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City of Angels, City of Trails? Riding Above L.A. with Jeff Kendall-Weed 7

Growing up in the redwood rain forest of Santa Cruz, CA, I took the soft, black dirt that lined our local trails for granted. It felt like paradise. Once I headed off to university, I was bitten by the racing bug, which brought me, and most of my friends, from our school in San Luis Obispo, CA, to all over the west coast of the US.

On frequent trips to southern California, we raced within the confines of suburbia. Compared to the beautiful, steep hills of the central coast that I had come to know and love, it was a serious surrender to travel to SoCal race courses, consisting of trails that seemed underwhelming in comparison. Even worse, while on those race courses in the L.A. basin, through the smog we could see legitimate mountains soaring above the city -- almost so close we could touch them.

Fast forward about 15 years to the delivery of a brand-new bike, the first of its kind, on my doorstep. I knew nothing about the bike, and it looked rad, but the snow-covered trails where I now live in western Washington State made it impossible to open up the throttle and fully experience this new ride. A few folks had recently claimed that trail conditions in these mysterious southern California mountains were actually really, really good. I wanted to believe them, but based on my experience, I felt skeptical. But, the snow on the ground around me put my skepticism in check.

I called some friends, explaining that I wanted to try something different for the first few rides on my new bike. John Watson, an L.A. photographer and journalist with a background in architecture and design, answered one of these calls. His descriptions of the juxtaposition of downtown Los Angeles in the distance with the rocky and narrow singletrack of the San Gabriel range painted an intriguing picture. Was I crazy for leaving an actual mountain bike mecca to head to the place that many people leave when they want to go riding? And with this new bike, could we even film an interesting video in these mountains?

I decided to roll the dice.

A couple short flights later, I arrived in the heart of the frantic, concrete metropolis known as the City of Angels. At LAX, I met with Logan Nelson, a friend who has done a few videos with me now. He would be handling the cinematography for this trip. From the airport we braved the traffic of the interstate to begin our adventure in Simi Valley.

There, we rode trails that I had driven past plenty of times, as they are (fittingly for southern California) bordered by a six-lane freeway. The large sandstone formations looked really fun to play around on, and the trails had a great flow. Sandstone is often more slippery than it looks, and the circling vultures overhead only added to my doubts about heading south for this “opportunity.” But even though I struggled initially to relax into the shoot and the new terrain, we still found some radness. We found a wall of rock that bordered the high speed trails from not only the freeway and a subdivision, but a substantial field of boulders. We wanted to find a ton of trials lines across this ridge, but between the increasing Santa Ana winds and the growing roar of rush hour traffic, I was only able to link up a single, solitary line.

The next day, we ventured into the San Gabriel range and visited Mount Lukens. This is the highest point within the city of Los Angeles, capping out at just over 5,000 feet. Logan and John scrambled up from the valley with me. I still owe them a beer or six for hauling their cameras up this ascent.

After perhaps the sketchiest water tower jump of 2018, utilizing an old piece of sheet metal that would otherwise be trash, we descended back into the valley below. I began to get more of a feel for the unique decomposed granite trail conditions. When moist, this is the soil of the gods--predictable and forgiving, yet loose enough to allow for some thrills. We reaped the rewards of some of the only rainfall the region had seen in the last year.

We then drove up a seldom-traveled highway into the heart of the San Gabriel range. In alpine backcountry, we could still see the city in the distance. The rock formations changed substantially by the time we reached this summit, at an altitude of over 6100’. On the top of the mountain, we found a Stonehenge-like assortment of granite boulders: another bike playground.

These simply require creativity, energy, and flow to really enjoy on a modern mountain bike. As hours passed and the sandy dirt between the boulders began to dry out, it did take a little more energy to get the speed for various hucks. Luckily, that’s where camera courage comes in handy, and gives anyone an extra 10% of energy. The granite up in the alpine in southern California has a unique, sun bleached appearance, and is almost white in color. I needed my darkest polarized glasses just to keep from searing my otherwise Northwest-acclimated retinas on these bright California colors.

We spent the evening at Chilao, camping atop the granite peak. As temperatures dipped to the low thirties, we enjoyed a sizzling campfire and a traditional camp out meal, the details of which will not be appetizing to anyone who hasn’t spent a full day pedaling at altitude. Sausages never tasted so good. (Neither did kale cooked over a fire or lukewarm IPA.)

Riding Silver Moccasin trail provided a true backcountry experience. We still had pockets of moist sand to enjoy, and the lack of trail traffic made riding and filming an absolute pleasure. We enjoyed actual backcountry silence, far from the droning sounds of any massive interstates.

Before heading home to snowy, gray Washington, we took a moment to reflect on our trip--jumps missed and memories made. Actually, we reflected for more than a moment, because all 36 miles on the freeway back to the airport were jammed solid. It would have been faster to ride our bikes.

That final experience of the city and its notorious traffic showed that my image of overcrowded L.A. still held true, but as for the mountains? I was a convert. We discovered sunsets, moist decomposed granite, tacky boulders, uncrowded trails, spectacular vistas of the Pacific, and peaceful camping. And kale. Los Angeles, we’ll be back!

About the bike:

Not only had I never ridden the Ripmo prior to late February, I didn’t even know what to expect to find when I pulled it out of the box. My go-to bike is generally the Ibis HD4, but the Ripmo ended up being an absolutely perfect tool for this trip. The steep ups and downs of the mountains we rode were well suited to the bike’s new-school geometry, and the tight singletrack descents were fun with the surprisingly short front center. The big wheels not only maintained great traction, but they lent a large window of predictability to the inevitable drifts that occur when cornering on sand. The extra space to maneuver on the bike with the 170mm dropper post was great, too. Compared to my other bikes, I noticed that jumping had a new flavor. Somehow, the geometry of this new bike made it very easy to get much more distance out of the jumps, though I still can’t quite put my finger on exactly why this is. Combining that with the active steering made for a very complete package that left me wanting nothing more than additional time to ride in these mountains. Or a bike lane to avoid traffic on the freeway!

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