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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, sweat-drenched 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, multi-million 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 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-wannabes 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 Instagram-ready 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.
If You Go
Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Open daily at Ocean Avenue and Mission Street in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Check out the bicycle rental possibilities, including some with pet carriers, and reserve a bike at https://maddogscarmel.com.
The Cheese Shop: Open daily in Carmel Plaza, Ocean Avenue and Mission Street, Carmel-by-the-Sea; https://carmelplaza.com
The Terrace Lounge: Open daily at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, 1700 17-Mile Drive, Pebble Beach; www.pebblebeach.com.
The Hideaway: This boutique inn is at Junipero Street and Eighth Avenue, Carmel-by-the-Sea; https://hideawaycarmel.com.
La Bicyclette: Open daily for lunch and dinner at Dolores Street and Seventh Avenue, Carmel-by-the-Sea; www.labicycletterestaurant.com.
Biking 17-Mile Drive: Soak in the wonders of Monterey Peninsula