To wrap up the Coastal Pull series, we wanted to just get out, play locally, and connect with the Vault’s ability to explore backroads close to home — ones that are sometimes overlooked on road-specific bikes. Luckily, local to Monterey is Santa Cruz (bummer): the historical CA coastal town that is a cycling mecca and renowned for its redwood forests, fire roads, mountain bike parks, and beach access.
Another subtle beauty of Santa Cruz is its maze of roadways and offshoots. We chose our ride; however, endless alternatives exist for you to explore. And the Vault gives you access to just about every one of them. But in full transparency, this was — hilariously — our third attempt at completing this ride. Our first outing was handicapped and ultimately foiled 90 minutes into the ride by a forgotten phone in the car. Outing number two was timed with a heavy windstorm that snapped redwoods all around us and terrified runners yelling, “get out of here you could literally die”. Based on the fact that we tried this ride three times, Santa Cruz has a magnetism that cyclists can’t resist.
Park near the base of Aptos Creek Fire Rd (Aptos, CA), the gateway into The Forest of Nisene Marks. There’s no time at all until you’re riding through the dense forest of redwoods that tower above, with sunlight being thwarted except for a few sun-dappled spots on the roads. The bashing starts soon also with divots and roots that run the entire entrance road. The paved road soon connects with some gravely dirt, some historical sawmills, and a mostly rolling terrain. You’ll come to a bridge that pops up frequently on Instagram feeds, and it’s basically the last time that you’ll have free speed for some time.
If you are a mountain goat or someone who enjoys sufferwatts, then you’ll love it. Flatlanders…you’ll have about 6 miles and 2000’ that you may wish to forget. The climb from the oceanside of Aptos Creek is amazing though. Switchbacking in a dense redwood forest was great fun and really immersed us in the environment.
The dirt on our first attempt was epic and tacky, but this ride had so much debris from the previous windstorm that much of our time was spent dodging branches and downed trees. It was oddly a great way to test us and the handling of the Vault, and we joked about how we lucked out having the park even open to squeeze in this ride.
We did this ride in February, but on a day that was in full and fairly warm sunshine on the coast. The transformative environment of Nisene Marks made it that we had to wear warmers and wind protection even on the climb. It’s just cold in the forest, and we were happy to have packed layers, not only for snack breaks, but also for emergency power meter battery changes.
We took the route towards Buzzards Lagoon (highly recommended for downhill sessions). Here the environment transitions into more manzanita and dry shrubs, compared to the thick redwoods closer to the coastline. You’ll likely run into mountain and dirt bikers doing some hot sessions coming up from the Morgan Hill and Los Gatos areas. The route options really open up once you hit the pavement at Eureka Canyon Rd. We took Highland Way to the north (looping back towards Santa Cruz), however, road and dirt options headed south into Watsonville are worth exploring also.
The initial part of Highland Way (off of Buzzard) reminds us of racing road bikes on the backroads of California’s coast. Endless curves, a slight bit of blind danger, potholes and water runoff, and that 1-2% downhill that makes you feel super strong on the bike. We got a little too excited with all the stuff to see in the forest and the jamming downhill that we forgot to eat enough, which made the rollers on the later part of Highland feel not so fun. But the road opens up to truly epic redwood and ocean sights.
We blasted down Soquel San Jose Rd, which is about 6 miles of basically-straight downhill pavement. This was where the give and take of the versatility of the Vault really became apparent. We were on our 40mm file treads with about 22psi (which is what we had been using really well in daily training), but for this part of the ride road slicks would obviously have been perfect. The takeaway is that the Vault can do all of it! It gives you the luxury of deciding your ride route and your tire choice. You can select which parts of the route mean more to you and choose the tires for that section.
We pulled into Casalengno’s Country Store for a snack and coffee break only to realize that they were closed, but just imagine that we had epic pastries and espresso once again! From there you have several options to get into Santa Cruz. We took the loop around to Bransiforte Dr to get a few more miles in and hang out in the forest a bit longer.
Once you’re in Santa Cruz proper, just write your own story. Cruise the streets in search of a sandwich or smoothie hut. Hit the beach for some ocean views and maybe some whale sightings. Continue the ride and hit the Wilder Ranch State Park for some flow trails. We’ve been fortunate enough to have done all of that on the Vault, and we were happy to go to our fav local café for avocado toast and that long-overdue espresso shot – a proper end to our Coastal Pull.
4,436 feet of climbing
4 hours, 12 minutes ride time
Pivot Vault w/ Sram Force etap AXS,
and Zipp 303 Firecrest and 30 Course tubeless wheels
Lindsay – 38T chainring, 10-33t cassette
Max – 42T chainring, 10-33t cassette