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Length 19 miles
Time 1.5 hours*
Total Climb 650 feet
Fun Rating
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Aerobic Difficulty
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* On a road bike

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Foothill Expressway
100% ROAD

Foothill Expressway is a very biker-friendly road that is heavily utilized by road bikers in the South Bay. This is a ride option that I occassionally used when I needed a paved ride to do on a weekday morning before going to work, back when I used to live in the South Bay and had newly started biking. This ride does nothing more than an almost-straight out-and-back trip on this virtually flat road and you don't really need to see this listed on a ride website in order to realize its viability as a road ride option. Still, it's such a central component of the road biking scene in the South Bay that I think it deserves being listed here, if only to keep it on the radar for riders who might be new to the area.

On its own, this ride along Foothill Expressway is a very easy one. That might make it suitable for beginner riders who are looking to cover some relatively significant distance without too much effort, too many traffic stops, or too much navigation. It might also work as a quickie workout ride for experienced riders. However, the larger part of the appeal of Foothill Expressway for road riders is in its convenience as a starting stage of a much longer ride. You can use Foothill Expressway to get to Sand Hill Road, Alpine Road, Page Mill Road, Arastradero Road, or Stevens Canyon Road, to name a few, any of which can be followed to put together a ride over the Santa Cruz Mountains ranging from a quick loop over Skyline Boulevard to a half-century ride (or more) taking you all the way to the ocean. Add to that the fact that residents of so many parts of the South Bay and Lower Peninsula can bike to Foothill Expressway straight from their doorstep, and the popularity of this road with bikers really stops being any mystery.

Since this ride spans almost a 10-mile stretch of road through suburban areas, numerous spots can be suitable for use as a starting point for it. However, I do think that the starting point represented by the route shown on this page is a better option than many others for at least two reasons: There's a Peet's Coffee shop right where this route begins in downtown Los Altos, so you'll find yourself in a good spot for some refreshments as soon as you complete your ride; and this Peet's happens to be something of a gathering spot for road cyclists riding on Foothill Expressway, so you're likely to find something of a "community" there (it's not uncommon to find more bikes parked outside this shop than there are outdoor seats available there) and you might catch the opportunity to chat up some strangers about local biking, if you happen to be so inclined. In fact, this Peet's is the designated starting point of multiple weekly club rides (such as the Alt Velo).

Foothill Expressway (as well as Junipero Serra Boulevard, onto which this ride extends) has a generous, paved bike lane in both directions for the entire length of the ride. There are something like 12 intersections with traffic lights along this entire ride, so your ride won't be as unbroken as it might be on a semi-deserted country road, perhaps, but then there are no other intersections at which you need to stop at all, so it's much better than riding through suburban neighborhoods where there might be a stop sign at the end of every block. Car traffic is everpresent on this route, and it can get particularly busy during commute hours on weekdays, though this shouldn't concern you much because (other than having to switch to the left-hand side of the right-turn lane at some intersections) you will be mostly independent of the traffic lanes in your own bike lane during this ride. Meanwhile, weekends with good weather will result in heavy bicycle traffic, in which case it would be worthwhile to pay extra attention to fast riders that might be approaching from behind, at least when you're stopping or resuming after a stop.

As I already mentioned, there are no climbs on this ride in any real sense of the word. Any minor changes in slope are usually barely enough to prompt a gear change. You'll notice these more if you're maintaining a speed over 20 MPH, than if you're merely loafing along.

In addition to downtown Los Altos, where this particular ride route starts, there are a number of other locations that would be good candidates as rest stops or as a starting point for this ride. One of these would be the Rancho Shopping Center; a small rustic-looking shopping strip right on Foothill Expressway, at its intersection with Springer Road. It features an Safeway supermarket as well as a Starbucks, in addition to numerous eateries. Another option, and possibly a more interesting one, would be Loyola Corners, right at the only overpass under which this particular ride passes. This is the "business district" of the not-quite-a-town of Loyola, California. This settlement is possibly older than the nearby Los Altos but seems to have been relegated to relative obscurity in contrast to the rapid growth of its neighbor. I believe Loyola Corners is now technically a neighborhood of Los Altos (at least its business area seems to be). On this two-block "main street", you'll find Tom's Depot (a good option for classic diner fare as well as some historic photos of the neighborhood) in addition to one or two other cafes and a few shops, not the least of which is The Bicycle Outfitter—a great bike shop with more of a road-riding slant (perhaps understandably). Finally, another shopping area can be found near the intersection of Foothill Expressway with Homestead Road, at the southeastern end of this ride. This one features a Starbucks as well as a Peet's Coffee, in addition to a Trader Joe's, Chain Reaction Bicycles, and one or two eateries.

© Ergin Guney


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