EatDrinkPlay: Take a scenic 2-wheel tour of Mon­terey Peninsula, where bi­cy­cles are avail­able to tra­verse 17-Mile Drive.

MON­TEREY PENINSULA

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Chuck Bar­ney cbar­[email protected]­yare­anews­group.com

There are amaz­ing won­ders to be­hold at the Mad Dogs & English­men bike shop in down­town Carmel: Snazzy, lim­ited edi­tion two-wheel­ers, quirky ac­ces­sories, T-shirts and even a few funky art pieces.

My eyes, how­ever, im­me­di­ately homed in on a dis­play of 20-plus bike hel­mets that didn’t look like any I’d ever seen. One was em­bla­zoned with a chee­tah print, an­other cov­ered in sparkly glit­ter. Still an­other re­sem­bled a deer­stalker cap — the kind worn by Sher­lock Holmes.

I snick­ered and asked the shop’s co-owner, Jen­nifer Blevins: “Does any­one ac­tu­ally buy these?”

“Of course they do,” she replied, slightly taken aback. “Fancy peo­ple like fancy hel­mets!”

Oops. My bad. But what a con­cept: Whim­si­cal head­gear de­signed to pro­tect your nog­gin — and make a fash­ion state­ment. Then again, Mad Dogs & English­men up­ends your no­tions of what a bike shop — and bik­ing — can be. In fact, Jen­nifer and her hus­band, Martin Wat­son, pre­fer the term “cy­cling life­style bou­tique.”

We could have spent hours check­ing out all the fun stuff within its walls. My wife, Diane, was par­tic­u­larly drawn to an off­beat sculp­ture of a small dog made from re­cy­cled bi­cy­cle parts by Is­raeli artist Nirit Le­vav.

But time was valu­able, and we had al­ready spent a good chunk of this sunny morn­ing stock­ing up on pic­nic treats at the Cheese Shop in Carmel Plaza. While there, we were heartily en­cour­aged by a sign that read: “Eat Cheese. Drink Wine. Live Life Happy.”

Duly noted. Now, we just needed a cou­ple of rental bikes to cre­ate some happy mo­ments along that won­drous stretch of road known as 17-Mile Drive.

Martin di­rected us to a pair of cruiser-style elec­tric bikes ca­pa­ble of reach­ing 28 mph. That sounded great, but we hes­i­tated. Diane and I might not be ready to tackle the Tour de France, but we’ve done a fair amount of bik­ing over the years. So the very idea of a bat­tery-pow­ered e-bike felt like cheat­ing.

Martin quickly set us straight. E-bikes, he ex­plained, are pedal-as­sisted, mean­ing they use a small elec­tric mo­tor to boost the power cre­ated by your own ped­al­ing. You can cut back on that power or in­crease it, when needed — like when slog­ging up the steep hills of Del Monte For­est.

OK, we were sold. A stren­u­ous, sweat­drenched work­out wasn’t what we had in

mind any­way. Af­ter Martin fa­mil­iar­ized us with our sweet new rides, we donned a cou­ple of non-fancy hel­mets and were on our way.

Soon we dis­cov­ered a money-sav­ing perk. Mo­torists en­ter­ing 17-Mile Drive are charged $10.25, while cy­clists are free. Score!

Other ad­van­tages? Any cy­clist will tell you that there’s a huge dif­fer­ence be­tween do­ing a scenic drive on two wheels in­stead of four. You’re gen­er­ally tak­ing it slow, so there’s time to soak in your sur­round­ings. You see, smell and hear things you never would while stuck in a car.

That’s not to say we didn’t have a few chal­lenges, in­clud­ing sev­eral stretches of nar­row, wind­ing road with no shoulder. That’s not a ma­jor prob­lem if you know what you’re do­ing and mo­torists are at­ten­tive. This, how­ever, might not be the best ride to make if you’re a new­bie cy­clist and/or have young chil­dren in tow.

But any anx­i­ety we had quickly gave way to bliss as we zipped along the road’s red-dot­ted line, past the gnarly Ghost Trees at Pescadero Point, the iconic Lone Cy­press atop its rocky perch and the tow­er­ing trees of Crocker Grove — all the while tak­ing in the ab­surdly pic­turesque coastal scenery.

Oh, and those dreamy, gasp-in­duc­ing, mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar man­sions that line the shore. I couldn’t help fan­ta­siz­ing what it would be like to wake up amid such lux­ury — and nat­u­ral beauty

— on a daily ba­sis. Would I even­tu­ally take it all for granted? I, sadly, will never know.

Af­ter our tour me­an­dered past beau­ti­ful Span­ish Bay Beach and Bird Rock — where bark­ing sea lions lounge in the sun — our ap­petites were sharp­ened. We re­versed course and took a break at Fan­shell Beach Over­look. Park­ing our­selves on a wooden bench, we in­dulged in some wine, crack­ers and cheese while be­ing hyp­no­tized by the frothy, white waves that rhyth­mi­cally thrashed the rocks.

From there, it was on to the leg­endary Peb­ble Beach Golf Links, where shops and the new vis­i­tor cen­ter are al­ready over­flow­ing with ap­parel and mer­chan­dise in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the pres­ti­gious U.S. Open (June 10-16). But, of course, you don’t have to be a golfer to revel in the majesty of this sea­side gem.

We parked our bikes and strode into the el­e­gant white Lodge at Peb­ble Beach like we be­longed, mak­ing a bee­line to an open pa­tio just out­side

The Ter­race Lounge that over­looks the 18th hole. There, we re­laxed over some beers while watch­ing Jack Nick­laus wanna bes fin­ish their rounds against a back­drop of spec­tac­u­lar coastal scenery.

“Do we have to leave? Why can’t we just move here?” I asked my wife, who had no in­ten­tion of get­ting into a knotty dis­cus­sion about real es­tate prices, so­cial hi­er­ar­chy and re­gret­table col­lege ma­jor choices. In­stead, Diane en­cour­aged me to take a deep breath and bask in our tem­po­rary good for­tune.

“We’re not on dead­line. We’re not sit­ting in rush-hour traf­fic,” she re­minded me.

In­deed, we were not. And as we mounted our bikes for the ride back into Carmel, I tried to keep that in mind, along with all the In­sta­gram­ready images we had en­coun­tered on our tour. Later that evening, we kicked back for a while in front of the court­yard fire pit at The Hide­away, our bou­tique inn, be­fore ven­tur­ing out into the vil­lage for din­ner.

Of course, an abun­dance of stel­lar din­ing op­tions were avail­able to us, but we had to stick to the two-wheel theme, right? That meant sa­vor­ing a de­li­cious night out at La Bi­cy­clette, a cozy, charm­ing bistro that spe­cial­izes in what the own­ers call Euro­pean coun­try cui­sine.

In ad­di­tion to serv­ing up great com­fort food in an in­ti­mate set­ting, the own­ers en­cour­age din­ers to sub­mit their “fa­vorite bi­cy­cle sto­ries” to their on­line site.

Thanks to a few glo­ri­ous hours spent on 17-Mile Drive, we now had a few of our own to share.

AN­DREAS HUB — VISIT CAL­I­FOR­NIA

Carmel-by-the-Sea and Peb­ble Beach’s fa­mous 17-Mile Drive woo vis­i­tors with their serene beauty.

COUR­TESY DIANE BAR­NEY

What bet­ter way to en­joy the shore­line view from the Fan­shell Beach Over­look, along gor­geous 17-Mile Drive in Peb­ble Beach, than from a bike?

AN­DREAS HUB — VISIT CAL­I­FOR­NIA

The iconic Lone Cy­press is a pop­u­lar photo op on 17-Mile Drive, which winds its way from Carmel-by-the-Sea through Peb­ble Beach to Pa­cific Grove.

COUR­TESY DIANE BAR­NEY

The art­work at Carmel’s Mad Dogs & English­men bike bou­tique in­cludes an off­beat sculp­ture of a small dog made from re­cy­cled bi­cy­cle parts by Is­raeli artist Nirit Le­vav.

COUR­TESY DIANE BAR­NEY

Bike along gor­geous 17-Mile Drive in Peb­ble Beach, then stop for a bite at The Ter­race Lounge at The Lodge at Peb­ble Beach, which over­looks the 18th hole of the fa­mous golf course.

COUR­TESY THE HIDE­AWAY

The Hide­away is a charm­ing bou­tique ho­tel con­ve­niently lo­cated in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

COUR­TESY CARMELCALIFORNIA.COM

Carmel’s La Bi­cy­clette spe­cial­izes in what the own­ers call Euro­pean coun­try cui­sine.

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