Bike Touring Ojai to Try Out Fat Bikes

Chris from Topanga Creek Bicycles has been doing overnight and longer bike trips since last year. When he invited me to join him on his next trip to Ojai late last April -- it would consist of a train ride into Ventura and then riding up to Ojai -- I jumped at the opportunity to travel with a group of like-minded individuals. The details were actually very sketchy until a few days before the trip; I suppose Chris had been too busy running his business to get the information out. But he got it out with enough time for me to figure out what I was going to bring.

What I Brought (and didn't bring)

I decided to bring my tent, sleeping bag, an upgraded Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad, clothes, and food and snacks for two days. I actually had everything packed up and ready to go the night before. I woke up a little later than planned in the morning and, in my haste, left the house without my wallet. I didn’t realize this until I got on the train for Ventura. It meant no money, credit cards, or ID’s for the trip. 

Chris and the rest of the group joined the train I was on at Chatsworth. We quickly warmed up to one another after a quick introduction by Chris. I sheepishly confessed that I had forgotten my wallet. Ironically, Conrad, a gentleman who was traveling for the Ground Zero company, mentioned that he had forgotten his wallet as well. Being a great host, Chris lent each of us $20 for the trip. That was perfect, as I used all of it on food and the bus ride home.

We made it to Ventura by Amtrak.

Ride to Ojai

We arrived in Ventura at close to 11 a.m. and rode straight to a Mexican restaurant on the Ventura Pier. There we had arranged to meet Lily, a young lady who suffering from Junior Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). Two of my companions on this short ride, Erin and Harry, were going to ride the California Coast Classic, a fundraiser for the Arthritis Foundation, this year. I had ridden it twice, in 2010 and 2011. Harry was also part of the 2011 group, but I had not met him before this day. Rob from Ocean City Cycles also stopped by to join us; he sells beautiful custom-built bicycles and bags. Knowing that the ride up was only going to take about two hours, we took our time, snapping some pictures with Lily while hanging out and chatting it up at the pier.

By the time we rolled out, it was past noon. We rode up the Ventura River Trail and the Ojai Valley Trail, a gently graded rail-trail that made for very enjoyable riding. The path also took us away from motorized vehicles, and it was probably one of the best bike paths I’ve ever ridden on. About an hour into the ride, Conrad, the young guy with a heavy hiking backpack full of Goal Zero devices, such as solar panels, battery packs, and lighting, needed a break. Everybody was sympathetic to his situation, and we offered to carry some of his items, which made the rest of his trip significantly better.

We reached a local bicycle shop in Ojai called The Mob Shop. Once a gas station, it's been converted into a spacious bicycle showroom. Everyone there was very friendly.

Before we even started our ascent up to the Dennison Park campgrounds, we were all starving, so we stopped by a local restaurant called Sea Fresh. Lucky for us, it was happy hour, and we bought a bunch of fried foods to indulge our hunger. It was apparent to some folks that that might not have been such a good idea, as we started our climb to the campgrounds. The climb wasn’t too bad, however; about 1.5 miles of curving road. The biggest motivation was that we were promised a beautiful campsite looking out towards the Ojai Valley.

Camping & Celebration

Dennison Park did not disappoint. After a little more climbing within the campgrounds, we found a perfect spot to rest our heads for the night. Everyone pulled belongings out of their bags and began putting up their shelter for the night. One of Chris’s friends, Scott, joined us by car and had graciously bought cupcakes and ice cream for everyone to celebrate Chris’s birthday! It was a bit surreal to be there with a group of strangers, celebrating a birthday and enjoying delicious pastries on a bike ride. Erin had hauled along some roast beef, Gouda cheese, and sourdough bread to prepare for dinner. We obtained firewood from the campground host and started a fire for cooking. The meal was incredibly delicious! We all retired with full bellies and tired bodies.

Chris enjoying his birthday cupcake.

The next morning, we got up around 7 a.m. Coffee was made, people were taking down their tents, and I went to seek out water for cooking breakfast. We spent a few more hours relishing our beautiful campsite before we all packed up and flew down the same hill we'd climbed the previous day. The descent was fantastic! My bike handled perfectly; I loaded up my two front panniers and strapped the tent to the rear. This configuration yielded a very balanced ride, and I’m planning on continuing to pack this way for shorter trips in the future.

Erin enjoying her ride.

Fat Bikes for Everyone

When we got into town, we ate again, stopping by a local coffee shop for bagels and coffee. With the quantity of calories we'd burned the day before, our metabolisms had kicked into high gear. We then made our way back to The Mob Shop, where we spotted Salsa Cycles’ red van. Ben and Kip from Salsa were working on a fleet of fat bikes when we rolled in to introduce ourselves. We all quickly signed our waivers and picked up our own Beargrease. It was my first time on a fat bike. The carbon-fiber bike was incredibly light, much lighter than I thought it would be.

Johnny on a Beargrease.

Our group on fat bikes followed Kelly from The Mob Shop back to a remote location that featured our own little off-road course. We took turns flying through the ditch, laughing all the while. After several photo opps, we rode back to The Mob Shop. Quite the scene we were, the bunch of us parading through town on our fat bikes!

Homeward Bound

We said our goodbyes to the shop people, and hopped back onto the Ojai Valley Trail. It was pretty much a smooth descent down to Ventura, with the exception of onshore headwinds. That didn’t bother us too much as we made our way into downtown, where I led the group to the Busy Bee Cafe Diner, which I'd visited the previous time I toured through Ventura. The food was abundant, and the company hysterical!

Our small group split up at this juncture, so we said goodbye to Harry (aka Bad Grandpa) and Conrad (aka Junior), who both opted to take the train back to Chatsworth.  Erin, Chris, and I decided to ride back into LA.

We followed the Pacific Coast Highway, with beautiful weather and a tailwind at our backs. By the time we made it to Topanga, where I split off from Erin and Chris and we bid our farewells, it was about 5 p.m. I continued my journey on through Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, and eventually made it to Hollywood and Vine, where I decided to take the bus back into Burbank.

Made it to Point Mugu.

I am still amazed that such a short trip with a small group of people yielded such great times. I felt that everyone bonded very well, and I can’t wait for the next bike adventure with these guys!


Get more information about bike overnights.

Tips for this adventure: Camp in Dennison Park campgrounds for spectacular views; it's worth the climb up. Hit Sea Fresh restaurant in Ojai for good happy hour food and beverages, and the Busy Bee Cafe Diner in Ventura serves up healthy portions of good old American diner food.

Favorite local bike shops: Topanga Creek Bicycles, The Mob Shop, and Ocean Air Cycles.



6 responses so far ↓

Kevin Hopps - Jun 30, 2014 at 9:34 AM

Topanga Creek Bicycles is a terrific shop: I bought my Salsa Fargo there and Chris was… well, what can I say, as you can tell from the Ojai trip, Chris is great!

Bill Kennedy - Jul 3, 2014 at 5:19 AM

Great story, sharing how everything works out the way it is suppose to, even without your wallet. Bravo.

Ye Yu - Jul 8, 2014 at 2:42 PM

will you please share the route from the train station to Dennison Park and back to LA? I live in the OC and would love to do this overnight trip. Thanks in advance. Ye

Johnny Lam - Jul 12, 2014 at 12:09 AM

Hello All,

Thanks for your comments. I'm currently making my way down the Pacific Coast on a 1 month bike tour.

@Ye Yu - I'll have to get back to you on turn by turn directions when I'm back in LA. Please contact me at my blog as a reminder.

Matt - Jun 8, 2016 at 10:32 PM

So I decided I'd ride from Santa Barbara to Dennison Park for my first overnighter on the bike. On Sunday I met a friend in Ventura and we drove to Dennison with the bikes and the climb at the end is going to kill me. I had to come back and reread this to see if I just missed mention of it. I definitely won't be riding into town for snacks or pizza during the night.

Johnny Lam - Jun 15, 2016 at 10:53 PM

@Matt - I believe I did mention that Dennison is on top of a 2000 ft climb from Ojai. It is challenging if you haven't had the chance to ride often but doable as it is about a mile or 2 up. Some people from my MeetUp group will walk up parts of this ascent. Hopefully it wasn't too bad for you to not go back again. It is one of the most beautiful spots to camp overlooking the Ojai Valley.

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