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  1. #1
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    Riding up Pacific Coast from LA to San Fran the opposite way and route question

    Hi,

    I am thinking of riding from LA to San Francisco from south to north, so opposite to the direction that everyone is riding. It just would make it timing-wise much easier for me and also think it would be a cool challenge.

    I would love to hear from people who have done that route south-north direction along the Pacific coast before and if their experience with the wind has been really that bad. Obviously, the wind can slow you down, but honestly, I have ridden from LA to San Diego many times along the coast and I have experienced head-wind in both directions.

    Further, I'm contemplating what route to take between Morro Bay and Carmel. Either land-inwards roughly following the 101 or the far more scenic route along the coast on the 1. I heard traffic during summer is bad on the 1, with all the tourist traffic, so I'm wondering if anyone rode that stretch north-south along the coast in summer. I am contemplating of wait till after labor day and I was wondering if folks here agree that traffic slows down considerably after labor day on the 1.

    Any insights, stories, advice you can share would be appreciated. Although I'm not experienced as many other great bicycle riders here, I'm not a newbie either. I have done many centuries and I rode through the Mojave desert last year from LA to Las Vegas in full head-wind so I know what it means to ride against the wind.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Add more time, as prevailing winds would be, largely against you.
    the whole way .
    or wait till winter , storms come out of the south, then.

  3. #3
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    Imagine pedaling a 51lb touring bike at a speed of 30mph over flat ground with a heartbeat of only 120bpm. That's the sort of tail-wind push I was getting heading south into San Simeon from Big Sur. Can't imagine it being much fun going the opposite direction...

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    The ocean views are also significantly better when going north to south. That section from Carmel to Morro Bay has lots of places where you get a direct view of the surf hitting the rocky coastline below when you're riding on the western shoulder of the highway. From the opposite side of the road you only see the distant ocean horizon rather than the waves pounding the coastline and the many rocks and small islands. Sure you can use the scenic vista pullouts, but to do so you'll need to cross over the highway and it isn't nearly as convenient and satisfying as getting the continuous view from the other side.

  5. #5
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    Add more time, as prevailing winds would be, largely against you.
    the whole way .
    or wait till winter , storms come out of the south, then.
    We rented a pick up and started our tour from Santa Cruz.. Considering the prevailing winds, that was the right choice.. One wants the challenge of 5 days of headwinds, then riding north is the right choice.. We were told the prevailing winds are less fierce in October, which was our choice.
    Pray for the Dead and Fight like Hell for the Living






    ^ Since January 1, 2012

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    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prathmann View Post
    The ocean views are also significantly better when going north to south. That section from Carmel to Morro Bay has lots of places where you get a direct view of the surf hitting the rocky coastline below when you're riding on the western shoulder of the highway. .
    One thing I did not like about going north to south.. Riding directly adjacent the cliffs of Big Sur. Which at times are about a 1000 foot drop, without barriers..
    It was OK. But, for people with a mild phobia against heights, it was a challenge.. With my luck, I had a front tire flat on one of Big Sur's fast descents.. For awhile , I thought I was going to fly into the sea.
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    I have never experienced such a tail wind when riding north to south near San Simeon. Look, there's a colony of elephant seals! Oops! Going too fast and missed the turnoff. Oh well.

    Hungry? Make up your mind because we're going to need to turn into that Mexican restaurant ahead. Too late... I'm not going back into that wind for anything. Maybe there's food somewhere ahead...

    Yes, there can be plenty of wind. And the comment about crossing traffic during left turns to scenic pullouts to true too. What's worse is the second left hand turn across traffic - this time from a dead stop (and probably uphill) - to continue north. Bad idea.

    However, I'm leaving from San Diego on July 5 northbound. Why? Because I can't go west, I'm scared to go south, and I would melt going east. And I want to ride my bike, not take a train, plane, or automobile. And wind sometimes goes the other way, otherwise all of the air would be somewhere in Mexico.

    Oh, and the OP wants to know about traffic. If Hwy 1 is open, there's going to be traffic. Leave at the crack of dawn always and do your trip after Labor Day. Unless you want to camp of course. Many Califonia parks will be closing this year - "for good".
    Last edited by Cyclesafe; 06-20-11 at 07:39 AM.

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    I've ridden that section in both directions. I north bounded in April. It's do-able, but I definitely looked with envy at the folks going the other way.

    All the factors people have mentioned so far are true - crossing the road to the view points, shoulder, scenery. The factor I found most frustrating was the wind noise. You just never get away from the wind noise when you're riding into a headwind.
    ...

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclesafe View Post
    Oh, and the OP wants to know about traffic. If Hwy 1 is open, there's going to be traffic. Leave at the crack of dawn always and do your trip after Labor Day. Unless you want to camp of course. Many Califonia parks will be closing this year - "for good".
    I rode from SF to LA after Labor Day in 2009. Traffic during the week was pretty minimal. Don't get me wrong: you will see quite a few cars, but there isn't the constant stream that you get during the height of summer. I used my mirror to time my crossings of narrow bridges, but cars were very good about giving me room. The only disadvantage of riding after Labor Day is the increased chance of fog; I didn't see anything near Morro Bay because the whole area was socked in...

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    2 weeks ago,I went to Leo Carillo(Malibu,CA) for an overnighter.There were 2 couples heading north to Oxnard,CA or Santa Barbara and the winds were real strong,even at 7 in the morning.Both couples were back in camp by 8.

    The day before I road 55 miles into the 35MPH+ wind to get to the campground,it only took 9 hours.It's like climbing a hill for 9 hours,doable,not exactly my idea of fun.

    The wind is not the end of the world,but if you HAVE to be somewhere,it makes for a real long day.

    I've ridden the coast route many many times,both directions.North/South is MUCH MORE enjoyable.

    On the same parts of Big Sur that you can fall off of a cliff riding south,you get smeared against a rock face riding north,take your pick.
    Last edited by Booger1; 06-20-11 at 12:24 PM.
    Everything should be as simple as possible...But not more so.---Albert Einstein

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    I live in San Luis Obispo and have ridden the Big Sur coast many times in both directions. I have also ridden through the Salinas Valley (the Hwy 101 route you asked about). Definitely do not do the Salinas Valley route. It's hot, boring and completely unspectacular scenery. Hwy 1 has just reopened. I would definitely encourage you to take the train to San Francisco and ride southbound. Reasons: 1) the wind is generally from the north; 2) the views are far more spectacular and the drops off the sides of the road are really not scary; 3) you will find many more people to ride with or at least camp with on an ongoing basis. When riding north you have a view out over the ocean but not a a view of the surf, the rocks, etc. Enjoy your ride...

  12. #12
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Aerobars. No front panniers. Handlebar bag. Use a more aggressive position i.e. slam your stem, and practice with it. Practice riding knees in. Keep your clothing tight, back straight, head down. With aerobars, I don't mind going upwind that much. It's a matter of getting your head around using climbing gears on the flat and even smaller climbing gears than usual. It's still just riding your frigging bicycle, no big deal. Keep your cadence up to your usual 90 or what you'd use on the flat. Don't use a climbing cadence to go upwind. Relax into it. I'd go with an MTB crankset so you can have smaller jumps in the back.

  13. #13
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    Thanks for all your comments/posts!

    Thank you everyone for your rich comments. Very very helpful, I have to say, you folks sharing your thoughts, I'm learning a lot about an area I know not too much about (I am much more familiar about the desert than the coast).

    For example, I haven't even thought about the view aspect prathmann or valygrl was mentioning (that you see only the Ocean in the far when you go south north) or the left turn back into traffic going north from the view points. In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense.

    @Cyclesafe: Are you sure about some campsites closing for good? I was actually planning to camp along the trip, e.g. Morro Bay, perhaps camping is a bad idea now.

    @valygrl: Did you also notice that the shoulder going south north direction is thinner than the opposite direction? I have a friend of mine who said he vaguely remember reading an article somewhere in a magazine/paper that mentioned that not all bike lanes/shoulders are created equal, that the south-north has far wider shoulders (bc everyone is going that direction).

    @sstorkel: I had exactly the same concern going after Labor Day that I might get caught up in the fog (I have seen many ppl post pix of their foggy trips). I thought the key might be to time it just right -- not too late after Labor Day, but not too close to Thanksgiving. When did you go? Was it already in October?

    @Booger1: I'm not sure you where you started your trip (maybe LA)? So the strong 35++mph winds you encountered to get to the campsite, assuming you started from LA, that was you heading north facing southwind, right? 35mph is really strong.

    @Pat from CA: Thank you very much for your insights about the route, esp your insights re Salinas Valley. I had a strong suspicion that this was an uninteresting route from looking googlemaps, but you definitely confirmed this and I will head that advice.

    @Carbonfiberboy: I was thinking for some time about getting aerobars, regardless of going headwind, thanks for reviving the idea. Obviously, I never used one. One concern I have is about how quickly you can react, change position to get to the brakes. At the same time, aerobars must be much more comfortable and help you attain a far more streamlined position. Is you changing position to reach to the brakes quickly something you just got used to quickly or did it take some time?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cieous View Post
    @valygrl: Did you also notice that the shoulder going south north direction is thinner than the opposite direction? I have a friend of mine who said he vaguely remember reading an article somewhere in a magazine/paper that mentioned that not all bike lanes/shoulders are created equal, that the south-north has far wider shoulders (bc everyone is going that direction).
    I heard that too, but I can't say I noticed it.
    ...

  15. #15
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pat from CA View Post
    2) the views are far more spectacular and the drops off the sides of the road are really not scary; 3) you will find many more people to ride with or at least camp with on an ongoing basis. When riding north you have a view out over the ocean but not a a view of the surf, the rocks, etc. Enjoy your ride...
    Actually they are but you are so focused on the beautiful scenery you forget you are scared.

    My biggest problem was to keep moving. It is so beautiful, I wanted to stop every hundred feet.
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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  16. #16
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cieous View Post
    Thank you everyone for your rich comments. Very very helpful, I have to say, you folks sharing your thoughts, I'm learning a lot about an area I know not too much about (I am much more familiar about the desert than the coast).

    For example, I haven't even thought about the view aspect prathmann or valygrl was mentioning (that you see only the Ocean in the far when you go south north) or the left turn back into traffic going north from the view points. In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense.

    @Cyclesafe: Are you sure about some campsites closing for good? I was actually planning to camp along the trip, e.g. Morro Bay, perhaps camping is a bad idea now.

    @valygrl: Did you also notice that the shoulder going south north direction is thinner than the opposite direction? I have a friend of mine who said he vaguely remember reading an article somewhere in a magazine/paper that mentioned that not all bike lanes/shoulders are created equal, that the south-north has far wider shoulders (bc everyone is going that direction).

    @sstorkel: I had exactly the same concern going after Labor Day that I might get caught up in the fog (I have seen many ppl post pix of their foggy trips). I thought the key might be to time it just right -- not too late after Labor Day, but not too close to Thanksgiving. When did you go? Was it already in October?

    @Booger1: I'm not sure you where you started your trip (maybe LA)? So the strong 35++mph winds you encountered to get to the campsite, assuming you started from LA, that was you heading north facing southwind, right? 35mph is really strong.

    @Pat from CA: Thank you very much for your insights about the route, esp your insights re Salinas Valley. I had a strong suspicion that this was an uninteresting route from looking googlemaps, but you definitely confirmed this and I will head that advice.

    @Carbonfiberboy: I was thinking for some time about getting aerobars, regardless of going headwind, thanks for reviving the idea. Obviously, I never used one. One concern I have is about how quickly you can react, change position to get to the brakes. At the same time, aerobars must be much more comfortable and help you attain a far more streamlined position. Is you changing position to reach to the brakes quickly something you just got used to quickly or did it take some time?
    I would not be too concerned about fog. it burns off pretty quick.

    Remember there are a few hostels along the way. a good alternative to camping. There really needs to be one in Big Sur and maybe Gorda.

    To give you an idea of how strong the winds are, I was doing 26MPH on a flat surface and was barely trying. With no wind on a flat and unloaded, I can do just about 21-23 MPH, normally.
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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    There is a inland route from Paso Robles to Hollister which is spectacular. (Hint: Spectacular usually doesn't come easily in bicycling.)

    Go north from SLO along the usual PCH bicycle route. Just before Cambria take Highway 46 east to Paso Robles. There are funkier ways to Paso but they are steeper.

    From Paso Robles, go north on Indian Valley Road to connect with going north on Peach Tree Road. Here is a gps track, taken in the opposite direction, showing this route from Paso Robles to King City:

    http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip....7b25a8df769a20

    From King City, go east back to take Highway 25 north to Hollister.

    To go west from Hollister, take the San Juan Grade (not as bad as it sounds and spectacular on the west side) to Salinas. Then take Highway 68 (wide shoulder, safe, but lots of traffic) to Monterey on the coast.

    To continue north from Hollister, follow a network of rural roads to near Morgan Hill and then connect with the Coyote Creek Trail which will get you into San Jose.

    From San Jose you can continue north to San Francisco using the Krebs map and various public transit. Or go west by following the Krebs map (or Google maps for bikes) up the Los Gatos Creek Trail, south past the Lexington Reservoir and up over the Santa Cruz mountains through redwood forests to Santa Cruz.

    Much of this route between Paso and Hollister is remote, lonely, lacking in services, water, hot in the summer (>100F) and, yes, probably has a head wind. I have done each section in various combinations sometimes fully loaded and sometimes fully supported. This spring we encountered a lone fully loaded tourer going north on Peach Tree Road...You will not be the first.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
    " Did you also notice that the shoulder going south north direction is thinner than the opposite direction? "
    I heard that too, but I can't say I noticed it.
    Same here. The shoulders may be a little narrower on the east side of the road, but to me the main issue is with the sightlines due to the topography. The east side (i.e. south-north side) frequently has a steep hill alongside while the west side has a dropoff to the coast. When going around a sharp curve to the right on the east side the cyclist is likely to be hidden from view of following traffic by the hill. OTOH, the cyclist heading south on the west side will generally be much more visible.

  19. #19
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cieous View Post
    <snip>

    @Carbonfiberboy: I was thinking for some time about getting aerobars, regardless of going headwind, thanks for reviving the idea. Obviously, I never used one. One concern I have is about how quickly you can react, change position to get to the brakes. At the same time, aerobars must be much more comfortable and help you attain a far more streamlined position. Is you changing position to reach to the brakes quickly something you just got used to quickly or did it take some time?
    I suppose the first thing is to not be on the 'bars when you might need to brake. However one does get used to the move very quickly because it's the same move you make when getting off the 'bars for any reason. I have my rules about when I can use them and when not. I try to stick to those rules. Some of them are not to use them over a certain speed and not to use them when cornering hard or sharply, certainly never in the city.

    The most difficult thing is getting used to a different way to steer your bike, correct for road issues, rocks, trash, etc., without getting yourself in big trouble. You have to learn to pedal a little differently because your muscles will have different lengths than you are used to. You have to learn not to transfer your pedaling forces into the bike frame because the 'bars don't allow you to resist pedaling torques the way normal bars do. So it's a matter of a lot of practice. When I'm going to use the 'bars on a big ride, I'll spend at least 1/2 hour/ride practicing being continuously down on the 'bars, and I'm already pretty good on them. The continuous part is important. After a couple weeks of that, I feel quite safe and comfortable.

  20. #20
    40 yrs bike touring
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    I have ridden from home (Santa Barbara) to Monterey and back several times in both directions using Hwy 1 and the inland route Smokester mentioned via Hwy 25 that goes behind Pinnacles Nat. Monument. I rode the inland route in the cooler Fall temperatures each time. I rode Hwy 1 in the Summer each time to beat the inland heat. I highly recommend a mirror to monitor traffic behind you. Lots of tourists renting and driving RV's for the first time.

    Heading North is just a different experience than Southbound. The fogline/shoulder area varies considerably and changes with each slide repair. What surprised me most about NB was the small things like waterfalls, wildlife and small islands of older growth timber tucked just off the road in a small canyon. Sounds on the eastside of the road were not washed out by the ocean surf or wind noise from high speed tail wind aided riding. Some people try to fight the wind and feel frustrated and angry over the slow progress. I always have to adjust my expectations to a lower level. After that the tour is more enjoyable.

    I have only camped along the way. Current state and county budget cuts may alter camping site availability quickly. Just keep checking the state parks website for changes.

    The inland route along Hwy 25 is a narrow two lane road with a decent paved surface. There are few services along the route so plan accordingly. Camping at Pinnacles NM usually requires a reservation. Either route can be very enjoyable in the proper season. I hope to read your trip report to update the cuurent situation along those routes.
    Last edited by arctos; 06-20-11 at 09:57 PM. Reason: spelling

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cieous View Post
    @sstorkel: I had exactly the same concern going after Labor Day that I might get caught up in the fog (I have seen many ppl post pix of their foggy trips). I thought the key might be to time it just right -- not too late after Labor Day, but not too close to Thanksgiving. When did you go? Was it already in October?
    Despite what you might hear from spinnaker, the California coast can be foggy at any time of year. In 2009, when I rode, Labor day was on September 7th I think. I left on Tuesday, September 15th. I had quite a bit of fog starting in San Simeon and lasting until well past Pismo Beach, including an entire day of fog on Sept. 19th. Had several other days where the fog lasted until early afternoon. Still a great ride and a good time of year to go... just bring some warm clothes!

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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclesafe View Post
    Doesn't look like there's much impact on coastal parks between SF and LA...

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    Here's a list of the actual planned closures....http://www.latimes.com/travel/deals/...,1562549.story

    There is a lot of controversy over whether the parks will actually close but you will be fine in the Big Sur area. You asked about Morro Bay in particular. Morro Strand is on the proposed closure list but you will be fine camping in Morro Bay State Park... the other state park in the town.

    As to fog...its true you could get it any time of year...however, the general thing with fog in the Central Coast is that you tend to get it when it is hotter inland as it sucks the ocean air in towards the hotter area. The most fog free times around Morro Bay for example are fall and winter..... In any event...Big Sur is beautiful in the fog...kind of a misty mystical experience...

    The route inland that has been discussed is an interesting ride behind the Pinnacles. There are few camping opportunities however.... and very little in the way of services.

  25. #25
    George Krpan
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    I've ridden Hwy 1 a dozen times south to north. I always spend the night before in San Simeon State Park.
    Only once have I encountered strong head winds in the morning and that was during a winter storm.
    I have experienced the strong winds between Ragged Point and San Simeon but always in the afternoon on the return trip, its way fun.
    Even on summer holiday weekends I wouldn't say the traffic is bad. I never thought the narrower shoulder going north was that big of a problem.

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