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THE GREAT OUTDOORS / GETTING ACTIVE BY LAND

A Ticket to Ride : Bicycling Isn't Cheap, but There Are Plenty of Places to Use That Expensive Equipment

June 26, 1996|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's no secret that Southern California is a hotbed for bicycling.

It seems as if everyone has a bicycle and the riders and cycles come in all shapes and sizes. You've seen the brightly clad cyclists who look as if they're gearing up for the Tour de France. Or you've watched the thrasher-types with their off-road mountain bikes tearing up the trails.

Even Olympic cyclist Steve Hegg grew up in Dana Point. Here in Orange County, there is a large variety of road and off-road rides and plenty of retail stores to provide you with the proper equipment. But if you're new to the sport, where do you begin?

Just looking at all the different bicycles that are available can be dizzying, but there are essentially just two types: road and mountain. Although there are countless models, variations and prices, the general riding population has made its choice clear.

"About 60% of the bikes we sell are mountain bikes," said Eric Lundblad, the manager at 2 Wheeler Dealer in Brea, "and the vast majority of those bikes we sell are the ones around $400."

Lundblad said riders like the all-purpose mountain bike because they can use it on and off-road.

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"These are the riders who go to the beach and around their neighborhood," Lundblad said. "But they can also take these on some off-road trails.

"You can find some of the cheapest mountain bikes for around $200, but most people invest in the $400-range bikes because they are more durable, dependable and overall they are a better buy."

Road bicycles are more expensive, with low-end models beginning at about $400. Lundblad suggested investing in the mid-range bikes costing between $700 and $900.

"Again, with those bicycles, the quality of the $800 bike is vastly superior to the cheapest bikes and it is well worth the investment," Lundblad said.

The high-end performance road and mountain bikes can be priced in the $1,500-$2,000 range. Throw in a helmet and gloves (the mandatory safety equipment which can be purchased for about $40 and up) and other accessories and it's easy to see that this can be an expensive pastime.

"Most of the riders you'll see are middle- to upper-middle class," Lundblad said. "It's unfortunate, but that's how it is. The sport is not cheap. You crash once and it's like paying rent to fix your bike."

Where are the best places to ride? Your local bicycle shops probably have some good tips if you're just starting out and there are also several good trail books available showing some good riding areas in the county.

Two good sources are Mountain Biking the Coast Range-Orange County and the Cleveland National Forest, by Robert Rasmussen and Bicycle Rides Orange County, by Don and Sharron Brundige.

Here are two popular routes:

Santa Ana River--You can ride all the way along the Santa Ana River bed, from as far north as Anaheim Hills all the way down to Huntington Beach. A popular place to start from is El Camino Park in Orange, on Orangewood Avenue just east of State College Boulevard.

This scenic 13-mile ride passes River View Golf Course, Centennial Regional Park and Mesa Verde Country Club before ending at Huntington State Beach.

Newport Back Bay--This six-mile loop hooks up with other trails that can take you to northern parts of Irvine or farther south to Corona del Mar.

One place to start is at Newport Dunes Aquatic Park, on Backbay Drive just west of Jamboree Road near the Hyatt Newporter Resort. This trip winds around upper Newport Bay and the wildlife preserve.

Lundblad also suggested local trails in Irvine, Mission Viejo and San Clemente.

"There are nice streets, some paved trails and good bike paths in those cities," Lundblad said.

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There are also an abundance of good places in the county to take your mountain bike so you don't have to drive all the way to the San Bernardino Mountains or farther north to the Sierra Nevada.

Here are a couple of local hot spots:

Crystal Cove State Park--Located just north of Laguna Beach off Pacific Coast Highway, this park features some of the most popular trails in the county and offer a variety of challenges for advanced riders and beginners.

Although the park should be open for the majority of the summer, call the rangers before planning a trip. Because of past fire problems in Laguna Beach, the park will be shutting down periodically while fire officials conduct controlled burns in and around the area.

Chino Hills State Park--In north Orange County, there is a mix of beginner and intermediate rides here. You can enter the park's west entrance from Carbon Canyon Regional Park in Brea. Exit Lambert off the 57 Freeway and head approximately two miles east until it becomes Brea Canyon Drive. The park is on the right.

For the more advanced rider, Lundblad suggested the San Juan Trail, which is off Highway 74 about 12 1/2 miles east of Interstate 5.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Starting Costs

Here are some estimated costs for a beginning cyclist:

* Bike: Road and mountain bikes begin at about $200. For a good value, look for a mountain bike in $400 range or a road bike in the $700-$900 range.

* Helmet: $30-$40

* Gloves: $10-$20

SOURCE: Mike Itagaki

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