May was National Bike Month so we thought it would be the perfect time to not only encourage others to give biking a try but to also sit down with our very own avid cyclist, Brian Brunetti to discuss the myriad of trails that Santa Cruz and the surrounding areas have to offer.
At the young age of 6, Brunetti began riding BMX bikes and racing motocross, which continued until he entered college.
“I always considered cycling to be a good source of training,” he said. “After many broken bones and injuries though, I began to ride my motorcycle less and my bicycle more and more. I guess bicycles were sort of filling the void I had from being off the motorcycle.”
Born and raised in Santa Cruz and currently residing in Capitola, Brunetti has extensive experience and knowledge navigating the diverse trails our sunny state has to offer. Here’s how he broke it down.
Aptly named, Flow Trail is long and flowy with well-designed sweeping berms and gradual descents.
“It will wear you out and normally leaves very little to be desired by the end,” he said.
A bit more challenging, Braille is steeper and choppy with several little drops and hips along the way. Cyclists can expect a 45-minute climb from the parking lot to the trailhead, a “beating” on the ride down, and another 45-minute trek up the mountain to get back to the car.
“I always find myself questioning my decisions on that last climb out,” Brunetti said. “Overall though, it’s a fun, physical and mental challenge.”
He also mentioned that, since Demo Forest is mainly a Redwood forest, the dirt contains a good amount of moisture making for prime riding conditions (more traction), even in the summer.
Best for Beginners
Situated along the coast, most of the Wilder Ranch State Park trails offer incredible views of the rich habitats including sea caves, pelicans, seals, sea otters, and more.
“Most of the trails in the park are rated green for beginner or novice,” Brunetti said. “And there are a lot of them to choose from so you should be able to find one you like.”
Best for Getting in a Good Sweat
“I have a lot of fun riding my bike but a big part of it, for me anyway, is the cardio workout,” he said. “Flow and Braille in Demonstration Forest offer the perfect combination of both.”
With the long descents and even longer climbs, Demo will always make cyclists sweat.
Since Santa Cruz is such an overwhelmingly stunning area, riders can expect to see beautiful nature scenes on almost any trail.
“As a kid, I would recklessly fly up and down these trails with little regard,” Brunetti reminisced. “I took a lot of the beauty for granted. Now that I’m older and look at life a little differently, I’m much more appreciative of the beauty I see on all the trail rides around here.”
From West Cliff Drive, which skirts Monterey Bay and winds past Victorian architecture and beachside views, to Bernal Hill and Vista Loop Trail that offer incredible views of the city and is bordered by colorful wildflowers, there are a myriad of scenic options.
“I feel very fortunate to live and have grown up in such a beautiful area,” he said. “I really wish more people would appreciate the nature we take for granted.”
On the Pacific Ocean coast north of Santa Cruz, Wilder Ranch State Park is wide open and well-suited for beginners, while Nisene Marks, located just outside Aptos, offers fun short loops without much climbing.
“I often see kids here with training wheels on their bikes,” Brunetti said.
“We have plenty of advanced trails in Santa Cruz,” he said. “Many are unknown to most people and a lot of us would like to keep it that way since they cross private land and permission is limited.”
A few of the more well-known advanced rides though can be found above the University of California Santa Cruz. While they aren’t necessarily marked, most can be found on specific mountain biking trail apps. Brunetti suggests taking someone who knows the area since it’s easy to get lost up there.
“One thing to note is that most of the trails will dump you on Highway 9 and require a shuttle or ride to pick you up,” he said. “Although I did it several times as a reckless kid, I would not recommend trying to ride out on Highway 9. There are a lot of crazy drivers and little to no shoulder to ride on.”
Word of Wisdom
Overall, whether someone is cycling or mountain biking for exercise, scenery or recreation, Brunetti encourages them to focus solely on their goals and happiness.
“Know your limits, ride at your own pace, and have fun,” Brunetti urged. “Don’t forget to look around at the beautiful nature we are so lucky to see and please leave it the way you found it.”
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