Single Speed Adventures and Celebrating the Shorter Trails in San Diego

To celebrate the shorter rides that can be accomplished on a single speed, we highlight a few favorites in San Diego, including trails in Balboa Park. These trails are perfect for anyone who wants to work on fitness while enjoying quietude on a single speed in San Diego.

About a decade ago, while living in the Midwest, I picked up a super discounted single speed 29er. The plan was to put a hanger on it and gear it out, as it was set up to do so if one wanted to. The thought was that it would be a bike packing machine.

Out of the box, I gave it a spin on a local trail system in Indiana a few blocks from where I was living. The gearing was 32×20. Immediately, I fell in love. More than all of the many reasons people talk about as to why they love riding single speed bikes, it was the silence that got me. I am a big fan of quietude.

Today I still ride one gear most of the time. Now it is set up 32×17. I am far too lazy to change out the rear cog for different riding scenarios, so it stays at that ratio. I simply tell myself to pedal faster/harder. From San Diego’s east county mountains and desert, to packing it up and taking to PA when I visit family, I enjoy it on varied terrain. Moreover, perhaps, is that I feel like it gives me a proper workout when I am short on time.

Many of us, I would guess, get the majority of our rides in before or after work, or when a window opens up in our schedules, with the long day rides being something that might be once a week, or rides that come when we get away for a weekend or maybe even a week. For those events, I typically ride the geared, squishy bike.

To celebrate those shorter rides, though, that help us keep our sanity, if you will, I am going to a highlight a few of my favorites in San Diego that I ride on my single speed. Don’t have a single speed and wonder what it is like? Well, you can try it out, sort of, by simply not flicking the shifter!

Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego

Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego. James Murren

On the eastern edge of the city of San Diego sits Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP). True, the fire roads are not what many would consider to be mountain biking trails. Nevertheless, I like riding them when mixed with the too wide “trails” and the paved road. Think of it like mixed climbing, rock and ice.

It is all about fitness, maintaining my legs, and getting outside and being in nature. I have a figure eight route, of sorts, connecting the Visitor Center and Oak Groves loops on the Mission Gorge Road side of the park to the ones over in the Grasslands via the Junipero Serra road that bisects the park. When you add it all up, I get in a little over an hour of hard pedaling.  Add in a deer sighting, or snakes, and it is a go-round that fills the MTB and nature need.

Mission Trails Regional Park Map

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. James Murren

I call this a race track kind of ride, with single track jump off points along the way. The primary loop is wide gravelly/dirt. Pedal fast and hard, hammer up the climbs, and like Florida Canyon, when you see a narrow dirt path, take it. There is plenty out there to get in 1.5 hours of riding, especially if you go up into what is legally open in the direction of Del Mar Mesa.

In the spring, be sure to stop and check out the waterfall.  Also, especially when it rains, check in with the preserve or check out San Diego Mountain Bike Association’s Facebook page for trail closures, etc. Sometimes bridges do wash out or the river floods the trails and they get shut down/closed for a few days.

Los Penasquitos Trail Map

Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve – Balboa Park

Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve – Balboa Park. James Murren

On both sides of Florida Drive in San Diego’s famous Balboa Park is a system of trails that when connected and looped together, provides a solid hour’s ride. Sometimes I do it twice.

If you are willing to explore a little, meaning follow whatever single track you find, you might come across some really cool jumps (if you are into that, of which I am not, hit ‘em!), some tech, or perhaps a homeless camp.  Yep, Florida Canyon has a character that you might describe as being 21st Century Southern California canyon reality check.

I really like Florida Canyon. It has some quick, steep grunts and enough cobblestones here and there to keep me focused and not look up too much. I save that for when I am up top by Pershing Road and can see all the way to the Islas Coronados in Mexico. Note: the cacti and wildflower blooms are spectacular in the spring.

You can read more from James Murren’s travels on his website,

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