by J James McTigue
If Telluride is a ski town, then San Anselmo, CA is a bike town.
San Anselmo is one of many small hamlets tucked in the rolling Marin hills. Traveling north from the Golden Gate Bridge, there is a series of towns like San Anselmo— Sausalito, Mill Valley, Larkspur, and San Rafael. Each is linked to the next by bike trails, bike lanes and winding back roads, perfect for the bike commuter, the recreational rider and the competitor.
From San Anselmo, riders can bike to Nicasio Valley and further north to Pt. Reyes, or circle back on a loop called Lucas Valley. The country is rural. Horses roam the green fields and cows graze against the rolling hills. At this time of year, pink cherry blossoms are in full bloom and their fallen petals silence the sound of your front bike wheel as it rolls over them.
On many days, bikers make up the most significant traffic in the small town of Nicasio. The town consists of a white church, a general store and the Nicasio Saloon. The only road in and out winds around a field that fills the town center. Some days there is a little league game there, but most days it’s quiet.
Looping back to San Anselmo, riders follow Lucas Valley Road. The road is lined by wide Redwood trees that produce dark shadows around each bend. The road climbs its way out of the Redwood forest back into the sun and into the green hills. It appears no one lives out here, until an elegant, simple gate appears on the northern side of the road. Past the gate, are the rooftops of George Lucas’s Ranch. This is his valley. The same route will look much different after a few months of sun. Instead of lush green, the road will be flanked by brown hills, reminiscent of a Steinbeck novel.
Nicasio and Lucas Valley are just two of a plethora of rides bikers can choose from in Marin County. Directly over the Golden Gate Bridge riders can take a left into the Marin Headlands and ascend above the Bay, before descending on a one-way road to Rodeo Beach. They then ride up a steady grade and pass through a tunnel that takes them a few miles south of Sausalito and back to the Bridge.
The other option is perhaps one of the most popular rides in the area and is aptly named The Paradise Loop. This loop takes riders into Sausalito, directly across the Bay from San Francisco. Riders are book shelved by the Golden Gate and Richmond Bridges as they weave above the Bay through Tiburon and to Corte Madera before cutting inland to the quaint town of Larkspur. Then it’s over the famous, and busy, Camino Alto hill back into Mill Valley and back to the Bridge.
On any given Saturday, 100s of bikers ride through Main Street San Anselmo. The town is positioned perfectly as the mid-point for riders beginning in San Francisco and as a gathering point for those beginning further north. The epicenter of San Anselmo’s bike culture is an unassuming coffee shop, Marin Coffee Roasters.
Bike racks flank the shop’s entrance and are usually full. Customers wear bright colored spandex outfits with team names written across their backs. The coffee shop is decorated with framed bike jerseys and paintings of bikers gathering in front of the shop. On weekends a four-piece band plays in the corner as people chat about their rides. The place is lively and welcoming. People from all over the Bay convene here because of one simple commonality: their bikes.
The mantra goes: “When in Rome….” So while visiting the area, I threw on some spandex, clipped into my road bike and headed to the Coffee Roasters. Not surprisingly, I felt right at home in San Anselmo.