Cycling in the Santa Barbara Mountains
Having spent the last two weeks leading a group cycling from San Francisco to Santa Monica, I’d had a couple of days of the bike and was ready for the next challenge. The route had been plotted to go north from Santa Monica Pier along the coast for nine miles then turn right and up into the mountains. Looking at the topo before leaving, there were no doubts about it, this was set to be a tough ride.
On the cycle path we passed volleyball teams, other cyclist, rollerbladers and families going for a Sunday stroll. This has to be one of the best cycle lanes in the world! We moved out onto the highway for a few miles before turning right up Big Rock Drive. The climb began as it meant to go on. Hot, sweaty, steep and relentless. As the road wound up the hillside, each corner allowed a glimpse into the next section of pain.
After around 3.5 miles of climbing, I came to a large white gate beyond which lay a cracked tarmac road that continued to climb. Clambering under the gate, I continued to follow the trusty Garmin, after which the road really got steep!
This was beginning to really punish my legs and my lungs burned but just as I got into a rhythm, I realized that the current road surface was in fact going to get worse.
Looking down at the sandy dustbowl that my Garmin was suggesting I ride, I once again realized the limitations of technology, but reveled in the challenge and adventure that had now been cast upon my ride.
As I pushed on (still climbing!), I had incredible views to the west and out to sea. The long sandy beaches of Malibu and the Californian coast that had been my first introduction into cycling in this wonderful part of the world loomed far below.
I passed a number of hikers on the dirt road, most of which looked upon my bike and me with a mixture of pity and confusion. My trusty Giant road bike was being put through its paces, the sand and dirt of the track had begun sticking to my newly oiled chain and components making a nasty grinding sound as I continued to climb.
After around 4.5 miles of climbing I (thankfully) reached some tarmac at Tuna Canyon Road.
The climb ended half a mile or so on, at the intersection with Saddle Peak Road. What an incredible climb!
I stood at the gateway to a very Mediterranean-looking villa that overlooked Tuna Canyon.
Down the other side of the hill was an absolute joy as I whizzed down to the village of Topanga. I waited for Danny at the T-junction next to a coffee shop outside which a rather ragged, spaced out man played an ancient-looking wooden flute. Far out.
We pedaled around to The Canyon Bistro. This was my sort of place, with some bohemian-types tucking into vegetarian omelettes and veggie chilli tacos chatting on the veranda. James Taylor, Carole King and Crosby Stills, Nash & Young was the background to this chilled hideout as we sat drinking coffee. I could get used to this.
We dropped back down from Topanga along Tuna Canyon Road to the coast then back down to Santa Monica along the cycle lane.
It was 2pm by this stage and we’d worked up an appetite! We cycled to Venice Beach where five men sweated it out in the infamous outdoor gym area. A collage of the gym’s most famous ex-member, Arnold Swarzenegger hung proudly on the reception desk.
It had been a superb ride (see the map below for details) that was topped off by walking around this vibrant and unique promenade with music, freakshows, local artisans, tattoo parlours and enormous bodybuilders. Santa Barbara Mountains…worth a visit.