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Happy Trails

Mountain biking: Those with a rack and willpower can go far on Southern California's plentiful riding paths.


Think of all your good pals back in the Midwest. There they are, sitting on their mountain bikes in such lovely places as Psoriasis, Ill., wondering if the Lords of Geology will ever throw a mountain--or even a small hill--their way.

Southern California, in particular the Valley and Ventura County, is filled with the real deal. Trails criss-cross the mountains here and many of those trails remain open to mountain bikers. Those with a bike rack and willpower can go far.

Now the disclaimer. Always wear a melon protector (helmet). Speed limits in most places are 15 mph and rangers do give speeding tickets. Remember that the trails aren't just for mountain bikers--hikers and equestrians are out there, too. And, wilderness areas within our national forests are absolutely off-limits to mountain bikes.

Here are 10 places to mountain bike. All are popular, some are easy and some will destroy you. Enjoy:

* Los Robles Open Space: There's somewhere in the vicinity of 17 miles of trail, most of which is single track. It's on the technical side with many switchbacks and elevation gains. If you can make it to the top, there's nice views of the Conejo Valley. Exit the 101 at Moorpark Road south and turn right at Green Meadow. Phone: (805) 495-6471.

* Wildwood Regional Park: Numerous trails, many of the lung-busting variety, criss-cross rolling hills and grasslands in Thousand Oaks. There's also some single track. To reach the park, exit the 101 at Lynn Road north. Turn left at Avenida de las Arboles and proceed to the parking lot. Phone: (805) 495-6471.

* Point Mugu State Park: The 8.8-mile Sycamore Canyon Trail begins at Rancho Sierra in Newbury Park and winds downhill to Pacific Coast Highway and the sea. There are several fun stream crossings and the scenery is A-1. Many folks set up a car shuttle to avoid the impossible ride from the sea back up to Rancho Sierra. Phone: (805) 986-8591.

* Cheeseboro Canyon: There are several trails through this canyon, a former ranch administered by the National Park Service. The Sulphur Springs Trail is the most popular, traveling the length of the canyon with some single track. It's of moderate difficulty. Phone: (818) 597-9192.

* Sulphur Mountain Road: This is an unpaved county road, closed to thru traffic, in the Ojai Valley. The road begins on the right side of California 33, 7.5 miles north of the 101 and stretches for almost eight miles to California 150, east of Ojai. Portions of the road are steep, much of it is easy. Valley views are outstanding. Phone: (805) 642-1591.

* Westridge Fire Road: The fire road begins where Westridge Road ends in Pacific Palisades. For three miles, the gravel road rises until it reaches the old Nike Missile Site. Some of the climbing is steep, but on the way down bikers will find some single track running parallel to the road. Phone: (310) 858-7272.

* Topanga State Park: The 10,000-acre park is chock-full of fire roads, most open to bikes. One beautiful ride begins at the Trippet Ranch parking lot in Topanga Canyon and follows the East Topanga Fire Road for three miles to the Parker Mesa Overlook, providing great views of the sea and city. Biking is moderate to difficult. Phone: (310) 455-2465.

* Malibu Creek State Park: Another beautiful place to ride in the Santa Monica Mountains. Crags Road begins at the final day-use parking lot and winds through the park for 2.5 miles, past Century Lake to the old "M*A*S*H" set. Crags Road is easy to moderate, but masochists can do a loop of the park by connecting with several other fire roads. Phone: (818) 880-0367.

* Mt. Pinos: The mountain is the tallest point in Ventura County at 8,831 feet. The Condor Peak Trail rises moderately from the Chula Vista parking area for 1.5 miles to the observation point--do not proceed into the Chumash Wilderness, where you'll be cited. Downhill-only types can take the 3.5-mile McGill Trail, from the McGill campground to near the bottom of the mountain. Phone: (805) 245-3731.

* Ski Summit & Mammoth Mountain: My kind of mountain biking. Ski lifts take you and your bike up the mountain and then gravity returns you to the bottom. There's a wide variety of terrain at both mountains, for both the meek and the certifiably insane. Mammoth phone: (760) 934-0745. Snow Summit phone: (909) 866-4621.



* To prevent erosion, avoid skidding, reduce speed at corners during turns and don't cut switchbacks or bushwhack off-trail.

* Be ready to brake at all times.

* Be alert to changing terrain.

* Keep weight shifted back.

* Always use both brakes equally. Applying one or both brakes suddenly can cause an "endo" (end over handlebars.)

* When riding on gravel, use your body weight to move your bike, rather than the handlebar and front wheel.

* Bend at waist toward bike whenever possible.

* Keep elbows close to body rather than stuck out; this facilitates steering.

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