For visitors to Mount Diablo State Park, the sight of cyclists roaming along the roads and trails on and around the mountain is a common and even expected occurrence.
Whether it's road cycling or mountain biking, Mount Diablo serves as a premier destination for bike riders both locally and throughout the Bay Area -- even more so recently as residents sought outdoor refuge during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Riding up Mount Diablo is different every time," Al Kalin, president of local bike safety advocacy group Mount Diablo Cyclists and Bike Danville, told the Weekly. "The weather, the mountain, the scenery -- and on a typical early weekday, you see animals that you wouldn't even see while hiking because you're so quiet. I've virtually seen every animal except a mountain lion."
"Mount Diablo, as you know, is just a premier climb and a destination, and now with COVID there's even more cyclists out. It's just amazing how many people are riding bikes now, going up the mountain and throughout Danville," he added.
A colossal site familiar to anyone who lives in the East Bay, Mount Diablo has a peak of 3,849 feet within the roughly 20,000-acre Mount Diablo State Park.
Located northeast of central Danville about approximately 30 miles east of San Francisco, the mountain is populated by mixed oak woodland and open grassland and possesses a wealth of outdoor experiences for hikers, bikers, equestrian riders and outdoor enthusiasts.
Most of the mountain biking on Mount Diablo is available only on fire roads, according to local conservation group Save Mount Diablo, who encourage residents to enjoy the area's offerings, so long as they do so responsibly.
"We respectfully request that cyclists be considerate of other outdoor user groups, and stay on legal trails to protect wildlife and native plants. Ride like a conservationist and we can keep enjoying our beautiful natural world here," Save Mount Diablo communications manager Laura Kindsvater said.
"Because of the very serious environmental issues like the climate crisis and mass species extinction event underway, we at Save Mount Diablo have been trying to respectfully reach more groups of people and invite them into our conservation tent so that we can build more momentum, and appreciation, for conservation. Nature desperately needs more types of people on the side of conservation, not less," she added.
For mountain biking in particular, Save Mount Diablo officials say that while in the summer months trails can become dry and loose, traction is generally great throughout the year.
Save Mount Diablo staff say some of the best trails for mountain biking year-round (in order of difficulty level from easy to strenuous) include the Mitchell Canyon Fire Road, Briones to Mount Diablo Trail, Stage Road, BBQ Terrace Road, Wall Point Road and Burma Road.
Street biking is also increasingly popular for the mountain area, with road cyclists often being found on Crow Canyon/Norris Canyon Road, San Ramon Valley Boulevard, Diablo Road and Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard/South Gate Road.
Always viewed as a popular spot for cyclists of all stripes, local cyclist groups have seen a drastic increase of interest in biking over the past year, as residents seek to take advantage of the area's natural beauty amid the coronavirus pandemic and restrictive shelter-in-place orders.
"On a typical weekend day there's probably a thousand cyclists going up and down Mount Diablo, sharing the road with about 800 cars. Over 60% of the vehicles now on the mountain are bicycles and those are just hard facts," said Kalin, who added that in many shops there is a shortage of bikes due to increased demand.
The mountain has also been particularly popular among local students (and their parent coaches), with local youth clubs like the San Ramon Valley Mountain Bike Club finding refuge on Mount Diablo's fire roads amid the pandemic.
"There's so many kids, and especially during the pandemic, kids are all looking for something to do and biking became super popular," San Ramon Valley Mountain Bike Club team director Bruce Bilodeau said. "(At the beginning of the pandemic) we sat down with the county rules and wrote a whole protocol for our coaching staff and we implemented it and it's been working great."
Bilodeau says the convenience of having a local place like Mount Diablo to ride has made all the difference, with the local trails helping students get out to exercise and train for competitions within the NorCal High School Cycling League -- which the student club is a part of.
"It would have been hard for us to do a local after-school sport when people have to drive an hour to get to practice," he said.
The convenience of Mount Diablo is "really nice," according to Bilodeau. "In fact I think that has a lot to do with the popularity of the sport locally, especially among kids. What we've found, as far as high school mountain bike clubs are concerned, is that if there aren't trails that are easily available near a high school, they tend not to have a mountain bike team. So Mount Diablo has been a real treasure."
Biking events are also slowly returning to the mountain, according to Valley Spokesmen Bike Club president Mark Dedon, who said that after having to cancel its annual rides last year due to the pandemic, his group is eager to get back on the mountain.
"We have really beautiful riding in the valley; that is the reason that keeps everybody riding around here. In particular Mount Diablo has been amazing; it's one of my favorite rides," he said. "Mount Diablo is really a nice ride. It can look intimidating from the bottom, but you have a nice low gear in your bike and it's very quiet and serene. It's very beautiful, you get some amazing views and it's always fun to coast down again."
The Valley Spokesmen club -- which fluctuates between 400 and 600 members annually -- had its signature events, 45th Cinderella Classic and Challenge, recently celebrated using a virtual model. However, Dedon says his group is hoping to return to an in-person model for one of its flagship events, the Mount Diablo Challenge.
"It's a timed ascent up the mountain that starts at the Athenian School and it goes up Mount Diablo Scenic Boulevard up the mountain and into the park and up to the summit. It's 11.2 miles and people are timed and ride it as fast as they can, if they want to," he said.
The 38th annual Mount Diablo Challenge is currently scheduled for Oct. 3. Registration opens June 15. Residents can learn more online at www.valleyspokesmen.org.
For more information on Mount Diablo State Park, visit www.parks.ca.gov.