Trans Angeles An E-Bike Adventure

Story by Hans Rey Photos by Bill Freeman

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 its diverse neighborhoods, suburbs and famous landmarks. When this city was founded, its full name was El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora 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,” aka L.A. or Los Angeles.

Southern California has been my home for more than 30 years. After traveling 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 neighborhood. And what better way to do so than with a couple of mountain biking rock stars.

Missy Giove is one of the greatest legends the sport of mountain biking has ever seen. She had a huge impact on mountain bike racing and contributed to the rock star image it had in the ’90s. Her attitude and racing style made her one of the most recognized characters in biking. Her childlike enthusiasm could sometimes mask the deep-thinking, intelligent person underneath. She has a motormouth that can talk 100 words a minute, revealing a personality as colorful as the tattoos that cover her body. This woman is pretty fearless, addicted to speed and sometimes reckless. She has no fear of broken bones, which might explain why she has ended up in some sticky situations in her life.

Timmy C (Tim Commerford) has been a longtime friend and is also a hard-core mountain biker. He is the bassist for bands like Rage Against the Machine, Prophets of Rage and Audioslave. He grew up around L.A. and has more passion and enthusiasm for bikes than many pro bikers I have met over
the years.

We started out on the top of Mount Wilson (5710 feet of elevation) just east of L.A. in the San Gabriel Mountains and were heading west in the direction of our final destination—Catalina Island in the Pacific Ocean. To negotiate the urban stages through the city, we decided to trade off 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, 88 independent cities, and nationals from 140 different countries. Less than 150 years ago, most of the city was natural wilderness that looked like what 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 us from time to time, as well as photographer Bill Freeman and videographer Cedric Tassan (VTOPO).

One of my all-time favorite rides has always been Chantry Flats near Mount Wilson. To ride there with Missy was special, especially since she has hardly been 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 had the same go-for-it style and attitude on and off the bike. As she doesn’t even own her own bike at the moment, I was happy to supply her with some of mine during this trip.

We had an incredible view of the entire city, all the way to Catalina Island, from our starting point at the Mount Wilson Observatory. Right behind us, there was not a single structure in sight as far as the eye could see. 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 trails are world-class and often technical. Besides snakes and bears, we had to keep an eye out for poison oak. If you are allergic to it, as I am, touching its leaves or branches will give you a nasty rash that itches for days. The trails are also exposed at sections, such as the 80-foot waterfall traverse where a mistake can have fatal consequences.

We spent the night in Pasadena, which was where we started the next morning for stage two on (class 1) e-bikes towards downtown. 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 has an incredible knowledge of all the neighborhoods, parks, river deltas, staircases and shortcuts. It took a lot of research to nail down our unique route through tucked-away neighborhoods, past unique buildings and on hidden sections of trail in between. We experienced firsthand the contrasts of rich and poor, nature and urban development, and history and culture.

The e-bike was the perfect vehicle for this experience. Don’t be mistaken; just because we had some pedal assist doesn’t mean we didn’t get a workout. We climbed over 4000 feet that day, including some really steep widow-maker climbs and staircases. Timmy launched a stair gap right at the beginning of our ride at 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 canceled. Timmy is a very experienced mountain biker. He has been riding for over 25 years. He takes his bike with him on tour when he travels with his bands, and he has done the Leadville 100 and the Race Across America. One year he clocked over 1 million vertical feet on Strava. What he really likes are the technical challenges, especially climbs. On certain sections he would try over and over again until he succeeded without putting his foot down. He has also developed a big interest in e-bikes over the past years. Just like me, he doesn’t believe that e-bikes will replace regular mountain bikes. 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. Riding an e-bike is not cheating, unless you are racing non-e-bike riders. There’s something unique about e-bikes that even puts smiles on the faces of its biggest critics once they actually try one. Thanks to GT Bicycles, Fox, Clif, Stans and Shimano; we had enough bikes for our crew to keep up with us to document our ride with film and photos. 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.

Shortly after leaving the city limits of Pasadena, we dropped into the Arroyo Seco riverbed and crisscrossed several neighborhoods 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 center of L.A., we found a great trail, high above the Interstate 5 freeway near Dodger Stadium. From Radio Hill we dropped down to Chinatown, but first we had to traverse some sketchy homeless areas. 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 have their few possessions stashed in “borrowed” shopping carts, all in the shadows of modern skyscrapers that tower over the maze of streets.

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, and left some skid marks (with our rear tires) on skid row. A nasty crash, however, 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 but no broken bones.

L.A. is also a culinary experience. One can find food, restaurants and markets from all over the world. Los Angeles has an enormous economic impact on the entire world. The economy in this city is bigger than that of Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Sweden.

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 2500 Hollywood 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. Popping wheelies on Rodeo Drive between Lamborghinis and Rolls-Royces, we eventually pedaled all the way to the Baywatch (or shall I say Pacific Blue) beaches of Santa Monica. There’s no better time 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, travelers, athletes, dancers and freaks of nature.

Back on our normal bikes, we hit Timmy’s home trails in the Santa Monica Mountains on stage four. We rode a long section of the Backbone trails that traverse these mountains high above Malibu. From Yerba Buena we pedaled all the way past Pepperdine University on pristine singletracks 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 after there had been several big fires in the area in recent weeks. We were lucky we were even allowed on those trails during that dangerous time.

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. It was a long day and a proper day on mountain bikes. The last trail was a descent along a knife’s-edge ridge with the dark blue ocean getting closer with every turn.

We had an early-morning start from the marina where we met a friend who owns a beautiful yacht, which we took across the waters to Catalina Island. Catalina Island is 22 miles long. Ninety-five percent 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 fox and bison, which were set out in the ’60s when many Wild West movies were shot on Catalina Island. There are two small towns on the island on either side, a small airport, harbor and hardly any cars. After a beautiful 1.5-hour boat trip on our luxury yacht, we anchored at the small settlement of Two Harbors. Along the way, we got to see whales and hundreds of dolphins. Since Catalina is a nature preserve, it is only permissible to ride on fire roads, and one needs to buy a biking permit. There are some big hills across the island, and, unfortunately, no legal access to trails, so we brought our e-bikes. We came across some beautiful bays on the backside of the island with clear blue water. We passed some ranches and a few other bikers who were not happy to get passed by e-bikers until they test rode my bike, which changed their attitudes instantly. Before we embarked on our final descent into the historic town of Avalon on the other end of the island, we opted to add on an extra loop high above the town on 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. Avalon is a popular tourist destination. It has 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 a matter of fact, on a clear day, I can see the island from my bedroom at home. This ride was the perfect way to discover this metropolis and experience many off-the-beaten-track areas, trails and hoods.


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