If you came to Santa Cruz with something that has two wheels, pedals, a saddle, and grips for each hand, then it’s time you introduced it to the biggest backyard you’ll probably ever have.

That something is a mountain bike and that big backyard is UC Santa Cruz’s Upper Campus. Slug mountain bikers have access to an underappreciated gem overlooked by those who believe that the town’s world-renowned outdoor recreation stops at the shoreline. But fleets of weekend warriors often go out and hit the trails traversing Upper Campus and its surrounding parks.

These trails bring out a wide range of riders who crave a dose of adrenaline. They bring out crowds of spandex-toting, cross-country riders enjoying the ascent, the slightly nutty cyclocross riders cranking off pavement road bikes, the few and the proud 29ers sitting slightly higher on their 29-inch wheels, the well-rounded, all-mountain riders pumping the descent as much as the climb, and half-maniacal free riders playing with gravity. The area provides some challenging terrain for most riders, but has called to arms the free riders in particular.

Free riders rip on built-up downhill trails but thrive on natural elements. The goal is to find an original route down the face of a seemingly impossible descent, or drop on a mountain by using all the skills of riding and then apply them to natural elements. The Upper Campus of UCSC contains a myriad of built and natural stunts for any rider willing to work a little to find them.

As mountain biking continues to diversify into specialties, the boundaries continue to expand and the possibilities for riders become seemingly endless.

These photographs were are all taken off the beaten trail in Upper Campus. Be aware that some trails in the Upper Campus area do cross private property and could lead down toward Highway 9. These areas are not bike-legal and tickets have been, and continue to be issued to violators. It is important to remember that the riders pictured have years of experience, and while they may seem a little extreme, their heads are still atop their shoulders. So be sure when going out to ride to stay on the right trails and stay safe.