Cycling San Francisco to Santa Cruz


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The sun was directly overhead, my skin was burnt and my mood was low. I stuck out my thumb holding my bike beside me. I was only about 100km south of San Francisco. This is not how I pictured my ride south. My usual MacGyver like skills in effecting some sort of repair denied me this time. I had nobody to blame but myself, I should have thoroughly checked my bike before I left San Francisco.

A couple of days earlier I arrived at San Francisco airport with my bike packed up in its bike box. It had not been taken out that box for near on eight months. The airport has this great area set up for traveling cyclists like myself. There is a bike stand and tools to borrow if I want to rent them. Slowly I assemble my bike which bought quite a lot of interest from the friendly staff at the airport. ‘It’s a new thing‘, they said, ‘the boss thought it would be a good idea‘. I agreed, it was a good idea. Normally I would find some quiet part of the airport and fumble around while travelers and staff are annoyed that I take up so much room.

With the bike assembled I made my way downtown via the light rail system and checked into a cheap hotel, which really isn’t that cheap in San Francisco. My bicycle barely fit into the small elevator. I’m yet to be denied taking my bicycle into a room. I stayed in San Francisco just long enough to buy some food and other gear to get me on the road to Los Angeles.

On the day I left San Francisco I had breakfast with a fellow PCT hiker that I met on Northern California, LeeAndrea. I was advised that a great way to get to the Golden Gate Bridge was to ride all the way around the harbour on the flat roads rather than cut across the middle of town through the ridiculously steep streets. I’d ridden the steep streets when I was here about 11 months earlier. I cycled up the steepest street , at that time just for fun!

My ceremonial start to this next cycling adventure was the Golden Gate Bridge. Sure I’d ridden across it before but why not do it again. And so started my adventure. It was the middle of the day when I started cycling and by mid afternoon I had my first flat tyre. Two hour later I had my second flat tyre. Luckily I carried two spare tyre tubes.  The sun was setting I rolled into camp.

In the morning I repaired one of the tubes.  I could only repair one tube because I only had one patch left. I neglected to check such a trivial thing prior to leaving San Francisco. After two hours I had another flat tyre and I used my recently repaired tyre tube which only lasted two hours.

Another flat tyre. At this point I knew what the problem was but was unable to effect any type of suitable repair. Inside the rim of the tyre is whats called rim tape. It provides a barrier between the soft rubber tube and the sharp edges of the rim and spoke nipples. The rim tape had deteriorated and started to fall apart, exposing sharp edges to the tube. It was over 5 years old.

I had limited duct tape and used what I had to take the sharpest edges off part of the inside of the wheel, but not enough. I was in trouble and after hours of trying everything I resigned myself to hitching into the nearest town of Santa Cruz. Not the ideal start to the trip.

I tried in vain to get a lift but no cars wanted anything to do with me. Standing their with my bike nobody wanted to pick me up, or didn’t have room to pick me up. Another cyclist crested the hill. It was Raymond from Switzerland, a long distance cyclist. First I looked at his tyres. Same size as mine and same tubes. I wonder. We chatted. I told of my problems and if he had any tubes to spare. He did. I was saved.

We set off more or less together on route to Santa Cruz. But my fortune failed me again and the tube rubbed so much on the inside of the rim that it failed. Raymond came along and gave me the another tube. Saved again. Luckily this lasted until Santa Cruz. It was almost dark when we arrived. I paid him for the tubes and bought him a beer as we gorged ourselves with pizza. He remarked that I was strangely very calm and in control at a time when I should have been angry, frustrated or upset.

Why even bother with such emotions, they won’t change anything, I told him. I suspect that all the adventures I’ve done in recent years has taught me to be calm, think, adapt and find a solution to any problem. Much more than occurs in normal life. Or was it because I’m a former Police Officer and staying calm under adversity is part of the job.

The next morning we both visited one of the local bike shops. I bought all I needed and set off to a nearby campsite to do what I should have done in San Francisco. I went over the bicycle and checked everything. I repaired the wheels and tyres and enjoyed a sunset over Monterrey Bay. Whales and dolphins traveled across the bay but more impressive was the large flock of Sea Birds all grouped around an obvious school of fish.

My cycling journey had not started as I expected, it can only get better from here.

  • San Francisco to Half Moon Bay 75km
  • Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz 80km
  • Santa Cruz to New Brighton State Beach 17km
Bike assembly station at San Francisco Airport
The bicycle assembly area at San Francisco Airport
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco California
Cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge
California Beach
Pumpkins in the field
Raymond from Switzerland
Raymond from Switzerland
Rest Break
Santa Cruz
HIker Biker Campsites California
Bike repairs at the campground
California Sunset
Large flock of birds in Monterrey Bay
Sunset on the california coast

Next : Cycling the Big Sur Coastline

Bicycle Touring and Bikepacking Pages might like:
Bicycle Touring Gear List
Bicycle Touring Spares and Tool Kit
Cycling from Alaska to Argentina

Where to buy all the best gear for Bicycle Touring and Bikepacking:
REI | Moosejaw |Amazon | | 
Campsaver | Competitive Cyclist | Patagonia | | MEC Canada -Bicycle Touring Gear |

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Chile.

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24 thoughts on “Cycling San Francisco to Santa Cruz”

  1. Aptos (So of Santa Cruz and near New Brighton Beach) was my last residence before retiring and taking off in my RV. Learned to surf there about 10 years ago and loved every minute. Surf every chance I get. LD hiking is now my main sport.

  2. Another adventure to follow – as if the PCT journey wasn’t fantastic enough – now we get to follow you down our coast! God speed, mate!

    Mike M, Riverside, CA

  3. Glad you got those rims sorted – presume you have a good supply of patches and tubes on board now just in case! Just wondering if you carry spare spokes? Will be following your journey – reminds me of the ride down the Oregan coast we did many many years ago ….

    • Yeah the rims and tubes are sorted, got enough patches. I carry spare spokes and enough spares of everything really to get me out of trouble. I should be right for now. The Oregon coast is great, that was part of my trip last year, I was also lucky with the weather

  4. Your photos took me right back to when I cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge with my brother in 2011. Glad you didn’t break your chain cycling up the steepest street fully loaded last year. Who took the photo?

    • I managed to grab some poor unsuspecting Spanish tourist who graciously ran part way up the hill with my camera taking many photos as I climbed. It was hard work.

  5. A few years back daughter Jessica (PCT: Swipe) and husband John (tradja) road their bikes from San Diego to Cabo and their biggest problem was with WIDE RVs from USA. The locals were all great and very helpful. When daughter was injured a local with a pickup truck full of goats squeezed them and their gear in the bed and took them home so mamacita could feed them and give them mama care for a few days until they were ready to go on. One of their favorite things was all the “roadside” tortilla stands where mama sold them out back of her kitchen. Enjoy the scenery and the locals.

    • That’s a great story that seems to have turned out great in the end. I should be ok on the roads and will deal with the traffic and roads as they happen. I plan mainly to be on backroads but my first few days in Baja I’ll be limited with the lack of back roads. I’ve been to Mexico before and look forward to the warmth and joy the people will bring to my journey, as it has also happened here in USA.

  6. What!? I’m that scout dad you met at Cold Spring on the PCT in Norcal again…. you should have disclosed you are a former police officer sooner! haha I am a sergeant on Sacramento Police Department in California…. I suspect PLENTY of local officers in the towns you pass through would be eager to buy you a beer and give you hand!

    • Thanks Chris. Disclosing my former profession is not something I do when I first meet people. I’m sure you are the same. But still, glad to meet you, even more so knowing you’re also a Police Officer.

  7. I know absolutely nothing about cycling but am sure I will enjoy every word of your cycling blog just as much as your PCT blog. I spent my high school years in Malibu when my father was a professor at Pepperdine University. I traveled and drove those miles on the PCH from Pepperdine to Santa Monica High School many, many times and even got my first (and only) traffic ticket just as you come into Santa Monica. Beautiful part of the country!

    • Hi Heather I’m a bit behind in the blog, I just cycled through the Malibu area. What an amazing area, you must have many stories from that area. Its beautiful

  8. When you got the new tube from Switzerland you should have used the old tube for a liner. Anyway, I am very excited to be biking to Panama Canal with you! It was hard to just be done when you arrived in Canada! I agree that you should be very careful on these California roads, especially L.A. and south. I also wonder how safe it is to bike through Mexico? Be safe and I will be enjoying your posts and pictures!!

    • I wish I had of thought if that at the time. I’m usually so good at fixing things through non conventional methods. I’ll file that away in the memory bank for next time. So far Californians have been great drivers but parts of Mexico have a bad reputation, luckily I don’t have any problem getting off the road of necessary. No cyclist ego here!

  9. So sorry to have missed you passing through Santa Cruz. Woulda, coulda, shoulda been able to give you my phone number in case you needed to be rescued/fed/sheltered. Proud to know you passed through my home territory and enjoyed (at least some of) it. Continue having fun and letting the rest of us enjoy your adventures via your spectacular photos and very well written blog.
    Mary Alice

  10. Gee, I at first thought Raymond from Switzerland was you in that photo. Anyway, prayers for your safety as you ride through SoCal which is full of hot-shots who don’t share the road very well. (And tis been that way for all my 68 years living here.) keep aware, keep safe.

  11. Brad, it must be fall, because along with birds flying south, I’m seeing at least one solo/duo touring bicyclist(s) on the beach path each day headed in the same direction.

    You still on course for tomorrow?

    • Yeah, I’ll be through at lunch tomorrow. I know there are many cyclists heading south but I’m yet to meet any on a similar journey yet


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