Cycling can extend beyond the mere enjoyment of riding your bike. Sharing your experience with friends and making new friends sometimes leads to opportunities for magical things to happen that can literally open doors, or gates. As cyclocross riders are using their bikes for double-duty in the offseason, we find roads and adventures all throughout the country, and today we look at one such ride in Northern California.

by Clifford Lee

The Crystal Springs Watershed made up of 23,000 acres of pristine, undeveloped land on the peninsula south of San Francisco. It is run by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and features three reservoirs that serve as the primary collection and storage for the water supply of San Francisco. It also is a California State Fish and Game refuge. That means limited access of this wilderness to the public. Adventure and mixed-terrain riders have often come upon the locked and fortified gates, only to look longingly at the forbidden road beyond. Satellite maps show a collection of roads and trails that can lead the mixed-terrain rider from San Francisco to points south primarily on dirt, devoid of cars and the noises of civilization.

Well, limited access often means no access, but in this case, those roads and trails can be explored with a docent. Group size is limited and enforced, as is time of entry and exit.

Riding the Forbidden Roads of the Crystal Springs Watershed. © C. Lee / Cyclocross Magazine Riding the Forbidden Roads of the Crystal Springs Watershed. © C. Lee / Cyclocross Magazine

Vive La Tarte, a Belgian-inspired bakery in San Francisco that produces savory and sweet tarts, is title sponsor of the cyclocross team started by directeur sportif Ryan Rinn in 2012. The association began as the team and bakery were both coming to fruition. Rinn is friends with the Belgian husband-and-wife team of Julie Vandermeesch and Arnaud Goethals and forged the cyclocross team connection.

According to Rinn, “The team was 10 members the first year and grew to 30 for the next two years. This year we will likely have 32. The goal from the beginning was to bring new riders to the sport and focus on a strong women’s presence on the team. We have been at or just below 50% female since the beginning. We have seen many riders race their first cross race and grow into pretty damn competitive and successful racers. Although I’m extremely competitive, the goal was never podiums for this team. The goal was to spread positive vibes and share my love of the sport. Watching our riders progress has been amazing.”

Zack Stender, owner of Huckleberry Bicycles started his “Ramble” rides as a monthly mixed-terrain ride to bring riders together to explore roads and trails in and around the City. With the Vive La Tarte CX team association, it was logical that the team would take the lead on the “Huckleberry Rambles.”

Huckleberry Bicycles is unique in that they are located in the San Francisco Civic Center and is a pioneering new business in a blighted area of mid-Market Street. They are not one of the tech companies that have led to the gentrification of San Francisco in recent years, but are a brick and mortar shop hoping to make their mark in the community. Last season, the team Vive La Tarte cyclocross team found another sponsor in Huckleberry Bicycles. One of the team members, Dan Winterberg, has a friend from CX Racing, Ammon Skidmore who is a docent for the Watershed lands. Alas, a keyholder who can lead a cyclocross/gravel grinder paced ride along the forbidden roads in this pristine Watershed land.

And pristine it is. After an urban start we arrive at the gate, greeted by a watershed ranger. In addition, Ammon has to phone-in to record our entry through the gate according to the rules. We are required to stay on the gravel service roads that appear lightly used with lush growth in-between the tire tracks in many places, making it a double track ride. However, it is covered in crushed gravel for the entire 10 miles out and back on the main road/trail, the Fifield Cahill trail. It is anything but flat, undulating through open grass and through forest, with steep long pitches thrown in. Ironically there is a vault toilet every two miles, as if set for the masses. The descents are long and sometimes sketchy due to the loose surface of the gravel, the climbs are just as long with traction a challenge at times.

Is it special? Not for the quality of the road, or even the splendid views. It’s the fact that you’re there, on terrain trodden by few outsiders, like visiting Vietnam 20 years ago, or going to Cuba now, before American tourism opens up. It’s about a group of riders spending the day where all the pieces came together to make it happen. That’s what’s great about the cycling community, and the cyclocross community in particular.

Use the slider below for more photos of the scenic forbidden roads on our cyclocross adventure.

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Riding the Forbidden Roads of the Crystal Springs Watershed. © C. Lee / Cyclocross Magazine

Entering the forbidden highway. © Alan Schacter

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