Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Box Springs Mountain's M Trail By Road Bike

I'm afraid I didn't get in many exploration rides in 2016, which will likely go down as the most terrible year I've had in a long while. But, but there were a few saving graces. One of them was the ride up Box Springs Mountain up in Moreno Valley!

Box Springs Mtn from Cottonwood Ave in Moreno Valley
Box Springs Mtn from Aqueduct Bike Trail in Moreno Valley.
Box Springs Mountain is pretty hard to miss for anyone passing through Moreno Valley on the 215 or the 60 freeways. It is the highest of the low hills south of San Bernardino Mountains, sports three separate sets of radio communication antennae along its peaks, and is marked with a large white letter 'M' on the Moreno Valley facing slope, and a big yellow letter 'C' on the northwestern flank above University of California - Riverside. Both big letters are favorite hiking destinations for the locals, of course!

I set out rather late one afternoon up Pigeon Pass Rd from Moreno Valley, spinning up the gentle climb into Spring Hills, the rural neighborhood of narrow lanes lined with farms, llamas, and patrolled by a rather large herd of wild burros. These four-legged cuties won't really approach you, but they are quite used to seeing humans and cars, so they'll let you get pretty close before moving off... and on... and off. It must have taken me 10 minutes to move 100 yrds when I ran into them just before Box Springs Mtn Rd branches off from Pigeon Pass Rd because they kept crossing the road back and forth in a weird attempt to both look at and get away from me at the same time.

Soon after the Box Springs Mtn Rd & Pigeon Pass Rd intersection pavement ends just as the slope pitches up to quite a ramp up the hard left-hand turn that had me up to my 34x28 gear ratio by the time it leveled off. This is a good bit of the road to remember on the way down, especially on my 25 mm road slick tires.

After that first ramp the climbing was pretty gentle (nothing steeper than 5% grade) and there was quite a bit of view to see down into Riverside and Loma Linda. After a mile or so I passed the Box Springs Mountain Park entrance where the road turns into a trail (it's still a wide fire road, but is closed to motorized vehicles). There isn't much there aside from the dirt parking lot, a few picnic tables, trash bins and a port-a-toilet.

Past the parking lot I rolled through the beautiful (and moderately flat) pasture and enjoyed the wild field so much I almost came off the bike when the road's packed dirt turned into moderately mushy sand for about 30 yds (it isn't exactly easy to see in the late afternoon light), after which the gradient picked up again on the left turn toward the first set of antennae. I think it's the complex atop the big C above UCR campus. It's still gentle enough for my 34x30 gear to cope with, until just after the 2nd encounter with Hidden Spring Trail where the road (now really just a narrow lane) makes a hard left turn into a huge set of ruts and a washed out 20% grade ramp. I don't know how I'd do with a full suspension mtb, but I'm no Martyn Ashton or Chris Akrigg on a rigid road bike and there was no way I'd have made it up that hideous section of the trail rubber-side-down. Heck, it was hard going even portaging the bike up to the switchbacks above!

Luckily that proved to be the only unrideable (at least by road bike) portion of the trail for me. There was another steep ramp (with some loose-ish sandy section leading to it) up to the next set of antennae, but it was still rideable. The road becomes much more trail-y and rough after that with the sharp turn-y descent and climb to the last antenna; the one directly above the big M.

Alas, the antennae complex was completely fenced in and it was too late in the day for me to venture down onto the .6 mile single track trail that leads around the complex to the actual M (I wanted to descend past all the sandy sections of the trail before it got too dark), so I just hang around on top and drank in the view for a bit. It was hard earned and beautiful!

Descending Box Springs Mtn Trail on a rigid road bike with dual pivot brakes and running 25 mm road slick tires was, I'm afraid, quite less than fun. I'm an above-average bike handler, and it took all of my skills and a lot of luck to make it back down to the flat-ish meadow path to the parking lot with all my bones intact. No matter how hard on the brakes you descend, you'll still carry too much speed down that trail to always be able to stay on a good descending line through all the curves - all the while hoping that the tires wouldn't go poof on you from all the skidding. Then, of course, there were the sandy sections and the ruts that you'd have to end up bunny hopping over simply because there is no way you can stop the bike with the dual pivot brakes and the no-tread tires... hoping that the landing on the other side of the ruts is firm enough for you to keep the bike under control. I think I must have aged 10 years in just 3 miles of riding!

It was as awesome a time as I'd ever had on a bicycle, mind you, but the next time I brave Box Springs Mtn, it'll be on either a mountain bike or a proper cyclocross bike!

Here is a short video clip of the Smorgmobile 1.2's last adventure: