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Old 07-31-11, 01:16 PM   #1
shona
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Road Cycling San Juan Islands

We want to cycle the San Juan Islands spring or summer 2012. We do not want to carry our belongings from destination to destination. We will rent a car and switch our base periodically. We will be there one week. Should we change islands every couple of days or stay on one island and make day ride trips? We do not know the area. Thanks.
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Old 07-31-11, 06:34 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by shona View Post
We want to cycle the San Juan Islands spring or summer 2012. We do not want to carry our belongings from destination to destination. We will rent a car and switch our base periodically. We will be there one week. Should we change islands every couple of days or stay on one island and make day ride trips? We do not know the area. Thanks.
If you wanted to stay on one island and have enough room for day trips, Whidbey would fill the bill. But Lopez and Orcas islands are awfully nice and more removed than Whidbey. I would vote to stay at a couple of islands: Whidbey and Orcas.

A word to the wise: Island County uses very sharp chipseal to surface the roads. This causes a lot of road bikers to have lots of flats. Think about using tires with a kevlar belt or extra-thick tubes to minimize the flat repairs by the side of the road.

Last edited by MillCreek; 08-11-11 at 06:49 PM.
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Old 08-11-11, 10:56 AM   #3
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Check the ferry schedule and see if it would mesh with your day ride schedule. IMO, it would be very doable and if you had one base of operations, I doubt you would need a car.
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Old 08-11-11, 01:05 PM   #4
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I did a week long tour in the San Juans when I was in my teens. The islands provide a nice mix of flat to rolling to hilly, but I can recall which is which. If you're into hill climbing, Mt. Constitution on Orcas is a must do ride! If not you should drive the rental to the top, the view make the entire trip IMHO!
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Old 08-11-11, 02:26 PM   #5
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IMO I would base myself on Orcas. It is the biggest and has the best riding with Mt Constitution as the center piece. It has a nice state campground, good places to eat and quite a few lodging options. There are ferries that go only between Orcas, San Juan, Shaw and Lopez. Getting on the ferrries can be a hssle with long line in a car, especially from San Juan but are easy on bikes. Locals park in line and go eat meals while waiting on weekends. Shaw and Lopez are flat and are supposedly pretty easy loops although I've never ridden them.. San Juan is ok IMO but it has quite a bit more traffic and any area around Friday Harbor is not the greatest riding. The opposite side where the English and American Camps parks are at are is a nice out and back ride if you drive out of town a little.
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Old 08-11-11, 03:06 PM   #6
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Somebody wrote about the roads having chip seal on the islands. That concerns us. We live in Texas where there are a lot of roads that are chip sealed and it is pretty awful.
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Old 08-11-11, 10:11 PM   #7
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Just got back from a week on Lopez. This is our fourth year vacationing/cycling there.

I would base on Lopez as it is bucolic and the locals are very laid back and bike friendly. It is also the flatest of the islands although I must say that the islands are NOT flat.

Inter island travel is no problem if you are cycling or walking on so you can visit other islands with little expense.

If you do Mt Constitution I would take a car to Orcas as the route to the mountain is a longish nasty ride via the most traveled road on Orcas to the base. You want to be fresh when you tackle the 2407ft accent. It is four miles and it is tough but doable.

San Juan has some nice riding as well if you stay off the main roads. The ride to American Camp is beautiful.

Don't bother with Shaw it is totally private save for 11 public campsites and a small general store.

The roads are chip seal but I wouldn't worry about it if you have decent tires. We were six cyclists spending a week in the San Juans and we didn't have a single flat this year.

The islands are extremely expensive but that is to be expected. Gas was $4.40 per gallon last week on Orcas.

All in all I think the San Juans is a great place for a cycling vacation. Have fun and ride safe.

Last edited by riversiderider; 08-13-11 at 08:54 PM.
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Old 08-12-11, 08:05 AM   #8
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I was the one who posted about the chipseal. If you are using 23 mm lightweight tires on a road bicycle, you might have a problem. If you are using a wider tire, or a commuter tire, or something with a kevlar belt, or extra-thick tubes, you probably won't. But bring extra tubes just in case. Depending on what island you are on, there may be no bicycle parts available.
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Old 08-12-11, 09:34 AM   #9
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Whether you base yourself on Orcas or San Juan I am sure you will have a great week of cycling. I am partial to Orcas because that it where I grew up, but all of the islands are beautiful. I would definitely use your bikes for all of your island hopping rather than staying a few days on one island and then moving to the next. Both Orcas and San Juan have sufficient non-cycling activities and such to keep you busy for a week when you are not riding. I think the thing I like best about riding on Orcas is that the roads are never straight and flat. You are always going up and down, left and right. San Juan is flatter and straighter and Lopez is the flattest and straightest. Lopez does have the least traffic of the three. Don't fret over the chip seal it is not bad at all. I was riding there last weekend and was no problem on 25mm road tires. There were some areas of new surface and they were some of the smoothest chip seal I have ever seen. It looked like 3/8 minus. Have a great ride.
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Old 08-14-11, 08:04 PM   #10
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My son and I did three days of bike touring in the San Juan Islands last year, and it's definitely do-able to pick an island to stay on and then take the ferry "out" to your riding destination of the day.

We chose to stay in Friday Harbor because there were several lodging options right by the ferry, and we wanted to be able to get to and from the ferry quickly. I think if you stayed on some of the other islands you're likely to have a bit of a haul to get to the boat each day.

I think if I had to do it over again I would do it in 2 sections:
1. Stay on Lopez Island the first day, and do the loop of Lopez Island.
2. Second day, take the ferry to San Juan Island, and do a lap around San Juan Island.
3. Third day, move my base of operations to Orcas Island. Then take a ride.
4. Day 4, Ride to the top of Mt. Constitution. Tough climb, beautiful view, totally worth it.
5. Day 5 - poke around Orcas some more, or take a day off the bike.

The roads are all chip seal but -- based on my experience -- not as bad as Texas!
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Old 09-05-11, 12:34 PM   #11
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Just be prepered for hill after hill after hill. Don't know if you are from the flats or the hill country but if you are not prepared for MANY short ascents you will become discouraged.

I second the idea of staying on one island and taking the ferries to the other islands and day tripping. Orcas has the busiest road into town as that is about the only one everybody will drive from the ferry.


Be sure to walk all the way into and South in Shark Reef Park on Lopez to see seals basking on rocks. Make sure to stop in Lime Kiln Park on San Juan. If you get very lucky you will see an Orca pod swim by just yards off shore.

To lessen the overall biking you can put your bikes on the car, drive from your room or campground and park for the day near the ferry. Then all you have to do is roll your bike onto the boat.
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Old 10-14-11, 10:34 PM   #12
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We toured the San Juans several years ago. San Juan has the most to see and do. Lopez is flat and a joy to ride. Camping there was fun, bunny rabbits hopping all over the place. Lots of hill work on Orcas. We went on a kayak tour while there. We started from Port Angeles and crossed over to Victoria then rode the Galloping Goose trail up to Stanley, then took the ferry from there to Friday Harbor.
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Old 10-15-11, 01:56 AM   #13
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I spent the first half of my life in Western Washington and visited the islands many times. I liked San Juan Island a lot. Friday Harbor had the most services on the islands. It was a beautiful place, especially if you got off the main roads. I spent two spring breaks on bike tours on Lopez - camping at Spencer Spit. Magical! I didn't go to Shaw, but I've heard it's great for day trips. I didn't spend much time on Orcas either, but have heard about the beauty of Mt. Constitution, and how tough a climb it is. I did climb Mt. Eerie at the north end of Whidbey Island, and it was tough to get to the top, but the view was spectacular.

When I was up there automobiles had to wait for room on the ferries, and it could be tough to get off of Lopez - you'd sometimes have to wait for several ferries on weekends. Bicyclists and pedestrians always got on. Lots of people would park in Anacortes and ride their bikes to the islands just to avoid this.
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