Bike Tour: Portland -> San Francisco
July 21, 2016 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Starting mid-August I am riding my bike from Portland to SF via the coast. I'd love any mefite insights to this trip. I have The Book. I have my gear. I plan on mostly camping. Aiming for 50-60 miles/day. I also have questions.

My plan is to take the train from LA to Portland, hang out there for a few days and then set out.

1. Best route to coast from Portland?
2. What sort of day/night temps/weather for August/September?
3. Fenders? Rain gear?
4. In general, how stressful is the traffic? I live in Los Angeles and ride my bike for transportation most days of the week, so I have some level of tolerance.
5. Awesome places to visit? Things I need to eat along the way? Local breweries I should try? Extra awesome campgrounds?
6. How easy will it be to keep my phone charged?
7. Any other advice?
posted by mandymanwasregistered to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is awesome.

How easy will it be to keep my phone charged?

Do you have your tour bike outfitted yet? Wasn't sure if this fell under "gear". I am eyeing with great interest one of these dynamos with USB output.
posted by supercres at 2:15 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

1. Best route to coast from Portland?
Depends on where you want to get dumped out on the coast. If you're planning on heading south, I would suggest doing 99W through Newberg and down that direction towards Lincoln City. If you don't mind going north a bit, 26>6 always seems to have quite a few bikes on it too...but since you're heading south, theres a pretty large patch of 101 that doesn't really hug the coast from Tillamook to Lincoln city. All depends on what you're looking for in terms of scenery.

2. What sort of day/night temps/weather for August/September?
There's some listed out here. The oregon coast isn't really a warm place, ever. It can get warm during the day, but usually isn't. And nighttime gets chilly. September is usually nice around the coast, but it can also turn on a dime and dump some rain.

3. Fenders? Rain gear?
Yes and yes.

4. In general, how stressful is the traffic? I live in Los Angeles and ride my bike for transportation most days of the week, so I have some level of tolerance.
I can only speak for portland riding, but it's pretty chill in the city limits. The burbs however, can get pretty ugly. That'll probably be the harshest part of the trip. Cars are pretty chill around bikes on the highways around here, but you'll probably encounter some assholes too.

5. Awesome places to visit? Things I need to eat along the way? Local breweries I should try? Extra awesome campgrounds?

If you start further north and then swing down, there's a great

6. How easy will it be to keep my phone charged?
That all depends on what you're bringing to charge it with. Solar pack? USB batteries?

7. Any other advice?

You don't mention the dates you'll be leaving from PDX specifically, but if you're planning on embarking on the weekend of the Hood-to-Coast relay, I would sit in town and chill for a few extra days. It causes a general clusterfuck of traffic heading from Portland out west to the coast, and not just on 26 where the race is run (because everyone who just wants to go to the beach will take other routes, and it all gets saturated). It's kind of a hot mess.

Get the brightest lights you can afford, and keep your lights on even during the day. We do get some fatalities out on the coast highways.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:31 PM on July 21, 2016

I went on a 5 day ride in Northern California last year and the phone charging was surprisingly easy. I really never needed the external battery I brought. I just plugged in when I'd stop for breaks and at campgrounds. There were times I had to leave my phone in a campsite bathroom to charge though. I also used maps way less than i thought I would... as someone who had never toured, I was surprised to discover that you are basically just going straight for hours at a time, so you rarely need to be checking the map on your phone or on paper. I checked maps more than I really needed to out of curiosity or nervousness, but it was not that often that I had to actually turn.

Sounds like a fantastic trip! I wish I was doing the same!
posted by latkes at 2:48 PM on July 21, 2016

If you're starting from Portland, consider taking Blue Line MAX to Hillsboro and starting there. I did that and went to Astoria via Banks/Vernonia. Not really recommended because there's no good camping spots in between those two areas, which was a little stressful.

I'd recommend 6 to Tillamook for you, it's a pretty straight shot from Hillsboro and isn't taxing once you get past the Coast Range. Then you'd be able to start heading south immediately.
posted by paulcole at 2:57 PM on July 21, 2016

I did this ride about 15 years ago. It was fun. The logging trucks were scary, but what I think is more likely to kill you is the amateurs driving the rv's. I had a couple close calls but nothing horrific.

We planned on camping most of the way, but when we got around humboldt/orick the campgrounds got real sketchy real fast. Ended up staying at a couple of b&b's outside our price range but it was worth it.

Make sure to go through the avenue of the giants (redwoods) - by far my favorite part of the ride. We just followed the "main route" down the coast on a cyclemap, lots of little one way roads and whatnot. Only other thing I can say is the temp swings were pretty wild. Some really cold, wet, foggy mornings followed by blasting heat. some pics if you are interested. great trip, have fun!
posted by H. Roark at 3:06 PM on July 21, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the info so far!

I don't have a dynamo. Will likely buy a usb battery. I will have handlebar bag + rear panniers to carry my stuff.

My timeline is ~3 weeks. I don't feel a need to ride the entire coast of Oregon, so starting midway is fine.

This will be the longest ride I've done. Other trips have been more like a weekend thing. I am (sadly) familiar with the whoosh of an RV passing too closely.

It's good to know that I'll have use for my neglected smartwool clothing!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:16 PM on July 21, 2016

Adventure Cycling has bicycle route maps once you get to the coast - their maps are nice, because they list places to stay and place to eat along the way.
posted by BooneTheCowboyToy at 3:17 PM on July 21, 2016

Cafe Nooner in Eureka was really good.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:21 PM on July 21, 2016

Some guy named Matt did the entire Oregon coast 2 years ago in September and described it here.
posted by outfielder at 3:27 PM on July 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm filled with envy. I just finished the Vancouver to Portland [via the Olympics] leg of the PCT in June, and desperately wished I could've kept going.

If you haven't found the Crazy Guy on a Bike trip journals, go read about a hundred of 'em for your specific route!
posted by tapir-whorf at 4:38 PM on July 21, 2016

I have not so much advice for you, but it sounds like a lot of fun and I hope it goes well!

A big USB battery will probably be OK for you phone wise, actually, depending how much you use your phone. Are you going to be using your phone for GPS nav and recording? Then it'll use a lot of juice. Otherwise, not so much.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:50 PM on July 21, 2016

Athough, you say you're planning to ride 50ish miles/day. Using a phone for nav/recording should be good for 50 miles in most cases, and after you're done riding you can plug in somewhere.

If it's really expected to be an issue then I would really recommend buying a garmin 510. It's the lowest level of garmins that will help you follow a GPS route. It's battery life is about 10 hours and it charges fast. It'll be a couple hundred bucks on ebay, but, it'll save you pounds of weight and it's generally useful anyway
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:55 PM on July 21, 2016

I just did this exact trip last summer! Portland to San Francisco (and then to Big Sur) by bicycle, 50-60 mile days, previous trips had only been daily commuting. It was fantastic.

1. Best route to coast from Portland?

I took the bus from Portland to Tillamook, which is a lovely coastal city. The buses have bike racks that hold 2 bikes, and our bus was empty enough that we took a third bike (mine) inside in the aisle. The driver was very friendly. I did this partially to save time and partially to save the riding for the more interesting coastal roads. I kind of wish I'd had the time to ride it, though, just to see the scenery change from Portland to the sea.

2. What sort of day/night temps/weather for August/September?

In August, expect mild temperatures. I remember it being in the 60s-70s the whole way down to SF. There were a few cloudy/foggy days - those are colder, more like 50s-60s. (If it's really foggy, DON'T RIDE! Cars can't see you.) Keep in mind that if it's 60 degrees and you're riding downhill for half an hour with the wind at your face, it gets chilly fast. So definitely bring a sweater/sweatshirt/windbreaker or two. In September, it'll likely be a bit colder, especially in SF.

3. Fenders? Rain gear?

I brought both of these and didn't need them. It rained a grand total of 2 days, out of 6 weeks that I was riding. I'd consider going without, but on the whole, it doesn't matter that much if you just leave a rain suit in the bottom of your panniers. A set of Dri Ducks might be useful here - cheap (about $30), light, not very abrasion-resistant for long-term use but work perfectly fine as light duty rain gear.

4. In general, how stressful is the traffic? I live in Los Angeles and ride my bike for transportation most days of the week, so I have some level of tolerance.

I didn't find it that stressful, but I was used to commuting daily in Boston. Since you have experience in LA, you'll likely be fine. Much of the road has a fairly wide shoulder, much wider than I'm used to on the East Coast. But there are a few sections that have no shoulder at all. As you're probably aware, take the lane in such a situation. In 6 weeks of riding, I remember one car that made any negative comment about it. On the other hand, in a place with twisty-turnies and resultant poor visibility, a friendly fellow in a truck stayed behind me for several minutes, making sure no other vehicle would pass me when it was unsafe to do so.

5. Awesome places to visit? Things I need to eat along the way? Local breweries I should try? Extra awesome campgrounds?

Seriously, everything. Just everything. Don't hesitate to spend more time than expected in places you thought would have "nothing" in them. There are so many blackberries along the road in Oregon, I probably spent hours on the trip picking them under the guise of taking a break. I still salivate thinking of all the sourdough bread I ate (Oregon knows its sourdough). The hiker/biker campgrounds are amazing, $5/night without reservations, and if you bring food to share (and even if you don't) you'll make many friends. So many natural wonders to see - the redwood groves (especially in Humboldt State Park), the rock formations in the bay at Face Rock in Bandon, OR, whales and seals on the coast, the glory of the views from the road near Mendocino.

You'll pass one of my favorite towns in the entire country, Ferndale, CA (go to the pie shop, the art gallery/bookstore, and the coffeehouse with a woodworking workshop in the back). And as you get closer to SF, there are some incredible foodie towns just north of the Bay Area, like Petaluma (if you're inland on the 101 at that point) and Point Reyes (if you take Route 1 along the coast). The most outrageously delicious ice cream I've ever had in my life, made from water buffalo milk, is by Double 8 Dairy which I found in the Point Reyes grocery store. I think I had just biked past their farm (or someone's water buffalo farm) earlier that day. You'll discover your own gems, too, I'm sure.

Personally, I found there was so much I wanted to see that my plan of 50-60 miles/day often turned into 30-40 miles instead. Budget in some rest time, too, if you haven't already.

6. How easy will it be to keep my phone charged?

Unfortunately, not that easy. I didn't bring any special charging mechanism besides a wall charger, and it was a hassle to keep my phone (which was also my camera and my maps) charged. My strategy was to plug it in every single time I went to the bathroom, sat down in a cafe, or was doing my morning stretches near a bathroom. I also looked for out-of-the-way outlets in grocery stores and sometimes left my phone there for a few hours. A few times I left it with park rangers. In general, it was a pain. A friend brought a tiny rechargeable battery and left it overnight in bathrooms, and someone stole about 2 weeks in, so probably don't do that. If you bring a big rechargeable battery that can charge your phone 5 or 6 times, then you should be able to find a reasonable spot to charge it for a long time once every few days, or even once a week. Other than that, a dynamo hub is definitely on the list of gear I wish I had.

7. Any other advice?

Take rest days. A bike tour is a physically intense challenge for your body, both in strength and endurance. Since you're riding (almost) every day, overuse injuries are a real concern. The first few days, I took a rest day every other day, just to ease into things. After that, I listened carefully to my body and took a rest day (or half-day) whenever I felt I needed it.

I also found it incredibly helpful to do stretches both before I went to bed and when I woke up in the morning. I had a pretty elaborate routine that took me 30-60 minutes depending on how much time I had, and I did it religiously on a daily basis for the first 3 weeks or so, and every few days after that. Didn't get a single injury. Yours doesn't have to be nearly that long, but find something that works for you.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have more questions.This is such a great area of the country to be touring - have a blast!
posted by danceswithlight at 7:23 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I haven't ridden the coast - my partner and I were going to several years ago but accidentally left PDX on a holiday weekend. The traffic on our planned route to the coast (probably 26?) was terrible, so we turned south and had a wonderful time rolling down the Willamette Valley to Eugene, where we hitched a ride to Klamath Falls because the roads were reported to be narrow and high-traffic. The ride from there down CA's central valley to Sacramento was lovely. Since then I've made one trip down the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway to Salem, out the the coast, and back in to PDX. Personally, I prefer the inland route because I dislike fog. Anyway, on to what questions I can answer...

1. Best route to coast from Portland?
The City of Portland has a nice set of maps and cue sheets for routes to the coast. I can't speak to the others, but I came back along the Nestucca River last year and it's a BEAUTIFUL ride over the mountains with just a little packed gravel segment and no traffic except a logging truck every 15 minutes or so. I think there are 4 small campgrounds along the way, too. The one bad spot is where it connects to 101, a segment with no bike facilities where I spent a few miles sprinting from driveway to driveway during breaks in traffic. I know folks who have taken the other routes and enjoyed them.

2. What sort of day/night temps/weather for August/September?
Expect fog morning and evening, even if it doesn't rain.

3. Fenders? Rain gear?
Absolutely. Far better to have rain gear and not need it! Unless you enjoy wearing damp clothing all the time? Good fenders don't just protect you; they protect your drivetrain too.

6. How easy will it be to keep my phone charged?
I usually get by with stopping at libraries, coffeeshops, and the occasional park or campground that has an outlet. I don't use the phone much when touring, though - I prefer paper maps.
posted by sibilatorix at 11:24 PM on July 21, 2016

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