Mount Hamilton is the tallest peak in the Bay Area, and Mines Road, which eventually approaches it from the east, is the longest, most remote road. From the edge of Livermore to the top of Mount Hamilton is over 80km, and in all that distance there’s only one establishment (the Junction Cafe). This is a scenic, quiet ride unlike any other you’ll find in the area, but it’s also an ass-kicker. Masochists can loop around to Dublin BART; the easier route is to catch Amtrak in San Jose. Civilization and traffic are practically non-existent once you leave Livermore.
Owens Drive/W. Las Positas/Santa Rita/Mohr/Valley Ave
This series of roads takes you through the godforsaken wasteland of Pleasanton; abandoned office campuses, burbclaves and strip malls.
Stanley Boulevard is a wide, straight road with a broad shoulder as well as a bicycle side path. I take the road; as with most side paths, the intersections are terrible, though there aren’t too many. We usually get a tailwind in this direction, so it’s good big ring territory; it’s laser-straight for over 5km, with no traffic lights until we get into Livermore. It has a very slight uphill grade for most of its length. It passes by some quarry operations as well as Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area.
These roads take you through what passes for downtown Livermore, and then out into the fully rural areas on the east side.
There are a couple of farms on the first part of Mines Road, and there’s a moderate amount of traffic on weekends, most of it going to Del Valle Regional Park. After 5km, the road turns to the left (going straight takes us to Del Valle), the traffic disappears and we head out onto one of the most remote roads in the Bay Area (rivaled only by Morgan Territory Road). The rugged terrain and undisturbed chaparral evoke images of spaghetti Westerns–you half-expect to see a young Clint Eastwood mounted on a nearby hillock with a rifle across his arm.
Mines is not only remote, it’s long. There are mile markers painted on the road to remind us just how far we are from any kind of civilization– they count up to the Santa Clara county line (20 miles) and down from there to the top of Mount Hamilton (26 miles). In between, there is virtually nothing except for the Junction Cafe, at the intersection where Mines Road meets Highway 130 headed into the central valley towards Yosemite. The road trends upwards for what seems like forever; there’s a fairly steep climb that takes you up 300 meters, then the road starts stepping upwards, with climbs punctuated by flat sections through meadows. The terrain is unlike any other road around here.
The gradual climb takes us to 500 meters altitude at the Santa Clara county line, 35 km from the beginning of the road. The climb gets a little more serious at that point, bringing you to about 800 meters before a small descent, a moderate climb, and then a long (5km) descent to the Junction Cafe. After the first peak, you encounter the first of the cattle guards which are to be your companion all the way to San Jose. They’re a little disconcerting; make sure to hit them straight-on and with a reasonable amount of speed.
Stop at the Junction for water, if nothing else. I’d recommend bottled water; the tap water is heavily mineralized. There is also a restaurant, bar, pool table, library, and post office if you need any of those.
San Antonio Valley Road
Bearing right at the junction takes you onto San Antonio Valley Road, which gets even more desolate past the junction; you’re unlikely to see anything other than other cyclists or motorcycles doing the same ride you’re doing. The road is straighter and flatter for almost 10km, then there are two noticeably long, fairly steep climbs over ridges, with descents on the other side. At the top of the second ridge; you get your first view of something near the peak of Mount Hamilton itself; while Hamilton is the tallest peak in the Bay Area, it’s in the middle of a range of peaks which hide it from ground observation from most angles.
The road crosses Isabel Creek, which marks the beginning of the real climb. The climbing you’ve done so far keeps this climb from being as dramatic or as long as the climb up Diablo, but it’s still over 600 meters altitude delta, and steeper than the Diablo climb. Here’s where you find out if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, although if it turns out you have, there’s not much to do other than keep pushing up the hill. Ain’t no taxi gonna come by out here.
Eventually you’ll reach the Lick Observatory complex at the peak (Mile 0, painted on the road). There’s water and vending in the public buildings, and some touristy things to do if there’s time.
Mount Hamilton Road
The descent on Mount Hamilton Road is fairly gentle and twisty; they had to cut the road with grades below 7% so horses could pull up the huge 36-inch telescope lenses they installed here back in 1888. (Lenses, not mirrors, back then–the largest telescope up here now is a 120-inch mirror, and it’s still used for serious science.) Unfortunately, the descent is interrupted twice by noticeable climbs; they wouldn’t be bad at the beginning of a ride, but they’re quite annoying when you’re supposed to be descending from a 1300-meter peak.
Alum Rock/Santa Clara (advanced ride)
Alum Rock is a busy, commercial road that leads into downtown San Jose. Follow it downtown. It changes name to Santa Clara when it gets into the closest thing San Jose has to a heart. After the main part of town, it passes under Highway 87 and turns slightly to the right; the San Jose train station will be on your left. You can take the Capitol Corridor to the East Bay, or CalTrain to the Peninsula/San Francisco.
Calaveras Road (masochistic ride)
Calaveras is a nice road that parallels the Calaveras Reservoir for much of its length. There’s a fairly steep climb out of San Jose, then a gradual, rolling descent into Sunol, where it ends at Highway 84 near Sunol.
Foothill Boulevard (masochistic ride)
Foothill is a reasonable road with rolling hills, moderate traffic and moderate shoulders.