Friday Group Ride #285

Friday Group Ride #285

The fastest I have traveled on a bicycle is somewhere between 51 and 52mph. That’s somewhere north of 80kph for our metric friends. It was on Ed Clark Road during D2R2 five years ago. Ed Clark Rd. winds down from Pennel Hill Road, a crushing dirt road climb that breaks many and leaves the strong gasping for air. Ed Clark is paved, and it takes every bit of gain from Pennel Hill and turns it into velocity.

I was riding a Surly Cross Check with only moderately effective cantilever brakes, and in order to achieve that top speed I had to both tuck and scream aloud at myself NOT TO TOUCHING THE F&$%ING BRAKES. I left the top with a largish group and quickly distanced most of them. I found myself on the front with one other rider, going hell-for-leather, and recognizing that he was even more reckless than I was, I tapped my hapless cantis to let him have the pointy end of the descent.

Ed Clark is not a wide road. It’s narrow, and while some of its pavement was fresh and new and good that year, there were sections that were less so. With my chin down by bars I had a unique vantage for assessing the quality of the surface, and at one point, very near the zenith of my downward plummet, I saw an oblong pothole, a short trench cut into the centerline of the road. My daredevil companion didn’t even notice it. In fact, he passed inches from it without deviating from his line at all. I confirmed at the bottom, where we’d both just about locked up our brakes to keep from barreling into oncoming traffic on RT 112, that he’d not seen it.

Either of us could have died. Though helmeted, at that speed, on that pitch, that far from a hospital, death, while not certain, was a distinct possibility. It was quite possibly the dumbest, most thrilling moment I’ve experienced on the bike, and I felt happy in my bones to have made it, to have survived. It took everything I had in terms of courage, stupidity and skill and the grin plastered on my face only grew broader as members of our group showed up seconds and minutes later.

This week’s Group Ride asks, what is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done on the bike that you got away with? I want to say, as some sort of counterbalance to recent stories about riders dying or being injured, that most of the dumb things I’ve done on the bike have not been punished. Some would say I have been lucky. Others might say I have some measure of skill, but at root, I don’t believe that riding a bike is very risky. Plummeting down Ed Clark Road CAN BE risky, but simply riding down a steep hill isn’t inherently dangerous. The periodic tragedies that befall our fellow cyclists don’t constitute proof either of their lack of skill or our sport’s danger, but rather that, by the law of large numbers, some of us are going to make up the shallow and ugly end of the bell curve. Further, that by owning our dumbest moments, we can push back our own odds. We can increase the likelihood that we will recognize future danger for what it is, rather than just thrilling.

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  1. peter leach

    The fastest that I have ever travelled on a bicycle is 84.3 kph. I was tucked. The road was winding, but open and well paved. The sun was shining. The wind was flapping my jacket so hard that the backs of my upper arms were bruised the next day. Then I got passed by two women on a tandem. The stoker was yelling with delight. The stoker was [and yes, she still is] legally blind. That moment will always be one of my most treasured. Thank you for that moment, Rosemary and Brandie. And no, I never have and never will feel like I was ‘chicked’.
    The dumbest thing that I have ever done on a bicycle and got away with is hard to come up with.
    I’ve done the ‘cruise up to a group that’s waiting to start a ride and forget to unclip’ thing. Can’t really say that I got away with that.
    I’ve done the ‘of course that car is going to let me roll through the intersection’ thing. Can’t really say that I got away with that.
    I’ve done the ‘I can jump the gap between those two humps on the Stromlo 4-cross course thing’. Can’t really say that I got away with that, either.
    But something dumb, that I got away with? Nothing comes to mind, which is leaving me feeling weird because I started my thinking believing that there would be plenty. I’ve certainly done lots of ‘dumb things’ on a bike. Maybe it comes down to the ‘that you got away with’ part. It certainly seems that I rarely ‘get away with’ anything. Especially if it’s dumb.
    ps. the descent from the Guthega Road gap to the Thredbo River in Kosciuszko National Park is worth the climb that it takes to get there. And then there’s the rest of the road from Jindabyne to Charlotte’s Pass and its climbs and descents as well 🙂

    1. Jonny

      There have been too many I think… I seem to have trouble recalling them. When you don’t pay some price they seem harder to remember. Keeping that in mind, the first and most notable was when was 8 and I tried to pull the old cowboy move of riding under a tree branch at speed and swinging up into the tree. I learned a number of notable lessons on that one….

  2. Andrew

    Well, one thing that comes to mind quickly is a 30 mile downhill my friend Greg and I did when we rode across the country. Fully loaded mountain bikes, front and rear panniers. We were both tucked, and we were slingshotting off each other to go faster and faster- you’d draft until you were going faster than the guy in front, then scream past, then repeat. We didn’t have computers, so I don’t know what speeds we were hitting, but we were flying. At one point the little rational voice in my head started thinking, “gosh, I hope we don’t hit a pebble”.

    And we were pretty baked. Ah, to be 25…

  3. Matt Surch

    I know the road you are talking about at D2R2; it’s a fast one for sure, but I never found it puckering, personally. Knowing about the T-intersection is key there….

    I’ve done countless things on bikes that I might call ‘dumb’ from my perspective today. But I wouldn’t really mean it, because at the time, I was doing stuff that I was capable of, and I took pretty reasonable precautions. I mean, I had friends spot for cars when I did big stair gaps to flat landings. Looking back, those moves were sort of dumb – flat landings, why bother? – but they were common practice at the time. Interestingly, I never got hurt doing something particularly nuts; it was always the routine stuff that got me.

    As a Canadian who rides and races in the US fairly often these days, I think the dumbest thing I’ve done and gotten away with was race the New England Criterium Championships in Concord, VT without medical insurance. I realized the night before while in the State that I’d forgotten to set up my coverage. I lost sleep over it, then pushed it from my mind and just tried to focus on riding well. As it happened, the course was the gnarliest crit course I’ve seen (granted, I’ve not raced many different courses), featuring a descent with a double right hand turn. And it was fast, we were climbing at 42kph. But after all my years racing downhill, among other things, I just focused on what I was doing, and didn’t think about crashing. When I finished, having made it through the insanity of lapping the field during the last lap, I just missed out on the podium, but that wasn’t top of mind. Finishing safe and sound, ready and able to move onto vacation time with my family was. I felt lucky, like I’d pulled off a close one.

    After that race I decided I’ll never race again in the US without medical insurance. I prefer to quit while I’m ahead….

  4. Aar

    Fastest on a bike is 64 mph. I can’t think of the dumbest although I frequently think that going out and playing in the road is pretty dumb all by itself.

  5. Hoshie99

    The dumbest thing I ever did was commute home from Hollywood through San Fernando Valley going thru some of the more picturesque neighborhoods like Silmar and San Fernando during rush hr.

    That was the a clear moment in my 20 years riding that I thought “what the heck am I doing.”

    A close second was when I was new to LA from the Bay Area and met a mtn biker on a trail in the San Gabriel Mtns and he said there was a quick descent back to the bottom of the trail and I followed him. It seemed very steep and had some severe drop-offs as we proceeded.

    Later, I found out that was the infamous “Viper” downhill that has sent more than one hapless rider to the ER.


  6. Les.B.

    The northbound Hawthorne descent off of Palos Verdes is one of the hairy ones on PV. At the top of this descent there is this omen to cyclists:

    I did my best speed on Hawthorne, 50mph, ~80Kph, On the occasion in question however I was doing my more typical mid-40s. In the middle of a 12% descent there is a stoplight. It turned red.

    Oh, I didn’t think of that.

    I hit the calipers as hard as I dared with those 23 tires, but I was approaching the intersection faster than I would like. The car coming from the opposite direction looking to make a left in front of me saw my predicament and held his position.

    Well, I did manage to stop in time, only a few feet across the line. Did a big sigh, then looked at the driver like, “What?”

    Damn bicylclers.

  7. RM2Ride

    Dropped down Teton Pass like a cone from a tall tree one time, felt like terminal velocity but when I cruised through Wilson and checked “max speed” on my Cateye all it was was 57mph. You do a surprising amount of What if? thinking at that velocity, though…

    Dumbest thing on a bike, though, was launching off a cliff into the Gros Ventre River. Tires float a bike very nicely, thank you very much, but what the &*%# were we thinking?

    Oh, yeah, we were 25, and alcohol might have been involved…

  8. Charles F. Pelkey

    The dumbest thing I’ve ever done on a bicycle has to be something I did with some frequency with my riding buddies. We have nice 4-mile climb east of Laramie. It’s a 20-mile round trip from town and goes along Interstate 80 for a good stretch. On top of “the summit” we’d hit the exit ramp, cross the bridge and hover around the top, waiting for semis to come along. Then we’d dash down the ramp, merge with traffic and draft the trucks on a long 4-mile downhill at highways speeds. All of this while riding on cheap sew-ups and wearing Lycra and a cotton cycling cap for head “protection.”

    Dumb, dumb, dumb … but we all survived.

    I did a lot of other stupid things, some of which did put me in the hospital, so those don’t count

  9. Pat O'Brien

    I was following a friend down a stretch of single track I knew very well. When we approached a rocky section, I yelled for him to speed up, but it was too late. Yep, I was going too slow. I hit a big rock and did the slow motion endo still clipped in. Amazingly I did not end up on top of big rocks or thorny things which were all around. On some trails, speed is your friend.

  10. Jman's Dad

    Did it often, when I younger & felt more invincible: No hands tuck, fingertips touching below jersey pockets, chin hovering just above the stem, flirting with 55 mph (according to my old Ciclomaster II-A) on a descent I did a few times a week back then… Repeatedly dumb

  11. Arnie

    55 mph on a downhill west of Watkins Glen NY on the way to Hammondsport, with a bent and straightened steel fork on my old Basso Gap. Dumbest was bonking in Camden on my 1st MS150, returning to Philly from Ocean City NJ 30 years ago. Told my partner that I didn’t think I could continue, and he stared at me and said “Look around you. Get on the bike and move!”

  12. Dave Thompson

    I grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains just off summit road. I got my first really good road bike when I was 17 complete with sew ups. I had loads of fun pushing the limit on several fun descents during rides in the Santa Cruz mountains. At that age you don’t really think about the possibility of something going wrong. On a whim one morning I decided to ride down highway 17 from the top to the town of Los Gatos. I’m not sure what my top speed was but I did use the fast lane to pass a few cars and at least two semi trucks. On the last section before you get to Los Gatos you descend a long straight section on this section I was trying to go as fast as possible to get through the curves ahead were the road flattens out. About 2/3 of the way down the bike developed a high speed wobble. I immediately began to break and freak the hell out. I was sure I was going down. I didn’t and managed to avoid the traffic and safely come to a stop. I never did discover what caused the speed wobble and it never occurred again. But I stopped riding that section of 17 after that and road with a lot more caution.

  13. Robert

    Hwy 1 between Muir Beach and Sausalito on a loaded mtn bike, corkscrew downhill section crossing center line to even make the corners with cars in front and behind. Brakes didn’t do much. No idea of the speed because this was 1987 and what was a cycle computer? Road was so bad at that time from landslide patching that you would hit a patch of raised asphalt and catch air because the mass of the panniers would accelerate the bike up, or even once on another descent the panniers came off the rack and you’d drag them downhill on the bungee still attached. Got to the bottom like everyone else and the adrenaline was pumping so hard my entire body shook. Being 25 accounts for all.

  14. Tom in Albany

    Fastest = 54 mph down the hill from Grant’s Cottage in Corinth, NY. No helmet, of course so, that also qualifies as dumbest. Gotta say, though, 54 was a blast! The dumb was merely in retrospect. I later spoke to someone that recounted a couple of cyclists going off the road on one of the hard curves and ending up in rehab for a bit…

  15. Ron

    I hadn’t ridden the roads around my parent’s house in a few years. Was up there this summer, only had my cx bike with road tires. Hit low 50s on a very steep, narrow road…and at the worst corner a car was coming the other way. I stayed as calm as I could, but that was far too close for my liking. Used to ride like that all the time in my 20s, can’t do it any more with a wife and a kid on the way.

  16. Fuzz

    After a friend and I descended a short, but very steep hill, he said to me, “wow, that was crazy – how fast were you going.” I told him 48 mph and asked how fast he went. His cyclometer said 44 mph, after which I said, “do you think it would hurt any less to crash at 44 mph vs. 48?” Once you get above 10 mph, it’s gonna hurt.. a lot.

  17. John in Miami

    During the annual Mt. Dora Bike Festival one year, I descended Sugarloaf Mountain road in excess of 44mph. I’ve reached 52 before but on a perfect descent on the Key Biscayne bridge and I felt the aluminum Trek almost begin to flex as it was about to generate lift. Well, on this descent of Sugarloaf, the road is very old pavement. Lots of cracks and rough spots. My descent was on a carbon fiber bike with a 4 inch long crack along the non-drive side chainstay. Everyone warned me not to but I did it anyway. I kept praying the entire ride down.

  18. Shawn

    I had severe vertigo on my way to my house in central Austin — during rush hour. I rode the last 6-7 miles anyway, tracking like a taco’d bmx rim and fearing I was having a stroke at the tender age of 27. I don’t know how I was not hit or how I did not simply crash. I couldn’t walk when I got off my bike at the house; I simply got to the ground under my front porch where I remained with my eyes closed until my friends came over to pick me up for a movie. I am lucky to be alive.

  19. ben

    Descending down from Abra Lares (14,600 ft) in the middle-of-nowhere Peruvian Andes. Laid the bike down approaching a hairpin as a car came around in my lane, did the old asphalt slide for about twenty feet and slammed into the drivers side panel of the car. Seventy miles from the nearest hospital and a Peruvian one at that. Escaped with a bit of road rash and nothing more. Hitchhiked out of there with a throttled bike and a new outlook on life. Should have died that day.

  20. Mark Young

    In my 40 plus years, I have gone too fast, came close to disaster a few times and thinking back on them, makes me smile!.

    Crazy – passing pickups trucks while descending Naches Grade (near Yakima, WA) and rounding the bottom corner using no brakes.
    Fear – When descending a gravel coated fire road, I soon realized I was nearing the lot where my car was parked, I was going way too fast and I was fast approaching the edge of the road that was 20 feet above the parked cars.
    Speed- 55 mph when descending the east side of White Pass (WA State) and another time going down the I-90 freeway toward the Columbia River. I noticed the cars were not passing us very fast, so I motioned to my riding partner to the right lane where the pavement was smoother.

  21. mark

    62.5 mph and only did that once, and haven’t been close since. That was way back in the late 80’s. Hot day and not wearing a helmet or gloves. I would have vaporized if i’d went down at that speed. I don’t think i’ve hit anything north of low 50’s since.

  22. Andrew Prior

    Crafers Exit to the Tollgate, South East Freeway in the mid 70’s. Australia. Used to race the cars down on the way to work. Record pass was 24 cars. Shudder to think of it now.

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