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Ride report: South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #5

Go, riders!

I keep saying that the weather can't get any better for our rides, and I keep getting proven wrong. With perfectly sunny skies, light winds, and temperatures near 70 degrees, one can almost forget about all of the rain that we should be getting this time of year. In the meantime, however, we'll keep taking advantage of the amazing conditions. (And no, we didn't have a rider on this bicycle, although it was parked with ours at the Starbucks rest stop in Saratoga.)

That's what 17 of us did today as we took our second trip of the season up to Saratoga -- this time, the "not-so-gentle" way up and over Mount Eden. We had a uniformly strong group of riders today, and everyone made it up and back down without incident.

That said, this is a good time to talk about descending -- not your own technique, but how to ride in a group of mixed abilities just like you'll experience in June. Some experienced riders live for the thrill of the descent, and ALC offers plenty of chances to build up some truly significant speed. Other riders -- including some experienced riders -- take descents more slowly, for any number of reasons.

Either way is perfectly fine! But whether you're fast or slow on the descents, you have responsibilities to the riders around you. If you're the slower rider, stay as far to the right as safely possible, ride as much of a straight line as possible, and expect to be passed a lot, often by riders going very fast.

On the other hand, if you're the faster rider, expect to encounter slower riders, give them plenty of notice that you're approaching, pass only when it's safe to do so, and give the other rider enough room in case they do something unexpected.

Here's a case in point from ALC. Near the beginning of Day 6, there's a long, moderately steep descent on Highway 1. The shoulder is wide and smooth, and riders easily can exceed 40 mph. But the shoulder also has several bicycle-eating grates along the right edge! This means that slower riders tend to ride down the middle of the shoulder, so that they won't weave in and out. (This counts as "riding predictably.") Sometimes a faster rider gets upset and doesn't know that the slower rider is riding safely by going down the middle of the shoulder. Remember: Some riders will have never encountered hills this big, and you have no way of knowing the ability of the rider next to you. So it's always best to ride in a manner so that unexpected actions on anyone's part don't cause a multiple-rider incident.

(And a legal note: Speed limits apply to bicycles as well as other vehicles, and you can get a ticket for exceeding the speed limit on a bicycle, particularly in several Bay Area communities.)

Let's talk about route sheets for a minute. I've apparently acquired a bit of a reputation for having impeccably accurate route sheets. (Thank you!) But if you took the restroom detour at the bottom of Mount Eden this morning, your odometer probably differed from the official mileage by about 0.2 to 0.3 mile.

It's only logical that if you ride a street not on the official route, your actual distance won't match the route sheet. But how should you deal with that? ALC route sheets generally do not list the incremental distances from point to point, so if you go on a short detour, you should remember the extra distance and adjust the remaining distances accordingly.

That said, route sheets are rarely 100% accurate -- and more important, bicycle computers are rarely calibrated perfectly. It's not unusual for there to be an error of 1% to 2% in a route sheet -- and over a 100-mile ride, that can be a significant margin of error! During most training rides, I often do lots of arithmetic in my head, like this: "Last turn said 25.0, next turn is at 28.5, but my odometer said 25.3 at the turn, so the next turn will be at 28.8 for me." Interestingly, such mental gymnastics are a useful sanity check for me; if I ever get to a point where such simple arithmetic becomes difficult, it's a good sign that I've not been eating and hydrating properly.

What's up next? We're riding every Sunday for the next few weeks, so we're back on Sunday with a 35-mile ride to Newark and back. The biggest hill on this ride is the Dumbarton Bridge, which we'll do in both directions, so it should be a fun day for everyone. (If you've never cycled on the bridge before, this is a great time to start.) And the weather forecast is already looking fantastic for next weekend as well. Details and RSVP are here.

Finally, remember that Monday is World AIDS Day. It looks like the ALC website will have some content related to the day, so be sure to check aidslifecycle.org. And at some point during the day, please take a minute to reflect on the pandemic, how you have been affected, and why you are riding. Thank you so much for riding, and see you next Sunday.

Thank you!

Thanks to your generous support, I have reached my first intermediate goal of $1,000 by the end of November.

Your donations are especially helpful in these challenging times, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation will put your money to good use in its many programs of services, outreach, and research.

Remember that Monday, December 1, is World AIDS Day. Please take a minute on Monday to reflect on the pandemic and the losses that many of us have experienced ... and on how we're working together to bring an end to this suffering.

My fundraising continues -- I still need another $2,000 before I am allowed to ride out in May.

Another fantastic Sunday is coming up

Don't let these showers fool you ... the forecast for Sunday calls for sunny skies with temperatures back up near 70 degrees. A great day to join us on our 33-mile ride to Saratoga! Details and RSVP here.

Cat-3 Distance Training preview

Here's what I've currently got planned for this season's Cat-3 Distance Training rides. The popular routes from last season are back, some with a few changes, and I've got a couple of new routes planned as well. I'm busy rounding up ride leaders to help me; once I do, you'll start seeing these rides in the calendar, and you'll be able to RSVP for them. (As always, everything is subject to change.)

Ride 1, Jan. 10: 40 miles, 900 feet climbing
Get-Acquainted Ride
A new ride this season! We start with an easy confidence-builder that goes down Central Expwy. to Santa Clara, then back up city streets to Sunnyvale, then up to Cupertino, along the entire length of Foothill Expwy. past Stanford to Menlo Park, then back on the Bryant Street bike boulevard through Palo Alto.

Ride 2, Jan. 24: 45 miles, 1500 feet climbing
Pulgas Water Temple
This was Ride 1 last season. Around part of the Stanford Loop, up to Woodside, along Cañada Road to the water temple, down Edgewood, back through Menlo Park and on Foothill Expwy.

Ride 3, Feb. 7: 50 miles, 1700 feet climbing
Foothills tour
This is the same ride as last season, but the second half of this ride got rained out. The first half of the ride is flat, so all the climbing is concentrated in the second half of the ride. (A good lesson on pacing oneself!) Santa Clara, Moffett Field, Shoreline Park, Palo Alto, then up Sand Hill and Whiskey Hill to Roberts Market; return through Portola Valley and the nature preserve.

Ride 4, Feb. 21: 60 miles, 700 feet climbing
A new ride this season! I've offered this ride as a Cat-2 before, but it's new to the Cat-3 world this season. Across the Dumbarton Bridge, up Niles Canyon Road to Sunol, and then back mostly the way we came.

Ride 5, March 7: 70 miles, 2200 feet climbing
Coyote Valley
Same as last season. This very popular ride goes through Saratoga and Los Gatos and then traverses south San Jose before heading around Calero Reservoir and down the Bailey Avenue hill. Return along Santa Teresa Blvd. then back through Los Gatos and Saratoga. Wide variety of conditions and traffic.

Ride 6, March 21: 80 miles, 5700 feet climbing (ouch)
San Gregorio and Pescadero
Major change this season! Even with all this climbing, y'all seem to like this ride a lot, and many of you specifically asked for it to be repeated since its first running got rained out last season. I've added a new -- and perhaps dastardly -- twist this season: After reaching San Gregorio, we will head south along the coast on Hwy. 1 and go to Pescadero, returning up Stage Road back to San Gregorio before heading back up the long Hwy. 84 climb. (In return, we'll head back directly from Woodside and not do the Stanford Loop on the return.) Astute riders will notice that they can omit the Pescadero loop to cut several miles off this ride, making it doable for riders who aren't up to 80 miles at this point in the season.

Ride 7, April 4: 90 miles, 3700 feet climbing
San Francisco
Change this season. Last time around, we did this ride as a century, with the last 10 miles being a loop to Sunnyvale and back. I've ditched that do-nothing loop this year, and I've moved this ride up one position in the series. The ride is plenty challenging as it is. We go up Cañada and Skyline, then along the Great Highway to the Safeway-by-the-Sea. This ride is significant because we ride freeways at two points: I-280 near Skyline, and the Hwy. 35/Hwy. 1 interchange (just like on Day 1).

Ride 8: April 18: 100 miles, approx. 2000 feet climbing
Century loop around the South Bay
A new ride this season! This is the traditional South Bay loop on super-duper steroids, plumped up and ready for action. We throw in a bit of Peninsula action, then cross the Dumbarton Bridge and head out to Mission Blvd., where we climb to Mission San Jose. From there, we head down the east side of San Jose and pick up some of our routes from the past to return through Los Gatos and Saratoga. (Parts of the route are still under development, but there will probably be light-rail bailouts to cut the ride to 60 and 80 miles.)

Ride 9, May 2: 110 miles, 2900 feet climbing
Same as last season. The biggest challenge on this ride is the possibility of strong headwinds on the second half of the ride, making the flat terrain much more challenging. Last season, we were fortunate to have relatively light winds, but anything could happen. (Bailout option at 88 miles is available by taking the very slow VTA light rail -- not much faster than cycling.)

Ride 10, May 16: 125 miles, approx. 2600 feet climbing
Double metric
Possible change this season. OK, I'll admit it: I don't have this ride fully planned yet. The route will be mostly the same as last season, but I'm considering skipping Livermore and Altamont Pass and heading to Walnut Creek and Concord instead. This would offer many more BART bail-out points for those who need it. Again, winds are a possible major factor in this ride. I might also remove the Norris Canyon climb and replace it with the easier climb along Diablo Canyon Blvd. and Castro Valley Road. Last season, I changed the route of this ride just a few weeks before the ride date (after gauging the skill level of the riders who had been participating in the earlier rides), so there might be more surprises here. But no matter what, we'll be doing a double metric again! And the ride-out time will be earlier this season to provide maximum daylight for those (like me) who need it.

5,000 miles for 2008

With today's ride, I've now exceeded 5,000 miles for this year so far. How does this compare to recent years? I crossed the 5,000-mile mark on these dates:

November 16, 2008
December 16, 2007
August 20, 2006 (yipes!)
October 21, 2005
Didn't make it in 2004

Yes, I keep my statistics at this level of detail. For each ride, I log the distance, time, odometer, and any special conditions (rain, flats, new gear, etc.) Don't laugh, really; you might find such a training log very helpful ... and it might be fun to look at a few years from now.

Ride report: South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #4

Go, riders!

Maybe the weather was just too good today, or maybe everyone else was just too worn out from riding and/or demonstrating yesterday. Whatever the reason, only 12 of us showed up for today's ride, but we could not have asked for finer conditions -- more like June than November, with sunny skies and temperatures well into the 70s.

Today's relatively warm temperatures were a good reminder that we need to hydrate ourselves well while riding, especially when the temperatures are warmer and the humidity is lower. The training ride guidelines say that we should bring two water bottles or a backpack-type hydration device, and that's especially helpful on days like today. I'll admit that I didn't pay attention, and I brought only one water bottle. I didn't run out while riding, but when I got back to Mountain View, I sure wish I had that extra bottle of water handy. The price? My need for a drink cost me $2.50 at a restaurant over on Castro Street.

Also today, we hit the first serious hills of our training season. On the way back from the loop, after the rest stop, I'm sure you found those little hills to be quite an attention-getter. I'm sure you also noticed, as I mentioned before the ride, that they barely registered on the elevation chart at the top of the route sheet.

The charts I'm using this year have the same scale as the charts you'll get on each day of the ride, and this should help you prepare better for June. In fact, at right are the seven elevation charts from the route we used this June on ALC7. Click on them to see them at full size. The charts pretty much speak for themselves. The good news is that our training ride series all build up to rides similar to these individual days. The bad news is that, yes, every day has many little attention-grabbing hills; you can't avoid them in June. Even the flattest day, Day 2, has many small but steep climbs on the way out of Santa Cruz. You don't have to learn to love hills, but make an effort to at least cope with them. You never have to go fast up a hill, and in June you'll find many riders walking partway up some of the steepest hills. My strategy is to go up each hill at whatever pace I need to maintain a steady cadence all the way to the top without stopping. That often isn't very fast at all, but it's consistent ... and consistency will go a long way toward making your ride a happier one.

On safety, I saw and heard lots of good calling-out of conditions, obstacles, and vehicles today. Keep up the good work! This is especially important when we're on routes with cyclists of different abilities, such as going down the Bryant Street bike boulevard in Palo Alto (which we'll return to many times this season). Especially when small children are around, it's important to let them know early that you're coming ... and to be prepared in case they do something unexpected. Plus, when we follow the rules around children, it sets a great example that they're more likely to follow as they grow up.

What's next? Beginning in two weeks, on Nov. 30, we start riding every Sunday for four weeks in a row. And we add our first truly significant hill of the season: Mount Eden, coming out of Stevens Canyon. It's only about 0.7 mile long, but it's moderately steep, and the descent is somewhat tricky. It's very similar to some of the hills we'll see in June, so this is a good time to start learning what they're like. Our ride will take us back to Saratoga, this time with a few more hills than we did two weeks ago. We're increasing the distance to 33 miles, but we'll have two rest stops this time, so you'll have plenty of opportunity to rest. Details and RSVP are here.

And a quick fundraising tip: The end of the calendar year is approaching, so some of your donors might be looking for tax writeoffs they can claim for 2008. Remind them! This is likely to be a very challenging fundraising year for many of us (myself included), so every little bit helps. Don't be shy about stressing the importance of the work that's being done by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and don't hesitate to tell your potential donors personal stories about why you're riding.

Thanks for riding, and see you in two weeks.

South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #8: Loop around the South Bay (12/21/2008)

Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - medium pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 1 - mostly flat
Miles: 46

This is the last of our early-bird training rides. You've got a fantastic head-start on the season, and today we celebrate with our longest ride yet.

From Mountain View, we'll go to Menlo Park and take the Dumbarton Bridge into Newark and Fremont, with a return via Milpitas, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale. There's a little bit of everything on this ride, from quiet streets to busy highways, we've got two rest stops planned, and there's just one little hill to keep you honest. Total climbing for the whole day is only about 700 feet.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:14 a.m.

Route sheet for this ride is here.

Be sure to check the Training section of the ALC website for information on how to prepare for a training ride and what you must and should bring.

Chris Thomas
Cindy Edelson
Dan England
David Gaus
Gilbert Gonzalez

RSVPs are requested but not required.

South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #7: Mountain View to Woodside (12/14/2008)

Meet time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 10:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - medium pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 2 - rolling hills
Miles: 40

We add a few more hills this week, but nothing terribly steep or long. We'll start by climbing to Foothill College and taking the back way into part of the Stanford Loop. We'll break out of the loop early and head up Mountain Home toward Woodside, and then we'll take the very popular Cañada Road as far as Edgewood, where there's a thrilling descent back down to bay level. From there it's mostly easy as we go back through Menlo Park and Stanford. Total climbing on this ride is about 2,050 feet.

Riders from all over Northern California are invited! Southbound Caltrain from San Francisco arrives at 9:14 a.m.

Route sheet for this ride is here.

Be sure to check the Training section of the ALC website for information on how to prepare for a training ride and what you must and should bring.

Chris Thomas
David Gaus
Zack Kreiter
Maggie Vande Voorde

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Today's safety tip

Even though this is my fourth year in ALC, this is also my first year riding a fully "proper" road bike. As a result, I might make some of the very same silly novice-type mistakes that you do. And I caught a whopper today.

In recent rides, I had noticed that my braking wasn't as strong as it had been. Especially going down hills, I had to really squeeze the brake levers to keep myself at a speed I'm comfortable with. Well ...

Before today's ride, I went to inflate my rear tire and managed to snap off the valve cap, which gave me a flat. I decided to take the opportunity to install a new tire that I'd bought a couple of weeks ago. But when I went to remove the current tire, I noticed that the brake release lever was already in the "release" position! This meant that the rear brake pads were farther from the wheel than they were supposed to be, which of course was responsible for my diminished braking capacity. The top photo shows the release position; the bottom photo shows the correct position for riding.

Another thing to check before a ride. Speaking of that, this is a good time to point out the "ABC-Quick-Check" that you should do before every ride. You can find many versions of it all over the web; here's a version from the University of Louisville:
  1. A is for air

    • Inflate tires to rated pressure as listed on the sidewall of the tire.
    • Use a pressure gauge to insure proper pressure.
    • Check for damage to tire tread and sidewall; replace if damaged.

  2. B is for brakes

    • Inspect pads for wear; replace is there is less than ¼" of pad left.
    • Check pad adjustment; make sure they do not rub tire or dive into spokes.
    • Check brake level travel; at least 1" between bar and lever when applied.

  3. C is for cranks, chain and cassette

    • Make sure that your crank bolts are tight; lube the threads only, nothing else.
    • Check your chain for wear; 12 links should measure no more than 12 1/8 inches.
    • If your chain skips on your cassette, you might need a new one or just an adjustment.

  4. Quick is for quick releases

    • Hubs need to be tight in the frame; your quick release should engage at 90°.
    • Your hub quick release should point back to insure that nothing catches on it.
    • Inspect brake quick releases to insure that they have been re-engaged.

  5. Check is for check it over

    • Take a quick ride to check if derailleurs and brakes are working properly.
    • Inspect the bike for loose or broken parts; tighten, replace or fix them.
    • Pay extra attention to your bike during the first few miles of the ride.

Ride report: South Bay/Peninsula early-bird ride #3

Go, riders!

If you looked outside this morning and decided to stay home because you thought you'd get wet ... you were wrong. The 10 riders who took the chance and came to Mountain View were rewarded with mostly sunny skies, light winds, and a grand total (by my count, at least) of exactly six droplets of water that fell from the sky at about mile 24 of our 28-mile ride.

We were all very strong riders today, and you're all doing quite well for so early in the season. Our very gentle climbs gave us a chance to slow down a bit, and the very gentle descents were just enough to let many of us build up some decent speed. Longtime riders know this, but it bears repeating: The best thing you can do to conquer ALC is to find a pace at which you can essentially ride "forever," one that you can maintain day after day after day. This may not be the fastest pace you've ever done, but we're fond of saying that ALC is a ride, not a race. There's plenty to see and do between San Francisco and Los Angeles, so there's no point in wearing yourself out so that you can't enjoy any of it. (Conversely, of course, you should also plan to ride fast enough so that you do have enough time left over to stop and do all the diversions you want -- be they giant cinnamon buns, fried artichokes, or some discreet skinny-dipping.)

On a day like today, your bicycle probably accumulated quite a bit of gunk, not just on the frame, but in the other important parts as well: gearing, chain, and cables. If you haven't done so already, take five minutes to give your bike a quick water wipe-down. Your bike will thank you.

Another thing that happens often during training season happened to some of us today: the inevitable encounter with the "club rider." A racer got a little impatient with the speed of our group and whipped unsafely around us, nearly sending one of our riders off the road. As our rides get longer and travel to some of the more popular cycling destinations, such encounters are inevitable, but still thankfully somewhat infrequent. There's not much we can do about them, and there's usually little to be gained by trying to confront them. (Some of you may be more aggressive about this than I am; that's fine, too.) I find that the best way to spread our message of safe cycling is to be the example and let our actions speak loudest. Of course, if another ALCer does this, please call them out on it -- and tell a ride leader if there's not one around at the time. Remember that it only takes one rider in one town to lose one permit for us to ride, and the entire future of the ride could be in jeopardy. Don't let it happen!

What's next: On Sunday, Nov. 16, we'll do the Stanford Loop. This is a moderately hilly route that's extremely popular on weekends, so we'll have plenty of company. In the counterclockwise direction we'll be going, we'll tackle the gradual 3-mile climb up Alpine Road, followed by the glorious downhill into Portola Valley, with a couple of challenging little climbs before the final descent into Menlo Park. It's a nice 29-mile ride with about 1,250 feet of climbing. Details and RSVP are here.

Also be sure to check out the official ALC training ride calendar for a complete list of rides across the Bay Area. As the season goes on, it will be more important for you to ride consecutive days, so that's a good habit to start getting into.

See you in two weeks!

Today's ride is *on*

Good morning! The radar shows the last few showers moving out of the area, so it looks like we're in for a cloudy and cool day of riding, with temperatures in the lower 60s and light to moderate winds. So come join us!