Hans Rey shepherds legends from wildly different backgrounds on a trip across his adopted home of Los Angeles.
Words Hans Rey Photography Bill Freeman
Southern California has been my home for more than 30 years, and after travelling to over 70 different countries and riding my bikes in many remote corners of this world I thought it was time to explore my own ’hood. What better way to do so than with a couple of mountain biking rock stars?
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Missy Giove is one of the greatest legends the sport of mountain biking has ever seen – she had a huge influence in helping to shape mountain bike racing and the rock star image it had in the ’90s. Her attitude and racing style made her one of the most outstanding characters in the world of bikes. Her childlike enthusiasm and naivety can sometimes mask the deep thinking and intelligent person underneath. A motormouth who can talk a 100 words a minute that reveals a personality as colourful as the tattoos that cover her body. This is a woman who is pretty fearless, addicted to speed with sometimes reckless abandon and no fear of broken bones, which might explain a little as to how she has ended up in some sticky situations in her life.
Timmy C (Tim Commerford) has been a long-time friend and hardcore mountain biker for years, he is also the bassist for bands like Rage Against The Machine, Prophets of Rage and Audioslave. He grew up around LA and has more passion and enthusiasm for bikes than many pro riders I’ve met over the years.
The idea of this trip was to traverse one of the biggest cities in the world on bikes in five days, not only showing the incredible nature and mountains surrounding this city, but also to ride some of its diverse neighbourhoods, suburbs and famous landmarks. When this city was founded, its full name was ‘El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles sobre el Rio Porciuncula’. (If your Spanish is rusty, that translates to ‘The town of our lady, queen of the angels, on the Porciuncula River’.) Los Angeles, or just LA.
Our mission was to ride through it all, as off-road as possible.
We planned to set out from the top of Mount Wilson (5,710ft), just east of LA in the San Gabriel Mountains and head west in the direction of Catalina Island in the Pacific Ocean. To negotiate the urban stages through the city we decided to mix it up between regular mountain bikes and e-bikes. We had a support vehicle, courtesy of Stan’s, that made it easy for us to negotiate this urban jungle that is home to 12 million people and even more cars, comprising 88 independent cities with nationals from 140 different countries. Less than 150 years ago most of the city was wild nature, just as some of the surrounding areas still look today. Much of Hollywood used to be orange groves until some of the biggest oil fields in the world were discovered and the movie industry moved to Tinseltown.
During our five stages a few more friends joined from time to time, as well as photographer Bill Freeman and videographer Cédric Tassan from VTOPO.
Riding with legends.
One of my all-time favourite rides has always been at Chantry Flat near Mount Wilson – to ride there with Missy was special. Especially as she’s hardly been around the bike scene or actually on a bike in the past 10 to 15 years, since she retired from downhill racing. The former World Champ and World Cup winner still has the same go-for-it style and attitude on or off the bike. Such is her detachment from the mountain bike scene that she doesn’t even own her own bike at the moment, so I was happy to supply her with some of mine during this trip. After a few test wheelies and skids around the car park, it looked like she’d never left.
From our starting point at the Mount Wilson Observatory we had an incredible view across the entire city all the way to Catalina Island where we would finish our traverse in a few days’ time. Right behind us, looking over our shoulders, was not a single structure as far the eye could see, only nature. Beautiful forests, canyons, mountain ridges, rivers, waterfalls and wildlife separate La La Land and the desert. It’s easy to get lost in these mountains; the singletrack trails are world class and often technical. Besides snakes and bears we had to keep an eye out for poison oak plants. If you’re allergic to it, as I am, touching its leaves or branches will give a nasty rash that itches for days to the point of insanity. The trails can be technical and exposed in sections like our 80ft waterfall traverse, when a mistake can have fatal consequences. This is true backcountry, even within sight of the towers of Downtown LA.
We had no such dramas as Missy and I whooped and hollered all the way down our loose, sketchy descent; the dry and scrabbly terrain seemed to suit Missy’s devil-may-care style and we had a great time passing and repassing each other on the tricky switchbacks while both of us kept a running commentary. Missy hasn’t slowed down a bit. She hasn’t got any quieter either!
Rage Against The E-Bike? Not likely.
We spent the night in Pasadena from where we started the next morning. Stage two would see us head towards Downtown LA on pedal-assist e-bikes. Missy and I were joined by Timmy C and Tony Z, a friend of mine from Laguna who inspired the urban stages of this trip and who has an incredible knowledge of all the neighbourhoods, parks, river deltas, staircases and shortcuts. It took a lot of research to find all these unique routes, tucked away through neighbourhoods, passing unique buildings and hidden sections of trails in between. Experiencing the contrasts of rich and poor, nature and urban development, history and culture.
The e-bike was the perfect vehicle for this experience. Don’t get me wrong, just because we had some pedal-assist didn’t meant we didn’t get a workout. We climbed over 4,000ft that day, including some really steep ‘widow-maker’ climbs and staircases. Timmy launched a stair gap right at the beginning of our ride at the City Hall, not a place to crash for a guy who makes his living playing his guitar. But no worries, he pulled it off and I was glad I didn’t have to report to his bandmates (B-Real and Chuck D to name a few) that their tour would be cancelled.
Timmy is a very experienced mountain biker; he’s been riding for over 25 years and takes his bike with him on tour. He has done the Leadville 100, the Race Across America, and one year he clocked over one million vertical feet on Strava. What he really likes are the technical challenges, especially climbs. Certain sections he would try over and over again until he’d succeed without putting his foot down.
He has also developed a big interest in e-bikes over the past years. Neither of us feel that e-bikes will replace regular mountain bikes, but we think there is a time and place for both kinds of bikes. The electric assist motor offers a lot of new and unique ways to experience riding and creates new options on old routes. I don’t feel that riding e-bikes is cheating, unless you race others with it. Something unique about e-bikes even puts smiles on the faces of their biggest critics, once they actually try one. Thanks to my sponsors, GT Bicycles, Fox, Clif, Stan’s and Shimano we had enough bikes for our crew to keep up with us to document our ride on film and photo. It was Missy’s first experience on an e-bike. She loves any kind of two-wheeler and it didn’t take long for her to get loose on the GT eVerb.
Every silver cloud has a dark lining.
Shortly after leaving the city limits of Pasadena we dropped into the Arroyo Seco riverbed and criss-crossed several neighbourhoods to Mount Washington, where we took a break and ate a burrito with great views of the Downtown silhouette ahead of us and Mount Wilson behind us.
Right before we got close to the centre of LA we found a great trail high above the Interstate 5 Freeway near the famous Dodger Stadium.
We saw many cool landmarks along the ride, like the Bruce Lee statue in Chinatown, we blitzed through the Bonaventure Hotel and World Trade Center, couldn’t resist the staircase in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall or leaving some skid marks (with our rear tyres) on Skid Row. Trying to ride a stone banister ‘once more for the cameras’ resulted in nasty crash which reminded me that I wasn’t 20 years old anymore and that I wasn’t on my trials bike, luckily I could limp away with just pain and some bruises.
Los Angeles is also a culinary experience as you can find food, restaurants and markets from all over the world. LA as a city has an enormous economic impact on the entire world; the economy in this city is bigger than Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Sweden.
However, next to freeways, under bridges, in parks and in some areas like Skid Row, entire city blocks have makeshift shelters and tents along the sidewalks. Many of those residents have their few possessions stashed in ‘borrowed’ shopping carts, all in the shadows of modern skyscrapers that tower over the maze of streets. Some of their improvised shelters are made of cardboard boxes or tarps, others have tents. As dangerous it can be for suburban folks like us to ride through on expensive bikes, it still needed seeing. It was shocking and sad to see the amount of poverty existing just a short distance from the glitz and sparkle of this glamorous city.
Day Three started at the Griffith Observatory with breathtaking views across the city. Once again we were on e-bikes – our goal was to finish this stage at the Santa Monica Pier. Of course we had to ride by the world famous ‘Hollywood’ Sign, assault the staircases of the infamous Hollywood Bowl, slalom around the 2,500 stars on Hollywood Boulevard, ride up to Mulholland and sample some dirt trails at Franklin Canyon Park and pop out among the mansions of the rich and famous in Beverly Hills.
We popped wheelies on Rodeo Drive between the Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces, eventually pedalling all the way to the Baywatch (or should I say Pacific Blue?) beaches of Santa Monica. No better day than a weekend to witness the craziness along the famous beach promenade of Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier with all its artists, musicians, travellers, athletes, dancers and freaks of nature.
The next day found us back on our normal ‘push-bikes’ as we hit Timmy’s home trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. We rode a long section of the Backbone Trail that traverses these mountains high above the beaches and multimillion dollar homes of Malibu. From Yerba Buena we pedalled all the way past Pepperdine University on pristine singletrack through remote backcountry, canyons, valleys and along panoramic ridge lines, high above the ocean. It was extremely windy and the fire danger was very high, especially since there had been several big fires in the area in recent weeks. We were lucky we were even allowed on those trails.
Missy was riding one of my old Sensor bikes and I was sporting a GT Force, while Timmy rode his enduro all-mountain bike. We had some good laughs, with Missy and Timmy and me taking turns to goof off and mess around for the cameras. It was a long day in the mountains and a proper day on mountain bikes. The last trail was a descent along a knife-edge ridge with the dark blue ocean getting closer with every turn. I don’t think there’s a better way to see the different parts of LA.
Bison on parade.
Our last day saw us endure an early morning start from the marina where we met a ‘friend with benefits’ who happens to own a beautiful yacht, and wasted no time in hopping aboard for them to take us across the waters to Catalina Island.
Catalina Island sits just 50 miles offshore of the Los Angeles coastline. It is 22 miles long and 95% of it is part of a nature conservancy and it’s almost as pristine as it was 100 years ago. It offers an abundance of wildlife, including the foxes and bison that were introduced to the island in the middle of the 20th century when many Wild West movies were shot there. There are two small towns on the island – one on either side – a small airport, harbour and hardly any cars. After a beautiful 90-minute boat trip on our luxury yacht, during which we saw whales and hundreds of dolphins, we anchored at the small settlement of Two Harbors.
Since Catalina is a nature preserve, bikes are understandably only allowed on fire roads and you have to buy a bike permit. There are some big hills across the island, but unfortunately no legal access to trails, so we brought our e-bikes, ready for a tour. We came across some beautiful bays on the backside of the island with clear blue water and rugged, rocky beaches and cliffs. We passed some ranches and a few other fellow riders. Let me tell you, they weren’t happy to be passed by e-bike riders, but then they test-rode my bike which changed their conception and attitude instantly.
Before we embarked on our final descent into the historic town of Avalon [incorporated 1913 – History Ed] on the other end of the island, we opted to add on an extra loop high above the town on the Divide Road. Catalina was once owned by the Wrigley (chewing gum) family, who donated most of it to the Catalina Island Conservancy to protect these beautiful lands for the future. In contrast, Avalon is a popular tourist destination with many hotels and restaurants and an old casino from the early 20th century. It feels like a different world although it’s only 25 miles off the coast of one of the biggest cities in the world. As matter of fact on clear day I can see the island from my bedroom at home in Laguna Beach.
Chilling in the name of.
And so our trip was at an end. We’d started high in the mountains north of Los Angeles and now, five days later, we were sitting south of the city, looking back towards those peaks that sit high over Tinseltown. We’d ridden, self-propelled and assisted, from there to here, through many of the diverse neighbourhoods of this huge melting pot of society. It was the perfect way, with the perfect team to discover this metropolis and experience many, off the beaten track areas, trails, sights and sounds – though most of the sounds were of us cheering each other on and having a blast.
And, as they say just up the road from here… ‘That’s All Folks!’
Extra Gallery – The images we couldn’t fit in the mag
Click any image to start the gallery