Motorcycling through the towering redwood groves of Humboldt County is a trip like no other on earth.
"We have the majestic trees, the mountains, the rivers and the coastline. And, a relaxed pace of life here that's hard to find anywhere else," says Vince Campbell, president of the United Bikers of Northern California, a nonprofit that serves as a roundtable for more than a dozen local motorcycle groups. "It's a very special place for locals and all the people who come from all over the world to ride here."
Campbell, a seasoned rider, estimates there are at least 1,000 motorcyclists in the area. They represent a mix of riders from Harleys to road racers to dirt bikes and classics. During riding season from April through October, thousands more venture to and through Humboldt.
Motorcycling is appealing to an increasingly broader audience, with men and women alike straddling bikes for sport, hobby and more budget-friendly transport. Female motorcycle ownership is at an all-time high, according to the latest data from the Motorcycle Industry Council. Its latest survey reports that women now account for 14 percent of all motorcycle owners.
Long-time riders Suzie Alvernaz and Mandi Kindred are pleased. They are the co-founders of Venus Motorcycles, a Blue Lake business set to open in 2017 and cater to women bikers. Last year they hosted the first ever International Female Ride Day in Northern California, welcoming the growing community of women cyclists in the region.
In Humboldt, route options are plentiful. "There's a beautiful ride awaiting in every direction," says Alvernaz. (See favorite routes on page 30.)
Riding also has a long history in the area — the Bayshore Mall used to be a flat track, for example, and the first person to travel by motorcycle from coast to coast was George Wyman, a former Eureka resident who made the trip circa 1903.
You can stop in for a primer on local motorcycling history at Black Lightning Motorcycle Cafe (440 F St.) in Eureka on the corner of Fifth and F streets. From the dozen or so vintage and racing bikes on display, to the concrete tables embedded with motorcycle parts, to the motorcycle-inspired panini menu, this place has become a destination spot for locals and tourists. The BLMC is no Sons of Anarchy spot. Moto-heads, scooters, bicyclists, drivers and walkers are welcome, too.
Owners Jeff and Cassandra Hesseltine opened the place in 2013. Both graduated from Humboldt State University and have lived in the area for two decades. "The café reflects my passion for motorcycling," says Jeff, who was a road racer with the American Federation of Motorcyclists in his younger years. "It's more social than a traditional motorcycle shop and also provides a home to the cycling community to meet up and have events. Riders and non-riders alike come here for the food and atmosphere."
If you're there for breakfast, fuel up on the Italian-style coffee and German pancakes, sweet popovers topped with fresh blueberries, strawberries and real maple syrup. Hands up for the paninis, too — the Bultaco with chipotle chicken and guacamole, or the Triumph with roast beef, Swiss and horseradish mayo. Wash them down with vino or the local brews on tap.
Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park: Take a leisurely ride on this 30-mile stretch of old U.S. Highway 101 where mammoth redwoods abound. There's a reason why it's a world-famous scenic drive. Tip: Watch out for tourists lying in the road taking photos of the trees.
State Route 299 to State Route 36 Loop: Campbell calls this his "Ride Around the Block." Dedicate a full day for taking this 250-mile ride adventure. Go east on Highway 299 to Weaverville, then take State Route 3 to Hayfork, and travel onward to State Route 36, and then to U.S. Highway 101. Riders experience all the natural beauty the county offers plus plenty of twisties.
Scenic ride from Blue Lake to Orleans: Follow State Route 299 to Willow Creek, then State Route 96 to Orleans. Alvernaz says this is a picturesque 1.5-hour ride (one-way) with some climbs and curves following the Trinity River. It also has some great swimming holes and food options.
The Lost Coast Wildcat: This is a 100-mile loop for skilled, dual sport bikes. Take U.S. Highway 101 to Rockefeller Forest, pass through Petrolia and Honeydew looping back to Victorian Ferndale. Hesseltine says the ride winds through redwoods and along beautiful rivers, depositing you on a wild, uninhabited coastline. Then ride almost on the beach for miles while only seeing a few quaint ranch houses. The road twists and turns and is a bit unforgiving but eventually leads back to Ferndale.
State Route 36 from Red Bluff to Fortuna: Often referred to as "140 miles of twisty heaven," this curvy ride is a must-do for skilled riders who thrill at a challenge. There are long stretches without food or gas, so top off in Red Bluff and again in Platina.
Redwood National Park north of Orick: Motorcyclists from around the world cruise the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a 10-mile (one-way) smooth asphalt ride along the old-growth redwood forest in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The coastal drive from Eureka on U.S. Highway 101 to the park is also magnificent.
May 7: International Female Ride Day with Venus Motorcycles: Northern California motorcyclists take a scenic three-hour ride as part of this global event promoting women riders. venusmotorcycles.com.
June 10-12: Redwood Run: Billed as the "only old school style" motorcycle rally and party on the West Coast, it attracts loads of riders, mostly Harleys, from across the country. redwoodrun.org.
July 8-9: Samoa All Bikes by the Bay by UBNC: The family-friendly event features drag racing, a motorcycle show, music and more to raise funds for local charities. ubnchumboldt.com.
September 10: MotoEnvy at Black Lightning Motorcycle Café: This motorcycle show draws those eager to compete for coveted titles and those who just want to check out the cool rides. Custom bikes made by local moto-heads are also raffled through the Phoenix Project to benefit a local charity. blacklightningmotor- cyclecafe.com.
Tip: Pack rain gear. Sunny days can turn to rainy ones quickly, especially in early spring and late fall.