Favorite back road bike rides in SLO County

sSnorkeling in Hawaii, storm-chasing in Kansas, golfing at Pebble Beach… sometimes all the natural elements come together in one place to create a Five-Star experience.  That’s the state of bicycling in San Luis Obispo County.  The climate, terrain and community all fold together to make the central coast a delightful place to train and explore.  With coastal temperatures rarely varying more than 20 degrees off ideal, nearly every day is rideable, with vineyard, coastline and mountainous terrain to choose from.  Local cyclists were stumped when asked to narrow down their favorite routes to only one, but when pressed, here’s what they said:

Samantha Pruitt, co-founder Central Coast Triathlon Club and director SLO Marathon. An avid triathlete, Samantha has been riding farther than ever this year as she trains for her first Ironman triathlon.  With a training schedule often calling for 80-100 mile rides on the weekends, she’s ridden all over south and north county.  Her first choice is:

“The Surfliner”
5 stars for:  the Pacific ocean.  
Start: Morro Bay
Length : 30-, 50- or 70-mile options
Watch for: car traffic entering and leaving Highway 1 on the ramps in Morro Bay and Cayucos.  
Start at Taco Temple, 2680 Main Street in north Morro Bay.  There’s ample parking in the Spencer’s lot.  Enter Highway 1 and head north towards Cambria.  It’s a relatively flat ride, with the Pacific on your left.  For a 50-mile ride, turn around in Cambria, where there are many charming shops and cafes.  Serious riders with more time may want to add distance and continue to the elephant seal rookery about 10 miles up the highway, making a 70-mile round trip.  Seals are visible most months of the year, but prime viewing months are January, April and October. Arrive back at your car in time for a great protein recovery lunch of fresh fish tacos at Taco Temple.
A shorter destination ride specifically to view the elephant seals could start on Highway 1 from Harmony; the round-trip is 30 miles on moderate terrain.  
Janie and Stu Goldenberg, members since 1980 of San Luis Obispo Bike Club, past president and board members.  Once when invited to the wedding of some friends in Boston, they arrived on bicycles, covering the 3,516 miles in 56 days. True lovers of the sport, the Goldenbergs now prefer rides that best allow for conversation.   If you enjoy the social aspect of bike riding, they urge you to try:
“The Social Network”
5 stars for:  The flat terrain of the beach cities allows for easy riding and fellowship along the way .
Start: Shell Beach
Length: 13 miles, easy and flat
Watch for: summer traffic in Pismo Beach; tourists can be unfamiliar with cyclists on the road.
Park your car at Dinosaur Caves Park in Shell Beach.  Ride south along Highway 1, bearing right as Highway 1 becomes Dolliver Street in Pismo Beach.  Stop at the monarch butterfly grove between October and February, when over 25,000 monarchs flutter by on their migration route, the largest aggregation in the country.  The grove is on your right as you pass the north beach campground in Pismo.  Continue through Oceano, as Highway 1 jogs left, to Halcyon.  Turn left and ride a mile on Halcyon to your next left on Farroll.  Two miles on Farroll will bring you to Fourth Street, where you turn right and pedal up to Grand.  Make a left on Grand and look for the Station Grill on your left at 170 West Grand.  In addition to a pleasant refueling and conversation stop, be sure to observe the optical illusion on the wall mural as you make your way to the restrooms.  The railroad trestles in the mural will follow you as you walk.  When you’re ready, saddle up and take Dolliver/Highway 1 north back to Dinosaur Caves.  

Kirk Hammond, Chiropractor in Paso Robles and Ironman triathlete.   Kirk does most of his riding in training for triathlon competition.  He’s understandably partial to his home base in north county, where there are hills and vistas galore, as well as ample opportunities to check out the local wine economy.  He’s keen on:
“Peachy Canyon”
5 stars for: spectacular views from high hills
mostly shaded from summertime heat.
Start: Paso Robles
Length: 27 miles
Watch for: winding country roads with no bike lane; ride single file.
Start in downtown Paso Robles at the city park, 12th Street between Pine and Spring Streets.  Ride west on 12th to Olive.  Make a left on Olive, and a right on Pacific, about ½ mile.  Pacific becomes Peachy Canyon as you head west.  Get re-acquainted with your granny gear.  Around the 11-mile point, and just in time for you to slow your heart down a bit, turn right on Vineyard.  Another 4 miles will bring you to Adelaida Road, where you’ll turn right and continue 8 miles.  This is the reward portion of the ride.  Stop to take pictures, look out over the valley or visit one of the many tasting rooms if your timing is right (most tasting rooms are open at 10 on the weekends.)  Spit, don’t swallow; you’ve still got some turns to negotiate.  At the 25-mile point, turn right on Paso Robles Road, which becomes 24th Street as you come into town.  Hungry yet?  Protein up at La Reyna Market y Carnicería on 24th between Vine and Spring Streets.  The carnitas from the outdoor taco stand are memorable. Turn right on Spring Street and left on 12th, heading back to the park at town center.
Dale McVay, personal trainer and instructor at Five Seasons in Los Osos and former City of SLO Corporate Wellness Coordinator.  In the fitness field for over 30 years, Dale has helped an indeterminate number of cyclists to ride smarter, train harder and pay attention to safety along the way.  One of her favorite routes, exploring the beauty of south county is:

 “The Lollapa-Lopez”    
5 stars for: varied terrain of vineyards,
mountains and lake on a medium difficulty ride.
Start: San Luis Obispo
Length: 33 miles
Watch for: boat trailer traffic on Lopez Drive
Park outside Starbucks at Higuera and Tank Farm Road, for anyone who needs to caff up before a ride. Head east on Tank Farm and continue as it turns south and becomes Orcutt Road, past the lovely vineyards of the Edna Valley..  At 10 miles, turn left on Lopez Drive and make your way up the long hill to the lake.  Six climbing miles will bring you to the ranger station, where you can refill water bottles and “refresh” yourself.  If you’ve packed a picnic, enter the park and choose among many sites to relax.  There’s a convenience store and snack bar (breakfast and lunch) at the marina.  The ride back home is an “E-ticket” as you fly downhill on your way back to town.  Turn right onto Orcutt from Lopez Drive, left on Tank Farm and back to your car.  An obvious option on this route is to time your weekend ride to coincide with the opening of your favorite tasting room along Orcutt Road.  Use the spittoon when you taste, because there’s not a bike lane on the southernmost part of Orcutt Road and you will need your wits about you.

Barrett Henson, service manager and fit technician at Best Bike Zones in Paso Robles.  A cycling animal, Barrett has been riding and racing for a quarter of a century, sometimes racing 50 weekends in a year.  For a great workout, he orders up:

“Animal Style”
5 stars for: A seriously beautiful ride,
guaranteed to toast your buns.
Start: San Luis Obispo
Length: 90 miles
Watch for: irregular road surface on Santa Rosa Creek Road and traffic on Highway 46.  Ride single file.

Depart from San Luis Obispo’s downtown and head north on Santa Rosa as it turns into Highway 1 to Cambria.  Once you pass Morro Bay, enjoy the Pacific on your left until you turn inland at Main Street in Cambria.  After 1 mile, make a right on Santa Rosa Creek Road.  Follow Santa Rosa Creek for 16 miles until you meet Highway 46.  You’ll be earning your stripes on hills up to a 20% grade along Santa Rosa Creek.  Turn left at Highway 46 and continue 6 miles to Vineyard Drive.  Turn right and after 3 miles, you’ll make another right onto Highway 101 for the trip home. Before entering the highway, Barrett likes to stop at Trader Joe’s for refueling. Just before the entrance ramp, there’s a small country road.  Turn right to find Trader’s at 1111 Rossi Road.  For another classic SLO experience, there’s In-n-Out Burger at the San Anselmo exit in Atascadero as you ride south on the 101.  You’ve certainly earned an “animal style” by now, with fries.  When you’re ready, pedal up and over the grade, back into San Luis Obispo.  Don’t plan anything else for the day.  You are so done.

Ride safe.  Observe traffic laws.

More resources:
www.slobc.org (San Luis Obispo Bike Club, offers rides for cyclists of all ages and abilities)
www.slonexus.org (San Luis Obispo Nexus Bike team, for cycle-centric athletes of all levels)
www.mapmyride.com (Cycling maps and tools for bike routes and planning)
www.slobikeride.org (Education and advocacy for area cycling)

Sheryl Collmer writes, run and rides in San Luis Obispo.

Photos: Sheryl Collmer