For rippers (young and old) who have witnessed big swells at Brooks Street or spent lazy summer Sundays riding party waves at Thalia, it’s a surf town. For sand-o-philes who have basked in the seclusion of Totuava or peered into the tidepools at the north end of Main Beach, it’s a beach town. For anyone who’s taken classes at the Sawdust Festival, strolled Gallery Row on First Thursday, or spent a night watching the Pageant of the Masters, it's an art town.
Shopping. Food. Nightlife. Relaxation (check out the Pathway to Zen!). There’s no shortage of prisms through which to view Laguna.
Perhaps the least known of the city’s multiple identities is as a mountain biking Mecca. Namely because there are no mountains. But what Laguna Beach lacks in sheer elevation, it makes up for in a diversity of trails, a keen community of gearheads, and cool spots to hang out after a big ride. With help from Matt Ford, one of the major voices in the local scene, we break down the three elements that make Laguna SoCal’s mountain biking hub.
TRAILS FOR DAYS
As the owner of Rock N Road Cyclery -- a mountain bike shop that also offers rentals and repairs with four locations in Orange County -- the fact that Matt Ford chooses to live in Laguna Beach is a big endorsement.
“There’s a host of world class downhill trails,” he says. “Though there’s a lot of cross-country riding here, too. In fact, the city has trails for all of the different disciplines in this sport.”
Ford points would-be riders to Nix Nature Center and the Willow Staging Area, both in Laguna Canyon as you head in or out of town on CA-133. At the north end of town, the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, which features 42 acres of legal trails and fire roads (abutting Crystal Cove State Park at the north end of town), also makes a good jumping off place. All three spots are typified by fire roads that connect miles upon miles of single track trails. The Laguna-based sections of Aliso and Woods Canyon Wilderness Parks are accessible by an excruciatingly steep climb through the city streets, via free trolley in the summer, and by hopping a bus to Top of the World Park.
As for Laguna’s trails, Ford explains that they often start loose and rocky, with cactus being common and a fair bit of drifting around turns. Standout spots like T&A (which Ford is quick to note stands for “Tom & Andy”) often boast sandstone stairsteps or more consistent rock features.
THE COMMUNITY THAT RIDES TOGETHER…
Ford isn’t the only prominent player in the mountain biking scene to call Laguna Beach home. Hans “No Way” Rey, one of the most prominent riders in the history of the sport, also chooses to make the city his base. As does multiple world champion Brian Lopes.
“For people who know this world, Laguna Beach has become synonymous with Mountain Biking culture,” Ford notes.
Much of that is undoubtedly due to the world-renowned and still-pretty-renegade RADS mountain bike club. For more than three decades, the RADS have created and maintained a series of un-publicized trails on city land. They’re a tightly knit crew of mostly-50-somethings whose impact on the land itself is up for debate. What’s undeniable is that they’ve been a significant impetus for the scene that has built up around Laguna Beach.
Crank Brothers -- specializing in wheels, pedals, and other components -- has their showroom in the heart of downtown Laguna; Laguna Cyclery, on Thalia Street, is a fixture in the mountain biking community and owner Patrick Fetzer is known to anyone who bombs trails in town; and Troy Lee Designs on Glenneyre hosts regular rides starting from their storefront. Do a little digging and it’s clear that the “mountain biking town” moniker isn’t exaggerated.
AT THE END OF THE TRAIL
Another undeniable piece of the mountain bike aficionado's playbook is the after-the-ride beer. It’s apres ski for gearheads. Ford points to the Laguna Beach Beer Company in the Hive as a common place for Laguna Canyon-based rides to finish. In South Laguna, the post-ride brews are poured at La Sirena South. (Co-owners Brian Hendon and Scott Cortelessa actually sponsor a mountain biking team through Docent Brewing out of San Juan Capistrano.) Regardless of where you stop, it’s a relief to know that if you come to Laguna Beach to ride, there’s a beer and some food waiting at the end of it all.
“It’s a special town for this sport,” Ford says, “and people love sharing this passion. I’ve biked all around the world and if I met a stranger who loved to ride, Laguna is one of the first places on earth I’d send them.”