Valley to West Point Inn, Mt. Tam, Part 1


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Mount Tamalpias (aka Mt. Tam) is the highest peak in Marin County and can be seen from all around San Francisco Bay. Making it to the top on your road bike is a feet as you conquer stage after stage of steep, leg-busting climbs.

However, on a mountain bike the climb to the top is a bit more gentle. It still includes a significant and lengthy climb, but the trail was carved by using the old railroad bed from “The Crookedest Railroad in the World” which took passengers and timber to and from the top of Mt. Tam from 1896 to 1930.

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This first part of the trail takes you to the West Point Inn, a stop that has been open since 1904.

The total route is 8.25 miles long with gradients ranging from 4%-7%, and an average grade of 5%. While the significant uphill section is long and winding, the downhill is also steep and fast as the original trail was meant for a gravity train.

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Length: 6.51 miles (11 km)

Elevation Gain: 1,704 feet (519 m)

Difficulty: The major challenge to this route is the constant climbing along with some rocky ground. While the pitch doesn’t go above 7%, breaks may be necessary just to keep you moving. This trail is not for beginners, but it can be conquered by mountain bikers with some pretty minimal experience.

Route

This route starts in downtown Mill Valley at the intersection of Throckmorton and Miller Avenue.

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You’ll recognize this intersection from our route, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. This time, make a right on to Throckmorton and then another right onto Corte Madera Avenue.

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Next, make a left on to West Blithedale Ave.

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Follow West Blithedale for the next mile to Old Railroad Grade.

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Make sure to make a left to follow West Blithedale at the intersection with Woodline Road.

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Continue along West Blithedale for another half mile.

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You’ll see the path entrance on your right through a gate.

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Cross over the bridge just past the gate.

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The climbing starts now.  If you’re lucky, you’ll have the opportunity to see mountain biking pioneer and legend Gary Fisher as he swoops past you.

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Continue climbing through the wooded fire road as it climbs higher and higher.

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The tree cover will open as you continue climbing.  Watch for the sweeping views.

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You’ll then encounter a gate with a bench and then Fern Canyon Road, which is a public road open to cars.  Keep right and continue climbing.

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Another mile or so along Fern Canyon Road and you’ll be back on the trail after going through the gate.

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A short way down the path you will wind around a couple of 180 degree turns and pass Gravity Car Road.  These are the start the next twisting climbs.

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The Gravity Car Road leads back to Panoramic Highway right at the Mountain Home Inn.  If you’re done climbing for the day, this is a good bail out option.

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If you are ready to continue climbing, make a right where the trail intersects with the Gravity Car Road to continue climbing as Old Railroad Grade twists and winds around the mountain. 

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The climbing will continue for another mile or two until you reach the West Point Inn.

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This is a great place to stop, use the “facilities” and take a well-deserved break.  

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We’ll pick up from here to take you the rest of the way to the top of Mt. Tam in the next installment.  Stay tuned and have a great ride! 

 

MTB Trail: Angel Island – The Jewel of the Bay


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Everyone that comes to San Francisco knows the most famous island in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, but only a few know about the Jewel of the Bay, Angel Island.

Angel Island State Park, the largest island in the San Francisco Bay offers some of the best views of the surrounding Bay Area.  It has been a cattle farm, a military barracks, a quarantine station, immigration station and now a nature conservatory.

This was our first endeavor in mountain biking and makes a great introduction for everyone.

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Distance: 9.1 mile (one loop around the top and bottom trails)

Elevation Gain: 1017 feet (310 m)

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Difficulty: Although you can ride your road bike along the lower paved path, the real fun comes when you hit the trails.  This is a great beginner’s trail and gives you an amazing introduction to mountain biking without too much difficulty.

Getting to Angel Island

There are two ways to get to Angel Island.  The easiest way to get there is to take the Blue & Gold Ferry from Pier 41.  This ferry leaves at 9:45 am every day.  You can buy tickets at the box office at Pier 41 or onlineScreen Shot 2015-01-26 at 10.26.30 PM Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 10.26.48 PM

The second way to get to Angel Island is to take the Angel Island Ferry from Tiburon.  This ferry runs at a less regular schedule which varies throughout the year.

You can return to San Francisco either by taking the Blue & Gold Ferry directly back, or your can return to Tiburon, and return on a later ferry back from Tiburon.

When you arrive at Angel Island, you dock at Ayala Cove. This route is a set of loops, so you begin and end at Ayala Cove. This is the dock where you catch the ferry to both Tiburon and San Francisco.

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From Ayala Cove, follow the trail to the Visitor’s Center. Bikes are not allowed on the pavement for a few hundred feet, so make a left onto the trial and follow it to the lower, paved route around the island.

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Approximately a mile and a half down the path, you encounter the trail to Camp Reynolds. Camp Reynolds includes the brick barracks you see from Sausalito and the ferry.

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This is an unpaved trail leads down to the Camp and the water’s edge if you turn right at the fork. At the Camp, you can experience a civil war cannon shot around 1 pm each day.

We prefer to continue along the path and turn left at the fork. This unpaved trail leads back to the main loop shortly ahead.

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Back on the path, once you crest the hill you get amazing sweeping views of San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge.  Make sure to stop and take a few pictures, this is really one of the best spots on the island.

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Continuing along the path, you can get your next round of trail riding on your way up to Battery Drew.  To get there, take the left fork and head up the hill.

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Keep climbing and you’ll get some more great views.

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Your next taste of an off-raod downhill is next up.  Its got some loose gravel, some dirt and an nice fast slope.

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A short ride back along the the path and your entrance to the upper off-road trail is on the left.

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The entrance is a steep path with loose rock, so get a head of steam and power your way to the top, where you’ll immediately turn right.

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Follow the upper path as it rolls along with eastern shore of the island with many of the island’s buildings below.

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About halfway along the eastern side, the path makes a sharp left up the hill, away from the picnic area.

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Climb past the water housing area, and watch for deer here. Just past then fence the path takes another left.

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Continue along the gently rolling path and enjoy the gorgeous scenery as you traverse the northern side with Tiburon across the channel.

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As you approach the western side of the island, you’ll see Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge.

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The path rolls downhill as it leads you back to the return to the lower main road.

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You can ride the upper path again if you are up for it, or you can turn right and go back to complete the lower path.

When you are ready to head back to the lower path, turn right down the hill and continue straight at the intersection. You’ll get more sweeping views of San Francisco from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge.

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A short way down the path is the best paved downhill of the day. It’s a quick descent with a curve to the left at the bottom where the road forks.

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Quarry Point is down the road on the right. You’ll see housing barracks on the left of the main path and a dock lower down the hill to the right. This part of the island was a rock quarry from 1850 through 1922 and used to construction buildings from Alcatraz to Fort Point and even the California Bank building in the Financial District of San Francisco.

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Further along the path you’ll pass by the Immigration Station. You can go for a stroll or take a tour of the Immigration Station. This immigration station was in use from 1910 thought 1940.

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The rest of the route is another 1.5 miles of rolling path back to Ayala Cove. Watch for the entrance back to the bike route, it is a sharp right after a quick downhill.

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If you miss the turn, no big, just continue on and turn around.

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Follow the path and return back to the docks at Ayala Cove where you can pick up a ride back to Tiburon or San Francisco.

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After a day of adventure on Angel Island, you really get a sense of how much fun mountain biking can be. While most of the route is pretty tame, there is some loose terrain and quick descents that give you a sense of trail riding.

While accessing this park is a bit more complicated than just hopping in your car, it is totally worth while. The views, the experience and the fun you will have both on the island and on the boat to the island are memories waiting to be made.