Santa Barbara is a place of contradictions, beach but mountains, wealthy but poor, and founded by the Spanish but totally California. I once lived in this fair town before, while I was in Grad school. During the year that lasted, I hardly had time to really explore the place I lived. My life was confined to classrooms, exam schedules, and late night study sessions. My only escape from it all was the time spent on my bicycle. I would ride to class and escape almost every weekend to ride Jesusita trail, Romero canyon, or Cold springs to name a few favorites. The riding in Santa Barbara is as big a contradiction as you would expect from this place. The trails in town are generally flat mellow dirt pathways with not much to speak of technically. Elings park is the only place that even has a climb in it. Elings served as a racecourse for the Santa Barbara bike festival for many years and it actually has a downhill course built there. Not bad for a city park, but still a far cry from true technical riding.
Upon my initial exploration of Santa Barbara the flat dirt trails and the tight loops at Elings were all I knew. Itching for more I bought maps of the area and tried to join in some group rides. My schedule made it almost impossible to make rides, so I explored most of the riding solo. The front country in the Santa Barbara hills is incredible to put it lightly. If you want a climb you can climb for an hour straight from sea level to 4000’ up Romero canyon. On a cloudy day you can climb above the clouds and see white over the whole city all the way to the peaks of the Channel Islands 20 miles off the coast. From the top there is a ridge that gives you a range of options to drop back down. You can even drop down into the backcountry of Santa Barbara. The riding on the other side of the hill is equally epic and can make for a long, long day if you are not careful. Two summers ago I attempted the IMBA epic Buckhorn trail loop with my good buddy and now big time bicycle documentary filmmaker Jacob Siegle-Boettner. Jacob is a Santa Barbara native and researched the route. Too bad he didn’t check to see when it was last maintained cause we spent 9 hours in the backcountry pushing our bikes through the bushes. Lucky for us I brought 9 hours worth of wasabi peas to fuel the pitch-black scramble home. The backcountry has many other rides in great condition, but it is all remote and not a place to be trifled with.
Of all the rides I have done in Santa Barbara I do have a favorite spot that always seems to call to me. Jesusita trail is my favorite. It has a solid 2000’ of climbing to get to the top. You drop down the other side through tight switchbacks and almost psychotic imbedded rock. If that weren’t enough the substrate seems to shift and change around the rock making lines appear and disappear depending on the rain and erosion of the season. I have made every part of the technically demanding climb, just never all of it in the same ride. Jesustita keeps even the most astute riders coming back for more! It is a trail I almost reserve for a full suspension bike after a few tries on my 26 hard-tail. On my CXR 29er it’s a different story the confidence, stability, air volume, and light-weight of my CXR makes short work of loose traction, rough rocks and the hopping maneuvers needed to make it.
No great riding destination would be complete without epic road rides to tie together intervals of hard mountain biking. The road rides here are no exception. They are awesome. You can climb all the way to the top of the ridge on road, ride across it and descend on the other side of town. There are group rides almost every day of the week. It is easy to find someone to hammer the snot out of or sometimes more likely hammer the snot out of you. I have been frequenting the group road rides here since I have been back and managed one of the biggest group rides I have done in a while. I started 10 miles outside Santa Barbara in Goleta and rode to meet the ride in SB. There we departed south toward Carpentaria in a group about one hundred strong. We cruised at about 22 mph average till we hit the first little hill outside Carpentaria. I was about 60 riders back just hanging out; little did I know the “big hill” was immediately after. We dropped down the back of the first hill and turned down a road I didn’t know only to see the front of the pack rise up in front on a gentle yet significant slope. I cruised at a good tempo to move myself up and found it quite easy to move into the top 20. Once I was there I realized that a group of about 10 was already off the front. I focused and pushed hard to move myself into a good strong cadence. I picked off riders slowly over the next three miles of the climb to finish out 4th up the hill with the top three in a group just ahead. After this the ride was all split up and we waited at the top of a second small climb. We were out a back road highway called the 192 that took us south and inland around lake Casitas just outside Ventura. At the two and a half hour mark when we rolled through Ventura I was honestly shocked we had gone that far. Then I realized that the group of relentless warriors that was now down to eight riders had been in a continuous pace line for most of the ride. We hauled our carcasses in this fashion all the way up the coastline back to Carpentaria for 30 miles. It felt incredible to look down at the Garmin once I got home and see that I had covered 90 miles in less than 5 hours. I’m glad to be back in Santa Barbara and this time I really get to enjoy it.