Sales statistics show that the vast majority of adult bicycles sold today are classified as "mountain" bikes, yet surveys also show that most people never take their purchases off the asphalt.
The steady ride afforded by the big tires and upright riding position is what seems to attract most buyers. But real mountain bikes are designed to take some off-road abuse, so it can't hurt to try them out on dirt, at least once.
If people are intimidated by the idea of riding off the pavement, it's probably because the sport's thrill-seeking aspects have been emphasized by advertisers and the media. Mountain biking needn't be dangerous, however, and the payoff is a serene enjoyment of the outdoors akin to the pleasure derived from hiking.
Beginners will do best to stay off the "single track" trails and stay on fire roads, preferably those without too much altitude gain or loss. There are numerous rides suitable to beginners in the county; one of the prettiest is the Bell Canyon Road in Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Regional Park--or, simply, Caspers.
One of the jewels in the county park system, Caspers is primarily a hiking and equestrian park; mountain bikers are not allowed on the single-track trails. On the dirt roads, keep speeds down and give other users a wide berth. The park is closed to anyone under 18 because of two mountain lion attacks on small children in the 1980s.
The Bell Canyon Road is an out-and-back trip, just over four miles all told. The elevation gain is about 200 feet, so there is a slight bit of climbing.
To get to the trail head, follow the park entrance road about a mile to the end, past the equestrian and camping areas.
Park the car. There is a gated dirt road here; that's Bell Canyon. The road is easy to follow as it hugs the canyon bottom, through lush grassland and stands of mature oak trees. The road is wide and smooth enough to enjoy the scenery without risk.
After about a mile, you will come to the junction of Cougar Pass; bear left and continue to the end of Bell Canyon Road, a little over a mile distant, through more oak stands and meadows. The area at the end of the road is perfect for a rest stop. Afterward, return to your car the way you came in.
Bell Canyon Road also makes an excellent walk.
Other trails in the park open to mountain cyclists include the Oso Trail, the East and West Ridge trails, the Juaneno loop, and the Hot Springs Canyon Trail. Difficulty ranges from easy to moderate. This time of year, always carry water, even on the short rides, and try to ride in early morning or late afternoon. And wear a helmet.
What: Bell Canyon Road, Caspers park.
When: Park open daily, 7 a.m. to dusk (camping also available).
Where: Caspers Park, Ortega Highway.
Whereabouts: From Interstate 5, exit at Ortega Highway and head east. The park is 7.5 miles from the freeway, on the left side of the road.
Wherewithal: Day use fee is $2.
Where to call: (714) 728-0235.