Grab your helmet! The charitable riding event Tour de Palm Springs returns Feb. 11.
PHOTO COURTESY TOUR DE PALM SPRINGS
Whether you’re a road warrior who clocks 20-plus miles before breakfast every morning or a casual cruiser who likes the idea of a DIY weekend architectural tour on two wheels, there’s arguably no better place to pedal than the sun-soaked Coachella Valley. Ahead of next month’s Tour de Palm Springs, we turned to three local cyclists to get their takes on the desert’s best riding routes. Plus: where to rent a bike. But first, Tour de Palm Springs founder Tim Esser gives us the scoop on this year’s event.
RIDE FOR A CAUSE
Tour de Palm Springs, Feb. 11
It had been more than three decades since Tim Esser had ridden a bicycle. Yet when his brother asked him, “If you were to die tomorrow, what would you have done differently?”, cycling came to mind. Esser wanted to do something charitable for his community, and he figured he ought to challenge himself physically in the process. So in 1998, the local businessman, who runs Esser Air Conditioning and Heating, launched Tour de Palm Springs — and personally embarked on what became a cross-country ride for charity.
Participants of the inaugural event could choose between 10-, 25-, and 50-mile routes. “I lined up with them that morning and took off,” Esser says.
“My commitment was to ride from here to El Paso, Texas. Because I hadn’t been on a bike in so long, I thought I’d make it a challenge. Somehow, I missed the Gulf of Mexico there in Texas and ended up with the Atlantic Ocean in front of me, in Jacksonville, Florida.” He covered roughly 3,000 miles in about 30 days, raising $20,000 for 30 charities. Esser estimates that he’s logged more than 150,000 miles on his bicycle since.
Tour de Palm Springs draws about 5,000 cyclists and an additional 1,000 walkers. Streets close in downtown Palm Springs to accommodate a vendor market, a beer garden helmed by Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewery, and live entertainment. “No other [cycling] event in America is this festive,” Esser enthuses. “We have the best start/finish line, with no less than 100 cheerleaders per shift as the cyclists come in. There’s probably going to be 15 or 20 bands; they play at the food stops, along the routes and they play downtown. We’ve got jazz bands, marching bands. We have bag pipers.”
The event recognizes veterans and first responders and this year honors Palm Springs Police Chief Andy Mills as well as former NBA point guard Jerome “Pooh” Richardson Jr.
Rent Your Wheels
Bike Palm Springs
Colorful cruisers and premium road, kids’, and electric bikes are available to rent by the day or week at two locations in Palm Springs that also offer repairs. (If you’re seeking something for only a couple of hours, visit in person to inquire about a half-day rental, not offered through the online reservation portal.) Care to join a group ride? In partnership with the Palm Springs Historical Society, Bike Palm Springs hosts two riding tours of the city.
Big Wheel Tours
At locations in Palm Desert and Palm Springs, Big Wheel Tours rents electric cruisers along with mountain, fitness, and full-carbon road bikes and provides tuneups, tube replacements, and repairs. In addition to the company’s Jeep, SUV, and hiking tours, customizable cycling tours with expert guides let riders of any level (age 12 and over) choose between routes through scenic city streets or open desert land.
The valley’s oldest bicycle shop, founded in 1987 in Palm Desert, sells all styles of bikes and offers in-store servicing and repairs. As for rentals: Daily, weekly, and longer-term options are available for comfort, fitness, road, mountain, electric, and kids’ bikes, as well as e-recumbent trikes. A helmet, lock, and small tool kit are included with every ride, and they’ll even deliver.
Family-owned since 2015, this small rental and repair shop in La Quinta carries a limited selection of multispeed hybrid/city bikes, single-speed cruisers, and kids’ bicycles. Rentals are available by the day, week, or month, and delivery and pickup are complimentary if you’re within a 5-mile radius.
Pedego La Quinta
The country’s No. 1 electric bike retailer sells, services, and rents an extensive selection of e-bikes suitable for road or mountain terrain, along with accessories to make the most of your battery-assisted ride. This Old Town La Quinta location is locally owned and provides rentals by the hour or day. Though their rental fleet is exclusively electric, the full-service bike shop provides repairs and tuneups for any bike.
Searching for gear? This mega store for all things cycling (and motorcycling) opened in December in sunny Palm Desert. From e-bikes and dirt bikes to ATV equipment, you’ll find the parts you need to make repairs, along with an expansive selection of apparel, helmets, and riding accessories.
The New Hangout
Palm Desert Bike N Brews
Is there anything better after a long ride than a cold brew? The friendly folks at Palm Desert Bike N Brews don’t think so.
Established in November 2021, the low-key hangout — designed “for riders, by riders” — carved out a fun niche that’s one-part bike shop and one-part coffee/beer bar. A year later, they completed a kitchen build-out and expanded with the opening of a gastropub.
On the shop side, you’ll find bikes for sale as well as rentals, in-house repair services, apparel, and gear. They also offer organized shuttle rides that will whisk you and your crew to rad riding areas.
Meanwhile, the bar serves freshly ground coffee from Corsa Pro, a roastery inspired by cycling that was founded in Los Angeles by a Coachella Valley native, alongside ice-cold craft beer. The new gastropub touts fresh salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and smaller bites like avocado toast and poke nachos.
Where the Locals Ride
Deepwell to Downtown, Palm Springs
“This fall, I purchased a Flyer Electric Cargo Bike with a basket for my bulldog — I installed a chain that functions as a seat belt, but regardless he knows to stay in the basket and most of the time leans with one leg out. I live in the Deepwell Estates neighborhood, so I typically cruise the streets admiring midcentury houses. My two favorite destinations are a dog park and, of course, downtown Palm Springs. [To get to downtown from the Deepwell neighborhood after a DIY architecture tour, take] Mesquite Avenue to Belardo Road to Tahquitz Canyon Way.”
— Brandon Weimer, co-founder, Brandini Toffee
canyon to city cruise
Indian Canyons to Uptown, Palm Springs
“I’m a Palm Springs rider. There are a few good city loops, but my favorite includes a couple of climbs in the Indian Canyons. There’s an entry fee — but it’s worth it. Take Palm Canyon Drive all the way south till it ends. Enter the reserve and enter paradise. The roads are great, there is nominal traffic, and the scenery is unparalleled, with oasis and undisturbed canyon filled with rock formations. You can ride 5 miles of climbs, and sometimes I do them twice. If I have the energy, I’ll leave the park and head north on Belardo Road around the Palm Springs Art Museum, through Las Palmas [the neighborhood in uptown Palm Springs] and wind up at Tramway Road. That’s another great climb with minimal traffic. It’s about 3 miles, and the views are perfection.”
— Kim Manfredi, painter
High Desert Adventure
Eureka Peak, Joshua Tree National Park
“Eureka Peak is easily my favorite spot to ride. Riding out of Yucca Valley, in the High Desert, you’ll find yourself riding gravel and sand roads into a quiet and rarely accessed piece of Joshua Tree National Park. This ride gives you the joy of the national park without any of the stress or crowds, unless you count the bighorn sheep herds or the expansive Joshua tree forest. Most of the road is rolling, groomed dirt, but there are a couple of challenging sections where the sand gets deep. The last mile to the overlook at Eureka Peak is steep double-track, and a perfect spot to hammer hard before you crest out at one of the most stunning viewpoints above the Coachella Valley. You can see from San Gorgonio to the Salton Sea and feel like you can reach down and touch Palm Springs. As with most routes in the High Desert, you are on your own — there’s no water sources or cell phone service — so this ride, although not super technical or difficult, is best for experienced, well-prepared riders in a group.”
— Nate Abbott, photographer