BICYCLING IS A sport and a form of transportation that has a huge number of enthusiasts: 85 million in America at last count. More than a million of those riders are in Southern California, taking their bikes into parks, to the beaches, onto highways and now onto mountain trails.
"Mountain bikes now account for 80% of my sales," says Alan Goldsmith, owner of the Bikecology shops in Santa Monica and Fountain Valley. "Crowds and traffic forced bicyclists to escape from roads to off-road, and now the Santa Monica Mountains look like the Hollywood Freeway at rush hour."
A highly evolved edition of the old cruisers of the 1950s, the mountain bike looks, in the words of longtime cyclists, "like a real bicycle." A mountain bike keeps its weight down and its performance levels up because it has aluminum rims, multiple gears and high-tech frames constructed of light but mighty metals. These materials were developed for high-performance car engines and defense systems before they trickled down to the two-wheeler market. Mountain bikes sell mid-range for $300 to $450 but can go for $2,700 and more.
Mountain bikes, Goldsmith says, are essentially constructed as off-road vehicles, but they are also excellent for street riding: "Riding on pavement doesn't really wear out your tires, as some bikers feel."
Where to ride: Topanga State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains is a favorite area for bikers. Joshua Tree National Monument, in the desert northeast of Palm Springs, is another popular spot. Many mountain bikers in the San Fernando Valley head for an area in the Santa Susana Mountains, which is at the end of Tampa Avenue (at Rinaldi) in Northridge.
In Orange County, where a county-wide mountain bike policy is under consideration, best bets include Casper's Wilderness Park, off Ortego Highway in San Juan Capistrano; Irvine and Santiago regional parks in Orange; Carbon Canyon Park in Brea, and Trabuco Canyon, east of Mission Viejo. In San Diego, cyclists are heading for the hills of Baja to the south and Los Penasquitos Canyon to the north.
In the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara, mountain biking is allowed in certain areas only. Griffith Park has a well-traveled bike route, but off-road biking is not permitted. Mountain biking is permitted in Angeles National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest, although not in designated wilderness areas and not on trails reserved for hikers and horses. In the state of California, no biking of any kind (nor any mechanized equipment, such as hang gliders) is allowed on the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches 2,600 miles from Canada to Mexico.
Stores that sell mountain bikes include: Bikesport in Canoga Park; Pedaler's West in San Fernando; Orange Schwinn in Orange; Covina Valley Schwinn in Covina; Yorba Linda Village Bicycle Center in Yorba Linda; Clark's Thousand Oaks Cyclery in Thousand Oaks; Bicycle Center USA in Redondo Beach; Hazard's Cycling in Santa Barbara, and Bicycles of San Diego in San Diego.
Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Assn., (818) 996-8073, educates mountain bicyclists on riding technique and etiquette, and represents the interests of mountain bicyclists of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Rim of the Valley Corridor.