Interested in getting into mountain biking in San Diego? Whether you're just getting started or are already a seasoned rider, we've got some tips for you.
Table of Contents
1. The Conditions
2. The Groups
3. The Benefits
3.1. Physical Benefits
3.2. Mental Benefits
4. The Best Places to Mountain Bike in San Diego
5. Other Guides
6. The Best Mountain Biking Sunglasses
8. Mountain Biking at SportRx
Here in San Diego, you're hard-pressed to find a day where the weather is too poor for mountain biking. Though this year has been an exception, normally the annual rainfall is about 12 inches, which means a lot of good weather. The average temperature year-round in the city is also 70.5 degrees with a nice breeze, so it's not too hot or too cold.
Rain can be a big obstacle in the winter, flooding trails and causing ruts; summer is hot and dusty with strong sunlight. The best seasons for mountain biking are fall and spring, when the temperature is more comfortable, the weather more agreeable, and the sun milder.
The weather may be consistent, but the landscape is not—San Diego is home to many different types of terrain. From desert to chaparral to coastal to mountainous, there's a large variety of both plant and animal life and the types of soil you can ride in. Chances are no two trails will have the exact same terrain. If you enjoy variety and a different challenge on every trail, San Diego is a great place to be. If you're new to MTB, these changes in terrain can be scary, but rest assured that variety is the spice of life and we all wipe out a few times.
Erosion is a serious problem in this area, though, so the drawback to the drier soil is that a heavy rain can wipe out a trail as you know it. If the trail wasn't made according to regulations, erosion and rain cause big ruts and make the trail unusable.
San Diego Mountain Biking Association (SDMBA)
Founded in 1994, the SDMBA is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization dedicated to maintaining and improving trails as well as educating riders all over San Diego County. In December of 2018 they began work on a new Black Widow Trail in Black Mountain Open Space Park, and expect to complete it by the end of 2019. The process to clear and build trails is more bureaucratic than you might think, and the SDMBA is responsible for a lot of the trails around here. The group also organizes group rides for those looking to get involved with the community. You can check out SDMBA's site here. Keep up the good work!
Zen Bike Tours
Operated by professional mountain biker Stephane Roch, Zen Bike Tours can help you find either a great place to start biking or a new trail if you're looking for a fresh challenge. They welcome riders of all skill levels, and you can learn more and book a trip on their site.
Family and Friends
Have a spouse, best friend, kid, or significant other you can persuade into joining you on your next ride? Perfect! Mountain biking makes a fun solo activity, but having a trusted companion by your side makes reaching the end of that difficult trail that much more rewarding.
As with any sport, there are plenty of benefits of mountain biking. Aside from getting fit and feeling healthier, here are a few physical and mental improvements specific to MTB.
First and foremost is improved heart health. Mountain biking requires use of many different muscle groups that all need large amounts of oxygen, so your heart will work harder to keep up.
Mountain biking is also considered a non-weight bearing sport, meaning it's not as tough on your joints as something aerobic like running. While this is great if you're recovering from an injury or have joint problems, to keep up your bone density (and prevent a broken bone from a wipeout on the trail), fitness experts recommend pairing biking with a weight bearing activity that focuses on your legs, hips, and lower back. Stay safe out there!
Thanks to mountain biking, you'll also find improvements in your balance and coordination. Never knowing how a trail will look on a given day adapts you to sudden changes more quickly, whether they're a rock that wasn't there last time, a fallen branch, or an unexpected pot hole.
The most obvious benefit is arguably the most important—being outside and connecting with nature. Studies have shown that spending more time outdoors on a day-to-day basis improves your mood as well as your relationship to the environment.
Many mountain bikers also talk about the mental clarity and release that comes with the sport. Out on the trail, you have no space to devote to things troubling you. Mountain biking requires your utmost focus, so it can take your mind off of other issues. In order to devote time to the things that matter (such as family, work, and alone time), you first need to clear your head.
We're no Colorado or Sedona, but San Diego still has plenty of great places to go for a thrilling ride. Here are our top 5 picks.
1. Noble Canyon
Considered by many to be the best MTB trail in Southern California, Noble Canyon is a highly technical ride spanning from Alpine forests to chaparral and ending in desert. It features a narrow singletrack and plenty of rocks and switchbacks. There are also many sections where there is a sharp drop next to the trail itself—this is definitely not a beginners' ride. One of the most technical sections of Noble Canyon is known as "Stairway to Hell," and though short, it is extremely rocky and requires a lot of expertise to make it to the bottom.
2. Black Mountain
Black Mountain Open Space Park is popular for both hikers and mountain bikers and known for rocky trails and great views of San Diego. Black Mountain includes both uphill and downhill trails to be a fun ride no matter which direction you go. It's also mostly singletrack, and there are plenty of trail loops and well-marked signs so you can find your way around.
Best Trails: Manzanita Loop (Intermediate), Lilac Miners Peak Loop (Intermediate/Advanced)
3. Mount Laguna
A network of trails that can be ridden on their own or linked to a longer ride, Mount Laguna trails take you through pine forests and open meadows to Big Laguna Lake. It's a mostly flat ride with a couple of more technical areas and a lot of options for how long or short you want your ride to be. You can also continue onward to Noble Canyon from here.
Best Trails: Big Laguna Trails (Easy/Intermediate), Gatos Spur (Intermediate)
4. Los Peñasquitos Canyon
Another area with many different options if you're looking to take it easy or step it up a notch. Though not super technical on its own, Los Peñasquitos Canyon has many smaller, singletrack trails branching off of the wider doubletrack that can make a simple ride more interesting.
Best Trails: Cobbles Trail (Easy/Intermediate), Appendix Trail (Easy/Intermediate)
5. Mission Trails Regional Park
Mission Trails Regional Park is home to many different types of MTB trails, most of them intermediate and easy with a few advanced. There is also a variety between singletrack and doubletrack as well as uphill or downhill rides.
Best Trails: Cowles Mountain (Advanced), South Fortuna Trail (Intermediate)
New to MTB in general? Check out our guide on how to get involved in more technical trails, as well as ladders and jumps.
If you're feeling a little more adventurous than just San Diego, we've got a list of the best MTB parks in North America. We especially recommend checking out #2 on that list if it's in your budget.
Aside from the two we've highlighted, feel free to give all our mountain biking blogs a read—we cover more than just sunglasses!
Just as important as your bike are the sunglasses you pick! They help keep dirt, debris, and bugs out of your eyes, and if you get the right lenses, they'll improve your vision out on the trail. Here are a couple of our favorite frames to get you started.
Oakley Flak 2.0 XL
The Oakley Flak 2.0 XL is the go-to athlete sunglass, with a lightweight and durable O-Matter frame and Unobtainium nose and temple grips to keep them on your face even if you wipe out.
What make the Flak great for MTB in particular are the PRIZM Trail lenses that boost contrast to its highest to help you spot all the bumps and dips on the trail. They're also not too dark to ensure the wearer can maneuver from deep shade to bright sunlight without experiencing discomfort in either. However, if you tend to bike in bright sunlight or feel the Trail doesn't quite cut it aesthetically, check out the new PRIZM Trail Torch (read our comparison here). It's slightly darker to give a little extra help in bright conditions, but it's not available in Rx just yet.
The Oakley Targetline is versatile enough to be worn both as a serious sport and casually. Though not currently available with the same Trail lenses as the Flak 2.0 XL, the Dark Golf color makes a strong case for mountain biking due to its high contrast and ability to handle anything from deep shadows to bright light.
These also have the same great Oakley perks as the best sports frames, like a lightweight and durable O-Matter frame and integrated side shields. Tapering temples and angled brows also make these great under a bike helmet. Watch our first look of the Targetline!
Not your style? That's okay! You can also check out our list of the best mountain biking sunglasses of 2020 to get more ideas.
First and foremost, SportRx would like to thank Joe DeStefani for all his contributions to this post. A participant in Bike to Work Day 2019, Joe was kind enough to tell us about his experiences with getting involved in mountain biking, both here in San Diego and up in Whistler, British Columbia. Interviewing with him laid the foundations for the structure of this blog post, so without him it would not exist.
Some advice from Joe: "If you don’t push yourself to the edge you’ll never advance, that’s not just an application for biking, it’s an application for life. Failures are just stepping stones to success. Fail away." Thank you, Joe, and may you reach the bottom of Stairway to Hell soon!
SportRx would also like to thank Susie Murphy, Executive Director of the SDMBA, for her advice and input on how trails are made, maintained, and managed. Mountain bikers all over San Diego appreciate your hard work every day.
Last but not least, thank you to Stephane Roch, who was able to provide additional information on the best places to ride in the area from the perspective of a professional. Be sure to check out Zen Bike Tours for tips on your next ride!
We hope you've learned something new from this post. If you're local and would love to know the difference that good MTB lenses make, feel free to stop by our showroom and try some out for yourself! When you shop with SportRx, you’ll find video guides and tooltips throughout the build process as you customize the perfect pair. An answer to all your questions is at your fingertips, and if you want to chat with an expert, Contact Us. We’ll put you in touch with one of our friendly in-house opticians who can help you build your prescription mountain biking sunglasses.
If you're not local, you can still ditch risky online shopping with the See Better Guarantee. Try your sunglasses for 45 days. If you’re not satisfied, send them back. Get a full refund, exchange, or credit towards a better pair. And return shipping? Covered. Get your pair of prescription mountain biking sunglasses at SportRx today!