Backbone – The Santa Monica Mountains on Cyclocross Bikes

I’d like to think the kind of riding my friends and I enjoy would be considered “dumb”. From the freestyle on track bikes, all the way to the trail riding on cross bikes (even road bikes), sometimes, it’s just more fun to use the lesser-capable tool for the job. When Sean from Team Dream asked if Ty, Eric, Kyle and I wanted to ride Backbone trail during my last trip in LA, I said hell yes. Then I asked “which bike should I bring to LA?” The answer was what I had hoped for: cyclocross.

My bike has been through the ringer and it’s still one of my favorites to ride. Climbing some serious mountains, both on sealed and gravel, blasting trails in Texas, Vermont, California, Australia, Minnesota or where ever my travels take me. It’s been the most diverse beast in my stable. This ride however, this ride outdid just about everything else.

The day would be big. 60 miles and 7,500′ of climbing. 85% on dirt. Most of it on legitimate / illegitimate singletrack. There were very few chill spots. This was a MTB ride on 33c tires and drop bars. Even as part of our group passed a guy on a full sus MTB riding a downhill section, the dude had the audacity to label our cross bikes as “cheater bikes”. Ok Mr. fullface helmet and pads.

For as many fire road climbs, there were 1-track descents. Nothing was too technical or difficult to ride down, but some parts were too steep to climb with a 34/28. To top it off, I broke my fucking pedal in half at mile 20, Eric was just getting over a serious injury from a car hitting him and we were grossly unprepared for the lack of water.

High points: finding water that had been stashed in the bushes for months (the labels were bleached out, condensation formed at the top – i.e. it had been forgotten), the damn Coke machine at the Malibu Creek State Park (make sure you have plenty of $1 bills – I had 10), the subsequent swimming hole and wearing a hip bag, stuffed with a mushy breakfast burrito from Pedalers Fork.


We started at the Yerba Lot trailhead (one, 10 mile section is closed to bikes, so we had to re-route around that) and ended at the Santa Monica pier inside the photo booth.

I know I post a lot of ride photosets, but this one is not one to be missed! Check out some narrated photos in the Gallery!

Tools of the trade:
Yashica T4 / Kodak Portra 400


  • Your photos are generally pretty amazing but my heart goes out to this one “BRAAAAAAAAP”.

  • Ian Stone

    How the hell did you break some Time ATACs?

    • So the warranty dept came back with inconsistency in the material. I just clipped a rock while climbing and it split in two.

      • recurrecur

        I’ve had mine chip, but split in half?

        • Yep… Basically one of the spring broke off, leaving me with one spring to push my cleat into. The spindle was still covered, but there was only one spring. If I hit bumps, the cleat slid off. I couldn’t hop, or stand to climb – it sucked.

  • jamie

    Inspiration to go out riding !!

  • Sean David

    Aw, the FU aero tuck (#38). I believe Jan Heine is a proponent of this move.

  • Sean Talkington

    A great day indeed! Looking forward to the next one John

  • odenator

    Looks epic! Making me look forward to my big ride tmrw!

  • tanner

    Why not run SRAM Wifli on the cross bike? you could run 34/32?

    • btdubs

      Shit’s weak yo!

  • Adam Carter

    so, since Carla dropped you guys off, can we assume that Sean was on time?

  • Silicone Tidds

    Dual-retro-facing-fingers… Out to practice.

  • Mylarkid

    Awesome inspiration John! I do a lot of these trails on my black mountain cycles road bike most weekends.
    It’s so hilarious cruising by the MTB guys, they do a double take, like wtf was that. I agree with your less-capable tool theory. It’s all about fun anyway.

  • Its really inspiring to try myself!

  • John its really very inspirational many thanks for sharing this.