Text: Hans Rey
Photos: Bill Freeman
The idea of this trip was to traverse one of the biggest cities in the world on bikes in 5 days, not only showing the incredible nature and mountains surrounding this city but also its diverse neighbor hoods, suburbs and famous landmarks. When this city was founded its full name was “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora Reina de los Angeles sobre el Rio Porciuncula.” (If your Spanish is rusty, that translates to “The town of our lady queen of the angels on the Porciuncula River.”) a.k.a. L.A. or Los Angeles.
Southern California has been my home for more than 30 years, after travelling to over 70 different countries and riding my bikes in many remote corners of this world I thought it was time to explore my own hood. What better way to do so than with a couple of mountain biking Rock Stars.
Missy Giove is one of the greatest legends the sport of mountain biking has ever seen, she had a huge influence helping to shape mountain bike racing and its rockstar image it had in the 90ties, her attitude and racing style made her one of the most outstanding characters in biking. Her child like enthusiasm and naivety can sometimes mask the deep thinking and intelligent person underneath. A motor-mouth than can talk a 100 words a minute that reveals a personality as colorful as the tattoos that cover her body. This is a woman that is pretty fearless, addicted to speed and sometimes reckless, with no fear of broken bones; this might explain a little as to how she has ended up in some sticky situations in her life.
Timmy C (Tim Commerford) has been a longtime friend and hardcore mountain biker, he is the bassist for bands like ‘Rage Against the Machine’, ‘Prophets of Rage’ and ‘Audioslave’. He grew up around L.A. and has more passion and enthusiasm for bikes than many pro bikers I have met over the years.
We set out on the top of Mount Wilson (5710 ft), just east of L.A. in the San Gabriel Mountains and were heading West in the direction of Catalina Island in the Pacific Ocean. To negotiate the urban stages through the city we decided to mix it up between regular mountain bikes and ebikes. We had a support vehicle, courtesy of Stans, that made it easy for us to negotiate this urban jungle that his home to 12 million people and even more cars, 88 independent cities and nationals from 140 different countries. Less than 150 years ago most of the city was wild nature just as some of the surrounding areas still look like today. Much of Hollywood used to be orange groves until some of the biggest oil fields in the world were discovered and the movie industry moved to Tinseltown.
During our 5 stages a few more friends joined from time to time, as well as photographer Bill Freeman and videographer Cedric Tassan (VTOPO).
One of my all-time favorite rides has always been Chantry Flats near Mount Wilson, to ride there with Missy was special. Especially since she hardly been around the bike scene or actually on a bike in the past 10 – 15 years, since she had retired from Downhill racing. The former World Champ and World Cup winner still had the same go-for-it style and attitude on or off the bike. As she doesn’t even own her own bike at the moment and I was happy to supply her with some of mine during this trip.
We had an incredible view from our starting point at the Mount Wilson Observatory across the entire city all the way to Catalina Island where we would finish our traverse in a few days’ time. Right behind us, looking over our shoulders, was not a single structure in sight as far the eye could see, only nature. Beautiful forests, canyons, mountain ridges, rivers, waterfalls and wildlife separate La La Land and the desert. Its easy to get lost in these mountains; the singletrails are world-class and often technical. Besides snakes and bears we had to keep an eye out for poison oak plants. If allergic to it, as I am, touching its leaves or branches will give a nasty rash that itches for days to the point of insanity. The trails can be technical and exposed at sections like the 80 feet waterfall traverse, when a mistake can have fatal consequences.
We spent the night in Pasadena from where we started the next morning, stage 2, on eBikes (class 1) towards Downtown. Missy and I were joined by Timmy C and Tony Z, a friend of mine from Laguna who inspired the urban stages of this trip and has an incredible knowledge of all the neighborhoods, parks, river deltas, staircases and shortcuts. It took a lot of research to find all these unique routes, tucked away neighborhoods, unique buildings, and hidden sections of trails in between. Experiencing the contrasts of rich and poor, nature and urban development, history and culture.
The eBike was the perfect vehicle for this experience. Don’t be mistaken, just because we had some pedal assist didn’t meant we didn’t get a workout. We climbed over 4000 feet that day including some really steep ‘widow maker’ climbs and staircases. Timmy launched a stair gap right at the beginning of our ride at the City Hall, not a place to crash for a guy who makes his living playing his guitar. But no worries, he pulled it off and I was glad I didn’t had to report to his band mates (Breal and Chuck D to name a few) that their Tour would be cancelled. Timmy is a very experienced mountain biker, he is been riding for over 25 years. He takes his bike with him on tour when he travels with his bands, he has done the Leadville 100, Race Across America and one year he clocked over 1million vertical feet on Strava. What he really likes are the technical challenges, especially climbs. Certain sections he would try over and over again until he would succeed without putting his foot down. He has also developed a big interest in eBikes over the past years. Just like myself, we don’t feel like that ebikes will replace regular mountain bikes, we think there is a time and place for both kinds of bikes. The electric assist motor offers a lot of new and unique ways to experience riding and creates new options on old routes. Ebikes is not cheating, unless you race others with it. Something unique about ebikes puts even smiles on the faces of its biggest critics, once they actually try one. Thanks to GT Bicycles, Fox, Clif, Stans and Shimano we had enough bikes for our crew to keep up with us to document our ride on film and photo. It was Missy’s first experience on a eBike. She loves any kind of two wheeler and it didn’t take long for her to get loose on the GT eVerb.
Shortly after leaving the city limits of Pasadena we dropped into the Arroyo Seco riverbed and crisscrossed several neighborhoods to Mount Washington, where we took a break and ate a burrito with great views of the downtown silhouette ahead of us and Mount Wilson behind us.
Right before we got close to the center of L.A. we found a great trail high above the Interstate 5 Freeway near Dodger Stadium. From Radio Hill we dropped down to China Town but first we had to traverse some sketchy homeless areas, some of their provisional shelters were made of cardboards or tarps, others had tents. As dangerous it can be for some suburban folks on expensive bikes it was more shocking and sad to see the amount of poverty in this glamorous city.
Next to freeways, under bridges, in parks and in some areas like ‘Skid Row’, entire city blocks have makeshift shelters and tents along the sidewalks. Many have their few possessions stashed in ‘borrowed’ shopping carts all in the shadows of modern skyscrapers that tower over the maze of streets. We saw many cool landmarks along the ride, like the Bruce Lee Statue in China Town, we blitzed through the Bonaventure Hotel and World Trade Center, couldn’t resist the staircase in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall or leaving some skid-marks (with our rear tires) on ‘Skid Row’. A nasty crash reminded me that I wasn’t 20 years old anymore and that I wasn’t on my trials bike, luckily I could limp away with just pain and some bruises but no broken bones.
L.A. is also a culinary experience, one can find food, restaurants and markets from all over the world. Los Angeles as a city has an enormous economic impact on the entire world, the economy in this city is bigger than Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Sweden.
Day Three started at the Griffith Observatory with breathtaking views across the city. Once again we were on ebikes, our goal was to finish this stage at the Santa Monica Pier. Of course we had to ride by the world famous ‘Hollywood’ Sign, assault the staircases of the infamous Hollywood Bowl, slalom around the 2500 Hollywood Stars on Hollywood Boulevard, ride up to Mulholland and sample some dirt trails at Franklin Canyon Park and pop out amongst the mansions of the rich and famous in Beverly Hills. Wheelies on Rodeo Drive between Lamborghini’s and Rolls Royce’, eventually we pedaled all the way to the Baywatch (or shall I say Pacific Blue) beaches of Santa Monica. No better day than a weekend to witness the craziness along the famous beach promenade of Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier with all its artists, musicians, travelers, athletes, dancers and freaks of nature.
Back on our normal bikes we hit Timmy’s home-trails in the Santa Monica Mountains on Stage 4. We rode a long section of the Backbone Trails that traverses these mountains high above Malibu. From Yerba Buena we pedaled all the way past Pepperdine University on pristine singletracks through remote backcountry, canyons, valleys and along panoramic ridge lines high above the ocean. It was extremely windy and the fire danger was very high, especially after there had been several big fires in the area in recent weeks. We were lucky we were even allowed on those trails during that dangerous time.
Missy was riding one of my old Sensor bikes and I was sporting a GT Force, while Timmy rode his Enduro all mountain bike. We had some good laughs, it was a long day and a proper day on mountain bikes, this tour can be highly recommended. The last trail was a descent along a knives-edge ridge with the dark blue ocean getting closer with every turn.
We had an early morning start from the marina where we met a friend with benefits, who owns a beautiful yacht, which we took across the waters to Catalina Island.
Catalina Island is a 22-mile long, 95% of it is part a nature conservancy and its almost as pristine as a 100 years ago. It offers an abundance of wildlife including Foxes and Bison, which were set out in the 60ties when many Wild Western movies were shot on Catalina. There are two small towns on the Island on either side, a small airport, harbor and hardly any cars. After a beautiful 1,5-hour boat trip on our luxury yacht we anchored at the small settlement of Two Harbors, along the way we got to see whales and hundreds of dolphins. Since Catalina is a nature preserve, it is only allowed to ride on fire-roads and one needs to buy a biking permit. There are some big hills across the island and unfortunately no legal access to trails therefore we brought our eBikes. We came across some beautiful bays on the backside of the island with clear blue water. We passed some ranches and a few other bikers, who were first not happy to get passed by eBikers, until they test rode my bike which changed their conception and attitude instantly. Before we embarked on our final descent into the historic town of Avalon on the other end of the island we opted to add on an extra loop high above the town on the Divide Road. Catalina was once owned by the Wrigley (chewing gum) family, who donated most of it to the Catalina Island Conservancy to protect these beautiful lands for the future. Avalon is a popular tourist destination, it has many hotels and restaurants and an old casino form the early 20th Century. It feels like a different world although it’s only 25 miles off the coast of one of the biggest cities in the world. As matter of fact on clear day I can see the island from my bedroom at home. It was the perfect way and team to discover this metropolis and experience many ‘off the beaten track’ areas, trails and hoods.
“That’s All Folks!”