California Biking Information
Bicyling in California is about the best there is. The weather is cooperative – rarely too hot or too cold, and the Mediterranean climate ensures that May through October are dry and sunny. The state is crisscrossed with quiet, bike friendly roads, and there's an abundance of beauty to make one eager to see what's around the next corner.
California Bike Touring
The state is an amazing place to ride a bicycle. From casual spins through the California Wine Country, to epic climbs in the High Sierra, California has enough riding choices to allow trips that satisty any cyclist. With the many distinct natural attractions for the bicyclist in California, there is enough riding variety to ensure boredom is never a possibility.
Bicycle Tour On Your Own or With a Group
If you're planning a bike tour in California, do you do it yourself or do you hire a professional touring company? While it's certainly possible to research the bike routes, find the hotels, get a car with bike racks, find someone to drive, etc., hiring a pro is a low risk, low stress way to vacation by bike. There are several California companies offering bicycle tours to choose from, with a wide range of trip styles, California locations, and activity levels.
California Bicycle Maps
If you're planning your own bicycle routes, the most valuable tool is a good set of maps. For California, the best road maps are from AAA. If you're a member, maps are free. These road maps include most of the country roads that are best for cycling. They won't reveal which roads are safest for biking, though. That requires first hand knowledge.
Undiscovered Country Bike Tours stocks a comprehensive list of printed California bike maps for sale, ranging in price from free to about $10. They ship to anywhere in the USA and Canada. California Bike Trails Maps may be ordered from their web store.
Krebs Cycle Products has bicycle touring maps for parts of Northern California. Several counties of California produce some very detailed regional maps for cycling, here are a few:
Marin County bike map
Napa County cycling maps
Sonoma County bicycling map
Santa Barbara County biking map
Santa Cruz County cycling map
Monterey County bike map
bike maps of San Luis Obispo County
Bicycling maps of Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange Counties
Bike maps of Inyo, Kern, and Mono Counties (Eastern Sierra)
San Francisco Bay Area bike maps from 511.org
CALTRANS District 3 has made a map of bike facilities (bike path, lanes, routes) in several counties between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, including most of the California Gold Country.
We've posted on our website a bicycle map for Santa Clara County. You can order a San Diego Region Bicycle Map here, or view it online. A bicycling map of Redding, California is available for downloading here. Downloadable bike maps of San Luis Obispo County are at this site. The Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition has published a Lake Tahoe Bike Trails Map for downloading.
For long distance cycling on the California coast, Adventure Cycling has bicycle maps of the entire Pacific Coast for sale. These maps come in sections and detail the coastal bike route from Canada to Mexico. CALTRANS District 5 has a downloadable free bike route map of the Calfornia Central Coast from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara.
California Wine Country Biking
With 90% of the USA's wine grown here, California's Wine Country is spread all over the state. Out of this large area, however, a few wine growing regions stand out in what they have to offer a cyclist.
Sonoma Wine Country Cycling
Sonoma County arguably contains the best wine country biking region in California. Only an hour away from San Francisco, Sonoma County is a step back in time. The county is not heavily populated and retains its rural character, so the back roads are lightly traveled and a pleasure for bicycling. Wineries are smaller and have more character. When you drop into a tasting room, don't be surprised if you're greeted by the owner or winemaker. Santa Rosa is the largest city, and the downtown can be crowded, but the land quicky reverts to its rural nature just a short distance from the city center.
The ideal cycling base camp in Sonoma Wine Country has to be the town of Healdsburg. 16 miles north of Santa Rosa, Healdsburg's location allows many out-the-door cycling routes. Lodging in town is comfortable if a bit pricey, and most hotels require a two night stay on weekends. You can choose from historic bed and breakfast inns, classy boutique hotels, and slightly more affordable chain motels. The dining is casual and truly amazing, in keeping with the highly rated wines grown in the surrounding valleys. Most of the riding is flat to rolling through the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys, but steep and very challenging climbs can be found at the valley's edge.
Here's a good example of 3-day bike tours in Sonoma County Wine Country.
Napa Wine County Bicycling
Napa county is the king of the California wine industry. This is where it all began. But Napa is not the same sleepy rural region it once was. Situated just to the east of its quieter neighbor Sonoma County, today's Napa today is a bustling worldwide tourist destination, home to world famous wineries, hotels, and restaurants.
Along with this popularity have come people, and that's why Napa's crown has become a bit tarnished as a cycling region. People means crowds, and crowds means traffic. There are still roads less traveled that can provide pleasant cycling, but many of the byways are choked with vehicle traffic. Shorter bike rides on the quietest roads are still enjoyable, but these days Napa is best visited by car. Bicycle riding is much more pleasant in Napa County's next door neighbor, Sonoma County.
Pacific Coast Cycling
Cycling the Pacific Coast is one of the great experiences of a lifetime. Stretching 840 miles from Oregon in the north to Mexico in the south, this unique meeting of land and water is an ever changing spectacle along its length. And as a special treat for cycling, much of those 840 miles is laid with the Pacific Coast Highway, a two-lane scenic road perched at the edge of the land.
In Northern California, the Pacific Coast Route is dominated by remoteness and natural spendor, with redwood forests perched on the cliffs overhanging rocky beaches. The population is sparse, with just a few towns dotting the coastline. Mendocino is the most charming community, still retaining its small town appeal with old victorian homes perched above the ocean.
Big Sur Bike Route
South of San Francisco, the Pacific Coast Route travels through Big Sur, known as "the greatest meeting of land and sea on Earth". Traveling south from the coastal town of Monterey, the signs of human influence dwindle until nothing can be seen but the road and the grand natural spectacle. The Big Sur coastline is rugged, so the road snakes in and out and up and down to follow the terrain. Tall redwoods give way to coastal brush to the south. Finally, after 120 miles or so, the rippled landscape smoothes out, and the road levels and straightens as it heads through San Simeon, location of the Hearst Castle.
While hardy souls ride this route self-contained, their touring bikes loaded down with camping gear, the best way to experience this challenging route is unloaded, on a fast and light road bike. That requires a support car to carry your belongings. A few commercial companies offer 6-day bike tours of Big Sur Pacific Coast.
Cycling in California Redwoods
The sky scraping redwood forests of California are an amazing sight to behold. The tallest living things on the planet, they grow in forests and groves along the California Coast, from the Oregon border to Big Sur. Bicycling through a forest of these quiet giants is an awe-inspiring experience.
Since redwoods live along the coast, it's easy to incorporate a ride through these trees into a ride along the coast. Far to the north, near Ferndale, is the Avenue of the Giants, where a two-lane road passes pecefully through and old growth forest. Through much of the Northern California Coast, the Pacific Coast Highway passes through countless groves of redwoods. In Sonoma County lies the Anderson Redwoods State Park, a forest of old growth redwoods that was spared the axe. In Marin County, the Muir Woods is another redwoods park just off the Pacific Coast Route.
Four Season Cycling in California
California is blessed with ideal cycling weather all year long. But as each season changes, there are places in the state where the weather is best. If you choose your destination for the time of year, you can be in the best place for the best cycling at the right time.
California Biking in Winter
Except for the Sierra mountains and the extreme north, it's not too cold in California to bicycle in winter. Snow is limited to the mountains, and it rarely freezes in the rest of the state. Winter is the rainy season, however, and some California cities get up to 10 rainy days per month. The California deserts get almost no rain in winter, so one can play the best odds by traveling there to bicycle. The deserts of Southern California are both dry and have mild temperatures in winter, which is why the state's best winter cycling weather is here.
Almost due east of Los Angeles is Palm Springs and Palm Desert, two vibrant desert cities. Every February, the Tour de Palm Springs bicycle event attracts thousands of cyclists to the warm and dry weather on this one-day ride. South of Palm Desert lies the Imperial Valley, the Salton Sea, and the huge Anaz-Borrego Desert State Park. In the center of the park is the sleepy resort town of Borrego Springs, where it's rare to see a vehicle on the smooth and wide roads.
The Christmas Ride, a 6-day camping tour of this desert area, is held every year after Christmas. For those who prefer beds to sleeping bags, 6-day inn-to-inn desert bike tours in Southern California are held multiple times during the winter.
Spring Cycling in California
Springtime in California brings green grasses and wildflowers, results of the rainy weather of the past Winter. Most of the wet days are past, although the occasional rain shower is still possible into May. Now is the time to head into the mountains that were too cold in months past, and into areas that will become uncomfortably hot in the upcoming Summer. All areas of the state are rideable, except for the highest montain roads that may remain closed until the end of May.
The best California cycling location in Spring has to be the Central Coast, containing parts of Montery, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara Counties.The weather is comfortable, the landscape is bursting with new growth, and the lingering Northern California rains tend to miss the Central Coast. The premiere cycling spots in the Central Coast region are Monterey, Big Sur, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, and Solvang. This region contains a fine mix of rolling hills of the Central Coast Wine Country, remote coastline of Big Sur, and broad farming region of the Santa Maria Valley. Spring is the best time to ride here, before the summertime heat starts to build.
Over the Memorial Day Weekend in Paso Robles is held the Great Western Bicycle Rally, a multi-day bicycling celebration. There are severa lmulti-day touring events during Spring: 6-day bike tours through Big Sur, 6-day bicycle tours from Paso Robles to Solvang, and a 3-day weekend cycling getaway in Solvang.
California Bicycling in Summer
Summer brings the famous California sunshine to the Golden State. The clouds and fog have made way for months of blue sky and long, warm days. The highest mountain passes finally open up, allowing for the first time of the year rides up some of the biggest mountain roads in the world.
Northern California's wild Pacific Coast and Wine Country valleys are great places to ride now, as the windy days of spring give way to warm and calm weather. The hillsides turn their signature California gold, and the vines of the Wine Country grow green and full with grape leaves.
In the High Sierra mountain town of Markleeville is held the challenging one-day Tour of the California Alps – Death Ride, when thousands of cyclists test their endurance on the high climbs. Multi-day options abound: 6-day Wine Country and Pacific Coast bike tours, 6-day cycling trips around Lake Tahoe, 4-day bicycle rides in the High Sierra.
Fall California Biking
The hot Summer afternoons in California begin to mellow in the Fall, making an ideal time for long bike rides. The hillsides are golden, and the vines are heavy with grapes waiting for harvest. In some ways, this is the most pleasant time to bicycle on the Northern California Pacific Coast. The fog that hugs the coast much of the year pulls away, revealing a calm Pacific Ocean leading to a deep blue horizon.
In the Wine Country, Fall is time of the crush. Vintners test their grapes on the vine, waiting for just the right moment to harvest. Wineries are abuzz with activity as the year's crop is turned in the year's vintage. It's also the busiest tourist season in Wine Country, so it's important to get hotel reservations far in advance.