Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Big Bear (Off-road) Experience: May 2020

My friend Dave, who knows a bit about great California riding, heard that I’d never ridden any off-road Big Bear stuff. I’ve visited BB for decades, and have done some fun street rides up there, but have never explored the fire roads and trails I’d heard about. Well, that was about to change.

Dave called a couple of friends and explained the situation. His friends asked, “Ah, so he wants the real Big Bear experience, huh?” And they set about preparing it.

We left Escondido early on Memorial Day and met the other two riders in Devore. From there, we took the back way via 138 towards Big Bear, past Lake Arrowhead then into the mountains via Bowen Ranch Road. The three of them were on big KTMs and I was on my trusty Gen 1 KLR.

Upon leaving pavement, the trail was a mix of hard dirt, sand and rock. The others had aired down their tires but I left mine alone, fearing bent rims from the rocky terrain.

The riding was truly spectacular—a mix of elevation, fast straightaways and multi-surface terrain. And, of course, the scenery was breathtaking. Big Bear lake sits at 6,700’ and most of our riding was in the 7k foot range (our highest point being 7,889’). Temperatures were between 70-80 all day.

We stopped at a couple of choice locations where the air was brisk and smelled of pines...and it was silent but for the breeze. THIS is what I’d been missing all those years.

After stopping by the old Belville cabin, we rode into Big Bear for lunch. A few locations were open so we had burgers and beers on the patio at Thelma’s.

We didn’t see many other riders at all. One group we stopped to speak with was made up of some real old school guys. They were riding old carbed bikes (DRZ 350, Honda XL) and wearing jeans, work boots and no gloves. I remember those days! And we did see a slew of Jeeps and mountain bikers toward the end of the ride.

Though not really challenging, I had to pay attention to sloping sides, rutted roads and trail debris. No one had any get offs, though there were definitely some opportunities.

We only rode a total of about 80 miles, though there are MANY more miles of trails to explore. I’m told we only scratched the surface of what BB has to offer, offroad-wise. Here’s the route we took, with as many trails and fire roads as I could recall:

Coxy Truck Trail
Big Pine Flats
3N16 towards Big Bear
Holcomb Valley Rd
Bellville Cabin
Hwy 18 out of town
Skyline Drive
Bradford Camp Road
1N09 down to 38 (this long, rocky, downhill stretch was challenging and my favorite part of the ride)
Hwy 38 to Yucaipa

If you plan to ride these trails—which I highly recommend—it would be a good idea to go with someone who’s familiar with the area. Doing that made a huge difference in the enjoyment factor.

Here’s a cool link showing our route:

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