Bright sunshiny mornings and cool air make this autumnal time of year pleasant for a lazy Sunday morning or afternoon of road biking. Forget the coastal bike routes if you've had it with noisy traffic and stop lights. Instead, try this inland route along some of North County's more lightly traveled rural roads.
Inland biking almost always involves significant elevation changes, and the route described here is no exception. You'll both gain and lose a cumulative 1300 feet of elevation on the 17 miles through avocado and citrus country and over the landmark West Lilac arched bridge spanning Interstate 15. For most riders, any road bike or mountain bike with a low set of gears should suffice. Be sure to take along a filled water bottle, wear a helmet, and allow enough time -- about two hours for a casual athlete.
San Luis Rey Downs, a large country club off Highway 76, just east of Bonsall (12 miles east of I-5 at Oceanside and 8 miles west of I-15), is a convenient place to begin. Start pedaling east on Camino del Rey, which follows a broad valley called "Moosa Canyon" on old maps. A reservoir for emergency water storage has been proposed for the upper valley. The lower valley is dotted by spacious country estates, many with horse corrals. After four miles, the easy, rather flat riding ends as Camino del Rey crosses under Interstate 15 and meets Old Highway 395. Turn right, climb moderately for about a mile, and turn left at Circle R Drive.
On Circle R Drive the uphill grade intensifies. You look upon scattered homes and a golf course down in the valley below. With much heavy breathing, you inhale the scent of the wild sage and chaparral as the road curves into a more pristine stretch of terrain. After some long minutes of labor, you arrive atop a rolling plateau dotted with small ranches. Just beyond a particularly steep pitch ahead, Circle R Drive turns abruptly left (north) and intersects with West Lilac Road. Keep straight, taking the branch that leads north and west back toward Bonsall.
In the next mile, you reach the last significant summit. From then on, the ride amounts to an almost effortless, breezy spin through rolling landscapes dotted with avocado and citrus orchards. When you reach the high bridge over Interstate 15, take time to stop and examine its structure. Looking through the expansion joints at either abutment, you can spot the heavy cables that help support the hollow bridge.
In the final miles of descent -- west of Old Highway 395 -- see if you can spot the ocean in the distance. In a few minutes, you'll be on flat land next to the San Luis Rey River, close to your starting point.