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Tips and Trails: Biking Around Bay Area Beaches

Two bicycles on beach in California

There’s a lot to love about living near the coast, and if you’re a cyclist, one of those perks is riding along the beach. The San Francisco Bay Area has plenty of opportunities for mellow rides and great views.

But beach riding comes with its own skill set. Riding in sand can be challenging, especially for beginners, and proper form is important to learn. Beaches and surrounding trails can also be busy, so it’s important to stay alert and focus on those around you.

Remember to pack the right gear. Beaches around the Bay Area can be colder and wetter than others around the state thanks to fog and clouds riding in on the marine layer. It’s not a bad idea to bring a jacket along, even in summer months, to keep you warm and dry. 

Be cognizant of wet trails or trails that have been damaged due to the elements. 

What else is there to know about beach riding? The following tips, tricks, and trails will have you on the beach in no time, enjoying everything that northern California has to offer to cyclists. 

Lower your gears

While there are plenty of paved trails near area beaches, you may find yourself riding in the sand at some point. If you do, it’s important to be prepared. Riding in soft sand is much different than even on a dirt trail and it’s much easier to find yourself stuck in it. To avoid this, put the bike into a lower gear. This will help prevent the rear wheel getting stuck in the sand. You may find this a little challenging in the beginning, but it’ll help when you need to power out of some challenging terrain. 

Practice proper form

In addition to having the right gears, you want to make sure that your form isn’t making it harder for you. While you may have a tendency to lean forward to help propel yourself forward, it actually makes for a more challenging ride. Instead, sit back on the bike seat to better balance the bike and give that back wheel some additional grip. Leaning too far forward could cause you to flip over.  

Consider wider wheels

Fat tire bikes are preferred for many cyclists riding the rugged outdoors. They’re considered off-road and are typically equipped with wider tires — with a tread of about 4 to 5 inches — which adds surface area to your tire and makes it better for gripping. It’s possible to add wider tires to a standard mountain bike — 2.8 to 3 inches is bigger than typical mountain bike tires but not yet considered “fat” — but it may be best to consult with a local bike shop when making the change. Remember to adjust tire pressure accordingly, as you’ll need a little bit less to ride on sand. Keep tires properly inflated for trail rides. 

Wash your bike afterward

Don’t wait too long to clean your bike after a beach ride. Riding on or near sand and salt water can be harmful to your bicycle’s hardware and body, which must remain in good shape to keep you safe. It’s best to wash down your bike after visiting the beach. Even if the bike doesn’t seem dirty or covered with sand, micro particles can get stuck in all of the nooks and crannies. Remember to lube everything, including the chain, after the wash. 

Try These Easy Scenic Beach Rides

The beauty of biking in the Bay Area is that cyclists have the best of both worlds. Cityscapes and ocean views are equally accessible. For a beach ride close to home, check out these trails. 

Remember to plan accordingly. Weather on the coast can change suddenly and it’s important to pack the proper gear, including a safety kit, a jacket, and plenty of water. 

Casual ride: Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail

Located in Half Moon Bay State Park, this ride is part of the California Coastal Trail. It’s a flat ride, mostly on dirt, and mostly removed from traffic, except for one portion on a beachfront street that tends to be pretty quiet. You’ll start right at the beach and then travel up to the bluffs. While this trail is fairly easy, be aware that it can be busy at times and there may be signs of erosion along some parts of the trail, particularly along the bluffs. Be sure to take weather into account, as foggy, wet weather might be a challenge for some.

Santa Cruz County: West Cliff Drive

Starting at Lighthouse Field State Beach and ending at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz County, this three-mile paved (and flat) trail is a great ride for cyclists of all levels. Along the way, you’ll get to experience all the best parts of biking on the coast: breathtaking views and proximity to the boardwalk. This ride is good for families or an afternoon of solo adventure. There are plenty of stopping points and Lighthouse Point has a good grassy area for picnics and resting. 

Mountain Biking: Tennessee Valley Trail

This two-mile offshoot of the Marin Headlands is a great place for hikers, mountain bikers, and bird watchers. Weekends on this trail can be busy, and for good reason. A short ride lands you at the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Tennessee Beach. About half-way through the trail, you’ll find a steep section, otherwise users report a pretty easy-going trail, which starts out as asphalt and transitions to dirt. A parking lot and bathroom make this trail easy to access and family-friendly.