Travel guide: It's time to ride California

By Ped Baker -

Touring & travel

 14 June 2010 16:05

Japan is famed for its technology, Britain for its history, and Italy for its glamour, but where is motorcycling’s heart and soul; the place where everything seems geared to an exquisite bike-based experience? Answer: California. 

California should be on every motorcyclist’s gotta-do-it destination list. The Pacific Coast Highway (or Highway 1) grabs the headlines, and is consistently voted as one of the world’s top ten roads to ride, but it’s just the icing on the cake. Almost every road you turn down reveals images familiar from countless iconic Hollywood movies: Easy Rider, Bullitt, Vanishing Point, The Wild One, Wild Hogs…

The only problem with California is its size and diversity, so planning your trip beforehand is crucial to ensure you squeeze as much in as possible. We’ve picked out the highlights.

Why rent a Harley?
If you’re going to tour California on a motorcycle there is only one real option, and that’s to rent a Harley. It doesn’t matter what you ride at home, even if you’re a sportsbike nut and wouldn’t be seen dead on a Harley in the UK, the lazy soundtrack and armchair comfort slot seemlessly into the landscape and laid back nature of most locals. Riding over the Golden Gate Bridge on a GSX-R just doesn’t feel right.
Harley have their own rental bike scheme that runs from 19 dealers across the state. If you’re a member of the official Harley owners club (HOG) you receive a special rate of $100 (£68) a day from the dealers in San Francisco, Oakland, Loma Linda and San Diego. It’s possible (though more expensive) to arrange one-way rentals. All official Harley rentals include bike, helmet and rain suits for rider and passenger, luggage storage during rental if needed and roadside assistance cover.  Details: www.h-drentals.com
If you really can’t resist the sports bike lure, then contact sportbikerental.com. Based in Los Angeles, they’ll hire you Ducati 1098s from £154 a day or VFR800s for £115 per day, £531 per week. Or there’s www.californiamotorcycleadventures.com in San Francisco who’ll rent Pan Europeans from £85 per day or £497 per week.

Visit the origin of ‘the biker’
Hollister is the birthplace of the ‘biker’. In 1947 a bar brawl started by bike-riding GI’s fresh from WW2 caught the attention of the national press and then Hollywood. The resulting film ‘The Wild One’ starring Marlon Brando forever fused rebellion and motorcycles together.
Understandably there’s no blue plaque to the mark the scene of the riot, but the Whiskey Creek Saloon in the centre of town is the gathering point for the semi-annual Hollister Biker Rally on July 4th. It’s worth a visit anytime just to say you’ve been where a cultural revolution began. Hollister is a 30 minute ride from the Laguna Seca MotoGP circuit.

Ride off-road
The pick of the off-road riding is in the south of the state. There’s a breathtaking range of different terrain to explore including volcanos, redwood forests, sand dunes, dry lake beds and a few genuine ghost towns too. Southern California averages just 20 days rain a year, so you can almost guarantee good weather. Tour operator Admo Tours cater for all levels of ability, even complete beginners. Prices for two day guided tours including hire of a DR-Z400 start from $700. Details: www.admotours.com

Watch the Laguna Seca MotoGP
The Laguna Seca circuit is just 20 minute’s ride from Highway 1 and the pretty seaside town of Monterey. With small crowds, the Laguna GP lacks the atmosphere of the European rounds but, on the plus side, you get good access to all the best viewpoints. The pick of the bunch is under the trees on the inside of the famous corkscrew. Take sunblock and plenty to drink, even if it’s chilly on the coast road, temperatures at the circuit can climb to 45°C. The 2010 MotoGP race takes place on July 23 –25. The California Superbike School runs track schools at Laguna using BMW S1000RR superbikes. The next available school runs from Sept 27-30. www.superbikeschool.com

Ride the best roads
Highway 1 is the coast road that stretches from Los Angeles, over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and into Marin county. The best known and most beautiful section of Highway 1 is the 100 mile stretch from Morro Bay to Carmel. But before you ride it, remember to set your brain to record in HD – this is one experience you’ll want to replay over and over. Stop to see the colossal Elephant seals at Piedras Blancas viewpoint and keep an eye out for Blue whale water spouts on the horizon.
If you have the choice, ride Highway 1 from north to south for an uninterrupted view of the coastline. Early morning sea fog isn’t uncommon and can bring the temperature down to single figures so pack a fleece if you intend to ride early.
Away from the coast road you can take your pick, riding into the desert, up to the redwood forests or over to the impossibly stunning Yosemite National park.
Away from the cities it’s virtually impossible to find a boring road in California. Even the straight desert roads have the occasional tumble weeds to distract (I thought it only existed in the movies). Free on line riding routes visit here and here