On the tail of a storm

Before I get into the details of this ride I need to talk about mountain biking in the rain in this area because it is easily misunderstood. Nearly all of the local wilderness parks in the area close their trails for a day or two after a rain, and for good reason. They are all areas with mostly clay soil. For most hikers and bikers, using those trails after a rain is either impossible or causes loads of trail damage. The wet clay clings to anything that touches it with amazing tenacity. And that includes the clay itself. There really is nothing similar to it. If you wanted to make some kind of cement or glue with the same properties you would not be able to do any better than nature has already done with southern California clay. As you attempt to walk over a wet clay surface, your first stride acts like some kind of shoe shaped cookie cutter, plucking a 2 – 3 inch thick chunk of clay out of the ground which stays resolutely attached to the bottom of your shoe and weighs in at approximately ten pounds. You hope your next step will shake the mess loose, but instead the clay on your shoe stays firmly in place while it grabs another chunk just like it from the surface of the trail. Within a few steps you look like Gene Simmons and you have no control over what direction you are going because the clay is super slippery. Mountain bikers fare no better. Usually 1-2 wheel revolutions pack mud out to the bike frame making it impossible for the wheels to turn. Cleaning your bike can take forever and the clay takes a toll on your bike’s drivetrain and anything else it can get into, which is everything, basically. But the clay is not always that bad, and not on every trail. So if you can manage to propel your bike over the clay it usually leaves a deep impression in the trail surface. If nothing disturbs it, the trail will harden that way. Not good.

So why did I go riding on wet trails on a rainy day? Do I have a desire to destroy trails? Do I just not care? Of course not. The simple rule is to ride on surfaces that are not clay, and that is what I did on this ride.


Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
04:09:41 03:04:38 26.37 8.57 32.88 1,896.33
hours hours mi. mph mph ft.

Surfaces that are good to ride on when wet include decomposed granite, gravel, sand and of course pavement. My route was along Trabuco Canyon, and the canyon is a river bed, naturally rocky and sandy. Some sections of the trail are even raised road beds, so they are even better in the wet. One temptation while riding a wet trail is to stay slightly off the trail in the ground cover. Don’t do it. It widens the trail unnecessarily and increases impact and erosion. It also helps that I was riding my 29 plus bike with floaty 3.0 tires, dropped to 14psi and converted to tubeless.


Decomposed granite: good


Gravel: good


Pavement: duh

I arrived at the trailhead greeted by the last cloudburst of the day. I had been watching the real time weather reports and I timed my ride almost perfectly. Once I was ready to ride I enjoyed a few minutes of Pandora inside my car watching the puddles in the parking lot as the last raindrops hitting them tapered off. El Nino is bringing warm rain showers, so a light jacket was all I needed to stay comfortable.


As I rode, the skies turned from this…


Into this

I started with a big pavement climb to get me to the decomposed granite trails of Ladera Ranch.


I was skeptical

I encountered this silly cone on the sidewalk section of the climb. Gardeners were trimming trees and there were a lot of cuttings all over the sidewalk. But seriously, close the sidewalk for some sticks? Weren’t they being a little overly cautious? Further down the trail I saw why they had closed it.


Ok, sidewalk closed, I get it

This bad boy was straddling the sidewalk. So I guess the sidewalk really was closed. I went around, no problem. But if you had a stroller you would have to turn back.


Bigger than usual

Trabuco Creek was running deep, as expected. You have to be careful in conditions like these. Often the stream keeps rising long after the rain stops. But that was not the case today. I was able to ride about half the crossings. I walked the remainder, using my bike as support.


A mud fender. And bottom bracket. And pedals.

I have ridden my Fatback with full 4.7″ fat tires on this same trail, and they did work. But I like 29 plus better. It was actually a lot of fun negotiating deep gravel, loose sand and wet conditions. It is where the big hula hoops show off their biggest advantage over smaller tires.


Fickle Tijeras Creek

The new section of the ride for me was the upper section of Tijeras Creek Trail. I made a couple of wrong turns but negotiated it without much incident.


Please stay on trail



I will be staying on this side of the trail, thank you

I had planned a much bigger ride, but before I reached Santa Margarita Parkway, all of the soft trail surfaces, stream crossings, getting on and off the bike, etc. had taken its toll. I still pulled off a big ride as you can see from the Strava numbers. But is was time to execute my exit strategy. Rather than returning via the canyon, I returned along Antonio Parkway, which was a fast easy descent. It means I did my climbing on the more technical terrain and descended on easy terrain, which is the opposite of what I like to do. But a bail out is a bail out, and the ride was still good. I did not even feel like I had been a big baby when I stopped for my last bit of trail food.


It is OK to baby yourself a little when riding tough conditions

I am still focusing my riding on Trabuco Canyon loops. If the trails dry out fast enough I will be back in a couple of days to see if I can do the big loop I had planned for this day.

Let me know what you think