Cycling guidebook author Bill Thorness and his wife biked the Oregon Coast in September. He offers tips on planning a trip of your own, including the high points and the hazards.

Share story

Perhaps you’ll tackle the Oregon Coast like the Danish newlyweds Cynzia and Brian Schyberg or locals Joanne Carr and Jerry Wonacott from Bend. Both couples were “fully panniered” and bicycling their way from one Oregon State Park to another along Highway 101 in September. Or you could credit-card tour like the gray-haired British couple we met briefly on their trek to Los Angeles, toting only their clothes.

The Danes are on a honeymoon sojourn, cycling Alaska to Argentina over a year. Cynzia bemoaned the lack of shoulder on parts of the road, saying “instead of Adopt a Highway, you should adopt a shoulder!” but quickly added, “Oregon is beautiful.”

“You can’t beat the coastline,” Brian agreed.

Wonacott and Carr were riding nearly 400 miles, from the northernmost Oregon port of Astoria to Crescent City, 25 miles into California. They planned 11 days, a leisurely pace by coastal touring standards, but Joanne was in no hurry. “I just retired, and get my first Social Security check next week — by direct deposit.”

Cycling the hilly, twisting, historic 101, you’ll regularly come across such folks, trundling their belongings up a climb and using that weight to build speed on the next downgrade. If it’s a dream you’ve shared, and you’re ready to take it on, now’s the time to plan for next summer.

State parks help

The Oregon coast is ideal for pannier touring — self-supported cycling where you camp each night. Oregon’s coastal parks provide dedicated campsites for hikers and bikers (for a whopping $5 a night, with a hot shower) and are placed a comfortable 50 miles apart along the well-signed bike route, which is mostly Highway 101, with a couple of short side tours.

You may average 10 to 12 mph covering that distance, but it’s a soak-up-the-surroundings speed.

My wife and I cycled a 368-mile route from Astoria to Brookings this September, happily pacing ourselves so we did not miss a view.

Admittedly, we traveled light, as we were among 50 cyclists participating in the second annual Amgen People’s Coast Classic, a ride to raise funds for the Arthritis Foundation. We had luggage transport, and we camped in style with a shower truck and mobile kitchen.

“Take time to enjoy it,” advised Elliott Crowder of Bike Newport, whose shop provided repair services for our tour, and who cycled the route solo last fall. “Touring down the coast is an experience that should not be missed.”

Cape climbing

My first lesson on the ride: “Cape” is a four-letter-word that means “hill.” The 10 capes along the route provide the largest climbs, ranging from 500 to nearly 1,000 vertical feet. The reward of cape climbing, on a clear day, is a stunning view of open ocean, rocky sea stacks, crashing surf and, possibly, whales spouting in the glittering waves.

You may also find, as we did on our second day when climbing to Cape Falcon, that a clammy fog driven at you by a headwind obscures everything beyond the road edge. Such dramatic weather is not for the cycling sissy.

But don’t be deterred from the stunning Three Capes Scenic Route, a detour off the main road at Tillamook that takes you past capes Meares, Lookout and Kiwanda.

Varied challenges

Veterans advise biking the coast in late summer, when it is least likely to rain, and pointing your handlebars toward California to gain a tail wind.

In our quick six days down the coast, we saw no rain and only a bit of thick fog. Still, we dressed in layers and packed rain gear.

The northern coast down to Newport is replete with villages and beaches for welcome breaks. Traffic is also more dense. The southern coast has fewer towns, but more open country and coastal views.

While 101 has long stretches with a good shoulder, it’s missing in spots, and coming upon that can be nerve-wracking, especially when encountering logging trucks or recreational vehicles.

The presence of RVs could be the biker’s bane. These land yachts are more prevalent than the residents of Sea Lion Cave, and seem to stick to that white fog line, even in the presence of bicycles.

Tunnels and bridges also await the cycling tourist.

The two short tunnels to ride — Arch Cape, south of Cannon Beach, and Cape Creek, north of Florence — have buttons to push that activate warning lights. Still, we pedaled fast through the dim, echoing space.

You must traverse a half-dozen bridges in the vehicle lane with no shoulder, or walk your bike on a narrow sidewalk. Car traffic can get very impatient, and winds can gust. Most challenging are the Yaquina Bay Bridge at Newport and the long McCullough Bridge at North Bend.

But for every such invigorating encounter, there is an equally delightful discovery. Air up your tires at the Green Bike Co-op in Waldport, where volunteers renovate donated bikes and give them away. Take the challenge of Seven Devils Road near Coos Bay, named for its seven big hills. When we climbed, painted numbers under our tires identified each “devil.”

Whether coasting the boardwalk in a saltwater seaside town, screaming down the backside of a cape, or stopping to spot whales on a pullout high above the crashing surf, a ride down the Oregon Coast lets you know that you are definitely on a cycling adventure.

Seattle freelancer Bill Thorness is author of “Biking Puget Sound: 50 Rides from Olympia to the San Juans” (The Mountaineers Books).