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  1. #1
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    Southt to North Pacific Coast Highway Concerns

    I'm planning on biking the pacific coast from San Diego to Vancouver but after doing some research, it seems nearly everyone goes south, not north, from Vancouver to San Diego. I hear that in summer I would be facing headwinds the whole way and that the shoulder on the east side of the road is less wide than the coastal side.

    Is this true? The whole time I've been imagining this I've been imagining starting in San Diego. I thought this would be perfect as the stretch between San Diego and LA is fairly flat so I would have time to acclimate. Further, I really don't like San Diego or LA so I could spend a lot of time just camping and focusing on the bike trip until I get to San Francisco where I'd like to spend a few days exploring. I want to explore Vancouver as well, but if I flew there I would just want to start my bike trip immediately. And then Seattle is only a couple days ride from Vancouver... And Portland only a couple more days... I want to see all of the major Northwestern cities, but not in the first couple weeks of my ride.

    Would it seriously negatively affect my tour if I started in San Diego instead of Vancouver? I need to fly one part of the way regardless so I can fly out to start, but it's just not what I was expecting.

    What do you all suggest?

  2. #2
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    I think this would be a mistake. The headwinds down the coast are fierce. The terrain is challenging enough let alone to have the wind blasting you in the face. In addition I think much of the ride would be a waste as far as scenery goes. Much prettier views as you head south as opposed to north. Also I can't remember if it is true for the Oregon coast but on the California coast, the wide shoulders tend to be on the south bound side of the road.

    Start in Vancouver. You will be glad you did.
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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    It seems to be universally advised against. The advice is consistent enough that it is likely to be good.

    That said when I rode the coast I had head winds while I was travelling south some of the time and generally didn't have strong winds at all. That is probably not typical though. Also the fact that I started every day at the crack of dawn and was in camp by early afternoon may have been a factor. If you do go S-N I'd plan on doing my riding very early in the day before the winds kick up.

    One other thing I found was that it was nice to be going the same way as the other cyclists. I made a bunch or friends and camped with them most nights.

    I mostly avoid cities when on bike tours so that wasn't really a factor for me.

  4. #4
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    It seems to be universally advised against. The advice is consistent enough that it is likely to be good.

    That said when I rode the coast I had head winds while I was travelling south some of the time and generally didn't have strong winds at all. That is probably not typical though. Also the fact that I started every day at the crack of dawn and was in camp by early afternoon may have been a factor. If you do go S-N I'd plan on doing my riding very early in the day before the winds kick up.

    One other thing I found was that it was nice to be going the same way as the other cyclists. I made a bunch or friends and camped with them most nights.

    I mostly avoid cities when on bike tours so that wasn't really a factor for me.
    I rode both the Oregon . California coast from Lincoln City to Eureka and the California coast from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. Both going south On both routes I had significant headwinds in some areas. I guess there are just a few places where the land makes some weird twists and turns and you get headwinds (Trinidad area can be brutal). But for the most part the winds were behind me. There was on place on the California coast where I hit 27MPH on a flat surface barely trying.
    "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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    Quote Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
    Both going south On both routes I had significant headwinds in some areas. I guess there are just a few places where the land makes some weird twists and turns and you get headwinds (Trinidad area can be brutal). But for the most part the winds were behind me.
    Yes, there are a few places that are exceptions (one is approaching Monterey as a result of the way the bay is shaped). And the wind direction reverses when a storm front comes through. But most of the time you get a substantial tail wind heading south.

    And don't discount the effect on the views that you get. Being on the coast side of the road (i.e. southbound) you're frequently looking right down at the surf crashing into the rocky shoreline whereas from the other side of the road you'd only see the distant ocean horizon. Sure you can cross the road periodically to check out the view, but it's much nicer to have it continuously as you're riding.

  6. #6
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by prathmann View Post
    And don't discount the effect on the views that you get. Being on the coast side of the road (i.e. southbound) you're frequently looking right down at the surf crashing into the rocky shoreline whereas from the other side of the road you'd only see the distant ocean horizon. Sure you can cross the road periodically to check out the view, but it's much nicer to have it continuously as you're riding.
    Yeah I mentioned that above. One downside is you want to stop every hundred feet. Thank goodness for areas like north of Monterrey where you get away from the ocean or you would never get anywhere.
    "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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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
    There was on place on the California coast where I hit 27MPH on a flat surface barely trying.
    I had a similar experience while riding from Ragged Point to San Simeon. Once I was out of the hills, the tailwind was so strong I was hitting 30mph without much effort! A very nice surprise at the end of a very long day. As others have said, there were a few places where I had the wind in my face for a while, but for the most part the wind was behind me. In most cases, I didn't have enough of a tailwind to make a huge difference... but the people I saw riding from south to north sure looked miserable!

  8. #8
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Can't remember where it was exactly. I am thinking somewhere south of Ragged Point. It was in a small town. We had to stop for some road construction. There were a couple of cyclists going north. I shouted across the road "you're going the wrong way" and smiled. The one cyclist slumped on his handlebars and said very quietly "I know". They really looked beat and I knew the climbs and the wind they had to face. I was really glad I was going south.
    "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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  9. #9
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    I have ridden the Pacific Coast Route in both directions several times. Once southbound on a loaded tandem we almost hit 60mph. Strong tailwinds and ocean views are some of the main benefits of a southbound direction in season. Wider shoulders at times too.

    Yet Northbound has some small rewards like wildlife, small canyons and waterfalls previously not seen or heard in a vehicle or on a bike Southbound. The pace is slower due to frequent headwinds in season so you have to change your mindset about headwinds. Those winds are like a seemingly endless climb of a mountain pass. I don't curse the mountains for being there I just do what I can to keep going and enjoy the trip no matter the obstacles.

    Given full knowledge of both directions I would recommend Southbound for an initial experience with Northbound chosen another time.

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    I'll add my experience too - have ridden the whole coast southbound and LA to SF northbound. Definitely Southbound is the way to go.
    ...

  11. #11
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    + the Sea remains to your right , so to look, you just pull over .. when visiting Ireland I went to their south west Coast.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Doug64's Avatar
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    I did a portion of the PCH from south to north when I was young and inexperienced. Even though I was younger and a little tougher, I was so tired of battling the north winds, I was ready to bail the coast and head inland. However, the temperatures in the interior valleys were in the high 90's; so I just gutted it out and kept on trucking north. Believe folks when they recommend the north to south route as the best option. When my wife wanted to do the PCH there was not even a question about the direction we would be riding.

    If you start in Vancouver, a great start is to head north on the Sunshine Coast. I know I just said don't do that, but in this case it is worth it. Go up as far a Powell River and take the ferry to Vancouver Island, head south and enjoy Victoria, a fantastic city.
    From Victoria take the ferry to Port Angeles, WA., and continue south.
    Last edited by Doug64; 06-15-14 at 10:45 AM.

  13. #13
    Sore saddle cyclist Shifty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug64 View Post
    I did a portion of the PCH from south to north when I was young and inexperienced. Even though I was younger and a little tougher, I was so tired of battling the north winds, I was ready to bail the coast and head inland. However, the temperatures in the interior valleys were in the high 90's; so I just gutted it out and kept on trucking north. Believe folks when they recommend the north to south route as the best option. When my wife wanted to do the PCH there was not even a question about the direction we would be riding.

    If you start in Vancouver, a great start is to head north on the Sunshine Coast. I know I just said don't do that, but in this case it is worth it. Go up as far a Powell River and take the ferry to Vancouver Island, head south and enjoy Victoria, a fantastic city.
    From Victoria take the ferry to Port Angeles, WA., and continue south.
    This it in a nutshell. The Vancouver Island option is a fantastic way to start if you have the time.
    Those voices in your head aren't real, but they have some great ideas

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    Thanks everyone for the replies! I think I will definitely fly to Vancouver and start there. I'd also like to check out Victoria. It's still a little strange to plan everything in reverse, but I'll get used to it.

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    Okay, I'll be the antagonist in this discussion!

    I rode from San Francisco to Eugene once in early June, and again from Florence to Astoria OR leading an ACA TransAm tour in prime time August. On both trips it wasn't so much the wind but the incessant traffic and stressful noise of the coast that drove me bonkers.

    On the SF trip I minimized the coast by turning inland through Napa and Sonoma Valleys, and again further north through the Klamath Valley to Crater Lake and Eugene. On a subsequent TransAm we took the traditional inland route to Astoria through Corvalis, Grand Ronde and out to the ocean at Neskowin just below Pacific City to avoid the coastal mayhem. Another TransAm terminated in Florence and just riding from our motel into town was a white knuckle experience. I can tolerate wind but noise and traffic I cannot, regardless of how scenic a route may be.

    Despite it's ocean views and abundant, cheap camping the PCH was perhaps the most unpleasant bike trip I've ever taken and the most stressful section of the entire TransAm. Just saying, I know the majority of you on this forum will disagree. Give me the quiet country lanes of France!

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plexus View Post
    Thanks everyone for the replies! I think I will definitely fly to Vancouver and start there. I'd also like to check out Victoria. It's still a little strange to plan everything in reverse, but I'll get used to it.
    One big plus to that is that you will be able to book the air travel at the beginning of the trip. It is easy to know when you will start and not so easy to know when you will finish. Having a flight to catch at the end of the tour and a forced schedule to accomplish it is a big minus that you will be avoiding IMO. The lack of a rigid schedule is liberating.

  17. #17
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BobG View Post
    Despite it's ocean views and abundant, cheap camping the PCH was perhaps the most unpleasant bike trip I've ever taken and the most stressful section of the entire TransAm. Just saying, I know the majority of you on this forum will disagree. Give me the quiet country lanes of France!
    Definitely something to consider, but I will say that I never gave the traffic or it's noise much of a thought and found the route delightful. I find that I just tune it out, I guess not everyone can do that.

  18. #18
    Sore saddle cyclist Shifty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Plexus View Post
    Thanks everyone for the replies! I think I will definitely fly to Vancouver and start there. I'd also like to check out Victoria. It's still a little strange to plan everything in reverse, but I'll get used to it.
    Don't forget that you'll need a passport to get in and out of Canada. Have a great trip, it sounds like a great adventure.
    Those voices in your head aren't real, but they have some great ideas

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    Hmmm, I'm not sure how the traffic and noise will affect me as I've never toured before. I might go inland occasionally because I would like to ride some quiet forest roads.

    Shifty, I have my passport but thanks for the reminder!
    Last edited by Plexus; 06-17-14 at 06:17 PM.

  20. #20
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BobG View Post
    Okay, I'll be the antagonist in this discussion!

    I rode from San Francisco to Eugene once in early June, and again from Florence to Astoria OR leading an ACA TransAm tour in prime time August. On both trips it wasn't so much the wind but the incessant traffic and stressful noise of the coast that drove me bonkers.
    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    Definitely something to consider, but I will say that I never gave the traffic or it's noise much of a thought and found the route delightful. I find that I just tune it out, I guess not everyone can do that.
    Yeah I can't figure it either. I di much of the same route and except for a few sections, I did not find noise to be an issue. I traveled after :abor Day, maybe that makes a big difference in traffic. I almost always tour after Labor Day.
    "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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  21. #21
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
    Yeah I can't figure it either. I di much of the same route and except for a few sections, I did not find noise to be an issue. I traveled after :abor Day, maybe that makes a big difference in traffic. I almost always tour after Labor Day.
    Apparently it really bothers some people. A slightly different note, but... I have often read warnings about not camping in locations because of the truck, train, or whatever noise and I'd try to remember even noticing what they found unacceptable. In a few cases I asked my daughter if she remembered a problem and she would say no, she slept like a baby there.

  22. #22
    20+mph Commuter JoeyBike's Avatar
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    I am a little late to this thread apparently.

    For what it's worth, I biked Vancouver to Mexico and had the time of my life. I met many cyclists going the other way. Most of them were wishing they were not. I would say the ratio was 100 : 1 for Southbound : Northbound cyclist count.

    On the other hand, I find the feeling of leaving home and heading out into the wild blue yonder all together different than the feeling when I point my front wheel back toward the house. If you live in San Diego and start in Vancouver you will be heading home from day one. This may sound trivial but for me this is huge. I biked across Kansas and Eastern Colorado once from east to west against a howling wind - and uphill (one foot per mile average - you can feel it AND see it) just so I could have the feeling of an endless adventure. The trip was supposed to go from New Orleans to Glacier N.P. but continued on to Vancouver then down to Mexico. It was well worth the struggle for me.
    Last edited by JoeyBike; 06-17-14 at 09:25 PM.
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  23. #23
    djb
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    another wind story when going n to south, I probably have mentioned this in other similar threads, but I have a clear memory of being pushed by the wind up a short steep section along the coast somewhere, hardly having to pedal at all. It was such a weird feeling that I remember it quite clearly and its been about 20 years since I did that trip. The gusts were so strong I also being concerned about really keeping my distance from the edge of the road and the abrupt dropoff, in case it shifted and pushed me sideways.
    all this on a fully loaded bike with probably 40lbs of stuff.

  24. #24
    20+mph Commuter JoeyBike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by djb View Post
    ...I have a clear memory of being pushed by the wind up a short steep section along the coast somewhere, hardly having to pedal at all....
    all this on a fully loaded bike with probably 40lbs of stuff.
    My bike and gear weighed about 60lbs, I weigh in at about 150lbs. I hit 56mph on one downhill+wind stretch in N. Cali. 1989 and I remember that like it was just last week.
    "For all we know his skills may be excellent, allowing him to ride like an idiot without actually being one." - FBinNY

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeyBike View Post
    I am a little late to this thread apparently.

    For what it's worth, I biked Vancouver to Mexico and had the time of my life. I met many cyclists going the other way. Most of them were wishing they were not. I would say the ratio was 100 : 1 for Southbound : Northbound cyclist count.
    I was just on the coast last month. It was a pretty even split of cyclists going either direction, maybe 60:40 favoring southbound. Of course, that does mean there were more travelling south than we observed, since we only saw the ones we overtook or met in campgrounds/stores, but it certainly wasn't 100:1.

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