For the miss-fortunes of having to travel for my real job a lot, I occasionally get fortunate enough to have a day spare here and there to be able to have a deeper dive into local attractions. In this case I was sort of mid transit on my way home from Europe. I had one shot to try and ride something in the San Fran Bay area and the optimistic insertion of my helmet, shoes and pedals into my luggage was quickly about to burn a hole.

Having learnt the bike hire game a bit over the years, I've often found that a guiding service either has, or knows where to hire a higher spec bike for snobs like me at a rate that I feel is always reasonable. My frantic googling and review hunting was only netting sub par results of both bikes and guiding services. "top quality MTB rentals" often followed with bikes with kick stands, reflectors and curved handle bars and the guiding services felt far to maybe not. My hopes were dwindling, fast.

Reverting back to trail forks and a decision to potentially drag my bike around the world with me through Amsterdam, I pondered again, maybe I should just go alone? (I might add the trails forks area maps are plentiful, and also quite confusing). If you've traveled with a bike that you're not using, you'd likely know just how frustrating they are to drag around with you. Theres only so many pissed off Prius uber drivers you can take that allow you to lower the back seats to fit your bike bag in. This weighing now heavily on my mind, I delved back into google and reworded my search and  to my surprise, up jumped Norcal Flow via the bike store, high trails cyclery.

Reaching out to Marcel via Instagram, the reply was almost instant. An attentive reply asking a few basic questions and a sounding of what I may like, what I want out of my Cali ride and more importantly what I'd like to ride bike wise. I need to ad that the packing of ones helmet, shoes and gear was purely under complete optimism. I explained I may not end up getting the day free as my schedules could change but again, Marcel made that of no drama what so ever and allowed me to confirm just a couple of days out,

Arriving into San Fran, I instantly knew I'd underestimated just how antarctic their summers were. Completely unprepared for the cold and potential of rain, I hastily bought a jacket from Patagonia and kept my complete rookie-ness to myself. Marcels pick-up and drop off service from the San Fran bay area was not only a huge driver for decision, but it's an absolute saviour for someone who is both without bike and car.

Greeting you in the car is someone who instantly shares that same passion. A genuine level of stoke that is instantly infectious and you know, you're going to have a good day. The banter and chat en-route to the trail head gives you an insight about Marcel's wider business and his success in the Californian bike industry. A second guiding location in the mecca of bike that's Downieville and the hidden gem that he owns and operates hightrails cyclery which is easily San Fran's leading MTB shop fills you with confidence that you have already achieved money well spent.

With a brief but concise trailside plan and bike setup, we headed off into our loop with a nice gradual uphill to get the legs moving. (I'll drop the bombshell right now that yes, I took the e-bike option for reasons that 3 timezones in a week and a non athlete figure proved to be right). Climbing to our first trail head, the conversation continued as it started with discussions about trail advocacy, bike geo's, riding areas and more about the wider Californian stoke.  

What continued from here far exceeded my expectations. Rocky switch backs, fast flowing sections, breathtaking views,  tech climbs, rock gardens, tree roots, jumps and rock drops. A lap curated which fit perfectly with my riding abilities and style which is something when being guided you couldn't ask for more. Mutual cheers and shrieks flowed one after the other and often felt like I had known and ridden with Marcel many times before.

Our riding area was a place called Pacifica, which is located on the west coast of the Bay Area overlooking the Pacific Ocean back to home. Centring largely around san Pedro and Peak mountain with a 525m elevation, the area has a mixture of gradient that most experienced MTB'ers should handle easily but be weary of some super tech sections. With the low cloud, jagged rocks and small shrubs, I could have sworn I was riding in Makara Peak back in Wellington only a slightly less sinister climbing gradient and trickle falls type features that went on and on....

Trail standouts for me, Twin Pines, The Precipice, E-Dog, Anamita and the Crack. Special mention also goes to mile's brutal tech rock garden. On top of this,  I'm pleased to say I managed to clean every feature riding effectively blind. Maybe it was the stoke exuding from Marcel?

"But what about the cost of a guiding service and why not just do it yourself?" I hear you say? Well when you factor the self sourced bike rental, uber or car rental, snack and, inability to read trails forks well you quite quickly end up with a price much more than the door to door service Norcal Offers. Believe me when I say you wont have any headaches in finding the right places to ride, first time and their equipment is far superior to any other rental service I've found.

I can hand on heart rate Marcels service as a 5 out of 5. After mere minutes you feel like you're riding with a long lost MTB bud that curates a days (or multi days) rides that suit exactly what you're looking for. Marcel's time to sound you out and select something he knows you'll like for a first off was absolutely spot on perfect. As I've only just scraped the surface of what the riding is on offer in Cali, I'm already trying to find a way to create a boat job in Downieville so I can experience that side of his business too. or maybe Santa Cruz is where I'll try stop into next. Maybe a family holiday is on the cards there?

Thanks for a day of lifetime Memories Marcel, we'll be back for sure!

Important and useful links here:

Norcal Flow

High Trails cyclery

Californian trail networks

Downieville background