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Mountain biking in San Diego is a celebration of the senses: the sharp tang of sea air, the warm gust of an afternoon breeze, the jitter and bump of a rocky single track, the nurturing patter of a mountain waterfall, the refreshing splash of mud after tearing through a puddle.
To experience San Diego on a bike is to experience San Diego.
Most of San Diego’s mountain bike trails are a combination of hills, rocks, hard pack and single track. Riders searching for the most challenging San Diego riding experience will want to head inland to the East County, and the Cleveland National Forest area, but you’ll also find excellent trails in the North County Inland areas or even the badlands of the Anza-Borrego Desert.
Riders who prefer a more coastal riding experience will revel in the countless public parks and local riding trails. For all its urban accouterments, San Diego has open space galore along the coast. A great ride is never far from your hotel.
Say you're in town for a convention. You want to squeeze in a ride in the morning or evening, but don't have the time to drive an hour into the Laguna Mountains. Try Mission Trails. Located just eight miles from downtown San Diego, right off Mission Gorge Road, this favorite of runners and hikers also offers a hardy mountain bike experience—heavy on the scenery and nature. With a variety of trails to choose from, riders can go hard or not; climb or ride flats. You'll be back in the city in plenty of time to make the first meeting of the day.
This ride is the perfect introduction to the pristine wilderness of San Diego's east county. You've got to drive a ways to get to this rugged backcountry ride, but the combination of challenge and enjoyable scenery will make the journey worthwhile. Head east on Interstate 8, exiting an hour later on Buckman Springs Road. Follow the signs to Lake Morena, then follow the signs to the trailhead. The ride itself is about 10 miles long, but plan on being out there a solid two hours. The lake will be close enough to see, but that's as near as water will come to this ride, so carry plenty. The trail features almost 70% single track, with a smattering of fire roads and paved road providing the access. If you like a good climb, this is the ride for you. Lots of non-technical singletrack climbs and stellar views of the lake. The ride finishes up with a 3-mile downhill jaunt back to the parking lot.
Designated by the International Mountain Biking Association as an "Epic" ride, this 30-mile journey along the spine of the Santa Rosa Mountains, in the heart of the Cleveland National Forest, begins about 50 miles east of downtown San Diego. Soothing pine forests and sun-baked high desert canyons, once the home of Kumeyaay Indians, offer some of the most stunning ride terrain anywhere. The trail itself is composed of fire roads and is technically a pretty difficult ride with single track, rocky terrain and tight switchbacks, and generally more suited for advanced riders. Look for patches of snow in winter and carry extra water to battle the dry desert air. Descend Noble Canyon into the historic mining town of Julian, and treat yourself to a slice of Julian's signature apple pie.
This ride is suitable for riders of all levels. Daley Ranch is located in Escondido, in northeast San Diego. Twenty miles of trails course through the park, but the primary mountain bike path is a rolling 12-mile loop on fire roads, with a smattering of single track. It's a ride for enjoying with a friend, making conversation and sampling the sweet smells of sage and eucalyptus, and is also a popular place for night riding. Escondido's inland location means warm temperatures year-round, so make sure to top-off your hydration system before setting out.
This area includes a large combination of fire roads and single track trails. If you stay off Del Mar Mesa, the ride is relatively flat and predominantly non-technical so good for beginners to intermediate riders. During the summer months this canyon often benefits from the prevailing coastal breeze and in the spring the canyon is lush and beautiful. The canyon is easily accessible from the major highways of interstates 5, 805 and 15.
The staff in local shops share that same, laid-back attitude more commonly associated with surf shops, and strong coffee is invariably brewing somewhere in back.
With the exception of BMX-specialty shops, many of the local bike shops cater to cyclists of the road and mountain biking stripe. A favorite among triathletes and road cyclists is Nytro, in Encinitas, which caters to the elite athlete and age-group racer, and also offers a wide selection of products for the weekend warrior. Nytro also has a reputation for good, fast mechanic service. UC Cyclery is another longtime favorite known for its service and focus on competitive road cycling.
As for shops catering more to the mountain biker, Performance Bikes has locations throughout San Diego.
If you're not fond of lugging your bike through airports, or strapping it to the roof of your car, give Cheap Rentals a try. Located on Mission Boulevard in San Diego, it has bikes for on- and off-road cycling. Another place for rentals is Bikes and Beyond on Coronado, or try Wheel Fun Rentals which features rental outlets at the Hotel del Coronado, San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina and Balboa Park.
The trails winding through the eucalyptus forest on the University of California at San Diego are not technically demanding, but the serenity of the thick grove and its soothing aroma makes for a rejuvenating mountain bike ride. Many have compared it to a spa treatment on wheels.
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