Glen Helen Raceway, California
Credit: Rich Stuelke and Mark Chilson; MotoPhoto LLC.

Glen Helen Raceway, California

Carved into the hills of San Bernardino next to a county prison and a facility where cops learn tactical driving, Glen Helen Raceway is an unexpected, if appropriate, marvel. The track regulars' casual attitude toward moving violations suits the neighborhood, which attracts gawkers eager to watch pro and amateur dirt bikers tear through turns and launch themselves into the air with what the uninitiated might mistake to be reckless abandon. The sprawling track is both a major motocross destination, and a great spot to learn the basics.

The two-mile track twists and turns up and down four- and five-hundred-foot hillsides and is broken up by hundred-foot-tall jumps and mogul-like bumps called "whoops." The dirt fades from a coffee brown to a powdery gray as the 100,000 gallons of water the grounds crew uses daily to keep the dust down dries and the whole place is slowly consumed in exhaust and grit.

"This is definitely a man's track," 2012 AMA 450 Class Motocross Champion and Red Bull Team Member Ryan Dungey, recently told a visiting noob. "But you'll be fine riding."

For professional riders, the most challenging elements of the course are the key attractions. Motocross is, after all, about pushing limits. Racers want to go to as fast as possible and freestyle riders want to jump as high as possible so they can perform ever more death-defying tricks. Glen Helen attracts a mixed audience of families on day trips and shirtless dudes accompanied by women in low-cut tank tops. These fans and soon-to-be fans are enthralled by aerial feats that follow fast on each other's heels burnt by the SoCal sun.

For anyone less familiar with the sport of motocross, a trip to Glen Helen is a perfect beginner's lesson in dirt bike culture. The new "PeeWee" ride is a great place to get comfortable on your machine before attacking – carefully – the more serious terrain. Beginners shouldn't really try to land any big jumps, but can expect to get a little air off the top of some of the track's smaller hills.

More information: Visitors to the track might want to stop at EagleRider in San Bernardino to rent a 2009 Honda CRF450R, a decent beginner bike, before heading up to the racetrack 11 miles away. Rent a helmet while you're at it.