With beaches so close, one may be surprised to find out that Southern California, and especially the Orange County area are among the most arid areas in the world. It is a “Mediterranean climate” which is shared with countries on the other side of the world surrounding the Mediterranean Sea including Italy, France, Spain and Greece.
On average, the Southern California region gets about 15 inches of rain per year in Los Angeles and Orange counties and about 30 inches in the surrounding mountains while Northern California typically gets double and even triple that amount.
During the “rainy season”, which is kind of a misnomer because even in December there can be 100-degree heat waves, a lot of Southern Californians put their bikes away and take up other sports like snow boarding and skiing. And that’s a shame because with the generally cooler weather from October through April, some of the best riding opportunities come alive!
Rain is a good thing. It eliminates dust. It makes things grow. It cleanses the air. And generally speaking, cool and humid air is easier to breathe than the hot and smoggy air we experience the rest of the year. And as a bonus, on good day, giant storm clouds break up an otherwise drab looking skyline and serve as a great back drop for photography.
But enough about the climate, let’s talk about the terrain. Native Californians are practically immune to living in one of the most seismically active regions in the entire world with over a hundred 3.0 magnitude earthquakes per year. Living on the North American Plate along side the Pacific Plate is the very reason why there are so many earthquakes in the area and why many regard the Southern California area as a mountain biking “mecca” in the world! When tectonic plates bump into each other, they make mountains!
The result of millions of years of climate changes, volcanic activity and tectonic shifts is a mashup of different soil types, each of which respond differently to moisture. Areas near the coastline and even up into some of the nearby foothills are generally composed of “clay”, which when wet becomes a sticky mess. Higher elevations usually have a higher concentration of decomposed granite which by no surprise at all is used by landscapers to create driveways and walkways! Moisture runs off this soil type easily, and because of that, any area that is mostly comprised of it is a great place to ride after (or even during) rain.
All this buildup of information is important because it will help you figure out places to ride during wet weather. If you’ve ridden around the Southern California area during dry weather, surely you’ve become accustomed to the terrain. A good rule of thumb to think about is that if the dirt feels like a baseball diamond during dry weather, it’s not a good place to ride when it’s wet. Conversely, if the terrain you rode while it was dry felt gritty and rocky, it’s probably going to hold up well in wet weather.
Around the Southern California area, most parks are closed during and 3-5 days after any significant amount of rain. You can check the current closure status of any Orange County park at the OCParks.com website. State parks rules are more strict than county parks. The general rule for those parks is that if there’s even a “measurable” amount of rain (meaning, even a tenth of an inch), then the park is closed. You can check California State parks closure status messages at their website.
National Forest Areas are usually open year-round, rain or shine. In the Southern California area, those would include the Cleveland National Forest, the Angeles Forest, the San Bernardino Forest and the Los Padres Forest. Most of these forest areas are good places to ride after rain, but in the Orange County area (Cleveland National Forest), there are some exceptions.
The Cleveland National Forest actually spans from Orange County all the way down into San Diego County, and to the Mexican border. An unusual terrain zone resides between Orange and Riverside Counties, known as the Santa Ana Mountains. This mountain range is different than most others because it is comprised of several different soil types. One would think that the closer you get to the coast, the more likely that the soil would be a clay substance. But that’s not the case in the Santa Ana Mountains. In fact, exactly the opposite is the reality!
So now that you understand a little bit about the climate and terrain of Southern California, surely you’re wondering now, where specifically are the best places to ride after rain? Here’s a rundown on the best spots after rain:
- Anywhere in the Angeles National Forest
- Anywhere in the San Bernardino National Forest
- Anywhere in the Los Padres National Forest
- And then there’s the Santa Ana Mountains…
In the Santa Ana Mountains, the following trails are good to ride after wet weather and have no water crossings:
- Harding Truck Trail
- Indian Truck Trail
- San Juan
In the Santa Ana Mountains, the following trails are good to ride after wet weather provided the water crossings are passable:
- Maple Springs
- Holy Jim
Bad spots to ride after wet weather in the Santa Ana Mountains include:
- Coal Canyon
- Blackstar Canyon
- Santiago Truck Trail
Of course, aside from the climate and soil factors, one must also consider that water is not good for bikes. If you must ride in the rain or shortly thereafter, be sure to wipe down and then coat all the essential parts right after you ride with silicone, WD-40, or some other moisture repelling chemical to prevent rust and corrosion. Essential parts include the gears, shifters, chain, pedals, cables, shocks and all pivot points.
Remember when you’re riding in the rain to take extra care not to slide or skid on the dirt. Also, don’t avoid puddles. Whenever you ride around a puddle, you make the trail wider! It is better to make a puddle deeper than a trail wider.
Also, an important thing to consider if you’re thinking about riding during the rain is what all golfers must consider: you’re basically a lightning rod. No matter where you ride in the rain, you’re making yourself a target for lightning. And the safest place to be to avoid lightning is on dry ground with no trees or other conductive substances around.
Enjoy your wet weather rides on your mountain bike and be safe!