San Luis Obispo, a Californian cycling city

This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 138.

L: This is the cycle bridge at the station. Higher than ours because of double decker trains. R: This is a photo of a Moro which one passes on the way to Moro Bay on the Bob Jones Trail. The houses in the foreground give a scale of what a big hill it is.
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For the last dozen years I have visited San Luis Obispo (SLO) for about three weeks in early March to get some sunshine and cycling and to attend the SLO Film Festival. It is one of the most cycle-friendly cities in the USA, having had a mayor who is also a member of their cycling campaign.

SLO is about half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is a city about the size of Cambridge in area but considerably less in population. It is a very old city by Californian standards and has a Mission Church dating from the late 18th century. Most of the central area dates from the 19th or early 20th centuries and is not unlike the cowboy towns in western movies.

It was once mostly a railway town and is still served by the Southern Pacific. It is now a university city, like Cambridge, being the home of the California Polytechnic State University, generally known as Cal Poly, with an enrolment of some 21,000. So like Cambridge it has the theatre and music and arts that come with a great university.

There are many of these signs about the city where ever there is a cycle route with insufficient room for a separate lane. Many but not all are on quiet roads.
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It is a few miles from the sea in an area of ancient volcanoes which are known as moros, that make the landscape beautiful. There are many moros in the area, even running right out into the sea at Moro Bay a few miles north of SLO. Happily, the roads go between the moros so they are not too hilly, though much hillier than those around Cambridge.

A friend who lives in SLO lends me her bicycle while I am there and I usually cover 400 or 500 kilometres in the three weeks. Among the events held in the city is a wonderful farmers’ market for which they close about half a mile of the main street and line it with stalls of produce. There are also various musical groups playing live near the market. On the first Thursday of the month there is a cycle parade of both students and locals who ride about the town using their lamps and usually a variety of trick cycles, unicycles and tower cycles etc.


There are off-road cycle paths and on-street facilities for cyclists. Very often the two combine to make a cycle route. One which is about 12 miles long goes to Avilla on the Pacific. Starting from the railway station, you can follow an off-road trail on the line of an old narrow-gauge railway which went to Avilla. Then there are several miles beside the road, but with good wide paths that are well surfaced. The last bit, known as the Bob Jones Trail, again follows the route of the old railway for about three miles, passing through a lovely wood beside a river.

On-road facilities in the city include several cycle routes with painted cycle lanes. But where there are parked cars and too little space for the cycle lanes there are signs reading ‘Cyclist May Use Full Lane’ – you see these all over the city. There is a cycle boulevard along an ordinary road from the city centre to the railway station which is inaccessible to cars and trucks so only cyclists can use it as a through route. At the station there is a wonderful cycle bridge over the railway with backĀ­and-forth ramps with cyclable gradients. It has to be higher than ours because their trains are double decker.

L: Avilla in the distance from the Port San Luis pier which used to have a narrow gauge railway coming right out onto the pier and loading from the ships and going back into SLO. The path of that is now part of the Bob Jones Trail. R: This is the cycle boulevard with a barrier to prevent cars from using it as through road.
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The municipal bus company, SLO Transit, has racks on the front of their buses to carry cycles in case you need help getting home. I don’t know if the buses are slow because I have never used one.

L: Mission of San Luis Obispo. R: Bus with cycle rack.
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SLO is in a very beautiful area and has a lot to offer with an arthouse cinema and a couple of others, a little theatre and various concerts, plays and films at the University. There is generally plenty of sunshine, good restaurants and very friendly people. It is easy to see the whole city by bike. There are lovely rides to parks and the seaside at Pismo Beach or Moro Bay. It is an area of viticulture with many vineyards offering wine tasting.

Tom Culver