DIABLO ROAD CYCLIST HISTORY

Photo Taken from Contra Costa Canal Trail in Pleasant Hill Looking Back at Mt. Diablo

As a cyclist do you hear the mountain calling your name?  Well, you are not alone.  Challenge, beauty, training, or just plain adventure all coalesce to attract riders to the 3,848 ft high mountain.  Today there are more than 100,000 annual cyclist visits to Mount Diablo.  But what about the past?

For that we need to go back to the late 1800s.  Horses and bicycles ruled the transportation marketplace. While they were logically productivity enhancers, they were also sources of exploration of the outdoors. Cycling clubs were extremely popular Nationally in the 1890s and the Bay Area was a hotbed of cycling clubs and activities.  This fascinating 1895 photo from the Hayward Historical Society shows a bicycle shop two doors down from the Fire Station on Castro Street in Hayward, California. (Also a bicycle rider on the right in the distance)

Hayward Historical Society

In the late 1800s local newspapers routinely reported on cycling and hiking club events.  One 1894 San Francisco Chronicle article states:

“On Saturday October 20th, the second trip to Mount Diablo will be taken by numerous members of the California Cycling Club, starting from the city on the 1PM boat.  It is the intention to reach the Mountain House, near the summit of Diablo that afternoon, staying there overnight and viewing the sunrise.”

What makes this so fascinating is the current Northgate and Southgate Roads (also called Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd) up the mountain were not built until 20 years later in 1915-16.   These early riders rode and hiked the old Stage Roads, up Pine Canyon from Walnut Creek or up Dan Cook Canyon from Alameda Diablo in Diablo.  

These two Stage Roads were built in 1874 as carriage routes (toll roads) to haul paying guests to the summit on horse drawn carriages or to the hotel at Mountain House (just beyond the current Junction). These roads were privately owned, rough ranch roads and yet early road cyclists heard the call of the mountain.

Below is an 1895 Bay Area cycling map (printed in multiple articles in the San Francisco Chronicle) showing the two stage roads up to the Summit of Mount Diablo. In those days there were very few roads in the entire county so this loop to the Summit was an adventure cyclist’s dream route.

Crazy as it might sound, California established the State Bureau of Highways in 1885 and an 1896 report discussed bicycles and the new highway system.  The report says

 “ the influence of the bicycle cannot be overestimated.  Millions of dollars have been invested in the manufacture of these easy and graceful machines of locomotion, and this agitation for better roads is due more directly to the efforts of the wheelmen than to any other one cause”.  

It is estimated that around 1 million bicycles were in use in the US in the late 1800s. Bicyclists were the original advocates for a highway system.

Another fascinating perspective on early cycling clubs is an unusual website blackbirdsf.org that has a page dedicated to the Bay City Wheelmen, a cycling club formed in 1884 in San Francisco. They maintained a scrapbook showing photos of a June 11 and 12, 1903 Mount Diablo two-day ride.

New Roads to the Summit

By the early 1900s, the emerging technology called the automobile caused wealthy speculators to buy vast swatches of Mount Diablo from ranchers with an eye toward subdivision and monetization of the mountain.  This required new roads and in 1915-16 Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd. was opened to the public, as another private toll road.  Following similar routes as the 1874 roads, this new road was constructed using newer steam engine technology and prided itself on average grades of 7%, critical for the wide range of new automobiles and friendlier for cyclists.

The following 1917 Road Book #4 map shows all three Contra Costa County toll roads, the North and South roads of Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd. and the Sloan Road or Curry Canyon Road out to the Clayton side of the mountain.  Better access attracted a wider user audience and visitors to the Summit exploded.

A September 1915 Oakland Tribune article discussing the imminent completion of the Northgate side of the road states “when completed will rank as one of the finest mountain highways in the west” and also states “Meanwhile, autoists are taking the Mount Diablo Park Club highway to the summit……hundreds of motorists are making the trip each week.”

County Road Book #4 1917 Contra Costa Historical Society

On this map notice the arrow shaped curves of the new roadway leading out of Diablo.  (Lower center of the map in Section 14 and at the Mount Diablo Toll Gate red dots added for clarity).  Every automobile, bicycle, or hiker accessing this new State Park prior to 1931 had to drive or ride or hike through Diablo, up Alameda Diablo to Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd. and around the steep, sharp, arrow of curves to the then private Park Entrance.

Contra Costa Historical Society LL Stein Collection

This 1920 photo shows the Toll Gate for the private Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.  It was located just outside of Diablo, around the arrow of curves, also known to today’s cyclists as the danger zone, just before the current single-track Summit Trail or Bridge Loop Trails to Dan Cook Canyon. The road around the arrow of switchbacks just before this Gate was a public road leading from the Green Valley Corner in Danville up through Diablo on Alameda Diablo.

Between 1917 and 1931, the economic squeeze of World War 1 and the resulting financial turmoil caused many developers to go out of business. Parcels did not sell, toll roads went unused and banks took back properties including the toll roads.  Starting in the early 1920s there were pressures to create a Mount Diablo State Park.  Funding needed to be secured and willing sellers needed to be found but by 1931 many pieces fell into place.

By 1931 when Mount Diablo State Park was officially opened, a new roadway connector was created on the Danville side of the mountain to route automobile traffic along the Eastern side of Diablo property rather than through the center of the development.

This new road took a dead-end existing Diablo ranch road (Calle Los Collados), added a new curved section (shown with dotted lines) to join Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.  Diablo was willing to offer the State the roads Calle Crispi, much of Calle Los Collados, and carve a new extension to route automobile traffic off of Alameda Diablo.  This became the new park entrance and was crowned Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.

The original 160 feet of the original Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd., starting at the center line of Alameda Diablo was closed to vehicle traffic and became a riding and hiking connector only. Diablo wanted control of their lands, so they offered this new roadway to the State as an easement only.  This would cause nothing but headaches over the next 90 years as lawsuits and infighting over maintenance responsibilities of this roadway exploded especially after the addition of the Athenian school in the 1960s and Diablo Ranch in the 1980s.  

Labelled corner of WIlliam Watson colored representation of Diablo Country Club Properties 1920

New and better roads on both sides of the mountain attracted more and more cyclists as well as automobile visitors such that by early 1932 the Oakland Tribune reported that in the first 10 months of the park’s existence, 55,000 visitors and 18,000 automobiles were recorded. Further growth in visitors is reported in another Oakland Tribune article from July 1961 titled Park Rangers Battle Jam at Mount Diablo.  

In the past 20 years annual attendance has zoomed from 75,000 to 226,049 last year”. And then “More and more visitors are discovering the Sierra-like calm and natural wild life 2,168 acre refuge right in the center of booming Contra Costa County”.

1930 Aerial of Diablo Country Club gifted to the Club and displayed at the Club with added labels

(This aerial photo, a gift to Diablo Country Club from Herbert Gray Hills is proudly displayed at Diablo Country Club as a snapshot of 1930 Diablo.  Labels have been added for clarity.  Note especially how few trees populate the area.  Diablo was open grassland and the connection between early residents and Mt. Diablo was tight, awe inspiring. You could see and enjoy the mountain from anywhere in Diablo.

America was not yet done with economic turmoil as the 1930s depression followed by WWII further delayed development, keeping Diablo small and struggling as a resort of summer homes.  The public however continued to visit the park in increasing numbers as beauty and access lured hikers and riders in increasing numbers alongside automobiles.

Road Cyclists Attraction

If the State Park really had only two points of access and both were roads, it was an ideal place for cyclists. Paved roads with little automobile traffic and challenging but moderate grades were perfect.  

In the 1950s thru 1960s cyclist use continued to grow as the population of Contra Costa County exploded (100,450 in 1940 becomes 298,984 by 1950).  Cyclists from Walnut Creek could funnel their way to the North Gate entrance area from Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill and Concord.  From Danville or Alamo cyclists rode out Diablo Road or Stone Valley Road and then rode through Diablo Country Club streets or along the rural S curves of Diablo Road to what we now call the Athenian corner. Dublin and San Ramon cyclists could also access the park from Dougherty Valley Road and Camino Tassajara.

1960s

1960s Road Map of Mt. Diablo Park Access

Until the mid-1960s, Mount Diablo was only 2,168 acres.  Cycling up Northgate Road you did not officially enter the State Park lands until just before the Junction as shown in the above 1960s map. While cyclists and automobiles could use the actual State-Owned roadway, there was a public impression of an expansive park and yet the land for miles on either side of the roadway was private.  

The Ginochios and Kerleys each owned close to 2,000 acres, each basically the same size as the park itself both extending up Northgate Road.  A similar situation was present along Southgate Road. Blackhawk and various other entities owned most of the parcels for more than a mile up Southgate Road.  

Mount Diablo was a cyclist paradise, an isolated plot of public land surrounded by private ranches and limited points of access.  Just look at the limited number of roads in the area to understand why cyclists were active users of Mt. Diablo. It was an island of beauty and restricted car traffic in the middle of a growing population center.

The 1965 thru 1975 Years

John Ginochio recalls the fateful decision by the State to move the original Park Kiosk and allow free travel up the North side of Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd. This actually encouraged visitors at all hours of the day and night and attracted a new element of park visitors.  The young partiers.  In the 60s and early 70s young people embraced freedoms of expression and sought out open places like parklands in a time of free love and smoking pot (well you have read about or remember the times).  Young people also railed against those with wealth and privilege.  John says his old barn (built in the 1920s), just up from today’s North Gate Park entrance and still owned by the Ginochios, was an attractive nuisance to young people who saw it as a place to party.  Landowners in the area worried about fires and trash and general disregard for private landowner rights. Who knew where the actual park began and what was private?  To visitors it was a magical expansive attraction of canyons and creeks and beauty.

Of course, road riders were not causing problems for landowners, they were just passing through, so to speak.  Their goal was the Summit or maybe a loop from Walnut Creek to Danville, up the North Side and down the South Side.

Road riders coming up the North Gate Road side from Walnut Creek were met by more sustained climbing grades and more uneven pavement and more loose gravel.  A number of old timers recall that for whatever reason this side of the mountain required more care especially when riding downhill.  John agrees that it always seemed that the Northgate side roadway lacked the care and maintenance that benefitted the Southgate side.

Climbing Northgate Road in Springtime

Athenian School Moves In 

While John Ginochio reflected on the lack of respect young people had for his property, a similar frustration was happening in and around Diablo.  The Athenian School, a college preparatory boarding school on 119 acres opened in 1965 at the corner of Diablo Road and Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd as shown in the photo.

1968 Photo of Athenian School and State Park Sign Contra Costa Historical Society

Imagine sleepy, exclusive Diablo, with large houses set far back from their rural streets, their only neighbor being the open spaces of Mount Diablo. All of a sudden hundreds of young people move in.  The new young neighbors had bikes and energy and either explored the trails and roads of Mount Diablo or passed through Diablo itself on the way to downtown Danville or Alamo. A boarding school also has live-in instructors, who are often not much older than the students themselves.  These too were new neighbors, active users of Diablo Streets and Mount Diablo roads and trails.

I love this article as it represents youth and energy and what Athenian was all about. Teacher and Coach Rob Flinn and Athenian students trained for and attempted a new Guiness World Record through cycling exercise. The article states, “All of the 185 9th thru 12th graders and their teachers are taking turns riding….”

Brian Kelly a local cyclist and employee of a local bike shop, was present in the background of this photo. Brian still lives adjacent to Diablo and he and his wife are both cyclists. He is also a great storyteller and can speak to the training these Athenian students did in and about Diablo streets and Mount Diablo trails. While this was 1975, the Athenian school encouraged outdoor exploration from day one.

Diablo residents felt threatened by the onslaught of active young people wandering around their neighborhoods, on bikes or on foot so in 1968 the Diablo Community Services District (DCSD) was formed. Diablo wanted more control over its streets and community. It prided itself on being an exclusive, private community and it wanted to administer its infrastructure, mainly streets and bridges.  When the DCSD was formed, the County agreed to pay the DCSD to help maintain their private streets and bridges, subject to a right-of-way by the public.  “These are roads that are within the county that have not been accepted into the county road system”.  Seemingly a good tradeoff.  The public retains access rights to Diablo Roads and Bridges mainly for State Park access, and Diablo retains more control over their “Private” community.  

Why is this important?  Every few years a small faction within Diablo threaten to limit public access to Diablo, especially to cyclists.   What they fail to understand is that the general public contributes significant money to the Diablo Community Service District (DCSD) for the right of passage.  In fact, based on close to 400 homes in Diablo, County taxpayers contribute around $100 per month per residence to the upkeep of streets and bridges.  Diablo decides how to spend the money but receives over $400,000 annually in public county funds.

Diablo prides itself on being a Private Community but residents need to recognize their streets, bridges, and pathways have always been “subject to right-of-way by the public”. Every taxpayer in Contra Costa County contributes funds that directly benefit Diablo homeowners for the right to use Diablo streets to access Mount Diablo State Park roads and trails and easements.

Late 1970s Explosion of bikes and housing in CC County

The ink was barely dry on the new DCSD and already new housing was proposed for much of the open space lands surrounding Diablo.  Blackhawk takes the blame for traffic and congestion because it was so large, but housing development exploded along the Diablo corridor in the 1970s and 1980s.  Diablo itself went from around 50 homes in 1950s, doubling to 100, doubling again and then doubling again to where there are now just under 400 homes in Diablo (on the same footprint of land).

Increased Traffic Encourages New Routes

New traffic dramatically impacted road cyclists and reduced personal safety causing riders to find a safer way to access Mount Diablo than using the dangerous S curves of Diablo Road leading up to the Athenian Corner. Cyclists more and more began to ride up Diablo Road past St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church to the left turn lane at Alameda Diablo. Then ride through the quiet Diablo neighborhood to the original 160 feet of Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd, now a graveled 8-10 foot wide connector from Alameda Diablo to Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.  

At least 4 old Metal Posts remain today across this Original 1915-16 Stub Roadway of Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.

The popularity of this route grew as traffic and congestion grew and even this connector was threatened in the late 1970s. Just like the equestrian community stepped up to protect their access to the State Park, the broad user community including the cycling community did the same through the East Bay Area Trails Council asking that this widely used connector be protected.

This connector followed the first 160 feet of the old roadbed (closed in 1931). It originally had a braided wire chain strung between 4-inch metal posts signifying no vehicle access but it became a popular route for non-vehicle users accessing Mount Diablo, especially cyclists.  

The County responded quickly to the EBATC concerns with this letter:

Cyclists were on the County’s mind because this letter says “as a condition of approval a requirement that, prior to the filing of the parcel map, the owner establish a RIDING and BIKING trail easement connecting the two roadways. (My capitalization of the two words.)

Old timers called this Pathway the “cut through”, the hole in the wall, or just the dirt connector. This connector is now graveled at 8-10 feet wide and is the most popular of four non-vehicle park connectors within Diablo connecting Alameda Diablo to Mount Diablo State Park roads or trails.

The graphic below is a Google Earth 1939 historical map with graphics added to show what this upper corner of Diablo looked like in the early days of the State Park.  Orient yourself by finding the Diablo Lake and then the arrow of switchbacks of Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd just below the lake.  At the bottom of the graphic note the Future Athenian School site and the reference to the Calle Los Collados Gate.  Up until the mid-1960s Calle Los Collados was a through street from inner Diablo and connecting to Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd. across from Athenian school.  

Diablo planners decided to close this road (note the line of palm trees extending along this street on the map.)  When they closed this road to vehicles in the mid-1960s, they wisely left it open to non-vehicle traffic so that Athenian students and Diablo residents and cyclists and other users could still pass.  One Diablo equestrian did tell me that she got stuck on her horse one time trying to use this narrow opening.

At the center of the map/graphic is the main pathway connector (shown with black two parallel lines), between Alameda Diablo and Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.  In red the original 1874 Stage Road is shown and in red dots the narrow trail bridge loops to Dan Cook are shown for perspective.  All are used by cyclists as State Park entrances.

Cycling Popularity

Let’s try to put 1970s road cycling into perspective.  Notice anything in these statistics?

1960  –  3.7 million bikes sold in the US

1970  –  6.9 million bikes sold in the US

1973  –  15 million bikes sold in the US

The 1973 record lasted for close to 20 years. Suburban housing development, coupled with better bike technology, coupled with a new and broadening appreciation for the environment meant many more riders seeking enjoyable bike routes.

Cycling Clubs Appear in CC County

Ken Green began teaching at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill in 1962 and he became advisor to the then mountaineering and hiking club.  As a cyclist himself, he helped the club add cycling to their official activities.  Mt. Diablo became a popular destination for all three club activities.

A few years later in the late 1960s, Ken met a man by the name of Art Bonwell.  Art had been a Sierra Club member and a trails and park advocate and in 1969 Art Bonwell formed the Diablo Wheelmen Cycling Club, Ken becoming the first Vice President.  

While Art is not quite a household name it should be because in 1971 Art co-founded Save Mt. Diablo with Dr. Mary Bowerman.  Art was a true open space advocate and his organizational skills and energy have made our community a better place through his encouragement of exploration and enjoyment of public open spaces. Mary gets all the press but Art is an unsung hero to early road cyclists in Contra Costa County.  

Art was known for his mentoring of young riders and racers. The Diablo Wheelmen cyclists regularly trained on Mount Diablo, some becoming racers, many training on the mountain multiple times per week. The Diablo Wheelmen sponsored club rides and races as well and grew to over 400 members.  While not still active, the club held a reunion in 2005 and around 50 former club members got together to reflect on those early days.

Two quick stories were recounted by Ken Green at the 2005 reunion of Diablo Wheelmen:

For a few years the club promoted two races, the Crockett-Martinez Road Race and the Concord Criterium.  One year the Crockett Martinez race was a qualifying event for the Olympic Trials.

(Photo and article contributed by Ted Trambley who still rides Mt. Diablo weekly)

One year Bob Tetzloff (he was vice president of the national cycling body) came over and said, “You guys have a problem here.  You have a guy in there that should not be racing.  The guy is too young for a senior”.  (In those days the Juniors were not allowed to ride longer than 50 miles and this was a 90-mile race). Well, the race official paused and then said “well, do you think he is going to place”?  “Oh, yeah we think he will place”.  The race went on and this Junior won the race.  He beat all the Seniors, some of which were Olympic qualifying caliber riders.  Well, we disqualified him and his name was Tom Ritchey.  He was two weeks short of the age requirement and not particularly bothered by the disqualification, just wanted to compete. (Tom Ritchey was a serious racer before becoming a bike frame manufacturer especially for the emerging mountain bike market.)

Ken continues “One year I was an official at I can’t remember if it was the Santa Cruz Criterium or the Capitola Criterium, but we were down there and in the junior race at that time was Greg Lemond.  Again, they had restrictions on Juniors and in this case, it was a gear restriction.  Juniors were not supposed to have above an 84 combined gear ratio. The idea was that Juniors were still developing cartilage and physically if they rode in too high of gears they could injure themselves or impact their careers due to damage.  So we had this race and Greg Lemond won.  Before the race we had checked his bike and he met the gear restriction and after the race we rechecked his bike and it did not meet the gear restriction.  Somehow after we had checked initially, he made a switch and we were forced to disqualify him.” (Greg LeMond became a world class racer, winning the Tour de France three times and ranking as one of the top cyclists in history.)

Meanwhile over in Dublin in early 1971 Bonnie and Bob Powers saw an advertisement at their local community swimming pool asking if anyone wanted to start a cycling club.  They responded and well the rest, as we say, is history.  Bonnie and Bob not only started the Valley Spokesmen Cycling Club in August 1971 but saw membership soar to over 500 members on average in the 1970s.  This was a family club that held local rides as well as travel rides in and around Yosemite and down the coast.

Bonnie is proud of the fact that they started the first organized “women’s only” bike rides in the country, called the Cinderella Classics.  The club actually won “best bike club in America” in 1977.  Bonnie also is proud of the Wednesday morning mom’s rides (Bob called these the “Gourmet Rides”) because the women riders would drop their kids at school, ride, have lunch, and then pick up the kids after school.  

Article from Bonnie’s Scrapbook of early club history

Bob and Bonnie are now in their 80s and still active with the club and while club membership peaked around 1,000, it is still going strong with around 600 members today.  (Bob Powers passed away in June 2023).

Reflecting back, they remind us that in the 1960s and early 1970s bikes were 50-pound monsters, maybe 3 speeds moving to 5 speed and then exploding in the early 70s with ten speeds taking the bulk of bike sales.

Both of these clubs and their hundreds of riders trained on Mount Diablo, regularly raced on Mount Diablo and held club fun or family rides on Mount Diablo.  And as we all know there were only two ways to access the mountain, Northgate Road or Southgate Road.

Mt. Diablo Event Cycling

Starting in the early 1970s the Valley Spokesmen held regular rides up Mount Diablo, some in conjunction with the California Pedaler Bike Shop.  There were fun rides, training rides, and races up the mountain, mainly from the Southgate side.  These included the Thanksgiving Day Ride and the Hangover Ride, a New Year’s Day Fun Ride to burn off the previous evening’s festivities, and of course the weekly evening rides up the mountain during the cycling season, leaving from the California Pedaler Bike shop in Danville.

Many of these rides followed this routine.  Ride up Diablo Road to the left turn lane of Alameda Diablo, through Diablo to the old roadway connector and around the sharp switchbacks of the arrow, all as a social warm up ride.  Once the State Park Gate was reached, then the hammer was dropped and the racers went all out to the Junction.  Ted Trambley reminisces about the fun with upwards of 30 riders all racing one another up the mountain.

Prominent in this circa 1975 photo (provided by Ted) are Brian Kelly in the front right and Ted Trambley far left, both active cyclists riding Mount Diablo regularly even today and both great story tellers of the early racing days of their youth.

Mt. Diablo Challenge Race

In 1982, a Valley Spokesmen club rider named Jeanne Walt from Alamo died suddenly of Myocarditis as a seemingly healthy woman in her 30s.  As an avid bike rider and racer, Joan was the first woman finisher in the 1982 Tour de San Francisco Bicycle Challenge, a 30-mile race with 900 riders.  She was also 76th overall.  In the first ever Mount Diablo Challenge, a race from Athenian School to the summit of Mount Diablo, she was the third woman and the 45th overall out of 250 riders.  

Her story and the importance of heart health and research helped the Valley Spokesmen dedicate the annual Mount Diablo Challenge to Jeanne and her memory.  Over the years co-sponsors have included the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Save Mount Diablo and others. This ride/race up Mount Diablo is an annual fall event and it routinely attracts 500 to 800 riders.  There is a party atmosphere, a serious side to the top riders, and the money raised goes to a good cause.  The State Park Rangers get involved by closing Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd to automobile traffic and helping to ensure the safety of participants.  This race now has over 40 years of history, racing and riding on Mount Diablo.

But it was not just Tri Valley cycling clubs that were attracted to Mount Diablo.  The Berkeley and Oakland and San Francisco clubs also trained and raced on Mount Diablo and still do today

From countless interviews of old timers, once the 1970s housing development began, many riders who accessed Mount Diablo from the Danville/Alamo side of the mountain used the safety and beauty of Diablo streets to access Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.  Riders learn from other riders and in most cases, riders rode up Diablo Road from Danville or up Stone Valley Road from Alamo to the Green Valley corner and then rode along Diablo Road for a couple hundred yards, merging into the left turn lane to ride through Diablo up Alameda Diablo to the old roadway connector up near the original park entrance gate and kiosk.  This allowed them to safely bypass the busy Athenian corner and the dangerous S curves of Diablo Road that precede it.  Those curves were becoming too busy and unsafe.

1980s Bike Path Solutions

Development leading to more cars along with more cyclists in search of challenges on Mount Diablo created headaches for County planners and public safety advocates.  Bike paths seemed like a good solution or a step in the right direction. Bike paths are a great solution for kids riding to school, maybe for mountain bikes and family fun rides, but road cyclists with skinny tires and training at faster speeds are not big bike path users. They prefer bike lanes adjacent to roadways or actual roads themselves.  Bike paths routinely have bumps, roots, overhanging branches, leaves and debris….they are fine for many riders but actually dangerous for racers or serious road riders.

Jana Olsen was Trails Coordinator for the EBRPD in 1976 and she wrote a letter during the Blackhawk EIR process.

I am interested in Blackhawk Road as a bicycling route and am pleased to see that the plans include a 6-foot bike lane on the road.  I have been a part of groups as large as 300 which use this road as part of a longer ride”.  

In 1980 the Barbara Hale Bike Path, extending from Green Valley Road to Calle Arroyo was created as a paved route along the creek and in front of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.  It offers cyclists and children heading to one of three close schools an alternative to Diablo Road.  Barbara was a Diablo resident and mother and she campaigned for safer routes for school children.  The bike path today is far from perfect. It is bumpy, substandard in width and yet is an important route for safe travel.  

This bike path was engineered and planned to extend all the way to Alameda Diablo (another 150 yards) but somehow the last section of this paved path was left out of actual construction so the path ended at Calle Arroyo.  This last-minute change of plans restricted cyclist flexibility and safety and caused many users to reach the end of the bike path and turn left onto Calle Arroyo, riding the pleasant golf course route past the clubhouse and back onto Alameda Diablo to the popular connector to Mt. Diablo Scenic Blvd.  The alternative of riding 150 yards against traffic on a narrow section of pavement up to Alameda Diablo is a scary proposition.

Cut out from the original Bike Path Plans

The increase in cyclist activity along Calle Arroyo caused some backlash (and a lawsuit) from a few of the owners of properties in that area.  In reality this paved path omission just shifted some activity away from Alameda Diablo itself. (Full plans included at end of article.)

More bike paths created

Blackhawk added a beautiful bike path headed East from the Athenian corner.  This was a mitigation requirement for Blackhawk development activity.  A bike path in front of the Athenian school was added but this too is narrow, marred by tree roots and leaves and such that road cyclists would not even consider this as viable.  But it does offer some additional safety for kids and families and local bike traffic. It was also a mitigation requirement for development activity.

Another bike path was created along the creek adjacent to and following Green Valley Road from Stone Valley to Blemer and extending to Diablo Road.  It too is mainly used by school children and neighbors.

All of these bike paths are important to public safety but they often lack proper interconnectivity.  

Finally, a new modern bike path is being constructed to offer cyclists a safe way around the dangerous S Curves of Diablo Road and as an alternative to riding through Diablo.  A joint effort between the Town of Danville and Davidon, the developer of Magee Preserve, this 1.5 mile long 8-foot-wide paved path is scheduled to open in 2024. This is a $4.5 million public improvement project, and that is just the Danville half.  The other section is being fully funded by Davidon as part of their Magee Preserve project.

How many cyclists access Mt. Diablo

In 1988, when Diablo Ranch Estates was being proposed (the small housing development next to Athenian School) the EIR for this development states:

 “Mt Diablo State Park officials have gathered figures indicating that bicycle traffic into the park averages 80-100 rides/day, although the figures do not discriminate between traffic on North Gate Road and South Gate Road.”  

This should serve as a basis for gauging road bike use of the mountain prior to the expansion of the mountain bike segment.  Annualizing these numbers suggests around 30-40,000 annual Mount Diablo road cyclist trips during the 1980s.

Road cyclists have used Mount Diablo for over 100 years and as the safety of urban streets degrades, more and more cyclists choose routes that get them onto the mountain and away from regular auto traffic.

What is cyclist use today?  According to the California State Park System Statistical Report, more than 82,000 cyclists visited Mount Diablo State Park in the 2013-14 year (224 per day).  Many ride a loop, up one side of the mountain, down the other.

In 2015, a private survey suggested around 85,000 cyclists use the South entrance to Mount Diablo.  A follow up study done by video camera in 2019 suggested Southgate cyclist use closer to 117,000 on an annual basis.  (Daily between 232 and 320 per day up from around 100 per day in the 1980s).

A Strava heat map of the Diablo area clearly shows how cyclist route themselves from either Alamo or Danville or Blackhawk and up either Mt Diablo Scenic Blvd or Dan Cook Canyon.  

Strava Heat Map of Cyclist Activity

Mount Diablo State Park was a limited access park with two paved roadway public access points until the late 1970s.  Is it any wonder that it became a road cyclist paradise?  As delivery trucks clog rural roadways, as busy drivers attempt cell phone use and take their eyes off the road, and as general congestion from residential development puts greater demands on limited roadways, cyclists’ safety becomes a challenge, Mount Diablo offers a respite from car traffic and is still a gem for cyclists.

Barbara Hale Pavement Project 1980

CABO Winter 1991 One Page Early History from Mas Hatano

Bob Powers Passes (from Valley Spokesmen Website)