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The Future of Mountain Biking on Mt. Tam

The Marin County Bicycle Coalition can envision a bright future for mountain biking on Mt. Tam, and now they’re getting their shot at it.

In February, the Marin Municipal Water District Watershed Committee received a presentation of the draft Watershed Recreation Management Planning Feasibility Study, which sets in motion a more inclusive trail system on Mt. Tam.

The coalition says they favor many key elements, including:

  • Trail access to some single track trails – this will allow studying impact
  • An update to the Road and Trail Management Plan to evaluate bike trail designation
  • Evaluating an e-bike Class I pilot program
  • Signage updates

“A pilot study will allow for a selection of trails to be open to bikes under certain conditions and would use existing trails that have the best chance of success,” the coalition says, adding that “an update to the Road and Trail Management Plan (RTMP) will build and improve on the pilot study and visualize a more inclusive trail network to support better connectivity, new loops, and rewarding trail experiences for people on bikes.”

This new plan doesn’t mean that all trails will be opened to mountain bikes or that there will be sweeping changes across the region, rather the coalition points out that this is all about “safety, equity, and sustainability.”

“We want a collaborative approach, in partnership with other stakeholders and community leaders. Just like you, we want to prioritize environmental stewardship,” they say.

A long history in Marin County

For mountain biking buffs in Marin County, this effort to expand use is one aligned with a special origins story.

While tracing the exact roots of mountain biking is nearly impossible, Marin County is often credited with being the sports birthplace, thanks to The Larkspur Canyon Gang and their legendary ride down Mt. Tam through Baltimore Canyon on vintage single-speed balloon tire bikes.

From there, the movement started growing. According to the Marin Museum of Bicycling, by 1973 the so-called “ballooners” had found their way “into the hearts and minds of a group of Marin road-bike racers from Velo Club Tamalpais.” This group restored and collected the vintage bikes and then customized them

“The finest bikes of the day would be equipped with much sought-after high-performance vintage components such as Morrow coaster brakes, Schwinn cantilever front brakes, S2 chrome rims, fork braces, and genuine B.F. Goodrich knobby tires,” the museum says. “These riders and a growing group of friends explored the trails and fire roads on and around Mount Tamalpais, aka ‘The Mountain,’ on their trusty, beloved ‘Inch-Pinchers.’”

Another group, The Cupertino Riders who were situated about 75 miles south of Marin, were also modifying bikes for off-road and gaining attention when they entered races.

The museum says this growing community of mountain bikers and racers happened organically more than a half-century ago, and now it’s ingrained in the local culture.

“The sport and the bike came into being not as some faddist vision of profit-oriented marketing types, or from any one single person, but rather as the evolving product of true cycling enthusiasts doing what they loved,” the museum says. “These cyclists found through fun and competition that the old one-speed ‘Klunkers’ they were using could be improved with modern cycling technology. One innovation led to another and mountain biking as we know it today was born.”

This makes the coalition’s effort on Mt. Tam all the more exciting.

What’s next for off-road cyclists

The Marin County Bicycle Coalition encourages local cyclists to get involved and speak up about the feasibility plan and help make the watershed a better place for all visitors.

“With you on our team, we will be able to stay engaged with the process from start to finish. Help us advocate for a bike-friendly framework while managing recreation and (importantly) protecting the environment and biodiversity of the hundred-year-old watershed,” they say. You can join their effort here.

Plenty of other organizations are also working toward a sustainable and welcoming Mt. Tam.

Finally, the organization encourages tuning in to meetings and staying informed. It’s one of the best ways to ensure the vision for Mt. Tam is the best it can be.