The author and her family in Ojai, Calif. // © 2014 Chelsee Lowe
Feature image (above): The Mob Shop offers numerous tours, from one-hour trips to full-day excursions. // © 2014 The Mob Shop
As much as I love a good bike ride, I can count on one hand the number of memorable ones I’ve taken since moving to Los Angeles more than a decade ago. As a child, I lived in a small, bike-friendly town, so I spent my fair share of time pedaling in the middle of the road and to the nearest mini-mart for Sour Punch Straws. But in L.A., the land of the rushed and distracted driver, my bike collects more dust than it does miles.
So whenever I land in a simpler city where cars are easily swapped for bikes, I jump at the opportunity. And I’ve yet to visit a more inviting bike store than The Mob Shop in Ojai, Calif., where stylish two-wheelers are displayed like fancy watches and the staff has a discernible passion for what they do. They are more than just employees of a bike-rental shop, co-owner Tim Rhone tells me. They’re an advocacy group.
“We believe that if more people could embrace bikes as transportation, rather than seeing them as recreational playthings, our society would be much healthier,” Rhone says. “Through our lens, everyone who wants to be a cyclist is a cyclist. We care that you have a great experience, so we’re going to go the extra mile to make sure that happens.”
My family and I spent the better part of an hour talking to Rhone and his team, none of whom ever seemed in a hurry to get us on the road and out of their hair. We chatted about gear and tried out different bikes, including the Babboe City, a Dutch-inspired cargo bike with a giant bucket in the front. Eventually, we settled on classic multispeed road bikes, one of which had a Yepp child seat affixed to the back for our 2-year-old daughter, Olivia. Then we were off, spinning behind a local guide arranged through the shop.
Not that getting lost in Ojai Valley would be the worst thing. Ojai is 30 miles south of Santa Barbara, 65 miles north of L.A. and 15 miles inland from Ventura. Shielded by the Topatopa Mountains to the north, the region’s climate is mild year-round, and aromatic orchards line many of the roads and bike paths just beyond the main village.
But for a carefree ride, it’s better to consider The Mob Shop’s numerous tours, which range from one-hour trips to full-day excursions. The family-friendly Beach Ride takes advantage of Ojai Valley Trail, which extends all the way to the Pacific Ocean (though groups can turn around at any time). For more advanced cyclists, there are mountain-bike trails that climb up in elevation and lead to Ventura River Preserve, Los Padres National Forest and more. And there’s always the option of cruising around the village. Libbey Park, the Sunday farmers market and Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta are great rest stops for little ones.