Riding the Sierra Madre Bike Trail
A ride from Quezon City to part of the Sierra Madre in Antipolo offers great scenery and something for cyclists of every skill level.
The Sierra Madre, the Philippines' longest mountain range, offers challenging bike terrain where it marches through Antipolo, just a day's ride from the city. Professor and mountain biker Cricket Soong took on the trail; here he shares his group's itinerary, along with options for stopovers and overnight stays.
Ever since I caught the riding bug, cycling the Sierra Madre bike trail has been one of my goals. Part urban legend, part dream adventure, an actual trip to the Sierra Madre Hotel is only forty or so kilometers from Quezon City, through terrain that offers varying degrees of difficulty to test both novice and seasoned athlete. The route offers great scenery, a proper workout, and enough quiet expanses of road for solitude. It also has enough options for rest stops-for regrouping and planning subsequent legs of the trip-along the way.
Most stops on the way to Sierra Madre are easily accessible, and for bikers setting out on a day trip, there are several locations from which to start. Riders looking for an additional challenge can find many jump off points to other destinations in this area, while those wanting to break up their trip into separate legs on different days can find many places to stay overnight.
From Quezon City, Marcos Highway is the main thoroughfare leading to the trail. There are several stops on the eastbound side where cyclists can regroup or restock for the day's ride. Ministop at Robinsons Metro East is a good place to stock up on supplies or grab an early breakfast. This can serve as a meeting place or a drop-off point for cyclists who would rather not ride along the high traffic areas of the highway.
Ministop serves as a starting point for several bike routes: North to Montalban, South towards Binangonan and Laguna, and of course east to Cogeo and Sierra Madre. Several jeepney routes also pass through the area, so if you want to rent a jeep to bring you to a further jump off point in Rizal, you can ask some drivers if they are willing to take you. Make sure you agree on the rates and itinerary before loading your bicycles.
Other popular starting points include the Burger King along Marcos Highway (a favorite meet up place because it's also open 24 hours and located before the heavily congested intersection with Imelda Avenue); the Shell gas station along Marcos Highway (which has a selection of shops and cafés and is big enough to accommodate several groups); and the newly-opened McDonald's(which opens early, though it isn't open round the clock yet).
Heading east from these jump-off points, the next major intersection is at Masinag, at the km-19 marker. Turning left at this intersection brings you back to the center of Marikina, while turning right will lead you to Antipolo. Past Masinag, the highway narrows into a four-lane asphalt road. This section starts with a gradual incline, which evens out when you've passed Cherry Foodarama and stays flat until Heaven's Gate Memorial. For another possible route up Antipolo, turn right at Blue Mountain Sports Arena (km-22), which will lead you to the Our Lady of Fatima University along Sumulong Highway.
The road descends then rises, where at km-23 there is yet another Shell station, and descends the remaining kilometer until the Cogeo junction. You'll know you're in Cogeo when you see the long, green pedestrian overpass that stretches across the road. The road on the right leads up to Antipolo, which will bring you to the side of the Meralco Management & Leadership Development Center Inc. (MMLDC) on Sumulong Highway.
Through Boso-boso and on to Mang Vic's
Going further down Marcos Highway will take you to Boso-boso, which is about eight kilometers from the Cogeo intersection. This section begins with two inclines, leveling off in between. Passing by the Second Concrete Bridge (yup, that's it's actual name) will give you a view of just how steep this route can get. Fear not, though-the peak is in sight 500 meters up, where Aling Manay's store on the right side of the road can be a stop to rest and regroup (and buy bananas for a potassium charge).
Beyond this peak and continuing on to Boso-boso, the asphalt road narrows further to just two lanes and continues uphill, snaking past several clusters of houses. Be wary of the vehicles in the area, as there is no shoulder, just gravel off to the side of the road. Both private and public vehicles (everything from motorcycles and jeeps to trucks and 4x4s) ply this highway, and traffic can get heavy, especially at the turns, so be extra wary and watch out for speeding and overtaking vehicles.
At km-32, the road passes Cycle Park, a popular place among cyclists. They serve rice meals and snacks, and the suman is a must-try. A few meters down, the road to the left leads to Phillip's Sanctuary at the Pestaño Farm and further on to Montalban through dirt trails and river crossings. Pestaño Farm is an outdoor eco-recreation park that has a bike park and a restaurant, and is popular for team-building events.
After a downhill ride past the Boso-boso Highlands Hotel is another favorite stop at km-35, Mang Vic's Bulalo, which serves rice meals, inihaw, and of course, bulalo. Cyclists frequently train up and down Boso-boso to Mang Vic's, as this portion offers the steepness to build energy within a manageable distance. For most, this is the point of no return, because after crossing the bridge, stops are few and far between.
Goal: The Sierra Madre Hotel
The remainder of the route up to the Sierra Madre Hotel is the longest stretch yet, and it can be a very enjoyable scenic ride. Most of the roadside is unpopulated, with only a few clusters of houses visible on the way to the hotel. Here, there is a downhill ride along a two-lane asphalt road with segments of concrete. Watch out for potholes and debris, especially along rock outcrops. This is also the portion of the highway when motorists speed up, so hugging the curb is advisable, even for larger groups.
Those traveling in groups will find it difficult to stick together here, since the inclines will affect the pace of each individual, depending on the rider's capacity. This portion also provides enough solitude for every rider, offering long stretches with amazing scenery all around. Moroeover, the relatively untouched environment is still home to species not usually seen in the metro.
Km-58 is the marker closest to the Sierra Madre Hotel in Tanay, Rizal, the main goal for this trip. Most bikers often stop here for lunch, and some opt to spend the night at the hotel. The hotel offers a view of the mountains and has several amenities on its sprawling grounds. For day trippers, turning back on Marcos Highway is the simplest and quickest return route, as most of this route is downhill. For a longer ride, cyclists can continue on to Sampaloc, turning toward Baras and traveling on the Manila East Road back to Ortigas.
The ride along the Sierra Madre trail to the Sierra Madre Hotel offers a good route for training and beautiful scenery. If you're planning to try it, prepare ample food and the proper equipment, and-most importantly-make sure you have good friends to share the trip with and to bring along for the ride.