Our friend James Stout recently wrote this blog for Cycle Central Coast about cycling Highway 1 and everything that goes along with it. We are so glad that he visited the Central Coast and was able to experience the best that Cambria has to offer! Ride along with James on this exciting adventure below.
The shorts of the guy I’m riding behind on the gravel road outside of Cambria say “Ride fast, Live SLO,” and I can’t think of a better way to sum up California’s Central Coast. It might be famous for its wine and the ocean, but make no mistake, Central California’s coastline has some of the best riding in the world. (When you’re finished, the wine isn’t bad either.)
On a recent trip to Cambria, a town located on the central coast between Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, we benefited not only from fantastic riding but great food, wine and sightseeing as well. The area is chock-a-block with hotels full of people looking to recreate their version of the movie “Sideways,” but as a cyclist, one needs a little more than a clean bed and a warm shower. Notably, a hotel that won’t treat your bike as if it is some kind of living creature which is liable to begin spewing oil and dirt as soon as it enters their pristine rooms. Luckily, thanks to an initiative called Cycle Central Coast, the people of Cambria are ready to accept cyclists and indeed encourage cycling tourism with events, routes and a list of bike-friendly hotels. The Cycle Central Coast website offers a list of bike-friendly hotels along with various packages for those inclined to work up an appetite and then sate it with one of the many overnight stays, plus dinner and wine options.
This cycling-friendly attitude seems to have seeped through to the local drivers, who waited patiently and passed with a wide berth on all my rides in the region. Clearly, the riding is so good and the wine so delicious that several bike industry companies call Central California home. San Luis Obispo hosts not only its own Gran Fondo but also the headquarters of Lezyne and a SRAM development facility. Being so close to such great riding is clearly a draw for people who enjoy being outside, people like you and I. If your itinerary isn’t compatible with a bike box, Art’s Cyclery in San Luis Obispo offers excellent service, route tips and a full-size run of specialized rental bikes. Just be sure to remind them if you run your brakes correctly (and by that I mean right side front brake). The shop also coffers organized training rides on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday if you are interested in getting more familiar with the local roads and the back wheel of some of the local hitters.
My trip in spring time showcased the incredibly beautiful green hills and pine trees. Temperatures fluctuated between, “I think I’ll pop on some armwarmers,” and, “I might need to reapply sunscreen if this ride takes more than four hours,” but not a kneewarmer nor an insulated water bottle were required. Perfect. Although I was ably shepherded by local riders, the Cycle Central Coast webpage offers a selection of route guides (as did our hotel lobby) for those who are riding alone or without local knowledge.
The riding, like the weather, is close to the sweet spot. Roads twist around the beautiful green fields and roll and turn enough to be fun without ever seeming to impede your ability to get into a rhythm. The Highway 1 is rightly world famous for its breathtaking views, but it should also be known for its generous bike lanes. A recovery spin from our hotel in Cambria took us to Hearst Castle, a great place for a family day out in the lap of early 20th century luxury and eccentricity. Amongst the notable sights are a heard of zebras and the Castle’s gorgeous private port, winery and pier. If you’re not exhausted after all the riding, they’ll rent you a sea kayak to make a fool of yourself in and delicious sandwiches at Sebastian’s general store. I politely abstained. Just down the coast was a huge colony of elephant seals and the turn-around point for our ride. From there, the tailwind blew us back to Cambria. If you want to extend your ride along the coast (and you probably will) you can continue North to Gorda or ride South to Cayucos (if you do that, do not overlook the brown butter cookie company).
For those interested in a more challenging ride, a 120km loop that takes in many of the gravel sections used in the annual Eroica event will be ample. There’s nothing that you can’t get up with 25s and 25 on the back. But switching both to 28s won’t hurt, and will make the last leg up Cypress Mountain a bit less of a slog. Even on the granny gear, you’ll have earned a stop for pie, wine, or both on your way back to town. Linn’s Fruit Bin and Stolo Vineyards are both located less than 10k from Cambria. The whole loop saw us unclip for a traffic light less than half a dozen times and we saw very little in the way of vehicle traffic. There were plenty of small towns and petrol stations to fill up bottles, but taking some spares and snacks is never a bad idea when you’re heading out on a big ride anyway. The roads roll and twist through the hills above the ocean, offering a series of seemingly increasingly beautiful views. I spend a lot of time outside, but I was genuinely taken aback by the sheer natural beauty of the area.
If it’s an event you’re looking for, the region has a few to select from. The Cycle Central Coast page lists dozens of organized rides over 160k (and one over 300k!) in Cambria alone. Notable among the almost monthly riders, are the SLO Gran Fondo in October and Eroica in April. The latter mandates the use of a bike with no technology invented after 1987 (coincidentally the year I was born). This means toe clips, straps, down tube shifters and brakes that basically don’t work. Between the fascinatingly different bikes, the delicious food and the gruelling course it’s a great day out. The Gran Fondo won’t disappoint either: it offers 25-, 61-, and 100-mile loops and professional riders enjoying an offseason spin (and doubtlessly some wine), as well as fantastic scenery and a very competitive front group, in addition to those who are there to enjoy the ride at a more leisurely speed. The longest ride has nearly 6,600 feet (2000m) of climbing and over 1,000 riders attend. Alongside these, the long established Lighthouse Century (September) and Wildflower Century (last weekend in April) both offer great routes and high participation.
After all that riding, the region offers fantastic tourism and sightseeing options. As well as Hearst Castle, the nearby Lighthouse at Piedras Blancas offers guided tours and the Castle itself houses a theatre. Nearby, the mission in San Luis Obispo and the beautiful downtown shops and cafes could easily fill a day off the bike. For those willing to drive up or down the coast, the opportunity to visit Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, and the Laguna Seca raceway is one not to be overlooked. If you work it out right and ride one way, you’ll log a pretty fast average speed as the costal breeze blows you along.
All that riding and tourism should work up a healthy appetite for some of the delicious seafood and wine the region has to offer. Vineyards are hard to avoid and you’ll soon find yourself riding among the vines on any of the inland roads. Stolo Vineyard offered us an excellent tasting and didn’t bat an eyelid at our attire. The ride back to Cambria was just enough to sharpen up the appetite but not so far as to challenge our ability to stay awake post-wine and pre-dinner. In nearby Paso Robles, the Union Road Wine Trail is just 9km and offers a bike-friendly wine route. If you’re looking for something to wake you up, not send you to sleep, Kreuzberg Coffee Company in San Luis Obispo will do so in the most delicious way possible and they offer a discount for cyclists so you can’t go wrong. We enjoyed Sandwiches proportioned for a wild western appetite at Sandy’s Deli in Cambria after our long ride and before our short nap. For dinner, if seafood doesn’t tickle your fancy, then Mexican food is a must for anyone visiting California. To leave without having sampled a carne asada burrito would be to only partially experience the California life.
More information on the area can be found at VisitCambriaCA.com and maps for the various routes suggested are available on the Routes page. For more information on upcoming events, check out the Events page.