Oh, Los Angeles! The beaches, the climate, the celebrities, the entertainment, and the nearly endless list of sights and foods are incomparable. After all, can 4 million Angelenos be wrong? On the other hand, 4 million people, or twelve million if you look at the entire metropolitan statistical area, equates to a lot of gridlock! It doesn’t take long to figure out why the sunniest place in America can start to look like the angriest place in America.
A couple of days ago, I tried to outsmart the crowds by getting out of town. Brian, my father-in-law, and I decided to rent a couple of motorcycles and decided to head up the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Barbara. On the return, we took an extraordinary detour through the Santa Monica Mountains, crisscrossing some delightfully treacherous roads. We had discovered EagleRider, a motorcycle and off-road vehicle rental company, last summer during our National Park Tour and have been anxiously awaiting an opportunity to try out some of the other bikes they have on offer. For this ride I selected a BMW R1200RT, an impossibly sleek bike that has been engineered within an inch of absurdity. Brian chose a Honda Goldwing 1800, which has all the comforts of your favorite lazy boy and the performance of an innertube rushing down a waterslide. Sure, you’ll get to the bottom of the hill, but you won’t win many points for style. More on the bikes in a minute.
We wanted to get an early start (about 7am) in order to beat the Sunday traffic. As expected, we sailed up the coast without any delays and had the roads to ourselves for the better part of the morning. The air was
brisk frigid, dipping below 50 degrees. As we sped up the PCH towards Santa Barbara, cool, salty ocean mists brought a chill to any exposed skin. April might be a bit early for an early morning ride. Elsewhere, pockets of warm(er) air drenched with the smell of eucalyptus filled our path. Despite wide sweeping curves and picture perfect ocean views, the 1200RT never really settled in to a comfortable rhythm. It seemed to fidget and squirm, like an athlete in botany class. I could almost hear it mutter, “C’mon! Let’s get to physics lab!” All in good time.
By the time we reached Santa Barbara, the air had warmed noticeably. Warm and sunny always feels inviting, so I felt a tinge of regret that we weren’t able to stay longer in Santa Barbara. The town seems to benefit from the same climatological blessings as Los Angeles, without all the crowds. Throw in a dash of history and smart zoning and you may have the perfect place to call home. Still, the gravitational pull of the Santa Monica Mountains grew stronger by the minute and today just wasn’t a day for dawdling. After a quick snack and rest stop, we were back on the road heading south.
About 12 miles south of Santa Barbara is the turnoff to Ojai and Lake Casitas. As soon as we made the turn, I knew we were about to have some fun. The presence of wildflowers bursting through the mountain valleys heightened the invigoration of the immediate and relentless winding mountain roads. Here, the 1200RT would be happy. Heading east on Highway 150, we found some of the prettiest and most enjoyable roads of the day. After turning south on Highway 33 (just before Ojai) and passing through Ventura/Oxnard, we hurried down a short stretch of the PCH until we reached the turn for Mulholland Highway. The timing seemed about right. The PCH was starting to feel like a parking lot and the mountain roads felt like a deserted race course. For the rest of the afternoon, we hardly left the mountains and we didn’t regret the decision for a moment.
Brian and I each rode stretches on both bikes. I have to admit, every time I got on the Goldwing, I counted the seconds before getting back on the 1200RT. Despite the sensitive throttle and the high level of torque, the bike seemed instantly familiar and easy to manage. It’s no small feat that a bike of this size can be made to feel as responsive as a Vespa, but somehow those clever Germans have done it. If nothing else, this was an excellent opportunity to ride a couple of bikes that I might not otherwise have a chance to experience. The combination of performance and comfort offered by the 1200RT will be difficult to match. And what of the Goldwing? Well, let’s just say that it’s exactly the kind of ride you’d expect from a 900 pound
I managed to mount a camera to the front of the bike to capture some of the driving joy. A quick note on the footage: the video has been sped up to remove some of the shakiness and give a better sense of the driving experience. The first minute or so is the most shaky and it becomes smoother after that. Due to technical limitations, I was only able to capture a small fraction of the driving experience, and not even the most thrilling turns, at that. If you have even a miniscule amount of interest in riding this route, I recommend you get there post haste. You’ll thank yourself later.
The Santa Monica Mountains are a great escape from the crowds and chaos of the world’s third largest economic center. Tall and rugged, extending for miles, these mountains offer clean air, panoramic views, a bit of wildlife, and lots of recreational activities. Some of the roads feel almost deserted. The Mulholland Highway (not the Drive), is a particularly special piece of roadway. Once the destination of choice for Steve McQueen and his riding buddies, still visited by Jay Leno and the Governator, and visited by the Tour of California stage races (see pic #22), the Mulholland Highway is in a class of its own. It’s would be hard to find a bad road in the Santa Monica Mountains, but if you’re looking for suggestions, start with Mulholland and branch out to include some of the other roads mapped out below.
Need a bite to eat along the way? Neptune’s Net, along the PCH, can be nearly overrun by the weekend biker crowd, but that’s part of the fun. In the heart of the mountains, The Rock Store is a veritable pilgrimage site, especially since the passing of Ed Savko, its founder and longtime owner, a few weeks ago. The Rock Store is also a favorite spot for celebrity sightings. I can’t say how the food is at either location, we were having so much fun riding we never stopped to eat.
We traveled a large portion of the highlighted route (though in different directions) and loved every mile of it. I’m not a daredevil rider; I like to keep the bike neatly between the lines. Although there are some very tight turns and somewhat technical stretches, riding within your limits will make this ride a very memorable outing.
I have to compliment EagleRider for their extraordinary service and the quality of the bikes they have available. We chose a BMW and a Honda for this trip and they were nothing short of fantastic! As soon as this ride ended, I was eyeing a Triumph Bonneville and a Harley Road King in the parking lot. I’m looking forward to many more road trips around the world. I’ve been thrilled to learn that EagleRider’s footprint is expanding globally and many of its locations are conveniently found close to some particularly interesting driving destinations. French Riviera? New Zealand? Here I come!
If you are a motorcycle enthusiast, or even just a casual rider, I suggest you look into the EagleRider options. And remember, AAA members enjoy discounts on vehicle rentals. For example, the Texas AAA club offers the following discounts: 20% on motorcycle rentals, 15% on apparel and accessories, and $250 on pre-owned motorcycles.
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