A Brief on Los Angeles Mountain Bike History with MWBA – Erik Hillard

A Brief on Los Angeles Mountain Bike History with MWBA
Words by Erik Hillard
Photos compiled by Erik Hillard from the MWBA Archives, on diplay now at Mission Workshop LA.

I rode my first mountain bike in the Santa Cruz Mountains while in high school and working at a bike shop in Salinas, CA. It was the early 1990s and by then, local hiking and equestrian anti-bike groups had prevailed and bikes were illegal on single track. There were few places to ride legally and I grew up with tremendous gratitude for legal trails when I found them.

Later I moved near Pasadena, CA and started to explore the adjacent Angeles National Forest. I was amazed at the miles of open trails for mountain bikes. How was access to this amazing forest preserved when so much of California single track was lost for mountain bikes in the 1990s?

Many cyclists are not aware of what happened in the mid-1980s in the forest above Pasadena. Local riders pedal through the forest every day but few know how this access was won. Bicycles were not unheard of on dirt roads and trails in the Angeles National Forest; however, mountain biking grew exponentially in the mid-1980s with the wide release of the Specialized Stumpjumper and other dirt specific bicycles.

In 1985, local Pasadena newspaper articles appeared about trail conflict. Alan Armstrong rode the Mt. Wilson Toll Road and along with others enjoyed the Henninger Flats campground a few miles above Pasadena. As more people pedaled on the steep fire road, the local equestrians began to write letters complaining about speeding bikes and expressing concern for safety. Equestrians wanted bikes banned from the Toll Road and the forest.

In December 1985, The City of Pasadena, Water & Power Department posted a “No Bicycling” sign on the Toll Road gate. Armstrong and other cyclists organized a letter writting campaign and the sign was removed. The “wheels were turning” now and in 1986, Alan Armstrong founded the Mt. Wilson Bicycling Association with the purpose of educating fellow riders and to defend access for bikes in the forest. In 1993, Alan was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

Through education of mountain bikers and their strong trail work volunteer force, the founding members of MWBA literally saved mountain bike access in the Angeles National Forest. Mt. Wilson Bicycling Association is one of, if not the first organized mountain bike trail work and advocacy groups in the United States. The actions of the original MWBA volunteers showed the local USFS staff how serious mountain bikers were about care of forest trails and educating fellow cyclists on proper trail courtesy. The Angeles National Forest had never experienced anything like the trail work machine MWBA quickly became.

But don’t think MWBA was all about business. This crew was just as serious about “beverages” as they were about their trail work. MWBA personified “Work Hard, Play Hard.”

Ray still rides that bike today!

Around 2014, I joined the MWBA Board and started designing trail work flyers, etc. With my photography background, I was pretty interested in the few images around of early MWBA days. Kyle from Golden Saddle Cyclery introduced me to original MWBA member Ray Juncal and the early world of MWBA opened up. Ray has been an essential piece in connecting the current generation of mountain bikers to the past success and trail work of MWBA. I spent hours with Ray flipping through photo albums and sifting thru flat files of original MWBA artwork. Everyone who knows Ray strives to be #RadLikeRay

Eric Brunt from Mission Workshop approached MWBA Trail Boss Matt Baffert about hosting an MWBA exhibit at the new store in DTLA. The idea of a MWBA History Exhibit was born. Ray and I started reaching out to other original MWBA members and Alan Armstrong rose to the occasion. Alan dug out boxes of prints, slides, and presentation boards from his storage space and I quickly found myself overwhelmed with imagery and stories. I spent the next few weeks scanning, copy photographing, and editing images to curate the exhibit. The image gallery here represents a few of the images now on display at Mission Workshop DTLA. Well over 100 prints are up in the store as well as display boards about the start of MWBA, the Ken Burton trail, and MWBA today.

Mountain biking in the Angeles National Forest would look very different today without the early success of MWBA.

Everyone who pedals on a fire road and any single track trails today in the Angeles National Forest has the early MWBA volunteers to thank. Today, MWBA is a strong trail work force and their monthly work days help keep trails sustainable. The current USFS staff sees mountain bikers as a valuable trail work resource.

Don’t take your trail access for granted. Your ability to ride in the dirt has been won by sweat equity of the volunteers before you. Find your local trail work organization and show up. Move some dirt, get involved. Make new history.


Follow Erik on Instagram, follow MWBA on Instagram, and see this exhibit at Mission Workshop LA!

  • black cat bicycles

    so rad. one my frame building mentors is in a bunch of those old photos (far before i met him) and was the first one to show me the mt wilson trails. good to see where his goofy grin and constantly positive attitude came from!

    • Erik Hillard

      Who would that be? I love hearing all these connections to the original MWBA crew

      • black cat bicycles

        mark greyson, aka “skid”. the dude in the hat next to the concrete footing in the opener, and the dude in front with the hat with a dog in a couple of the older black and whites. was involved in the start of mantis somehow. not sure exactly. designed and built some of the elevated chainstay bikes from alpine stars, etc. i inherited, and still have a couple of those tubesets and dropouts somewhere…

        a handful of early mtb legends from LA/laguna live in SLO county as expats. i was lucky enough to get to know some of them and squeeze out whatever coolness i could after they were done and had discarded it. a buddy, mark johnson, has advice on which coaster brake to use on your first edition team issue cooks bros cruiser! absolute legend!

        • black cat bicycles

          shit… “skid” mark.

          damn… i just got that… ha!

          • Myles Lucas

            I just sent this article to Mark, I think he’ll be stoked!

        • Erik Hillard

          Sweet.. there is a great photo of Mark demonstrating “riding a bike thru a switchback” to the USFS during a Trail Boss training weekend. Its one of my favorite images in the exhibit.

    • No shit? So good!

  • Pelex

    I spy a young Eddie Rea from Mantis…solid guy!

  • radlandscyclist

    This is everything I love. History, Bikes, and Los Angeles. So rad!

  • Charlie D

    Speaking of spying people, do I spy Zapata Espinoza in pic #4 far left? (Mtn/Road Bike Action Journalist)

    • Erik Hillard

      Yep! Zap was a big supporter of early MWBA and the Pancake Breakfast raffles had a lot of prizes via his connections.

  • Cody Leuck

    Rad, coolest read in a while. Well done.

  • chrismoustache

    That pancake mix dispenser just climbed to the top of my gear wish list.

  • California Travis

    Whoa. Now THIS is content! What a GREAT article!!!!!!

  • Area45

    Great story! I’m bummed I missed the party but I’m planning to go and check out the pics. Thanks to all the Volunteers that have maintained these trails over the years! Great stuff Erik! And of course Ray is just the god damned best.

    • Erik Hillard

      Thanks! Do make it down there. Seeing the prints up on display is definitely worth the trip to DTLA. Mission Workshop is open 11-7 and they will validate your parking for the ROW DTLA parking structure off Alameda and Center (just south of 7th)

  • STW
    • Charlie D

      Yeti F.R.O. with dirt drops. I had that rig!

  • Nico

    Super cool! Really enjoy seeing photos from CA mountain biking’s first heyday.
    Love the Smoky the Bear MWBA logo!

  • AaronBenjamin

    It does NOT get more rad than this! This was back when you had to BE THERE IN PERSON to be part of the community… no internet to hide behind. Sign of the times.

  • Mark Rothschild

    Great read…Your,Age-ish..Bonny Doon,(Santa Cruz), guy HERE…..Long Live Jack O..RIP

    • Mark Rothschild

      …PS…Aldo’s Monkey

  • Drew Devereux

    So great to read of the people who saved bike access in the Angeles forest! I grew up in the 60s-70s living a few blocks from Eaton canyon in Altadena, and spent lots of time exploring the canyon and Mt Wilson on foot. It was a shock when I went back there in the 90s and saw that gate with all the barbed wire. I never did see anybody riding a bike up there in those days, but I led a few friends down the Mt Wilson toll road on our road bikes in 1975. Aside from some pinch flats we had a blast. In the 70s if you rode your bike to the top of Mt Wilson on the road, there was an entrance booth where a lady asked you to sign a log book to document your accomplishment.

  • Glen Abraham

    Found out about this site a little late. Better late than never. I’ve worked with Alan and the group many times to the betterment of the Angeles as a whole. In addition there was strong support from the Forest Service -Los Angeles River Ranger District- in the form of the local recreational rep. Howard Okamoto (perhaps not the only). Out side of the Requirement for (such as after a Fire, and the flooding issues that necessarily follow) state/federal Trail rebuilding funds, All trail maintenance is gegerally ‘shouldered’ by volunteerism. So, fly the mountain cycling free-flag high. Glen Abraham