Mountain Biking in SLO County

The flowy singletrack of Oats Peak Trail.

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I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. THIS is what mountain biking should be, I thought to myself. Flowy singletrack with interesting twists and turns, ups and downs to keep you on your toes, and the most incredible views out across the Pacific. Why can’t we have this in Marin? The Central Coast has it dialed.

As part of our escape south to find the warm sunshine, we dedicated a day for mountain biking near San Luis Obispo — better known as SLO. On Bivy, we noticed there was a bunch of hiking trails listed in the state parks surrounding the city so turned to the local bike shop — the best source of knowledge — about where to ride in the parks. The gang at Foothill Cyclery not only got us set up on sweet Trek Fuel EX rentals but offered up a wealth of beta on where to ride and when.

views MDO
Views for days.

There are six popular areas to ride/hike/run in San Luis Obispo County — West Cuesta Ridge, Morro Bay State Park, Montaña de Oro State Park, Irish Hills & Johnson Ranch, Lopez Lake Regional Park, and Santa Margarita Lake Regional Park. We even found out about the SLO Mountain Biking and Micro Brew Appreciation Society. Doesn’t get much better than that.

We chose to ride at Montaña de Oro State Park or “MDO” as the locals call it. As the park is an extremely popular place for all types of outdoor adventurers, we were warned to either go in the middle of the week or as we were heading out on Saturday, get there early.

Grab a cowbell at the trailhead.

Huge kudos to the local bike community — Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers — for outfitting every trailhead with rows of cow bells you can borrow for your ride. Most of the trails in MDO are singletrack and shared with hikers, equestrians, trail runners, and other mountain bikers, so you really have to be careful, particularly when bombing downhill. I was extremely happy for the advanced warning of other bikers coming down the same trail and all of the hikers/runners appreciated the heads up from us before we crossed paths. Bells go a long way in keeping the peace between trail users and I wish everyone would do the same thing here in Marin.

We opted to ride to the top of Oats Peak via the aptly named Oats Peak Trail — you can check out the route above. Almost 5.5 miles up the trail, Oats Peak sits at 1373 feet high — a full 26 feet taller than neighboring Valencia Peak — a favorite for hikers. Pristine singletrack, exposed in some areas, winds its way up the mountain with non-stop views out to the Pacific and across the canyons and ridges that make up the interior of the park.


Oats Peak
View from the summit of Oats Peak.

The last half-mile to the actual summit is the steepest — hike-a-bike steep. But be sure not to miss it. At the top you are rewarded with a panoramic view of Valencia Peak framed by blue pockets of the Pacific, all the way across to Morro Rock floating in the bay.

On the way down, we took a slight variation down the Beebe Trail to avoid the traffic coming up Oats Peak Trail by that point. Beebe is a bit overgrown from all the rain and much tighter singletrack so it made the descent a bit interesting.

On a warm day, you could end your ride with a dip in the ocean at Spooner’s Cove. We chose to go find a beer and some lunch instead.

If You Go

Trail Maps: The Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers not only invest thousands of hours of volunteer effort in the repair of trail erosion and constructing new trails, but also create detailed maps of all the legal riding in the local area.

Bikes: If you want to rent bikes, head to Foothill Cyclery in San Luis Obispo. They didn’t comp us anything — I just found them super enjoyable to work with and passionate about riding in that part of California.

The Gear

Pearl Izumi Gear
Loving the new Pearl Izumi line.

Pearl Izumi Women’s Launch Short: I am in love with these shorts. A nice slim fit in a fun pattern with an internal waist adjustment so you don’t have “pants on the ground.” The detachable liner short is comfortable enough for long days in the saddle without being too bulky — it simply snaps out for easy washing. You get two zippered hand pockets and an extra leg pocket for storing snacks or other items — note the leg pocket is not quite big enough to hold an iPhone 7 Plus. You don’t really want to keep your phone there anyway in case of a crash.

Pearl Izumi Women’s Launch Jersey: The 100% polyester fabric quickly wicks away moisture with mesh on the back for extra ventilation. I like the v-neck style — it’s a bit more flattering than your standard high round neck. You will need to wash this jersey after every ride.

CEP Dynamic+ Cycle Short Compression Socks: These socks fit like a glove, wick away moisture to help keep your feet from becoming a soggy mess on hot days, and feature compression in the mid-foot area — right where you apply the most pressure on your pedals. I found they help cut down on the dreaded numb foot when you spend multiple hours on the bike.

Tecnu: Poison oak is EVERYWHERE. Seriously. You will want to shower head to toe with Tecnu when you get done.

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