Track Bike Touring on the California Coast

Howdy folks – Richard here.  At the end of March, I set out to achieve a ride that I had been thinking about since moving to the West Coast.  A ride from SF to, say.. LA, on my track bike.  The gallery here documents some of what I saw through film snapshots on my point and shoot camera.

Overall, I’d say there was not much foresight or planning that went into this trip.  The night before I left, I had stuffed my sleeping bag, a tarp, and some twine into a dry sack and was messing with mounting a front rack on my bike.  The whole setup turned out to be pretty janky and inspired no confidence.  I decided to scrap the whole camping thing and stay with acquaintances/family or in hotels/rooms on the journey south.  I carried a backpack with me that contained the minimum tools, spare kit, and clothes I’d need.

I got an early start on a Friday leaving the city, with my destination being Santa Cruz (about 90 miles).  I was taking myself a bit too seriously to even stop for a coffee at Trouble on the way out of town.  I didn’t stop until I hit Half Moon Bay later that morning.  After realizing that I was making good time, my spirits eased.  Later, I felt fine taking the time to throw my bike over locked gates to explore dirt trails to coastal views – or explore the grounds around a rare west coast lighthouse.  I took an afternoon nap in the sun on a big beach and rolled into Santa Cruz mid-afternoon to catch some surfers tearing it up at Steamer Lane.  Despite having taken most of the day to ride to Santa Cruz, my girlfriend Lana was only an hour away by car when she finished working.  We found a last minute deal on a hotel and spent the evening enjoying fine coffees and doing touristy things together.  You know, typical hardman stuff.

Day two would only be about 50 miles via a jaunt around the Monterey Bay to Seaside.  There, I’d be staying in a room I found on AirBNB the night before.  Lana and I parted ways in Santa Cruz after a slow morning together and I was off following Pacific Coast bike route signs.  This route took me through some rolling hills, flat exposed farm land, around a large sulfur-smelling marsh area, and into a strong headwind to my destination.  I finished the night watching a French “Variety” show with an old French woman in her shared house and having a cup of tea.

On day three I would be riding half way through Big Sur (around 60 miles total), ultimately staying at a Catholic Monk Hermitage up the mountainside from Highway 1.  The legs were a bit stiff to start out and climbing sustained hills on 47/17 involved a lot of low cadence pedaling.  I rode through a few really nice neighborhoods in Carmel and found myself entering Big Sur in short order.  This particular edge of America is quite beautiful.  I stopped often in places where cars could not to take in the scenery.  The climbs were slow going but steady and the descents were very quick.  The day ended with a 2-mile switchback climb to the Hermitage, at 1400′.  I showered, ate a humble dinner, took in the sunset over the forming marine layer below, and spent the evening in quiet solitude.

On day four I would ride through the rest of Big Sur and arrive at Lana’s parent’s house in San Luis Obispo (about 85 miles).  I cleaned my room and dishes and dropped off my used linens in the kitchen per the Monks’ request.  While it was bright and sunny at my altitude in the morning, descending back down to Highway 1 dropped me into a cool fog, where I would spend the next several hours.  I could feel the previous days’ fatigue now and climbing was taking a lot out of me.  I was stopping often and making poor time.  In talking to two other cyclotourists, I learned that I had just crested two 800′ climbs and that it would be much easier going from there onwards.  Before I knew it, I was out of Big Sur and into green rolling hills near sea level.  The afternoon sea breeze was helping me move along at a good clip. Fast riding on a fixed gear bike can be a strange curse, however.  Without climbs, you cannot rise out of the saddle to give your backside a break.  And it’s hard to hover-pedal at over 100rpm for any length of time if you’re in need of some… circulation.  By the end of this day, with the weight of my backpack pushing me further into the saddle, I was feeling both fatigued and the growth of saddle sores.  Given these factors, and knowing I’d already ridden the “best” parts of this route, I was content to end the trip in SLO.  The ever-accommodating Lana drove down to meet me after she got off work again.  We had dinner with her family and drove home late that night – undoing what I had done in four days on my track bike in a matter of hours.

For day to day adventures and other photos – follow along on my instagram and tumblr!

Photographer, Traveler, Mechanical Engineer, Bike and Coffee Enthusiast. Located in San Francisco, CA.