Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Resolution for a Century (or Two)

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on January 17, 2014.

According to a recent poll, the top five New Year’s resolutions for 2014 are: lose weight, get organized, spend less/save more, live life to the fullest and stay fit, and healthy. As you probably already know, riding your bike can definitely help you achieve four of the five. If someone knows how bikes can help you get organized, please let me know. Mine cause more clutter in my garage than they solve.

Resolutions are only as good as the plan you set up to achieve them, and it seems every other sports or fitness magazine or web site offers detailed plans. Most of them offer a strong framework for success, but for me, a training plan alone was never enough. I need deadlines to keep me accountable, and the best way for me to create them was to insert organized group rides into my training plan.

There are bike events almost every weekend here in the Bay Area, from shorter fun rides to “century” rides that cover 100 mile in a day. Often the same event will offer routes in a variety of distances and difficulties so you can choose what fits your training plan. By working up to higher intensity events over a season, I’ve seen people progress from their longest ride being 35 miles to completing a 100 mile century. Actually, that would be me, back in 2003.

Vineyard Bicycling

Most Bay Area bike clubs host a century rides that include metric century (62 mile), half century (50 mile) or 30 mile fun rides in addition to the classic 100 mile routes. Some even offer double-metrics (124 miles) or double centuries (200 miles). They’re organized by volunteers which keeps their costs down, and unlike charity rides, you won’t have to fund raise to participate.

The event web site will list the routes by distance and usually have a chart with the elevation profile and total elevation gain for the ride. Pay close attention to the elevation gain. A 50 mile ride with 3,000 feet of elevation gain is harder for most people than a 60 mile ride with 1,000 feet. One smart strategy is to choose a flatter ride when increasing your distance, then do the same distance at your next event on a hillier route. String together event rides and you’ll be surprised how far you’ll go by the end of the season.

Solvang Century Finish 2

Over the years, century rides develop reputations. Some are known for jaw-dropping scenery and tummy-filling delights, others for gut-busting hills where you’re working too hard to enjoy much. The ride name gives a clue: fruits and flowers tend toward the former, and you can guess what “challenge,” “devil” or “death” in a name mean. Here are some of my local favorites and what they’re famous for.

Best Early Season: Solvang Century (March 8)
If you want to get a jump on the season, head south to the wine country on the central coast. The Solvang century offers three distances (50 mi, 63 mi, 100 mi) on rolling terrain with less climbing per mile than most. Fans of the movie Sideways will recognize locations from the movie along the route, including the ostrich farm. My friends and I shared an inexpensive room in the windmill motel in Buellton where Jack and Miles stayed.

Best for Power Foods: Tierra Bella (April 12)
The Almaden Cycle Touring Club has been sponsoring this South Santa Clara County ride with four moderate to hilly route options (35 mi, 60 km, 100 mi, 200 km) for almost 40 years. Since local cyclists plan not only the routes, but also the food, the quantity is abundant and quality is exceptional. One bite of the salty boiled potatoes at the top of Gilroy Hot Springs and you’ll forget the climb up there.

Best Kept Secret: Primavera Century (April 27)
Many long-running century rides sell out months before the event, but not the Primavera. Sponsored by the Fremont Freewheelers bike club, it tours the backroads of Southern Alameda and Northern Santa Clara County. If you’ve never ridden the twisty road above Calaveras Reservoir when the wildflowers are out in springtime you need to do this ride. Five distances from 25-100 miles with moderate climbing.

Best Apple Pie: Strawberry Fields Forever (May 18)
Head over the hills for a choice of three rides that tour the Santa Cruz coast, and climbs up to the ridge line on the 100 mile route. The rest stops have international themes from French to Greek, but my favorite is the good old American apple pie at Gizdich ranch. So fresh you can rest in the shade under the apple trees.

Best for Hill Lovers: Sequoia Century (June 1) By June you’ll be ready for a bigger challenge, right? Sign up for the Sequoia Century sponsored by our local bike club, Western Wheelers. With the exception of the 30 miler, all routes cross the hills to the coast and include steep climb up Redwood Gulch, Highway 9 and Tunitas Creek. To put it in perspective, the Sequoia’s 100 km (62 mi) route has more climbing (8,000 ft) than most 100 mile routes. If you’re training for the Death Ride, the Sequoia is a great way to prepare for the challenge.

Best for Bragging Rights: Death Ride (July 12)
Its official name is the Tour of the California Alps, but it’s called the Death Ride for a reason: 129 miles and five mountain passes for a total elevation gain of 15,000 feet in the thin air of the Sierra Mountains. Complete all five passes of this ride and you’ll get to sign the official event poster, and earn national-scale bragging rights. Registration opens every December, quickly fills and then closes. But it’s not too late. In April, they open up for a brief registration period again.

Best Death Ride Alternative: Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge (July 26)
Missed the Death Ride or want more of the pain? At 133 miles and 18,063′ of climbing, the 200 km route of the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge exceeds the Death Ride by more than 2,000 feet. If that’s too much, there are 100 and 66 mile routes that also include the climb up Jamison Creek Road that delivers a punishing 14% grade in long stretches. Even their 35 mile route racks up over 100 feet of climbing per mile. Ouch!

Best for Procrastinators: Holstein Hundred (August 16) & Napa Century (August 17)
If you got a late start on your training, there’s a double header of centuries in the North Bay in August. The the Holstein Hundred ranges from foggy coastlines to sunny valleys with yes, lots of cows in rural Western Sonoma County. That same weekend, the Napa Century rolls through vineyards and wineries with longer routes climbing out of the Napa Valley. The morning chill is gone by that first climb and before long you’ll be relaxing with a glass of your favorite vintage. For a challenge, you can stay in Petaluma or Santa Rosa and ride both centuries in one weekend.

Do you have a training plan or a cycling challenge for the new year? We’re over two weeks in, how’s it going?

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Categories: Events | 3 Comments

A New Bike for Christmas

This story originally appeared in Bike Fun in the Mountain View Voice on December 25, 2013.

It’s such a traditional Christmas gift that it’s almost a cliché: the new bike. I don’t remember ever waking up to find a bike under the Christmas tree, but I do remember that one year my father repainted my older sister’s outgrown bike and updated it just for me. Off came the 1960′s style handlebars and saddle and on went Stingray handlebars and a banana seat with bold flowers and a sissy bar. I was very excited to have a girly bike in the latest style.

As an adult, I appreciate even more that my father took the time to not only paint the frame and upgrade the worn parts, but to choose fashionable accessories for me. My dad is more of a “function over style” kind of guy. There were many crudely but effectively repaired items around our house to attest for his skill. I don’t have a photo of the bike, but it looked like this groovy one I found on Craigslist, except that mine was spray painted blue and had long handlebar tassels.

If Santa didn’t bring you a new bike this year, it’s not too late to get a groovy bike that you’ll love as much as I loved my faux Stingray. If you want a sleek road bike or a plush mountain bike, there’s plenty of advice at your local bike shop or on the internet to find the perfect bike for you. But if you’re looking for bike to ride around town doing errands, shopping or for a relatively short commute to work, you might want to consider a city bike instead (or adding a city bike to your stable of bikes).

Christmas Tree Bike

City bikes are designed for cross-town trips in street clothes, not about riding your fastest or getting a workout. For those reasons, city bikes have specific details that those bicycles don’t have, either because they add weight or get in the way when you’re charging down the trail. Properly equipped city bikes have fenders and chainguards to protect your clothes, racks and/or baskets to carry purchases, handy accessories like lights and bells, and flat pedals and kickstands so you can hop off and on quickly and easily.

At shops more oriented for recreational riding or racing, staff may not see the value for these very useful features. As someone who owns two city bikes and has helped a handful of friends find their perfect match, here are my top tips for buying the right city bike for you.

Don’t Be a Weight Weenie. When buying a road bike, the first thing most buyers do is pick it up. Road bikes are designed for speed and distance, and lighter weight can mean winning a race or finishing a century ride before they close the course. City bikes are designed to carry things so they need a heavier frame. And they’re designed for shorter distances, where slower speeds don’t make a big difference. Of course, if you have to carry it up stairs to an apartment or you live on a steep hill, you may want to check the weight. Just don’t obsess.

Frame the Question. You’ll need to decide whether you want a traditional diamond frame or a step through frame, aka a men’s bike or a women’s bike. Not that the decision lies with gender. Men sometimes choose a step-through so they don’t have to lift their leg high over the top tube. Women, especially ones who don’t wear skirts, sometimes choose the diamond frame. Side note: mixte frames, like the white one below, are said to be named for “mixed gender.”

Mixte or Dutchie

Upright, Not Uptight. Pedaling while upright feels odd at first if you’re used to a more aggressive position, but upright bikes are great for shorter urban trips because you can see what’s around you better. That also means others can see you better. You’ll still want to adjust the seat height and perhaps lower the bars a bit, but there’s little need for precise fitting. You won’t be bent over on the bike for hours and you won’t be locked into a single position on your pedals.

Size Matters, But Not So Much. Because they don’t require such precise fitting, city bikes come in fewer sizes than road bikes. You’ll know the size is right if you don’t feel crowded between the seat and handlebars or too stretched out. If the bike is too small you may feel perched too high once your saddle is adjusted to the right height. And if you’re sitting on the top tube, your frame is too big. Nothing new there.

Gear Up. Most city bikes have 3-8 gears with a reasonably wide range. If you live in a hilly area, buy accordingly. But gear ratio range matters more than the number of gears, and it can be hard to know the range without a test ride. City bikes often have internal gear hubs, which protect the gears from street grime and protect your clothing from gear grime. Internal gear hubs are more expensive than derailleur-based gearing.

Try Before You Buy. As with any bike purchase, a test ride will tell you a lot. Is it easy to get on and off? Is it the right size? Does it feel balanced and track straight? Does it brake well? Does it shift well? Does it seem well-built? Do you feel “one with the bike?” Did riding it make you smile?

Dick Test Riding Secret Service 4

A Lasting Relationship. Consider the bike shop and its staff. They should be knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, and take time to answer your questions. If they primarily sell other types of bikes, make sure they value city bikes and understand their specific needs. If they tell you that you don’t need a kickstand or fenders, go elsewhere. Finally, if you don’t like the staff enough to want to go back to the shop, don’t buy the bike there.

How well does your current bike work for errands and short commutes? Is it missing key features that you’d like in your next (or another) bike?

Categories: Gear Talk | Leave a comment

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