Most of us think of Los Angeles as a big sprawling metropolis that would be up there in the worst places to ride imaginable. That may or not be true, but something I’m sure of is a few miles north of the glamour of Hollywood and the tourist traps on Santa Monica Pier is some of the most amazing riding terrain on earth.
These rides are in an area known as the Santa Monica Mountains. Think of your favourite hilly region then multiply its size and altitude. Throw in amazing weather, light traffic and you’re getting close (That’s just the road riding, don’t get me started on gravel and Mountain biking in the area). Earlier this year, local rider Grace Hutton set out to film the most popular road rides in the area. The result is fourteen new rides, all filmed with the best equipment we could put on a bike. These rides add up to a virtual tour of the area’s best road riding. If you like hills, you’ll soon find some new favourites.
I recently had the opportunity to meet Grace and enjoy some amazing Californian hospitality. We went on a couple of great rides and checked out some of the climbs for real. Here’s an interview with Grace. I’ll leave her to explain more about the rides you can try at home.
My personal favourite
My favourite is Fernwood. It starts in the famous Topanga Canyon then snakes up a narrow road through the houses. (Watch out for Sylvester Stallone’s house up on the hill near the top). It’s a favourite because there’s always something going on. Lots of changes in gradient, twists and turns and interesting things to look at.
It’s a very difficult climb to really get right. It’s like a series of mico efforts at different gradients, making finding a rhythm difficult. Watch out because it really is super steep at the start (this is one of the bits I thought was wrong in FulGaz)
The “Matrix” moment
I test rode two of the rides a lot, just case I could make the time to get there in person and I was concerned that some of the gradients seemed a bit “off”. Knowing the roads before I got there was invaluable; it stopped me from going too hard too soon more than once and allowed me to pace my effort just like a local.
Did they feel like they do in FulGaz? Utterly. To the point where it felt a bit weird a few times, almost like my TV at home had suddenly wrapped around me and become real. (Just in case you don’t know that the “Matrix” is, here’s a link)
How close was FulGaz to real life – really?
If I’d had more time to organise things I would have taken my power meter and done something a bit more scientific, but I decided to try Fernwood as a solid effort to see what would happen. I had no bike computer, just the Strava app in my back pocket. I therefore couldn’t “ride to a time” and it would all be on feel. Here are some times to compare. The fastest one in FulGaz was ridden as a flat out time trial. The real life version not quite so hard because it was part of a much longer ride and the slowest was my first attempt which I would describe as “A pretty solid effort”.
Real Life 35:04
I had been concerned that the gradient was varying too much in FulGaz. I needn’t have worried, video can be a bit deceptive sometimes, and it’s hard to tell if you’re going downhill or “less uphill”. The steep bits are genuinely steep (but very short) and there are a few tiny downhill sections on the way up.
The rides in FulGaz
Click on the links below to find out more about the rides and preview the videos
Santa Monica Mtns – Decker Rd South
Santa Monica Mtns – 7 Minute Hill/Mulholland Loop
Santa Monica Mtns – Corral Canyon
Santa Monica Mtns – Decker Road/Westlake (North)
Santa Monica Mtns – Deer Creek Rd to Yerba Buena Rd
Santa Monica Mtns – Encinal Canyon Rd
Santa Monica Mtns – Fernwood Pacific (Saddle Peak East)
Santa Monica Mtns – Hidden Valley
Santa Monica Mtns – Latigo Canyon
Santa Monica Mtns – Mulholland Hwy (south)
Santa Monica Mtns – Piuma (Saddle Peak West)
Santa Monica Mtns – Rambla Pacifico
Santa Monica Mtns – Rockstore
Santa Monica Mtns – Stunt Road (Saddle Peak North)
You can hire one of the fleet of Pinarellos available at Serious Cycling. They have two shops and I visited the Agora Hills store. It’s a great shop with a fantastic selection of clothing, accessories and the biggest selection of chain lubes I’ve ever seen. Give them a bit of notice and they’ll have your bike set up for you before you arrive.
If you enjoy these rides in FulGaz and want to visit the area, Agoura Hills is a one hour drive north from LAX. If you like longer rides, you could ride over from Hollywood or Santa Monica and spend the day there.
Serious Cycling has regular group rides to choose from, leaving their shop in Thousand Oaks. They also run the excellent Malibu Gran Fondo which would be the perfect excuse to go. A huge “thank you” also needs to go out to Matt Kavanaugh, my personal tour guide and the person who got in touch In the first place and kicked all this off. If you’d like to ride with Matt here’s his email