Bike Date Weekend in Ojai

This Presidents’ Day weekend, I knocked another item off my bike-it list: El Cochinito and I took our bikes on the train to Ventura, and then rode the Ojai Valley Trail to Ojai. If you have ever had doubts about whether you could do a bike overnight trip, this is the one. Anyone can do this! You will be rewarded with fantastic scenery and a delightfully liberating car-free weekend.

The Ojai Valley Trail is a 16 mile separated bike path that runs all the way from Ventura to Ojai on what was once a railway route. The trail is nearly flat, with a very gradual incline as you head north and east into the Ojai Valley. Ever since I’d heard about this bike path, I knew I had to do it. I was particularly excited to have such a treat so close to home, and a distance that would work for both me on my road bike and El Cochinito on his Pedego electric assist bike (well within the range his battery can handle on a single charge).

Panniers packed. I’m ready to roll!
El Cochinito and his steed

First, we checked the Amtrak schedule, and made a reservation for the Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles’ Union Station to Ventura. Amtrak makes it very easy to roll your bike onto the train. There’s a car that has six spaces for securing a bike on the train; all you have to do is reserve a spot for your bike. This influenced our schedule, as some of the trains had already been maxed out for bike reservations. Luckily, even though we were planning our trip on fairly short notice, we had a schedule that worked quite well. We took the 9:11 train on Saturday morning, and a 5:30 train for the return Monday evening. Round trip fare was $43 each.

From our place in Koreatown, we can either take the purple line subway from the Western/Wilshire Station one mile from home, or simply bike the six miles to Union Station. I find it takes about the same amount of time, when you allow for working around the train schedule, so I prefer to just ride my bike downtown. It was brisk, but not too cold.

We got to the designated train platform at the recommended 30 minutes before our train, but I’d say that’s about 10 minutes sooner than necessary. That did give El Cochinito time to grab some breakfast while I waited with our bikes. There was a very nice and helpful Amtrak employee on the platform who cheerfully pointed us to the right spot to wait for the train and be ready to load our bikes on to the appropriate car.

Waiting on the platform at Union Station

Rolling our bikes onto the train was easy (easier than with Metrolink), and the lower level of the bike car has six spots with straps to hold the bikes in place. We found seats on the upper level, just above our bikes. The train stopped at Glendale, Burbank airport, Van Nuys, Chatsworth, Camarillo, and Oxnard on the way to Ventura. The scenery along the route is just what you’d expect for this mix of suburbia and industrial parks. Perhaps not what you imagine for a scenic train ride, but I took pictures anyway.

Velcro straps make it easy to secure one wheel of the bike to the wall in the train’s bike car

Getting off the train at Ventura was also easy, and we had just a short ride to the Ojai Valley Trail bike path, which at this end, is called the Ventura River Trail.

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The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, pulling out of the Ventura Station

The first portion of the trail is a little less impressive on the scenery side, but features some curious markers along the way. Perhaps next time I do this ride, I will stop at each one (there were several) and pay a little more attention to see if I can pick up on a theme. You can read a little about them on this trail description here.

Some of the semi-industrial scenery along the Ventura River Trail

Making the ride even more fun was the soundtrack provided by El Cochinito, courtesy of the Bose speaker he brought along in his bike basket. We listened to everything from the old crooners to Lady Gaga.

The trail is paved the whole way, transitioning to more natural beauty as you head north into the Ojai Valley

After about 6 miles on the trail, it becomes the Ojai Valley Trail, and the scenery becomes more pleasing. We rode alongside a park, some pretty fencing, over a couple of bridges, past many beautiful trees, and looked out at mountains in the distance. We took a brief detour at Oak View, where we headed into town to get some lunch. We had some perfectly acceptable Mexican food at Casa de Lago, and then returned to the trail to complete our trip into Ojai. Our total mileage from Ventura to Ojai, including the side trip to Oak View, was 19.2 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,022 feet.

Our favorite bridge along the route

Making all of our travel plans just two weeks before the holiday weekend limited our choice of accommodations. I would have liked to try staying at the bike-friendly Ojai Rancho Inn that was recommended in this piece from The Path Less Pedaled, but they were already booked. As it turned out, we did alright with the Topa Vista Inn in Meiners Oaks. Perhaps because it’s not right in the center of town, it was very reasonably priced, plus it turned out to be a charming area in which to stay. We had a beautiful view, some cute amenities close by, and an easy enough ride into town. It was also fun to explore the variety of ways we could route our bike rides from where we were staying each time we rode into Ojai.

The Topa Vista Inn is located at the junction of Highway 33 & Cuyama Road
Posing in front of our room. I kept my wardrobe simple: Nuu-Muu dresses & Bloomers. Easy to carry in my panniers.
Plenty of room for our bikes inside the room

We arrived a little too early for check in, so we rolled on into Ojai, taking a pretty route to Bart’s Books. This bookstore is a must for any visit to Ojai. Bart’s is a delightful outdoor bookstore that’s been around awhile. I was happy to see that the place looked freshly painted and cheery. (You never know when an old beloved bookstore is going to fade away.) A special perk of this bookstore is that they allow you to bring your bike inside. We browsed, got some cold drinks (they do offer refreshments), and sat awhile reading what we’d found.

We rolled back to the Topa Vista to drop off our things and rest a bit before dinner. It was a bit frustrating to pick a place to go out for dinner in Ojai. There are restaurants, of course, but nothing that satisfies what you might expect for a tourist destination. Even the places with the better ratings have mixed reviews, and we weren’t able to make reservations on such short notice. I made us a reservation for Sunday night, and El Cochinito picked a place for our first night.

His choice turned out to be an excellent one. We went to Nest, a casual place where you order from a window and seat yourself on an outdoor patio. This meant not having to worry too much about where we parked our bikes, as we could sort of see them from our table. The atmosphere was pleasant, the vibe relaxed, and the food did not disappoint. Of the various meals we had in Ojai, I think I liked this one best. But maybe that’s because we also got a full carafe of a very drinkable red wine to go with it.

Sunday morning, we ventured out into Meiners Oaks. We stopped for breakfast just a short ride down the street from the Topa Vista Inn at the Farmer and the Cook. This is a cute, folksy market and cafe that offers an impressive selection (for its size) of very good for you foods in the market, and some tasty options for a cooked breakfast. El Cochinito had their huevos rancheros, and I had a classic breakfast of eggs and toast, and an unusual drink whose intriguing name now escapes me. You have to allow a bit of a wait for it, and I can only say that it tasted like it probably had ingredients that were good for me, but I’m not likely to order one again. Next time, I’ll just have coffee!

From there, we continued west to explore Meiners Oaks. We were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the valley. We continued on north-ish from there, and ended up going down into an area that had an avocado orchard at the end of the road. Across the road from the orchard was a yard with an odd variety of items, some of which appeared to have been burned in the recent Thomas Fire. We returned back up that road, then found a way to turn our ride into a loop that took us back to the Topa Vista Inn.

We saw some burnt debris, likely damaged in the recent Thomas Fire
Avocado trees behind the fence

Later, we ventured out again on our bikes, this time heading east-ish and exploring an alternative road we hadn’t yet tried. We worked our way over to Foothills Road, and got a little bit of hill work in, although nothing too challenging. We then found a way to arc back toward downtown.

Exploring Rancho Drive

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After stopping for lunch, we continued our meander. I was curious to see the part of the bike trail that runs alongside downtown, so we headed there. That was nice, but ended soon. From there, we decided to continue east on the main drag (Hwy 150; Ojai Ave). Along the way, we stumbled across a pottery show, so we stopped there. We ended up meeting a woman who had recently sold her business and moved to Ojai. She had bought a house and set up a pottery studio to create a space for local artists to work and show their creations. There were several artists showing their work that day, accompanied by refreshments and live music.

El Cochinito enjoyed extended conversation with Oxnard-based potter Jacqueline Biaggi

From there we went a wee bit further east, then a smidge north into the farmland areas, and looped back on Grand Ave, which took us all the way back into town. We completed the entire “Tour de Ojai” for a total Sunday afternoon ride of 12 miles.

Our 12-mile Sunday afternoon Tour de Ojai

For dinner, we had our reservation at Azu, a funky restaurant that is connected to the Ojai Valley Brewery. The place happens to be at the far end of the same block as Nest, where we’d eaten the night before. Our experience at Azu was, well, consistent with the mixed reviews we’d seen online. Luckily, we enjoy each other’s company and had sufficiently low expectations that it wasn’t too serious a disappointment. It’s a charming enough place, but nothing to get excited about.

By Monday morning, we had run out of the coffee supplied for our room at the Topa Vista, and we were ready to try the coffee shop just across the street. The Coffee Connection is a good find, and I heartily recommend it. After relaxing back in our room for a bit, we started packing up our things, checked out of the Topa Vista, and rode into town for an early lunch. Feeling we had seen all there was to see in Ojai by this time, we started looking into what we might be able to do in Ventura before our 5:26 train back to Los Angeles. We had been thinking of seeing a movie, and saw that there was a 1:10 showing of Black Panther, which had just come out. It occurred to me that, if we left immediately, we just might be able to make that show.

Our last glimpse of the trail as we left downtown Ojai

We hopped on our bikes and began riding the trail back to Ventura. The ride back, with its gradual downhill, was fast and fun! We did not stop to snap photos on this trip. According to Strava, we did this 17-mile ride in one hour and eight minutes.

We managed to get to the theater in Ventura at 1:05 pm, but alas, the 1:10 showing of Black Panther was sold out! We decided to see The Post instead. A good movie, with excellent performances by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

Downtown Ventura; note the wind in the palm trees.

We still had some time to spare after the movie, so we wandered down the main drag in Ventura, and browsed a charming bookstore, the Calico Cat Bookshop. That was a treasure. El Cochinito found a book he wanted there, and we got to “bookend” our trip with visits to cool bookstores.

Bundled up for the ride home from Union Station, visibly pleased with our bike adventure!

Having logged each of our rides on Strava, I can tell you that our total mileage for the 3-day weekend was 72.4 miles (total elevation gain 2,567 feet), spread out over more than a dozen small trips.

So fun, so doable. You should try it!

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Bikie Girl’s Guide to Bike Commuting

1Bikie Girl recently participated in the Ride In Style Shop, a pop up shop held during Bike Week in Manhattan, and featuring eight indie brands, all providing gear to help city cyclists ride in style. To make it more fun, each brand sponsored an event. Bikie Girl provided a workshop called “Bike Commuting Made Easy”. Here’s a summary of what we covered in the commuting workshop, as well as a glimpse at the different brands featured in our shop.

Getting Started: Keep It Simple

Keep it simple at first. Establish a small goal: to bike to a nearby store for an errand, or to bike home from work one day this week. You will be going through the planning and execution logistics, and perhaps overcoming some trepidation, and that is enough for the first time at it. Make sure you are ready by thinking through the following items to ensure a positive experience. If you are new to city riding, you might start out with recreational social rides led by a local bike advocacy group. Riding with a group can make city riding safer, teach you city riding skills, and introduce you to others who like to ride. It’s also a great way to discover parts of your city you never knew.

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Social rides and open streets events can be a fun way to get more comfortable with city riding.
Gear: Start With The Basics

If you will ride your own bike, consider taking it to a local bike shop for a tune up and safety check. If you don’t know how to fix a flat tire, now is the time to learn and practice (you can find tutorials on youtube). The weekend before your first ride, check your ABC’s: A – air in the tires; B – brakes working properly; C – chain is clean and lubed. Re-check these before each ride. It’s normal for your tires to need a little more air, or for your chain to need some cleaning, about once a week or so. Checking these items regularly will also make it easy for you to notice when the brakes are getting worn, or another repair is needed.

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Commuting by bike share means you don’t have to worry about bike parking and maintenance.

If you will use bike share, go to the web site for your city’s bike share system and familiarize yourself with how it works, what you need to check out a bike, and where the docking stations are for your start and stop points. Download an app to make it easy to find bike share stations while out and about. The Spotcycle app works with most bike share systems.

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Sawako designs helmets in high style.

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The Lumos Helmet
The basic gear needs include: helmet, lights, and something to carry your stuff. Helmets are available in stylish designs (see those by Sawako), and with lights to signal braking and turning (see the Lumos helmet).

If taking your own bike, you will want to carry a patch kit, extra inner tube, a pump, and bike tools, such as a multi-tool. Keep a quality lock with you, even if you can park the bike inside, as you may need it when stopping for an errand. High quality theft-resistant locks can be heavy, but TiGr offers titanium locks that are strong, light and stylish.

TiGr Mini
TiGr Mini Bike Lock
Gear that makes the commute more pleasant: fenders, a chainguard, a good saddle properly adjusted, a basket and/or rack, phone holder, and a kickstand. Other gear that can be worth the investment: handlebars/bike that support upright riding position, dynamo lights, panniers, platform pedals that work well with street shoes, and a power bank to re-charge your phone or lights. An electric assist bike can be practical if the commute is long and/or hilly. Although electric assist bikes cost significantly more than regular bikes, they are a fraction of the cost of a car, and well worth it if it makes it possible to commute by bike more often or at all. Superpedestrian offers the Copenhagen Wheel, which can turn a regular bike into an electric assist.

The Iconic Red Copenhagen Wheel
I had fun trying out the Copenhagen Wheel at the Ride Home From Work Party in Brooklyn. The Wheel really gives your ride a boost.
Clothing: Go With What Works For You

You are likely able to ride in whatever clothes you wear to work. Exceptions are avoiding or adjusting for long, flowy items that might get caught in the spokes, or dealing with hills, distance, or weather that leaves you too sweaty or wet. You can pin up, anchor, or tie a knot in a long, loose skirt, or use a pant clip or slap band to keep pant legs out of the way. For sweaty situations, you can bring fresh clothes with you and change at work. Some work places offer shower facilities or have a gym close by. Many bike commuters keep extra clothes at work, or bring a week’s worth to the office at a time. You can also keep a kit of toiletries at work to use for freshening up. Consider a small towel, cleansing wipes, deodorant, and a comb or brush.

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Bikie Girl Bloomers can protect your dignity in style.
Experiment with different clothing to find what is most comfortable. Some prefer pants, others prefer the freedom of movement provided by a skirt or dress. Pants can easily wear out from bike riding, so consider a style designed for the durability and flexibility biking requires, such as The Willary’s Core Pant. Skirts and dresses can be combined with a lightweight bike short, tights, or leggings for coverage and/or warmth. If needed, you can wear a padded bike short for the ride in, and switch to regular pants upon arrival. Let the bike shorts air out during the day so they are at least partly refreshed for the ride home.

Willary Pants
The Willary’s Core Pant

Planning Your Route: Map It Out

The best route for biking to work is likely different from the route you would take by car or other means. Most cities provide a map of bike routes, bike paths, and bike-friendly streets. Google maps and other bike routing software can help you figure out a suitable route. Test ride your route on the weekend to make sure there aren’t any unpleasant surprises and to get familiar with your route when there is less traffic on the roads. Keep in mind that occasionally Google maps will direct you to cross a major street without a traffic light. If you get stuck in such a situation, consider taking the sidewalk (walk the bike if sidewalk riding is not legal in your city) to access the nearest crossing with a traffic light.

Carrying Your Stuff: No Sweat

Options for carrying your things include: a messenger bag (make sure it is stable while riding), backpack, basket or panniers. A bag that is against your back will create much more sweating, so many prefer a basket or a pannier that attaches to the rear rack. Po Campo provides a variety of stylish options that include bags that hook on your bike and can also be your professional-looking briefcase or handbag. Rear-mounted bike baskets allow for a more stable weight distribution, while front baskets provide easy access while riding. Your choice will also be influenced by what you need or will have to carry with you upon arrival. Think also about whether your arrangement will be used for shopping or carrying children.

Po Campo Uptown Trunk Bag
Po Campo Uptown Trunk Bag
Staying Safe: Take That Lane

Know your local bike laws. The most important keys to safety relate to being visible and predictable to others and being prepared for the unexpected. Ride with the flow of traffic, and take the lane when sharing the road with motorized vehicles. Riding too close to the edge of the lane makes you less visible to motorists and can encourage drivers to pass you too closely. Allow 3-5 feet between you and parked cars to avoid getting doored. Avoid weaving around parked cars, as that can catch motorists by surprise when you re-enter the traffic lane. Be aware of others traveling on foot, bike, or by car. Signal your turns, and use vocals or a bell to let others know you are approaching them to pass or to alert pedestrians. You can increase your skills and confidence by taking a class with your local bike advocacy organization. Click here to see some examples of the skills that will help you handle dicey situations that can arise on city streets.

Vespertine Reflective Vest
Vespertine Reflective Vest
Riding At Night: Be Visible

Wear reflective clothing at night, and use a white light in front and a red light in back. Brands like Vespertine NYC provide stylish reflective vests, jackets, scarves, and dresses. Flashing lights can make it harder for others to gauge distance and are unsafe (to others) as front lights. Lights vary, so be sure you know how effective the lights you have will be. Consider also whether they will require battery replacement or can be recharged. Lights are often stolen from parked bikes, so consider lights you can easily carry with you. Alternatively, dynamo lights whose power is generated by the front wheel and integrated into the bike design are less easy to steal from a parked bike.

Multi-Modal Options: Create A Back-Up Plan

If the distance is too great, one direction is too hilly, or you feel more comfortable knowing you don’t have to ride both ways, look into the options for public transit. Some cities allow bikes on trains, buses, and/or subways, others allow them only during non-commuting hours, or have limited space. Some commuters use public transit for part of their route, or in one direction. Others take public transit (or drive) at the beginning and end of the week to carry clothes and other items for the week, and use the bike in between. These options can also be your back-up in case of weather or an equipment mishap.

Bike Commuters
It’s true: bike commuters have more fun!
Go ahead and give it a try. Keep in mind that it gets easier the more you ride to work, as you will get more comfortable on the bike, discover better routes, and hone your gear logistics. It’s OK to start out as a fair weather cyclist, or to hold off before you start riding at night. Riding in inclement weather or in the dark or every day can be goals to set for the future. You can strive for more as you gain confidence (and the addiction sets in).

And don’t be surprised if you start noticing an extra spring in your step when you arrive at the office!

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Can you spot all the Ride In Style gear in this photo?