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Big Sur Gravel Guide: Old Coast Road

There are places on earth that even without knowing the conditions that you wish you could ride and Big Sur gravel fulfills what you hope for and more.

The remoteness of the Central Coast is unmatched, but the ruggedness of this rugged shore provides its unique beauty as well as passage.

While connecting from Big Sur to San Simeon was the hardest obstacle, even north to Carmel was problematic since connections were tried staring in the mid 19th century.

This region had potential with a number of creeks and pasture spaces, but just kept it out of touch for many people to functionally use it, until CW post and Charles Bixby took matters into their own hand to construct what we know as the Coast Road.

While slight alterations have been added, this inland route remains as the only vestige of this kind against the new highway completed in 1937.

This creates an 18.5 mile loop that I suggest to start counterclockwise from the southern end that best suits cycling

Right off the side of the road next to Andrew Molina State Park is available parking that picks up as the day builds 

You’ll excuse the steep introduction to dirt as it pays instant dividends looking down the Pacific.

After the first mile. It’s another surprise not because it flattens out, but entering the thickness of the redwoods is another moment you may not be prepared for.

The subsequent rollers lets you peer into the quietness of the Santa Lucia mountains as you begin your first descent through a variety of ranch lands and foliage makes it hard to believe you’re only a third of the ride done.

Crossing consecutively the forks of the Little Sur River, it’s a rude transition to your next climb that thumbs at you blistering above 11% for almost two miles that makes you question how 19th century travel occurred over this portion.

Hitting the highest point of the ride at the peak brings the strong possibility of you disappearing in the coastal fog, but the stranger phenomena is the descent that brings you back to the same sea level where you started.

You obviously wouldn’t have this much fun going down on a stagecoach, but a gravel bike is probably the best vehicle imaginable as you twist and turn through deep cover bringing yet another experience.

Your last major momentum shift happens crossing Bixby Creek, but the following climb is stiff and thankfully not as long as the previous two.

Wouldn’t expect to be riding in the Redwoods (photo: Andy Wong)

The ultimate reward awaits at the end of climbing as you pure west towards the architectural marvel that is the Bixby Bridge.
It’s a remarkable angle where you get the sense of its entirety getting a full view that’s absent from peering along the highway.

As you descend towards it, there are more and more angles that you’ll stop on your own before finally reaching it covering this magic ten miles of gravel.

The other bonus of biking is it’s the safest way to experience the bump outs on the bridge if you could stomach the vertigo incurring scenery below.

Heading south on Highway 1, you should instantly know why counterclockwise is a preferred route thanks to the tailwind assisting you.

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Just riding the highway is icing on the cake

You’ll notice it on the first climb and the little notch where the road turns west making the rest of this pavement feel like butter.
Stopping at Point Sur is a possibility for tours, but they are limited and you’ll need some luck timing it to get in.

We also tried to extend our ride roaming around Andrew Molera State Park, but other than Big Sur’s oldest remaining structure in Cooper’s Cabin, it’s a stop where you’ll get the most value out of its history rather than riding.

Another option is to start a few miles south in Big Sur to end a perfect ride at one of the many restaurants to ruminate about this experience.

Biking isn’t just about adventure, but fueling your imagination of what’s out there to discover and there’s very few rides like the Old Coast road that can inspire like this.