Cycling the Iron Horse trail

This week the Dude and I went out for a micro-adventure –  his first ever bike tour.

Before his arrival, the Husband and I were majorly into bike touring. We took a month off to cycle across Europe but we also did shorter trip around Europe and in India, we really loved it. In fact, the one thing that I miss about Europe (apart from friends and family of course) is the ability to go cycle touring. We miss the quiet country roads – roads here are very busy and we don’t feel safe taking the Dude out on them. If we’d stayed in Europe, I know we would have been touring with him in the Netherlands in his trailer when he was still a baby!

When we were in Yellowstone, there were cycling tourists everywhere and we were constantly yelling ‘tourer’ as we saw them loaded up and pedaling along. It made me ache to tour and luckily it made the Dude really want to go for his first tour as well. I thought it would be lovely to fit in one last adventure before school starts next week, so we started planning.

About 45 mins away by car, in the East Bay, is the Iron Horse trail, which stretches 20 miles from Dublin in the south to Concord in the north. It’s not very pretty but it’s paved, totally car free and flat, thus perfect for our requirements. So a plan was hatched. The Husband would drop us at Daly City BART station before work. We’d train it to Dublin, ride 10 miles to Danville, stay overnight, ride 10 miles the next day to Concord and then BART it back to Daly City for when the Husband finished work. We booked a lovely, well-priced airbnb in Danville and bought a map on which we plotted playgrounds and ice-cream shops along the route. If it all went totally tits up, the Husband could easily drive over to rescue us.

The Dude was very keen to carry something on his bike. If it’s a tour, he told me, I have to carry something. However his bike is only little and racks didn’t fit, so we bought a robust handlebar bag, loaded it up with the puncture repair kits and sun cream and that met his required qualifications for touring. The day before, we checked the bikes, pumped the tires and packed. Everything fitted in my rack bag, I didn’t need panniers and we were ready.

Chickmunk was guest of honour on this tour
Chickmunk was guest of honour on this tour

Day 1

It was a very excited pair that the Husband dropped off at 7.30am at Daly City BART station. We easily got our bikes on the train and settled down for the hour-long journey, eating breakfast en route. The Dude was quite overwhelmed to be going UNDER WATER in a train! Eventually we got to Dublin – the Iron Horse Trail starts just outside the station, it was ridiculously easy to get started.

bikes tour
On BART, ready to roll

The plan was to cycle roughly 10 miles from Dublin to Danville. The trail was pretty much perfect throughout – flat, well-paved, car free. I’d wondered if it would feel a bit dodgy in places but it was well-used and I felt very safe. We passed through residential neighborhoods on what used to be an old train line, turned into trail in the 80s. There were no inspiring mountain vistas but it was prettier than I’d expected.

dude cycling iron horse

Our first stop was Boone Acres Park, about a mile off the trail in San Ramon where we had a little play, before heading back north. Our second stop was ice-cream (I use ice-cream a lot as a valid parenting technique) which kind of shockingly turned out to be our lunch. The Dude was cycling well but I realized quickly that goals every two miles or so were what he needed to keep going. Our second park was in south Danville – Osage Park. It was lovely, and he got playing with some local children, for which I was really grateful. We spent a good hour there. Back on the trail, we crossed one of the west-to-east roads and, out of the car, a little hand waved and a voice shouted – it was one of the Dude’s new buddies waving at him. His little face lit up, it was gorgeous.

We arrived in Danville at about 2pm. Danville is rather nice – quite posh, filled with gorgeous shops. We had drinks and fruit in a cafe until it was time for us to cycle the mile  to our airbnb. It was described as a ‘cosy casita’ and the Dude was obsessed with calling it this. It was really nice, hosted by a delightful family, and it had a pool, so we did some swimming and some resting before cycling back into Danville for dinner.

Drinks for the tourers…


Day 2

We woke about 7am and prepared to head out at 8am, but were waylaid by our hostess offering to make us pancakes. Never wanting to turn down pancakes, we accepted and spent an hour or so with her and her family. Really lovely people, such a great start to the day.

The Iron Horse Trail heading north out of Danville was really pretty. Shaded by trees, it was green and cool and rammed with fit, wealthy Danvillites running and cycling. Really nice community feel. Our first park stop was Hap Magee Ranch which was a flipping gorgeous park just off the trail.

The Iron Horse trail is an old railway line – this is Danville station
dude cycling iron
Still smiling on day 2


Our planned ice-cream stop in Alamo was closed (aagh) so we decided to press on to Walnut Creek. I had no food with us at this point (bad planning) and the Dude got low on energy, but we luckily found a pack of Gu chomps that the Husband had given us, and munching on those got us into Walnut Creek and to the Wholefoods next to the trail. We got pizza, berries and drinks and sat resting for a bit.


Pushing on, we went through busy Walnut Creek to Civic Park for a play. I knew we had to be on the 3.27 train home, so we pressed on through Pleasant Hill and over a very cool bridge and finally into Concord. To be honest, I misjudged it here. The trail is a good 4 miles from the BART station along a busy, fairly unpleasant road. We cycled on the pavement/sidewalk so were safe enough but I regret not ending the ride in Pleasant Hill, where the station was next to the trail. My little man was fading by the end, so much so that he decided he didn’t want to go to one last park but rather sit quietly on the train home.

me dude cycling touring iron horse
No Dude was punched in the staging of this photo, despite appearances
So proud of these little chickmunks
So proud of these little chickmunks

I planned on us doing about 20 miles over the two days, but didn’t include side-trips to parks or the distance from the trail to our ‘cosy casita’ or to the BART station in Concord. On Day 1, we did 16.8 miles, on Day 2 we did 15 miles. Not bad for a 5 1/2 year old on a single-speed bike!

Despite his tiredness at the end, the Dude had the most amazing time. As he pointed out later, he didn’t moan once. No complaining at all. He honestly loved the whole experience. It was pretty magical for me as well. When I was pregnant, the Husband and I excitedly talked about how we’d be able to tour with our little man – these two days were literally a dream come true and I admit that I had a bit of a cry at one point because I just felt so very lucky to be doing this with him. I missed the Husband a lot on this trip – he should have been there with us.

me dude cycling iron horse

Personally, it was so SO good to be touring again. No garmins, no goal paces…just the joy of cycling along in the sunshine, taking photos, stopping to say hi to stray cats and enjoying time outside. Cycle touring is one of my favourite things to do and this weekend, I remembered why. I love my road bike but I LOVE Liesl, my touring bike. We’ve been together for about 8 years – we’ve toured India and Europe together, we’ve pulled a baby in a trailer, a toddler on a seat, a boy in a weehoo and now we took that little boy touring himself. It was really special.

The rose garden at Osage Park, Danville

When we got home, after showers, there was one final thing to do – to present the ‘yellow jersey’ to the coolest little cyclist in California. He was pretty chuffed.

dude cycling
Just like at the Tour

Practicalities – the Iron Horse Trail

In terms of the Iron Horse Trail, it was perfect for our needs. It’s not the most beautiful of trail but it wasn’t unattractive at all. It was flat,  well maintained and well sign-posted. There are no bathrooms on the trail at all but roads cross the trail very frequently and there are nearly always bathrooms nearby. I am so grateful to the East Bay Parks people for maintaining this trail, so flipping lucky.

I wondered about which direction to ride it in – often there’s a headwind going north. Layla advised that I risk the headwind as it’s ever-so-slightly downhill heading north. I think she was right but I don’t think it’s a big decision in any case.

The Dude is already asking about our next tour! Cool, eh?

maps cycling

10 Comments Add yours

  1. So cool and that looks like a lot of fun. I am glad you took the chance on the tour and what a champ. Sounds like he will be a natural tourer (not sure that is a word.). 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      I think it’s a word – thanks for your lovely comment!

  2. Jen says:

    This is so awesome and I’m glad it was a great experience (minus the absence of the Husband)! The Iron Horse Trail isn’t much too look at but it’s very practical. I like the north end a lot better, except for the big road crossing by Whole Foods. Great job to both of you!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yeah, that crossing wasn’t pretty. I thought the middle section was the prettiest, around Danville, where it got shady and green. GREAT trail though!

  3. Layla says:

    This was such a well-planned bike trip, and I love that you thoroughly wore out The Dude but he didn’t complain. 😀 You’re teaching him so much, too — goals, and how to have good fun, and how to see the world. I saw kids at the Seattle to Portland ride (hmmm, a future goal for you guys??) and wondered how on earth they did it, but now I realize they must have parents like you. Well done, both of you!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you! I can’t imagine him doing StP though, that’s a LONG way!!

  4. Kate says:

    Big congrats to the dude on his first cycle tour! Such a cool experience for you two to share!

  5. That is AWESOME!! Such a great adventure. The Dude is lucky to have parents like you, willing to do things like that with him. He will always remember that kind of adventures.
    Congrats to your little man!! 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thank you! He is really proud of himself and he told me today that it was his favourite thing we did over summer. Made my day.

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