By Lars Hundley
On a July family road trip from Dallas, Texas to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, it turned out that there was still a little room left in our Subaru Outback for a bike, even after we packed all our necessities and made room for our dog, who joined us on the trip.
I wasn’t sure what the riding would be like where we were staying, or whether it would be more convenient to ride mountain biking trails or on the road, so I brought my Niner mountain bike. The relatively light Niner Jet 9 RDO rolls pretty quickly with its 29 inch wheels, so I figured it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to ride it on the road for the limited duration of the trip.
I had done exactly zero cycling research in advance of this trip. It wasn’t intended to be a bicycle-related trip in the first place. It was a family vacation.
Sometimes though, you get lucky.
It turned out that we were staying in an area with several outstanding bike routes that started within a mile of the house where we were staying. And even better, I had a couple of hours each morning before the rest of the family got going that I was able to spend riding — without interfering with family vacation time.
Although it turned out that a road bike would have been the better choice, I enjoyed a series of amazingly scenic rides during my stay. Directly from our doorstep, I pedaled multiple routes that were nearly free of cars, and two that were specifically mentioned on Jay’s Essential Bike Rides as his choices for the top rides on the entire west coast.
Waking up each morning in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the temperature usually hovered at around 55 degrees, with a touch of fog. A nice change from back home in Dallas where the afternoon temperatures at the time were hitting 105 degrees some days. A short sleeved jersey with arm warmers and a vest was just about perfect to keep me warm on descents and give me options on the uphill portions of the rides.
The ride started with a winding downhill through the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea that eventually reached beach level. From there, I’d pedal to the gated entrance to 17 Mile Drive, a private road that is so popular among Monterrey and Carmel tourists that they charge an entrance fee for cars that don’t have a resident permit. Bikes still get in free! Tourists in cars, vans and buses usually don’t show up until after 10 a.m., and the speed limit is low. At 7 a.m., I’d generally only see a few cars at all along the entire route, and it felt quite safe.
After the entrance gate, the road immediately turned upward and stayed that way for almost two full miles of climbing. Strava ranks that segment of the route as a Category 4. My chill from coasting downhill at the start of the ride would quickly turn to warmth on the steady, 15 minute climb.
Upon reaching the top, the route wound through a pine forest, dotted with expensive houses on either side of the road. Then, it descended back down to sea level and wound along several holes of the famous Pebble Beach golf course that overlooked the ocean. A nice, wide bike lane left plenty of room on the Pebble Beach part of the route.
From there, I’d climb back through a hilly grove of cypress trees, wind through even bigger and more expensive houses, and finally go right by the Pebble Beach clubhouse area, and then wind through the hills back home to Carmel.
There were several different ways to extend the ride, by turning in a different direction near the top of the climb and then descending into Monterrey, or exiting 17 Mile on the Pacific Grove side and winding back around through Monterrey. I was able to do several different versions, and even a different, similarly scenic ride that climbed up Robinson Canyon Road.
Back home in Dallas several weeks later, I sure do miss those amazing rides in California.
Read more about 17 Mile Drive and Robinson Canyon Road at Bestrides.org.
Hate to pop your balloon, but my wife and did the 17 mile ride as part of a longer ride starting at a hotel in Monterey and returning to Monterey and we had quite a different experience. We did it counter clockwise and it was great until you get away from the beaches. That is when the auto traffic destroyed the serenity of the ride. And this was early in the morning. There simply isn’t enough room on the road for cars, motorhomes and bicycles to coexist safely. We are experienced cyclists with over twenty years of self-supported bicycle touring worldwide so we’re were not looking for a bike trail away from motorists. Being retired, we spent a month one summer doing day rides in many different areas of California that are supposed to be great bicycle rides. Bottom line-there are too many cars in California, not enough roads, and the motorists hate bicyclists. We now live in Arizona where motorists are courteous to bicyclists for the most part and in the rare instances where a car does something discourteous to a cyclist, I will see a California license plate on the car. We now spend our summers away from Arizona to avoid the heat and one state we will never cycle in again is California. Just our experience.
Road Bike Rider says
For me, there were really only two areas where I’d see many cars at all, and they were generally going in the opposite direction as they were headed in to work at Pebble Beach or construction sites out there. It was the initial stretch where I’d climb up from the Carmel gate to the Highway 1 gate as cars were coming down. And this was in July, which I would imagine is peak season.
Riding around Monterrey and Pacific Grove and Carmel, I found drivers to generally be much more courteous than at home in Texas. Maybe it’s my perspective comparing it to Texas, but I loved it!
One ride that I *didn’t* do after scoping it out first in the car was riding Highway 1 from Carmel to Big Sur and back. There is no real shoulder at all on Highway 1, and all the drivers were tourists who were unfamiliar with the road. That seemed terrifying to me, and not safe.
But I saw on Strava and MapMyRide and RideWithGPS that quite a few people have done that route. Jim Langley told me he’s ridden down around Big Sur before and didn’t feel intimidated by it, but I was afraid.
Sorry to hear you had a different experience than me!
Stephen Turk says
I rode 17-mile drive some years ago, while staying in Carmel for a few days. I rode it again in 2012 as part of the California Coast Classic, the Arthritis Foundation’s ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles that also took us down Highway 1 through Big Sur. Both times were off-peak (September) and I had no issues with traffic. I would not hesitate to ride any of these roads again, although I would certainly try to avoid peak tourist season.