14 top tips for Southern California cycling - Epic Road Rides Back to top

14 top tips for Southern California cycling: Santa Monica Mountains and Santa Barbara County

Cycling in Southern California is awesome. Here are our top tips for making it unforgettable for all the right reasons!

For route suggestions, downloads and everything else you might need to plan a trip, read our comprehensive guides to cycling Santa Monica Mountains and Santa Barbara County.

Preparation for southern California cycling

  1. If you’re heading to the Santa Monica Mountains or planning to ride any of the other tough climbs in Southern California:

    • - Think about gearing. While the ascents are generally shorter than those of the Alps or Pyrenees, some are very steep, and a compact 50-34 chainsets on an 11-28t cassette will help you out, especially if you’re not a natural climber.

    • - Consider aluminium rims or disc brakes to avoid a blowout. The inner radius of some turns can be just 4-5 metres. It’s pretty much unheard of to get to the bottom of one of the big Malibu canyon/Santa Monica Mountain descents without warm rims. Not braking is generally not an option.

    • - Get some training in before your trip. Those steep ascents will be much more fun if you’re fit.

  1. Remember there’s little backup.  Many areas of Southern California are sparsely populated. Even if you are close to a town, it may not have a shop or restaurant, and it’s unlikely to have a bike shop.

    • - Bring enough spares: spare tubes, tyre levers, and a pump or CO2 canisters, as well as puncture repair kit and versatile multi-tool. You may even want to bring a toolkit for larger repairs where you’re staying.

    • - Leave home with enough water and nutrition.

    • - Check your bike works! If you’re bringing your own bike, service it before you leave home. If you’re hiring one, check it thoroughly before you leave the shop.

  2. Pick the right wheels; leave your deep section rims at home. If the Santa Ana winds are blowing, you’ll want shallow wheels.

  3. By law, cyclists under 18 must wear a helmet.


  1. Plan your routes before you visit. Our ultimate guides to cycling the Santa Monica Mountains and Santa Ynez Valley contain loads of information on routes we’ve tried and tested. For example route profiles, descriptions, GPX downloads, photos and videos, so you know what to expect. Make sure you’ve checked the route over before you set out so you’re happy with it and you know what to expect.
  2. Avoid riding the Pacific Coast Highway wherever possible, as it’s busy and dangerous. If you do ride it, take utmost care and watch out for parked cars on the hard shoulder.

Weather and best times to cycle

  1. Try and avoid rush hour in any town you need to ride through. It’s particularly important if you’re planning to cycle on the PCH. It can get very clogged up, especially near Santa Monica and LA.
  2. Beware the heat. If it’s going to be hot, our tips are 
  • - Get out early and get back before midday.
  • - Take a camelback if you’re going on a long ride and think you’ll need more water than your bike can carry (yes, yes, we know it’s not cool but see point 2 above...);
  • - Freeze your bottles the night before. That will keep them cold for a bit longer once you’re on the road.
  • - Put a mini bottle of suntan lotion in your back pocket.
  • - Use electrolyte tabs in your water bottle. These should help avoid cramp.
  • - Beware heatstroke. It can come on quickly and is very scary. Make sure you know the symptoms.

Other stuff

  1. Cyclists on public roads must follow the same rules of the road as vehicles (refer to the California Driver Handbook to become familiar with these rules).
  2. We found drivers to be courteous - but don’t expect that. Drivers may not always respect your right of way.
  3. Watch out for rock debris on the road, particularly when riding in the mountains.
  4. Wherever possible, ride with a friend. If that’s not possible, make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  5. Be considerate. While the roads may seem quiet, always consider that another road user (possibly testing out their new Ferrari!) may be about to appear.
  6. Don't stop on the road. If you need a break, make sure you stop somewhere that's safe (not on the road or in someone's private driveway (and certainly don't drink from their hose - yes, we had a local resident ask that we mention this!)). Do the right thing and let's all ride safely and happily.

Your thoughts!

Cycled in California and got some additional tips? Please comment below!

Banner photo credit: Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock.com


14 top tips for Southern California cycling: Santa Monica Mountains and Santa Barbara County
Our 14 top tips for Southern California cycling. We cover preparation, routes, when to ride and more!
Best places to stay in Santa Ynez Valley (for cyclists)
The inside story on the best places to stay in Sant Ynez Valley, including what the main towns are really like and where to stay.
Gibraltar Road, East Camino Cielo and Painted Cave Road loop
Your guide to one of Santa Barbara's most iconic bike rides, including Gibraltar Road, East Camino Cielo, Painted Cave Road and North San Marcos Road.
Route to the sea: Santa Rosa Road and Jalama Beach Road
Your handy guide to this wonderful ride to Jalama Beach via the winelands of Santa Rosa Road. Get a taste for rural Santa Barbara on excellent roads that lead to beautiful Jalama Beach.
Wine country cycling (route 4): Zaca, Foxen, Alisos, Drum, Harris Grade and Santa Rosa Road loop
Your super-helpful guide to a memorable 118 km loop of the Santa Ynez valley, including Zaca Canyon, Foxen Canyon, Alisos Canyon, Drum Canyon, Harris Grade and Santa Rosa Road
Wine country cycling (route 3): Ballard, Drum, Cat and Foxen Canyon loop
Your essential guide to one of the best bike rides in Southern California: a 112km loop of Ballard Canyon, Drum Canyon, Cat Canyon and Foxen Canyon.
<-- -->