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Best of Home, Volume 1: Backbone Trail

Kyle Sparks  /  Sep 03, 2020  /  3 Min Read  /  Mountain Biking

Photo editor Kyle Sparks kicks off our new social media series, “Best of Home,” documenting the everyday, out-the-back-door trails that mountain biking depends on.

Flowy banked turns swoop in both directions, making you feel like an X-wing pilot. Rider: Elliott Milner. Photo: Kyle Sparks

Envy has never been easier for mountain bikers—from magazines to social media, it’s almost impossible to escape imagery of remote ridgelines, knee-deep loam or perfectly sculpted features. It’s the type of riding that fuels daydreams and sparks excursions.

But mountain biking isn’t built on vacations: It’s built on the trails out the back door, the ones you can ride over and over and over and never stop smiling. They serve as gathering places for new and old friends, as catalysts for ever-strengthening cycling communities. They can be gateways for those looking to get into the sport, or a momentary escape for those seeking peace. These trails are what keep our love for bikes alive.

To celebrate these backyard beauties, we asked photographers, athletes and industry advocates from around the world to highlight their favorite close-to-home trails—why they love them, and what keeps them coming back lap after lap—and we turned it into an ongoing series called “Best of Home.” This is Volume 1.

Best of Home, Volume 1: Backbone Trail

Backbone Trail cuts a red ribbon through springtime greenery in the Santa Monica Mountains. Photo: Kyle Sparks

Backbone Trail

Location: Sycamore Canyon, Malibu, California

Distance: 1.8 miles

Descent: 736 feet

Climb: 53 feet

Backbone Trail is the first singletrack I ever rode. It was 1999, back in the days of 26″-wheeled, fully rigid frames with rim brakes, and more than 20 years later, it’s still my favorite. Backbone is awesome from top to bottom; dropping from the foothills above the Pacific Ocean, it literally ends a hundred yards from the beach.

I’ve always thought of it in three sections, and any Star Wars fan would savor the first. Flowy banked turns swoop in both directions, making you feel like an X-wing pilot—though one flat, permanently loose right-hand corner halfway down is infamous for taking out inattentive riders. The second section is more straight-line speedy, with a few fist-sized rocks thrown in, and ends at an overlook of the Santa Monica Mountains. Take in the view, then drop through the final section, a mix of flow and rocks that cuts through fields of yellow-orange wildflowers in the spring and fall.

Best of Home, Volume 1: Backbone Trail

The loose right-hand corner halfway down is infamous for taking out inattentive riders. Rider: Elliott Milner. Photo: Kyle Sparks

The trail finishes with a hard-right switchback, dropping into a streambed with an abrupt uphill exit onto the Sycamore Canyon fire road. From there, it’s a three-mile cruise to the trailhead and a well-deserved cool-off plunge at Sycamore Cove beach.

I’m no longer on a rigid frame, and I’ve ridden Backbone hundreds of times since 1999, but it still puts a smile on my face. It’s just too much fun not to.

Photographs were taken on ancestral lands of the Chumash and Micqanaqa’n Peoples of California.

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