More than 400 took to the 30+ mile course ◆ By Mike Hiles
The wave of a flag signaled the 8 a.m. start of the 38th annual Soboba Trail Ride throughout the hills and canyons of the Soboba Reservation on Sunday, Feb. 26. More than 400 motorcycle riders registered for the rain or shine event and were met with a muddy staging area that didn't seem to bother them at all.
Alexander Smith, son of legendary motorsports champion Malcolm Smith, said the wet track makes the sport better. He rides the Soboba Reservation hills as often as he can around his full-time job as General Manager of Malcolm Smith Motorsports in Riverside.
"This trail is one of the more technically challenging rides in California," said Smith, sitting on his Husky 300. "This Is not a race so there is not a lot of ego up here. Everyone is here to enjoy the ride. The trail is pristine and beautiful and it's been a long time since we've had epic conditions like this."
The invitational trail ride dates to the grass roots of modern dirt bikes. Many motorcycle greats have participated in Soboba's challenge that began in the early 70s when Benny Helms, then Soboba Tribal Council Chairman, started the first Soboba Grand Prix.
These enduros – a form of motorcycle sport run on extended cross-country, off-road courses – were among the largest in the country and soon outgrew its facilities. Then in the early 80s Bob Graziano, who is related by marriage to Helms and lives on the reservation, teamed with Malcolm Smith to gain Tribal Council approval to launch the Soboba Trail Ride.
Soboba tribal members Mica Diaz and Delbert Briones have been part of the trail race two times.
"The rain will definitely make the course more slippery but I came out here to have fun," said Delbert, 16.
Diaz, who recently turned professional in her moto-cross career, said the trail ride challenges a rider to have control over his or her bike.
"I'm looking forward to having a good time for sure – last year was so much fun," said Diaz, 25.
Open to all sizes and types of motorcycles, the tough trail consists of two single track loops of about 30 miles each. Graziano has been overseeing the ride for 34 years and has been friends with Smith for most of his life.
"Our motorcycles have taken us places in the world other people only dreamed about," Graziano said. "We have always tried to represent ourselves, our country and our God the best we possibly could. I think that's how we remained very good friends and have kept many friends from all over the world."
He said the trail, marked by orange ribbons, will take the average rider three to five hours to complete. It is not a race so there is no timing except riders must be off the course before dark, about 10 hours after the ride starts. He said if a rider makes it around the entire 32-mile trail, they can consider themselves a winner. The ride is sanctioned by the American Motorcycle Association.
"I love that a motorcycle will let you go beautiful places that are unattainable any other way," Graziano said. First-timers at the ride included Chris Kanyr and Dan Patton.
"Usually, a buddy tells a buddy about something like this and that's why you go," said Kanyr, 35, of Rancho Cucamonga. "I've been riding my whole life, everywhere from here to the high desert. The main thing I plan to do in today's ride is stay safe and keep off the front brake."
Patton said rain is more bothersome than cold since you get a constant workout while wrestling with an "angry 250-pound motorcycle."
"My brain is always going a thousand miles a minute so being able to go on one of these trail rides definitely clears my head," said Patton, 34, of Redlands, who works in the medical field.
He said the newer trails used the past two years are still in use with even more new trails so riders could expect great riding fun, challenges and spectacular scenery. Side trails, marked by pink ribbons, offered riders an even more challenging journey.
After a cannon was shot off to get everyone's attention, Graziano welcomed riders and gave them a bit of advice: "there is one water crossing and watch the downhills."