May 8 2013 08:31 AM

Where to take that two-wheeled thing gathering dust in the garage

Fiesta Island
Photo by Dave Strom / flickr

Bicycling might not be your favorite outdoor activity, but, chances are, you've got a bike sitting somewhere in the house or the garage, and it probably needs air in the tires. You'd better go check, because I'm here to tell you that you need to get on that thing and start riding.

Once you've got those tires filled and make sure your brakes work, what next? San Diego has perfect cycling weather and bicycle routes throughout the county. Just getting on your bike and out of the house is great, but as your skill level progresses, you'll be looking for some more diverse riding experiences.

To keep it easy on yourself, stay coastal in the beginning. In the hot summer months, we all know the appeal of sticking near the beach, but your cycling legs will also be grateful for the minimal changes in elevation. A heavy bike (like a beach cruiser or vintage garage bike) can make going uphill even more challenging, so keep it on the flats. You may have to throw your bike in the car to get there, but Fiesta Island and Mission Bay offer great scenery and mellow riding on completely flat bike paths and routes.

Another great casual cruise is around San Diego Harbor. Plenty of pedestrians and other riders can create a bit of a carbon-free traffic jam, but the scenery is unique and there's a separated bicycle path from Downtown to around Harbor Island. Also, if Downtown is the start of your ride, the Coronado ferry is bike-friendly and inexpensive. After a serene 10 minutes crossing the harbor, you have access to all of Coronado for riding. Anywhere on the island is flat and beautiful, and you can start going after some real mileage on the Silver Strand bike path, nine miles of uninterrupted wind in your face and sun on your back from Coronado to Imperial Beach. Ride this a few times and you'll definitely be ready for more.

Group rides can be one of the best ways to put in some miles on the bike. A number of bicycle clubs get together on the weekends to ride together. The San Diego Bicycle Club is particularly suited to developing riders, as their massive weekly Saturday ride splits up into five or more groups based on skill level. Ride leaders will take each group on tranquil routes through Rancho Santa Fe and back down along the coast. The organization takes special care to accept all kinds of rid ers, no exceptions—there's definitely a ride for you if you want to join them Saturday morning at UC Cyclery (8715 Villa La Jolla Drive in La Jolla).

When not riding in a group, most folks have a set loop that they follow. There are some excellent alternatives to the paths most traveled, if you're willing to explore. Instead of taking the bridges from the Ocean Beach bike path to Mission Beach, East Mission Bay Drive is a great alternative. When cruising up Rose Canyon bike path toward UCSD, try climbing up La Jolla Colony Drive instead of Gilman Drive. And if you've ever climbed up Mount Soledad and thought it boring, check Wikipedia's Mount Soledad page for a list of incredibly scenic alternative routes on some quiet roads with low traffic.

San Diego offers great resources for commuting by bicycle. The San Diego Bike Map has saved me from my poor navigational skills many times, and the annual Bike to Work Day is just around the corner, on May 17. Commuting by bike can squeeze in some much-needed exercise into a busy schedule and is probably more feasible than you've realized. In fact, the best riding to try experimental routes is on your commute. You can ride the same way many times, yet never realize that a better route is one block over.

When you've got some base miles in, it's time to work up some sweat. Any weekend morning will see countless cyclists up and down the coastal Highway 101. There's not too much elevation change so close to the coast, but heading south through Torrey Pines State Park is guaranteed to make you work. Cabrillo National Monument is a favorite ride for folks seeking a little challenge. There are a number of ways to reach the peak elevation of Point Loma, and your effort will be rewarded with a gorgeous view of the city along some rolling hills to the state park.

If you're getting bored with the same old routes, and your legs can take it, there are some rides in San Diego County that will really make you embrace the pain. It may be foggy at the coast, but lather on sunscreen and bring lots of water if you want to hit the Great Western Loop. Starting near El Cajon, the loop heads east, with close to 60 miles of quiet, hot and difficult roads for a guaranteed tough day in the saddle. If you're still not challenged enough, drive up to Palomar Mountain for some riding. The route up and down South Grade is used by top riders to train for races like the Tour de France, and, on May 12, the Tour of California will include many of those top riders starting their week of racing by climbing this impressive mountain.

Not everyone has to be a Tour de France pro to get on a bike. Any kind of bike can be great if it's ridden. Always remember to have fun and be safe, whether you're riding down to the store or up Palomar. With the weather starting to warm up, when even the nights are perfect, there's no excuse to be doing anything but getting the most out of San Diego—and, for me, that's a bike ride. 

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