Conquest of Mount Hamilton

Sent to my bike club email list (and by way of explaining Saturday — I was out leading a bike ride):

Fourteen of us started the ride southeast to Livermore and on to Mines Road from Berkeley this morning. We had a little drama going into the ride; it appeared doubtful that, after snow Thursday and Friday on Mount Hamilton, the road over the summit would be open. The fallback plan was a ride up to the junction where Mines Road turns into San Antonio Valley Road and Del Puerto Canyon Road descends east to the San Joaquin Valley; the group could eat at the always-interesting Junction Cafe, and judging by questions I got as we rode out to Livermore, the idea of pushing on toward Mount Hamilton, snow or no snow, was on more than one rider’s mind. But no sooner had we hit the road than a rumor disturbed our ersatz peloton: The Junction had shut down and we wouldn’t be able to get lunch there.

After several halts for clothing changes, delayed riders, and a broken spoke on Steve Downey’s bike that received expert first aid from Ernesto Montanero (Steve rode the final 90 miles on Ernesto’s temporary fix), most of the group hung together for the final 20 miles into Livermore, where we enjoyed the customary calorie-consumption binge. Asking around and finally getting the Junction’s phone number (by calling 411), we found out it was open but that the road was still closed past the cafe. At this point, our group started to shrink. Michael Tigges and Susan Jacobsen (riding a brand-new Seven), turned back as planned after tucking into an early lunch at Tequila’s Taqueria, the Grizzly Peak Cyclists’ unofficial Eastern Alameda County Burrito Sponsor. The remaining dozen of us rode out South Livermore Avenue and Tesla to Mines Road in a sociable and easy-paced double paceline; it lasted only 6 or 7 miles, but it was one of those things you wished could go on forever. But soon we came to the turn that would take us up the east wall of the canyon that rises above Arroyo Mocho. At this point, another rump contingent departed as Mark Abrahams and Estella Garcia, on Mark’s tandem, and Rich Fisher turned around to head back to Berkeley.

That left nine of us continuing up the hill. Patrick Gordis, who had shown turns of speed all morning, was the first to disappear up the road; he reportedly made it to The Junction a full 20 minutes ahead of a following trio of strong riders: Ernesto, Mark Homrighausen, and Joa Weber (who today recorded his 3,000th kilometer ridden since January 1; you do the math). Steve, Bruce Berg, Bruce Marchant, Scott Steketee (still on a recumbent as he heals from flesh-eating Hawaiian saddle sores), and I paid gravity its proper due (some of us more than others). On the last summit north of the junction, with badly fried cheeseburgers so close you could almost taste them, Bruce turned back and collected Scott for their early return trip to Pleasanton. Steve, Bruce M. and I descended the last hill to the junction.

The cafe was as usual: Monster trucks on the tube and lots of biker leather slouching at the tables. But everybody ate and drank and tried to take advantage of the wood-burning stove because the sight of snow on the ridges in the distance suddenly made it seem pretty chilly. The ride back was fast and fun, and the final seven of us arrived at Pleasanton BART together just about 5 p.m. I highly recommend the Chevy’s about five doors down from the station.

Total mileage: 117.3

Modest Proposal: Cycling Edition

I belong to a bike club here in Berkeley. That is, I pay my dues, subscribe to the email list, and once in a very long while go on a club ride (my riding habit is usually solitary, an effect of taking a long time to get going on weekend mornings).

The club’s email list is mostly informative and entertaining, but sometimes given to extended pissing matches over who knows how much about some arcane (or perfectly ordinary) facet of cycling. The latest example: Member One posted at random about his love of a certain brand of tires for riding in the rain. It’s not the first time he’s touted the brand; I don’t know whether he’s getting a kickback or what. Member Two quickly chimed in, as he did once before, to observe that the tires in question go on the rim very easily — too easily, in fact, because he had one blow off his rim during a ride once. Member Two would never use that brand of tire.

The exchange inspired me. Quoting myself, here’s my contribution to the discussion:

I’ve been experimenting this year with doing away with tires altogether and just riding on some bare old rims that have been lying around the house for years. Straight-away traction, let alone cornering, is a bit tricky until you have a few miles on the unadorned rims. That’s all it takes for the local pavements to roughen the metal surface and give you a secure grip on terra firma. Talk about getting a good feel for the road! But for the lack of a tire, it’s practically like riding sew-ups.

Old steel rims are particularly fun to ride after dark; as a paramedic I met after one ride said, the chro-mo wheels create "quite a light show" as you career down the macadam. And if that’s not enough to persuade you of the virtues of rubber-less riding — shut your ears to the nay-sayers who complain about the slight increase in noise — just think about the weight savings: Since you don’t need to worry about flats (or tires blowing off) anymore, you don’t need spare tubes, patch kit, tire levers, or pump, either (but just as you would on a pneumatically cushioned jaunt, remember to  bring your medical and dental insurance cards with you when you ride rubber-less).

With all these advantages, word on "the street" is that Trek has hooked up with Bridgestone, the Japanese tire and bicycle maker, to develop a more durable "naked" rim for both both road and off-road riding. I’ve also heard that Rivendell is considering offering a new model — tentatively named the "Orc" — equipped with tireless rims and featuring no brakes.

I’ll admit I won’t be satisfied unless at least one club member takes this seriously.

View from the Back of the Pack

It’s late, and I’m being lazy. Specifically, I’m “repurposing” (now there is a great word) a little piece I wrote for a local bike club newsletter, the Grizzly Peak Cyclists. It may be too cute by half; if so, I plead guilty and promise to get back to my usual hard-bitten prose right after I copy and paste this little gem:

An Early-Season Brevet

It’s brevet season. “Brevet” is a French word meaning “ride till you hurt.” Brevet-season participants start the year with a 200-kilometer ride (125 miles or so), then graduate to distances of 300, 400, and 600 kilometers (roughly 187.5, 250 and 375 miles, respectively), all ridden in a time limit that ranges from 13.5 hours for the 200 to 40 hours for the 600 . The grand prize for completing the four brevets is qualifying to ride an even longer one: a 1,200-kilometer event, which comes with a slightly more generous time limit of 90 hours. Since all that sounds like a worthy undertaking to some of your fellow Grizzlies, several of whom have declared their intent to ride the 1,200-kilometer Gold Rush Randonee this July, you can spot them headed out of town before dawn on certain Saturday mornings. One of the favorite destinations for these “brevet-heads,” as they style themselves, is Davis.

The flatland town has a thing about riding until it hurts; gas stations there have been replaced by roadside dispensaries for Chamois Butt’r, bag balm, and other cycling salves and unguents. The local bicycle cult, organized under the name “Davis Bike Club,” has fashioned the town the Brevet Capital of Everywhere That’s Not France. To establish and maintain that claim, the club has for years sponsored a series of spring brevets (they’re not the only ones, though: locally, series are also offered through similarly inclined groups in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa). Among non-French clubs, the DBC has in recent years boasted the largest number of affiliated riders in the Mother of All Brevets, the quadrennial Paris-Brest-Paris.

This year’s DBC brevet season opened March 5 with a 200-kilometer jaunt (with 5,500 feet or so of climbing) from Davis, naturally, to the Grange Hall in beautiful Pope Valley and back. Weather’s always a factor on long rides, and the day was beautiful — so clear that the high peaks of the Sierra were outlined against the dawn sky, with a light to moderate westerly breeze that would swing to the north and east just in time to make sure the slower riders could have a headwind both out and back.

The Davis 200, following the same route year after year, has a certain rhythm: A fast tempo for the first 25 or 30 miles with lots of pacelines as you roar across the western edge of the Central Valley and begin the gentle and lovely climb up Highway 128 along Putah Creek as it flows down from Monticello Dam and Lake Berryessa; then 35 miles or so of small climbs and rollers through ranches and vineyards all the way to Pope Valley. The return is, well, similar, but in reverse, with a final swooping descent from the dam to dump you back into the lowlands. On the final stretch back to Davis, the packs of riders, thinned out by the hills, are much smaller.

The handful of Grizzlies spotted on their machines this day included Peter Morrissey, who was seen chasing the lead pack about 10 miles after the turnaround; Bruce Berg, who started out fast and stayed that way (finishing the 125.6 miles in 7 hours and 27 minutes, including stops); Rob Hawks, who finished in about 7:55; Jim Bradbury, smiling as usual; and your correspondent, who clocked in at 8:39 and was glad to be done. This is by no means an authoritative list; my apologies to any Grizzlies I’ve omitted.

(If this kind of event is for you, or you want to get someone out of the house for days at a time, brevet schedules and details are available at the Randonneurs USA site: