Late last month I got a chance to attend the Pearl Izumi X-Project media camp in Laguna Beach, CA, home to Brian Lopes, CrankBrothers, and the mountain bike trails at Aliso and Wood Park. Over the course of two days we put in 35 miles on the trails at Aliso with a Mountain Bike Hall-of-Famer who just happens to be a local. This is how it all went down.

After arriving on a Wednesday afternoon, the group was set up with demo bikes from Pivot (I rode a Mach 429) and got a late start on the trails at about 4:30pm. Starting at the Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course, we were able to roll through two gates that are normally locked and closed to the public thanks to Brian’s connections. This placed us at the bottom of the canyon where we could see the steep brown hills with houses perched on top rising above us on three sides. With the sun setting, we were already enveloped in the shadows of the hills, fortunate to have cool temperatures in such an arid and exposed landscape.

Brian led us to Coyote Run where we got our first taste of singletrack and the fast, dust-over-hardpack conditions at Aliso. This section of Coyote Run featured a few rocky stinger climbs and even a short wooded section where the trees blotted out any remaining daylight, causing our eyes to strain for the trail.

We popped out onto the Woods Canyon Trail, a wide fire road that gradually makes its way to the top of the canyon. Toward the top, we pulled off to the left and Brian introduced us to the first stiff climb of the evening: the Cholla Trail. While the trail is less than half a mile, it climbs 250 feet at a pretty constant 13.5% grade. Lopes hold the Strava KOM at just over 2 and a half minutes but it would take me almost double that. Still, I was just stoked to have cleaned the entire climb with no stops. Strava says my time was #225 out of 1,527–I’ll take it!

From the top of Cholla, we rode the West Ridge Trail fireroad to the Top of the World for one of the most amazing California sunsets you can imagine! Even the fireroad threw in a few sustained steep climbs which made the ocean views even more sweet once we got to the top. I was happy to find a water fountain at the Top of the World which is great for topping off after the dry, dusty climbs. Top of the World is also the jumping off point (so to speak) for Tellonics, a well known DH run in the area.

From Top of the World we cruised down through the neighborhood and jumped back into the park for one last singletrack run down the Meadows Trail. The light was really fading at this point and the temperatures were dropping so I was anxious to get back down to Aliso Creek. The Meadows Trail features a 14% average grade and at least a dozen swooping switchbacks on the way down. The trail reminded me a bit of Hazard County in Moab, complete with cramped hands, burning quads, and sore cheeks from smiling the whole way down!

Aliso and Wood: Day 2

After riding about 14 miles the first day, we hit Aliso and Wood after lunch on day 2 for an extended tour and an opportunity to put the new Pearl Izumi X-Project shoes through their paces. Since the X-Project shoes are designed to flex off the bike, Brian chose a diabolical climb up a trail called Mentally Sensitive so everyone would be guaranteed an extended hike-a-bike. Strava says this climb is just 0.7 miles long but at a 20% average grade! After hiking up this trail I knew I didn’t want to come down this way.

From the top of Mentally Sensitive we continued to climb back to Top of the World in a reverse of our previous day’s route. From Top of the World we descended to Car Wreck and the Mathis Creek Trail where it was decision time: an easy or moderate descent. Now I love a good downhill run as much as anyone but really steep stuff gets me worried sometimes, especially when there are limited opportunities to recover. I decided to skip Car Wreck and had a blast flying down Mathis Creek instead. Mathis Creek is basically a fireroad but it’s steep and forgiving which meant we could really open things up on the way down.

At the bottom of the canyon once again, we climbed back up Woods Canyon and Cholla to Top of the World and then had another downhill option: Meadows Trail or Mentally Sensitive. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy descending Mentally Sensitive based on our climb up so I chose to rail Meadows Trail for the second day in a row. The rest of the group followed Brian and ended up riding a different descent that was even more challenging so I definitely made the right choice!

This was my first time riding in Southern California and also my first ride with a Mountain Bike Hall of Famer so needless to say it was a magical experience. It really is incredible to have so many miles of singletrack ranging from mild to wild located in such a densely populated area (not to mention just steps from the Pacific Ocean). Aliso and Wood Park is highly recommended if you’re in the area and who knows–you might just bump into a mountain biking legend out on the trails.

# Comments

  • mtbgreg1

    The views from this trail system are pretty awesome! I got to ride here early this summer as well, and my main descent for the day was down the Rock-It trail. Rock-It features some good singletrack descending, but the vast majority of the trail tread is on exposed rock–but not smooth slick rock like in Moab, this is bumpy, undulating, demanding bedrock that is sure to give your suspension a workout! It really isn’t too challenging because you can slow down and pick a line, but if you pick up your speed things get interesting really quickly!

    I can easily see why this is one of the most popular trails in the region.

  • maddslacker

    Looks like some awesome riding!

    How did you like the Pivot? I rode one at Outerbike, but you’ll notice there’s not a review submitted. 😉

    • jeff

      The Mach 429 was a solid bike but pretty un-spectacular. Not quite as much fun as my Tallboy, especially in the descents and corners but I thought it climbed pretty well.

    • maddslacker

      Was yours alloy or carbon? I rode the alloy version and it was a very harsh ride. It’s supposed to be ‘all mountain’ but my Anthem ‘racing’ bike rides better IMO.

      Oh, and you got to ride with a FREAKIN’ HALL OF FAMER!! :d

    • jeff

      Yeah, it was the alloy version and it was a little stiff but no more than I’m used to. Definitely not an all-mountain bike–it only has 4 inches of travel! Solidly XC. If you want AM, check out the Mach 5.7 or Firebird.

    • maddslacker

      Ah, that makes sense. I guess I didn’t even check the travel amount.

      I had just come off a ride on the Felt Edict Nine carbon when I took it out, and the difference was night and day.

  • joetutt

    I rode this system two days in a row last fall while on a business trip. I parked at Top of the World and took Car Wreck down the first day I was there and nearly crapped my pants. It was, by far, the steepest, rockiest, jagged, trail I’ve been on thus far and although it was really fun, when I reached the bottom I was glad it was over. If I remember though, once it leveled off, there was some really cool singletrack at the bottom that was worth it.

    The second day I rode with some local guys who gave me a pretty nice tour of the system. Even they skipped Car Wreck. They also told me that apparently there’s some guy who helps maintain the trail who bombs down the Car Wreck section on an old hard tail.

  • Jared13

    That sounds like one AWESOME trip.

    It would be sweet to ride with a Hall of Famer. Being able to see how they approach certain sections of trail would pretty eye opening, I would imagine.

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