Cycling the Central Coast
Whether in the mountains along the shore, there’s no better way to experience the Central Coast than on two wheels
By Misty Hall
If you’ve read this magazine before, you’ve probably noticed I’m always harping on you to get off the freeway and explore the amazing communities along the Central Coast. One fabulous way to do that? Rent a bike!
“You get to see more than if you’re walking, but it’s still personal like walking,” said Toby Kaiser-Arnett, owner of Pedego Electric Bikes Pismo Beach. “If things are blooming, you smell them. If you want to stop and take photos, it’s no big deal. You can meander a bit … You’re really able to experience a place.”
With that in mind, we’ve found three bike rental shops — one in each county — that we love. Not only do they offer excellent bikes, they also serve up some of the best insider information on their communities.
Pedego Electric Bikes Pismo Beach
San Luis Obispo County
Toby and her husband always loved their old Schwinn cruisers. But as they got older, they gradually acknowledged that they might need a little something more. Enter Pedego. Toby tried one of these electric bikes 11 years ago at a friend’s party, and was immediately hooked, she said. “I finally talked my husband into it, and so we’ve had our Pedegos for 11 years … And we still have those same bikes! Even though I own a shop, I haven’t bought a new bike. I love my original one so much, and it’s still a great bike! Really high quality.”
When Toby decided to retire in January 2021, she wanted to find something to keep her occupied. It just so happened that her son, Warren Kaiser, was also looking for a change. So, they took their passion for Pedego and turned it into a business. Pismo Beach was a natural choice for their shop. Miles of coastline and cute little beach towns were tailor-made for electric bike riding. At Toby’s shop — which Warren helms, along with his friend John Kuebler — several Pedego electric bikes are available for hourly or daily rentals. Bikes can also be purchased here, as well.
Each Pedego is electric, and all of them have pedal assist and a throttle. Pedego has more than a dozen styles to choose from, all with different purposes. “They have beach cruisers, some more European city-style bikes, ones with really low step-throughs for people who can’t lift their foot that high,” Toby said. “There’s a folding bike too … and an electric trike, and electric tandem, a fat tire mountain bike … Almost everyone I talk to with electric bikes says they’re life-changing,” Toby said.
If you’re in the market to rent rather than buy, Pedego Pismo Beach offers a handful of styles — and a truckload of advice on where to ride them. “We’re right on Highway 1, a little two-lane road with bike lanes,” Toby said. They instruct riders to “head north and go through Pismo and Shell Beach, then get on Bob Jones Trail. It follows a little creek and takes you up a hill overlooking all of Avila Beach and San Luis Obispo Bay and the golf course (Avila Beach Golf Resort).” The golf course has a nice bar and grill — an ideal place to stop for refreshments. Those with kids will appreciate the Avila Valley Barn, a farm offering fresh fruits, veggies, baked goods, and a petting zoo of farm animals. On weekends during the summer, they often have live music as well.
Those wishing to go a little further can head down into Avila Beach itself to explore its restaurants, shops, and piers. “A half-day rental is the perfect amount of time to go all the way to Avila, eat lunch, and come back.” Another popular destination: Old Edna. “You can go inland about four miles through rolling hills, passing wineries,” Toby said. Old Edna’s Sextant Wine Tasting Room and Gourmet Deli offers fabulous wines and great deli sandwiches.
Find Pedego at 651 Dolliver St. Suite A, in Pismo Beach. For more: (805) 295-6352 or pedegopismo.com.
Cal Coast Adventures
Santa Barbara County
Four blocks from the waterfront in Santa Barbara, Cal Coast Adventures is an excellent jumping off point for your biking treks, whether they be toward the beach, the downtown area, or the mountains. Along with a huge variety of bikes — electric and traditional, for kids and adults alike — Cal Coast also offers several guided bike tours. “Santa Barbara is known for fantastic road biking routes,” said Elyse King, office coordinator. “When you take a guided tour, you don’t have to worry about where to go.”
Cal Coast’s city tour takes visitors along the Cabrillo Beach Blvd. Bike Trail, which runs at the edge of the sand, toward Montecito. “The guides love to take people to Butterfly Beach, which is so beautiful,” Elyse said. From there, they head to downtown Montecito, along Coast Village Road. Then they’ll circle over to East Beach, then West Beach, and stop at Stearns Wharf. If there’s time, they’ll go through the Santa Barbara Harbor and up toward Santa Barbara City College where there’s a gorgeous lookout point that’s perfect for selfies. Sometimes, Elyse added, folks would like to head downtown where guides show off historic landmarks, including the iconic courthouse, the Mission, the Presidio, and more.
Those wishing to maximize their time along the coast might choose the Hope Ranch ride, which runs through a stunning but quiet neighborhood. There are no bike lanes, but there aren’t many cars passing through here, either.
But the Cal Coast tours aren’t just for casual tourists — they also have some more strenuous offerings. “The loop we love to tell visitors about — or take on a tour — is Mountain Drive in Montecito,” Elyse said. The winding road cuts through the middle of the mountains, with gorgeous views the entire time. If you’re looking for a really challenging ride, Gibraltar Road is your place. There’s an epic climb up to Camino Cielo, which winds along the ridge on the Santa Ynez Mountains. “Pro athletes go up there to do elevation training,” Elyse said.
Of course, a beach cruiser won’t cut it up there. But Cal Coast is stocked with super solid bikes that are well-maintained — so much so that when the Santa Barbara 100 rolls into town, folks trust that Cal Coast’s rentals will be just as good as their own personal bikes (and perhaps even better maintained).
If cruising is more your jam, you’ll find those bikes well maintained, too (and at super affordable prices). Not surprisingly, though, electric and hybrid bikes are among the company’s most popular rentals. Got the kids with you? Cal Coast has child seats, kid carts and tagalongs, a one-wheeled bike with handlebars and pedals that attaches directly to an adult’s bike. Bigger kid options start at 16” wheeled bikes. There are even a few tandem bikes as well.
If all that cycling’s got you working up a sweat, head down to Cal Coast’s stand on West Beach, near Stearns Wharf, to rent kayaks, SUPs, and surfboards. Tours and lessons on each are also available.
Cal Coast Adventures can be found at 736 Carpinteria St. in Santa Barbara. For more: (805) 628-2444 or calcoastadventures.com.
The MOB Shop
The Ojai Valley is home to some of the best cycling spots in the region, both on pavement and off-road. And The MOB Shop has what you need to ride them all, whether you’re looking to rent or buy. “We rent and sell electric bikes, mountain bikes, comfort town bikes, fitness bikes, kid carriers. Also, analog bikes — we call them straight pedal bikes … mountain bikes, road bikes, gravel bikes,” said Tim Rhone, MOB Shop owner. They’ve even got a full-service repair shop. But one thing they offer is always free: great advice on where to ride in the Ojai Valley.
The most popular place for newcomers and locals alike is the Ojai Valley Trail, often known simply as “the bike path.” It starts at Soule Park Golf Course and heads all the way down to the beach in Ventura, skirting the Ventura River along the way. The full loop is about 33 miles, so an e-bike might be best for kids and those who aren’t used to this level of riding on a traditional pedal bike.
But Tim has lots of other (maybe better) suggestions. “The East End Loop is accessible to most people, and it’s so beautiful,” he said. A calm, relatively flat ride, this one takes you through the bucolic eastern edge of the Ojai Valley. Here, you’ll travel through citrus groves and oak-shaded streets with little vehicle traffic.
To get more off the beaten path, check out the Gridley-Pratt Loop, which sends you up to Nordhoff Ridge for some spectacular views of the Ojai Valley and beyond on this blood-pumping 16-mile loop. There’s also plenty of fun to be had — with a lot less mileage and elevation gain — in the Ventura River Preserve.
Want something with a little more oomph? “For something to sink your teeth into, we always point people toward Sulphur Mountain,” Tim said. “The views and the climbing are really amazing!” Grab a gravel bike for this one and head down the bike trail to Sulphur Mountain Road, just north of Casitas Springs. It’ll take you along Sulphur Mountain east, dropping you into Upper Ojai before circling back west to Ojai proper. This one gains a considerable 3,000 feet of elevation along its 31-mile route.
Another world-class favorite is Highway 33. As of press time, the road remains closed from Matilija Canyon to Lockwood Valley due to extensive damage from the winter rains. Current estimates from CalTrans put a reopening date at the end of summer or later. But once it reopens, there are few better places for a road route. One customer who has ridden all over the world told Tim that France’s Mont Ventoux was his number one, and Highway 33 was his number two. “It doesn’t get much better,” Tim said.
The MOB Shop doesn’t offer guided tours, but if you’re an experienced rider, plan to visit in the fall because they’re bringing back one of their most beloved events: The Gravel MOB. Set for Nov. 11, this one is a beast of a ride. We’re talking 60-plus miles and an elevation gain of 8,000 feet — in one day. It circles the Ojai Valley, heading up Sulphur Mountain Road into Upper Ojai, crossing over to Sisar Road, going over Nordhoff Ridge to Rose Valley, and finally back to Downtown Ojai via Highway 33.
“We consistently have over 300 riders,” said Tim. That includes pro riders like Ned Overend, a mountain biking legend. “It’s a super fun day. We host an afterparty barbecue with a local taco vendor, and Topa Topa Brewing Co. comes out.”
Find The MOB Shop at 110 W. Ojai Ave. in Ojai. For more: (805) 272-8102, or themobshop.com.