By: Joel Epstein
Redemption. That is what my friend Bob Rollins calls my latest effort to defy my age with the help of Bosch Ebike Systems and some other bike tech innovations. Bob should know. He was with me last fall when we aborted an ill-fated attempt to ebike from Irvine to Reno. You can read all about it at Ebike Nation.
Determined is what they call me. So when Brian Sarmiento of Bosch called to offer me a second chance to test out the company’s pedal assist ebike system, I was in. The plan was to bike 450 miles over five days from Irvine to Monterey on California’s Central Coast.
Was I interested? Of course! Since when doesn’t this Californian-at-heart not love spring in Southern California and the beautiful Central Coast after a drought-busting winter that has replenished the Golden State’s water reserves. The state’s welcome snow and rain has made the jasmine and orange blossom scented California air and green coastal mountains that much more alluring.
The very model of the weekend warrior, I was determined to be prepared for the Monterey ride, putting in as many hours in the saddle on my annual
Citibike membership as work and other life obligations at home in New York City would allow. I arrived in Southern California ready for the trek both mentally as well as physically, with a road-hardened tail. Brian too was prepared. The prior Reno trip generated many lessons learned including the need for a SAG (support and gear) vehicle from the outset, as well as a spare bike. SAG and the backup bike came in handy on Day Two of the trip when I broke a chain going up Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) just north of Webb Way in Malibu. And we would have many more lessons learned by the time we reached Monterey.
Day One: Foothill Ranch to Santa Monica ~85 miles
This trip had it all. We started out early on Saturday morning from Bosch Ebike Systems’s office in Foothill Ranch (near Irvine) and rode largely along Irvine’s and Orange County’s protected bike paths to the coast at Newport Beach. Though Irvine has never been my favorite Southern California destination, its protected bike paths are deservedly envied by biking enthusiasts across the state, if not the country.
Our bikes were powered by Bosch Ebike Systems, equipped with a new acquisition for the company, Cobi Bike Systems navigation. Brian rode a Gazelle and my wheels were a new steel-framed Xtracycle RFA (Ready for Anything). that doubles as either a kid-friendly cargo bike or a sportier model for when the young’uns are moving under their own steam. Through an app, Cobi uses a handlebar-mounted smart phone to control the four ebike pedal
assist settings. The Cobi-enabled phone also functions as the screen for mapping, heart monitoring and music. Cobi’s navigation was exceptional, letting us take advantage of bike friendly and grade separated routes that Google Maps might have missed. Kudos to Bosch for teaming up with Cobi, which will surely become a must for serious traditional cyclists and ebikers.
We also benefited from sporty Bluetooth-enabled smart bike helmets from Sena in one of my favorite colors, California Poppy. The sturdy helmets let us communicate with one another up to half a mile away and also synched with our mobiles allowing handsfree access to phone calls and music as we rode up the sun kissed California coast.
Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and then we were on to our first stop at the new Propel ebike shop in Long Beach. I have been a fan of Propel since meeting owner Chris Nolte, an important advocate for ebikes, at his store across from the Navy Yard in Brooklyn back in 2017.
From Long Beach we hightailed it through some rough industrial patches around the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach and in Wilmington and San Pedro.
After the Port and the industrial underbelly of Los Angeles, the ride through Lomita and Torrance wasn’t bad and then it was on to Redondo Beach and the always pleasing ride along The Strand and related bike infrastructure of Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Dockweiler Beach, Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey, Venice and Santa Monica. Even if the trip ended after that first day, I would have been smiling. Who doesn’t love biking along The Strand, the Venice Canals, Venice Beach and the Marvin Braude Beach Trail in Santa Monica.
Arriving at our hotel around 3 pm, I had the afternoon and evening to catch up with friends from my many years living in Los Angeles and in the evening stargaze from the beach near Lifeguard Tower 26 in Ocean Park. Is there any better way to celebrate one’s ebike redemption?
Day Two: Santa Monica to Santa Barbara ~96 miles
On Day Two, early Sunday morning, the navigation for me was rote until Oxnard. We started out on 4th Street near Pico Blvd picking up the Braude Beach Bike Trail next to the regal Casa del Mar Hotel. A quick selfie at the Santa Monica Pier and we were on our way to the trail’s terminus at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades. Getting back on PCH at Temescal, I waved to Palisades Charter High School, my kids’ old high school and the film location for way too many Disney and Nickelodeon movies. Before 8 am on a Sunday in April, traffic on PCH is light, with nearly as many cyclists as cars. The ride through the sometimes gnarly and narrow southern stretch of Malibu was easy enough and it wasn’t until I broke a chain climbing the hill south of Malibu Canyon that we hit a rough patch. Still, thanks to Brian and SAG, I was up and peddling again within a half hour. No biggie for a beautiful ride on a 9.5 spring day in Malibu.
While signs of the devastation of the winter fires remain, from the seat of my ebike pedaling at 20–25 miles an hour, PCH and Malibu hides its scars and secrets pretty well. The superbloom brought on by the heavy winter rains have helped obscure the extensive damage done. On an earlier trip in February to Point Dume and Malibu Canyon, I had seen the destruction caused by the fires.
Soon enough we were rolling past Zuma Beach, La Piedra State Beach and Leo Carrillo State Park. Leaving the coast just past Point Mugu, we navigated the route through Oxnard’s strawberry and raspberry farms with little competition from the truckers who would be back to work the next morning. It was tough passing up the farm stands advertising nine avocados for $5 but with miles to go in the day’s ride we soldiered on without stopping for the added weight and goodness.
It felt great to be truckin’ north and instead of the “reds, vitamin C, and cocaine” it might have been if this were 1970, our fuel for the trip was a pretty healthy diet of almonds, clementines, water, and Pro Bar snacks including their addictive packets of almond butter flavored with coconut, sriracha and other creative flavors.
And yes, for the bikes the rechargeable voltage of our Bosch Ebike Systems batteries came from the state’s still too dirty power plants; as my daughter Julia, an organizer for the surging Sunrise Movement behind the Green New Deal, wants to remind everyone.
From Oxnard we navigated our way through the tourists along the beach path in Ventura onto a mostly great, and protected, bike path that parallels the 101 Freeway. Our ride was smooth sailing through Mussel Shoals, La Conchita, Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito. From there we rolled down to the beach at Olive Mill Road for a ride along local Santa Barbara streets to our hotel near the pier.
Day Three: Santa Barbara to Santa Maria ~77 Miles
I am not a huge fan of Santa Barbara, a beautiful city in one of the prettiest settings anywhere but sadly so beaten down by the rampant homelessness that has driven away, or at least indoors, many of its actual residents. In some parts of town it seems as though the only people out and about are the tourists and the homeless. Walking under the Freeway Overpass on State Street I feel like I used to feel as a teen walking through rough parts of New York when parts of New York were rough. It pains me that the great State of California is still not showing the way getting the homeless into services and housing and off of the streets.
Thanks to Brian and our Cobi navigation system, we took a pleasant ride out of Santa Barbara that kept us on bike paths and smaller streets all the way out of town. Hugging the coast, the work didn’t come until Gaviota where the road climbs up to Buellton, made famous by those irritating billboards advertising a tourist trap known for its pea soup. We stopped elsewhere for lunch, and I’m proud to say I skipped the 12 egg omelet.
North of Buellton, we took a pretty route through Central Coast vineyards and rolling green hills dotted here and there with the season’s superbloom. We slowed down for the good stuff and stopped in Los Alamos, a charming old town south of Santa Maria.
From there it is just another 20 miles or so to Santa Maria, our base for the night.
Day Four: Santa Maria to Ragged Point ~91 Miles
Note to self: bike the coast in April after the rains bring a superbloom and before the thousands of Pismo Beach-bound offroaders and RVs descend on the town for the spring and summer, fouling the California air.
P.S.: Riding north along PCH from Morro Bay to Ragged Point, be prepared for mighty headwinds that had me cussing when I wasn’t smiling from ear to ear at the beauty of the Central Coast.
The ride from Santa Maria to Ragged Point was the toughest day of the trip. Even though we had gotten an early start to chip away at the day’s mileage, the headwinds picked up mid morning around Arroyo Grande and didn’t help any as we headed up to Morro Bay and further north through Cambria. By the time we reached San Simeon, the winds had killed the mighty buzz I had developed taking in the beauty of the landscape and I was cursing at the steady gusts that slowed our ascent up the coast.
Even with the bike in “Turbo,” the most powerful of the pedal assist settings, it was a genuine chore biking up to Ragged Point. In sum, it would have been hell biking this stretch without the benefit of pedal assist.
Day Five: Ragged Point to Monterey ~92 Miles
After the windy ride from Santa Maria to Ragged Point, Brian and I decided to start out even earlier on the final day in case we were in for another windy day. By 6:30 we were on the empty road climbing north. The choice was inspired as Route One was practically empty those first couple of hours with road work closing the road down to a single lane in several places. Even though the climbs were tougher than we had seen earlier in the trip, each ascent was followed by a long, often car-free, downhill. The weather was cool but the wind wasn’t bad and we made fast time through Gorda and Lucia and Big Sur before the usual April traffic kicked in mid morning.
Stopping for an early victory lap lunch in Carmel about 16 miles from our final destination at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey felt well earned until I tried to walk back to my bike after lunch. At first, the short staircase from the restaurant back to the street seemed like a mountain, but thanks to a Naproxen and the act of getting back on the bike and pedaling again I somehow managed. In just an hour we had completed the ride.
In all, the trip was a smile fest from Irvine to Monterey and the end of our ride at the Bosch booth at the Sea Otter Classic at Laguna Seca Raceway. There was surely never a higher and quieter use for the track than a mountain bike race and expo. Thinking back to those hundreds of beautiful miles and the e-miracle of “Turbo” helping me up those long climbs, I see in the crystal ball an ebike in my future.
Yours in transit,
Joel Epstein is a New York- and Los Angeles-based communications strategist and writer focused on transportation, public space, workforce development and other critical urban issues.