Words: Dylan Johnson
Big Bear Lake is a small ski town just two hours East of Los Angeles, CA, making it a popular getaway for mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts in Southern California. This was particularly evident after staying there for a week. Mid-week the downtown area is quiet, but come Friday the restaurants and shops are packed. Of course, this could have been because my teammate Mike and I were in town for the Grizzly 100, which draws a large contingent of West coast endurance racers as well a few riders from across the country looking to cap off their National Ultra Endurance (NUE) season at the series’ final race.
The Grizzly is the brainchild of Big Bear local, Derek “the Herminator” Hermon. He explained to us that the Grizzly 100 course is a massive ride that he’s been doing with his buddies for 20 years. The race starts with a steep fire road climb out of the town of Big Bear Lake before hitting single track. It’s not long before you are plummeting down the mountain on the Seven Oaks descent. This downhill is loaded with thick sand, steep off camber sections, and tight switchbacks. Staying clipped in down the whole trail is no easy task. Chances are you’re gonna have to dab in multiple spots. Dropper posts are welcome, nay, even encouraged, on this trail.
Once you exit Seven Oaks you get on to some flatter fire roads in the valley before hitting the Santa Ana River Trail. The trail has little elevation gain or loss compared to the rest of the course but is loaded with tight turns. As with most of the trails out here in Big Bear, the dirt is dry and sandy giving you little traction, making corners tricky to say the least. The most demanding part of the race comes next, the Radford climb. This climb is a dirt road that climbs 2500 feet in just five miles. The road is fully exposed and tops out a little over 8000 feet above sea level. It’s unusual to hear a post-race story that doesn’t include cracking, bonking, cramping, wheezing or just general suffering up Radford.
Luckily the fun stuff is still to come as you hit Skyline trail. This trail follows a ridge and is filled with overlooks of the valley below. It is definitely one of the most scenic parts of the race but you can’t take your eyes away from the trail for long because it’s loaded with tight corners, technical rock sections and as always in Big Bear, more sand. It’s at this point that the punchy climbs are starting to take it out of you but you’ve got one more trail to tackle before the end. The Pine Knot trail starts with a twisty downhill with a lot of off camber corners. There are a couple of drops and g-outs. Which just makes these some of the most fun trails of the entire race. It’s short-lived though as the trail quickly turns uphill and you have to climb out what you just came down. The climb has a couple steep pitches and tricky rock garden close to the top. Seeing the top is a relief because you’ve got close to 60 miles on your legs and the finish is just a fire road downhill away.
The race finishes in the Village which is where the bulk of the shops and restaurants are located, making it easy to enjoy post-race festivities, grab some food, get some drinks, and even go to the free concert at The Cave included with the race entry. After the awards, we refueled with some Mexican food at El Jacalito and for dessert hit the North Pole Fudge shop to cap off an awesome weekend.
The bike for your trip to Big Bear is a capable cross-country bike like the RKT9 RDO. The Fox 34 step cast added confidence to an already well-rounded platform and the RKT was a pleasure to ride down the squirrely Seven Oaks decent. Tire pressure is crucial here with how sandy it is. Too hard and the tight low traction corners will show you no mercy. With all this cornering and steep descending a dropper post more than comes in handy. There aren’t a lot of big features or overly rough terrain so a longer travel bike probably isn’t necessary but that doesn’t mean something like the JET or RIP wouldn’t make the downs more fun.