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Riding in Central California (Picture intensive)


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Last year my daughter, her husband and their two kids moved to Sunnyvale, California, so this summer it was time that I visited them. It also seemed a good opportunity to combine the visit with a motorcycle road trip. As a member of the BMWST forum, I had read a lot about trips in that area, especially along the coastal highway. Many of the BMWST members live in California. Through the forum I got some tips for a suitable route. (Thank you)


I checked out the map and decided that this visit was the ideal time to do it. My wife was accompanying her parents on a visit to Europe, so this was my chance to get away on the bike. I flew from Toronto on American Airlines and got a good deal on a return flight to San Jose. It was less than US$500, which I thought was ok; no need to fly from Buffalo. I arrived a few days before the bike pick up and spent quality time with the family doing some sight seeing in and around Sunnyvale, including a day trip up to San Francisco.


I had previously arranged the bike rental through a recommended company, Pacific Cycle, in San Jose. I had booked a R1200RT. I had confirmed my arrival as booked and showed up on time. I found nobody at their offices, left messages and returned to Sunnyvale with my daughter. Apparently some emergency had caused nobody from the company to be there to hand over the bike and apparently also prevented them from getting in touch with me. Needless to say, I was very disappointed and tried to get another bike rental. However, I did end up with the RT after all. The bike was delivered with an apology to my daughter’s house. I lost half a day but took off happy, riding on a familiar machine rather than a Harley. The RT was a 2007 model with 66,500 miles on the odometer. It was a bit scratched up but ran like a clock. No complaints there. My grandkids Beatrix and Jasper liked the RT too.


After getting packed up, I took off on Wednesday afternoon, July 29th. The route I took went from Sunnyvale to Hwy 35 or Skyline Blvd. It is a very scenic highway with great vistas overlooking the lower Bay area. And it gave me a good introduction into riding on winding mountain roads with very little traffic to contend with.


Arriving at Half Moon Bay I got my first glimpse of the Pacific. I was surprised by the rather low temperatures on the coast, high 50s to low 60s.


My vented jacket felt cool and a light layer underneath was appropriate. The fog had already appeared before Half Moon Bay and the weather on the coast was overcast.


I carried on to Monterey, stayed in Pacific Grove overnight and had a great dinner at Latitudes, a restaurant at Lovers Point. The Monterey sandap was very tasty; I believe it is some kind of a flat fish like sole. Having a nice dinner with a view of the ocean was one of those times when I would have preferred some company.

The next day my daughter and grandkids came to Monterey and we spent some time at the Aquarium.


It is a great place and worth the visit. After lunch I carried on down Hwy 1 through Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur to Morro Bay. There were great view points on the way and the weather was bright and sunny, which made the ocean a beautiful shimmering blue.


The rugged, rocky coast presented many photo opportunities.


I watched the Elephant seals near St. Simeon. These are big animals lying lazily on the beach. Some of the bigger bulls posture for the best spots, I suppose, since there are no females around to impress.




Further down on the road to San Luis Obispo, I encountered a bit of road construction and heavier traffic. It was an occasion to practice “lane splitting”. I watched other motorcyclists doing it and decided to follow suit. This practice is illegal in Canada. It found it to be ok if one exercises caution and common sense. If the gap is too narrow, don’t try it. It seemed that the car drivers were used to it and most made more room if needed. It certainly saved me a ton of time.

Later in the evening I made it to Santa Barbara and spent the night there. The next morning I checked out the waterfront.


It was overcast and too early to do much more so I carried on and rode on Hwy 101 to Hwy 150 and on to Ojai. Hwy 150 is a great winding road with not too much traffic at all. It got noticeably warmer as I got further inland. Hwy 33 took me through the Los Padres National Forest.


It was great riding with lots of curves and beautiful scenery. Leaving the forest, the highway carried on into the flat and rather hot valley.


The road straightened out in some places right to the horizon.


I stopped in Maricopa, a small town which seemed to have seen better days. A small, older strip mall was deserted except for one lonely diner.


I was glad to get into the shade and took a bit of a break. The next miles went through oil fields with hundreds of derricks pumping oil.

I went through Taft, glad to find an air conditioned McDonalds. The outside temperature gauge on the RT showed as high as 104 F, it was hot! Further on I rode through more oil fields and endless orchards and plantations. It was pretty boring and it remained hot. I noticed that most vehicles I encountered were white pick-up trucks. Not sure why. I took Hwy 41 north to Fresno where I stayed overnight at a Comfort Inn with a pool. I am not a pool person but that night I certainly enjoyed the dip. Dinner was at a nearby Chinese Restaurant.

The next day I arrived at Yosemite at 9:30 am and found a rather long line up at the gate. Stop and go for twenty minutes on a banked, curvy road was no fun. I stopped at the Sugar Pine Railroad yard. An old Shay logging loco was just being moved out of its shed.


I find these old locos fascinating and hung around there for a while. This one was in great working order. The ride through Yosemite was wonderful with beautiful views and a great road to ride on.


I realized then that the rocks depicted on Ansel Adam’s photos, of which a couple posters are hanging in my office, were now right in front of me.




Those were awesome sights. The Bridle Veil Falls were visible in the hazy distance.


The road carried on with lots of turns, some quite sharp and others nicely stretched out for a bit of smooth riding along. I stopped for a late lunch and a cold beer on Hwy 120 a few miles out of Yosemite.


After enjoying the cold brew, the curves on the road ahead seemed less intimidating. Or my riding style just somehow got smoother.

It was a long ride on Hwy 49 to Auburn. I crossed the impressive Forest Hill Bridge which is apparently the highest bridge in California.


From Auburn I went on Hwy 193 to Lincoln and Hwy 65 to Yuba City where I stayed for the night. For dinner I went to Sopa Thai Cuisine on Plumas St. and enjoyed a delicious meal. Finding a hotel at night was easy using the Zumo GPS. Generally about an hour before I wanted to get a hotel, I checked the city I was aiming for and located various hotels on the GPS, then called ahead and made reservations. That is really all I used the GPS for. I still prefer a map for general travel; I find it less distracting. Of course, the GPS is great when one is lost.

On Sunday I got on the road fairly early and rode on Hwy 20 past Clear Lake to Hwy 101 and through the Redwood Valley to Legget. It was a pleasant ride, with beautiful scenery and fortunately it was getting a little cooler as I got further north. I stopped at the Drive Thru Tree and had my picture taken.


Hwy 1 from Legget to the coast was amazing, winding again but nicely banked and exciting to ride. In bright sunshine I reached the coast and took a break.


I chatted with a nice fellow from L.A. touring on his Harley. I met up with him further down the highway and rode behind him for a while. However, the noise from his straight pipes was downright unpleasant. It made your head vibrate, especially when he was going uphill and opening the throttle. So I had to keep my distance.

I found this coastal highway a little more rugged. Some curves at the peak of cliffs had no guard rails, which was a bit frightening at times. And other stretches were under repair for sunken stretches of asphalt. The scenery is breathtaking though.


I stopped in Gualala for the night and had supper at Bones Restaurant. I had the pulled pork, beans and corn bread. It was good, but the brew I tried was horrible, the name should have given it away: Hop Stoopid or something to that effect. I read in a review later that it is so hoppy that it takes the enamel off your teeth. And they weren’t kidding.



I carried on to Mendocino and visited Headlands State Park.


The Art Centre had some nice displays and I found it to be a nice break from the ride. For lunch I stopped at Nick’s Cove Seafood Restaurant on Tamales Bay.


The fresh oysters did hit the spot. I never had cooked oysters before. These were served with tarragon and spinach in hot butter with garlic--really good! Early afternoon I arrived at Point Reyes Station.


I rode up the north side and the south end of Point Reyes National Park. I saw some elk with big antlers and spotted some orcas off the Light House shore. After reading the warning sign at the top of the steps to the lighthouse stating that it was the equivalent of thirty stories of steps to get down there, I decided to just zoom in with the camera.


I kept on the coastal highway to San Francisco. Just before SF the road was pretty awesome, steep hills and lots of curves with amazing views.


I found myself crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in bright sunshine and no place to stop. I was upset that I was not able to take a picture. I had a great view of the city, which is not guaranteed I presume, with the fog being present more often than not. Riding through part of the city was an adventure; stopping on the hills and moving in heavy traffic was not what I was used to. But I managed and got eventually onto Hwy 280 to Sunnyvale. I returned later in the evening to my daughter’s place. I was back one day earlier than planned.


Overall it was a great trip. I had some neck pain issues and a bit of a sore butt, but nothing an Advil here and there could not address. The bike ran super and I believe that for this kind of touring the RT is the best there is. Mind you, a better saddle would make an improvement. I even liked the large BMW tank bag. It was cavernous and took all the stuff I needed to get in there. I returned the bike on Wednesday morning to Pacific Cycle and again found nobody at the store. I was twenty minutes later than I had said I would be, because my GPS’s battery went dead and I had to wait for my daughter to guide me there with her car’s GPS. I got hold of the owner by cell and he returned to the store within a few minutes. I paid the bill. No adjustments were made for the initial delay. I didn’t argue. Mark, one of the owners, was a friendly guy and it was a shame that things did get off the rail somewhat. I had a feeling that business was slow for them and staffing levels were low as a result.


I will most definitely come back to California, but next time with my wife and possibly rent a convertible to do more touring in this beautiful state.

PS. I had intended to post a map, but so far haven't been able to figure out Google maps. Once I got it, I will post it.


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Can't see why anyone would want to live there. Riding aimlessly in landscape like that takes it toll. Let me be the first Californian to say we are glad you like it.

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If it's varied riding, in many climates, California has got it. Glad you experienced it. And thanks for posting the pic's.


Come on out next July for the UnRally.


It's in the Sierra's and it'll be good!





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Sounds like a great ride! RT country indeed.


So far I've managed to ride CA three times for a total of about three weeks. Managed maybe aabout an 1/8th of what's great I'd guess. So much incredible riding everywhere in the State.


Like you, I marveled at the micro-climates. Went from 70 to 103 F in three or four miles leaving the coast in that same area.


Thanks for posting.

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Nice ride tale...that little diner in Maricopa was "Tina's," owned by the inimitable Tina.. :)


A great little spot.


California is a great riding destination-just when I thought I'd discovered every awesome road and funky cafe, I find another. Glad you found yours too.


Steve in So Cal

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