For four years running now, the annual spring convocation of cycling, the Sea Otter Classic, has enjoyed stellar weather as it draws crowds to the Monterey Peninsula. I’ve visited the event most years since 1997, and I can’t recall such an ongoing stretch of great weather as these last few years. For each of the four days of the event temperatures reached the mid to upper 70s and the skies stretched cloudless, showing the blue of a booby’s feet.
For the first five years I went to the event, I was there strictly to race. Most years, though, I’d find a window in which to wander the expo area. Back then, my wandering would take 30 minutes. If I gave myself an hour, I could see everything—twice. By comparison, even without doing one of the gran fondos on Saturday, I still don’t feel like I saw everyone or everything I had hoped to.
This year, I decided that during those windows in which I didn’t have a dedicated mission, I’d try wander the expo with fresh eyes and see what caught my attention. I’ve been hearing about Scott Montgomery’s (yes he of Cannondale and Scott fame) latest endeavor, called Club Ride. I’ve been noticing an increasing number of riders on the road in what has traditionally been considered mountain bike apparel. My takeaway is that as many people enter cycling many of them struggle to accept the idea of wearing Lycra, but have in some cases at least come around to the idea of technical wear for increased comfort.
Giro’s “New Road” line and Club Ride’s assortment are fresh takes on what technical wear can be. I don’t see myself doing a group ride in this stuff, but I would happily wear it for running errands on my bike and when going for a ride to the park with my son. If the next CicLAvia doesn’t conflict with my schedule (Which genius thought it would be a good idea to plan it for during the LA Times Festival of Books? But I digress.) I’d wear this sort of stuff for the outing.
Challenge has long made great tires, often for other manufacturers. Recently, they began a more concerted push to market their products here in the U.S. With the burgeoning acceptance of riding dirt roads on road bikes, even when ‘cross isn’t in season (Or is ‘cross always in season now?), the 32mm-wide Grifo XS made me lust for roads unpaved. Its stablemate, the 27mm-wide Paris Roubaix, looked like it would be at home on hard pack or the local group ride.
So if you’ve ever wanted to drink beer, go for a ride, burn calories and NOT get pulled over for a DUI, the brain trust at Sierra Nevada has the perfect solution. You pedal and drink while someone else does the steering. Somehow I think you could drink beer faster than you could burn it off, even with the aid of this contraption, but being wrong has rarely been as likely to be as fun.
I’ve been following the work of the folks at Alchemy Bicycles since before I first met any of the guys at NAHBS. I’ve seen their work improve and evolve to the point that I think it’s fair to say they are doing something fresh and new in carbon fiber. The bikes I saw at Sea Otter featured unidirectional carbon fiber cut in artful shapes to give the bikes an unusually artful look. I can say I’ve never seen any work like this anywhere else.
Even when they paint the bikes the paint lines are crisp and reflect a honed aesthetic.
The work on the top tube on this bike deserves to be shot in a photo studio to capture all the beauty and detail, but even outside, I was blown away with what I saw. It’s a refreshing departure to spraying the bike one solid color or wrapping the whole thing in 3k or 12k weave. While I still need to learn a lot more about their current work, I’m coming to the conclusion that they are doing some of the most advanced work in carbon fiber, at least on the appearance side, but maybe on the construction side as well.
I’m not your typical guy in that I don’t spend Saturdays and Sundays each fall watching football while consuming 6000 calories as I sit on a couch. However, I am still some variety of guy and that means I do have a thing for tools and tool boxes. The Topeak Mobile PrepStation is a mobile work station. It includes 40 professional-grade tools that fit into water jet-cut foam forms in three trays. The bottom bucket is good for larger spare parts and any additional tools you might need, while the top tray is great for sorting any small parts you may need to keep on hand, such as quick release springs. And while this $895 rig is really meant for mechanics working event support, in it I see the genius of being able to put away all your tools and then have the whole shebang roll into a corner. I’ve witnessed many a household where the more the bike stuff got put away the happier the real head of the household was.
This Ag2r Team-Edition Focus Izalco comes in SL and Pro versions. The SL is equipped with Campy Record EPS, an FSA cockpit and Fulcrum Racing Speed 50 carbon tubulars; at $9800, it ain’t cheap, but that’s a lot of bike for the money. The Pro is equipped with Campy Chorus, an FSA/Concept cockpit and Fulcrum WH-CEX 6.5 wheels. It retails for only $3800. Honestly, there’s not another bike company that delivers as much bike for the price, though Felt comes close. I can’t figure out why I’m not seeing more of these on the road.
Cervelo has just introduced a new P3. While I haven’t seen wind tunnel specs or anything like that, I’m told this bike is both UCI-legal and faster. The UCI-bit I could give a moth’s wings about, but faster, well that always makes my mouth water. Apparently, some Cervelo purists complained about the new seat tube shape, but from an industrial design standpoint, I think this bike is really gorgeous. That said, I can observe that the hydraulic brakes spec’d on that bike aren’t easy to work on. The version shown here with Dura-Ace mechanical and Mavic Cosmic Elites goes for $5400 and is already shipping.
I have this belief that when I have to pay to do an event, that’s my time. And if I’m on my time, I’m not obligated to do anything other than ride. It has happened that on a few occasions I have chosen to write about the experience afterward, but because I paid to be there, I wasn’t obligated. It doesn’t change what I might write, but it does affect the urgency I feel about getting a piece up, post haste. This year, the Sea Otter organizers declined to grant me an entry for either gran fondo, so I took the opportunity to do a reconnaissance ride of the cross country course with Brian Vaughn and Yuri Hauswald of GU. We pulled over at a couple of points for them to give riders tips less on how often to fuel than where they could fuel, given the challenge of the course. I’ve heard a lot of bright people talk about how to fuel for races and hard rides and these two guys offered fantastic strategic thinking on how to stay on the gas even while staying fueled. Given the way I’ve been riding, this was a good deal more fun than trying to drill it for hours. And I definitely learned a trick or two.
Of course, strategic thinking about how to be a good athlete got short-circuited every time this thing came by in the expo. If there was more fun being had by adults than this, it Ninja’d by me in sunlight bright enough to burn my scalp through hair. I did encounter some great skin-care products, but I didn’t see a conditioner with an SPF factor. Someone needs to get on that before next year.
For those of you who haven’t had a chance to visit Santa Rosa, Calif., and do Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo, you’ve missed out on what is easily the best cycling event I’ve ever entered, let alone completed. The real powers-that-be behind the event are the guys from Bike Monkey. Without them, the veritable army of volunteers that makes the event happen would all be out riding their bikes or watching American Idol. Which begs the question, how did they get to be so good at it?
Well, if you were only familiar with the gran fondo or maybe their eponymously titled magazine, Bike Monkey, then you’ve missed the bread and butter of what this bunch does. Led by Carlos Perez, Bike Monkey is best known to NorCal residents as an organizer of mountain bike races.
I’ve made some mention of my intent to move to Santa Rosa. The ability to go mountain biking without loading my bike into my car is no small part of that decision. That’s the life I had in New England and frankly, I’m fed up of not having that. There’s also the fact that mountain biking in Sonoma is magic. Don’t take my word for it, though, just consider that mountain bike legend Chuck Ibis (Scot Nicol to the rest of the unwashed) calls Santa Rosa home. So once I’d picked up a used 29er I needed to immediately go ride in amazing places. I mean, I had to, right?
When I contacted Bike Monkey about SoNoMás, I was surprised by the response I got. I was told it was a small event, only a couple hundred people. That it was low-key with a simple barbecue afterward. No expo. The course was as technical as the code for WordPress and almost no one rides the whole thing. And it can be hotter than a Russian bride.
It struck me as an odd sort of sales pitch. Then I realized they thought I might not enjoy the event and wanted to caution me. That collection of details was a warning. I told them I couldn’t wait.
Honestly, I figured that I’d treat this like a guided tour. I’m not really in race shape (not that I want anyone to check Strava or Map My Ride just to verify that), but it struck me as an excellent chance to go out for a really long ride in completely unfamiliar terrain while getting great support and benefitting from the utter impossibility that I’d get lost.
It was a genius plan. At least, on paper.
Certain parts of the plan went to, uh, plan. I didn’t get lost. The aid stations (can I just say God bless Brian Vaughn and the folks at Gu?) were stocked with real racer-type energy foods like Gu gel packs, Gu chomps, Gu brew and plenty of water. Not a freakin’ Oreo in sight. There were plenty at each aid station, all seven of them. So I didn’t bonk, either.
But that bit where I told myself that I’d ride the shallower climbs easy so I could leave something in the tank for the technical and steep bits. Yeah, that part succeeded the way Contador’s appeal did. Hey, I got this, yeah, genius plan, whoa that looks tough, no, wait, I’m gonna make it, oof, my hip hurts.
It was nice not to fall in front of the photographer, though. And these photos, by the way, are courtesy of Daydreamer Cinema. Daydreamer’s Jamie Tuell is part of the team working on the documentary about Levi being produced by Bike Monkey called The Levi Effect.
Kym Fant, pictured above, is one of the sextet of women doing the Reve Tour this summer, riding each of the stages of the Tour de France the day before the race does. She joined us for a ride a couple of weeks ago when I was up in Geyserville checking out the P5 and being introduced to Osmo. On the ride she told me that she had recently completed a week in which she’d trained 25 hours. She and her husband, Glenn, who is a regular training partner of Levi’s and the owner of NorCal Bikesport (and one of Bike Monkey’s most ardent sponsors) have a three-year-old son. Theirs is a very full schedule. Aside from being utterly charming, Kym finished SoNoMás in four hours. Glenn was a bit closer to three.
My personal odyssey lasted a bit more than five hours—5:18 to be precise. Because the course was a true point-to-point loop (and not a bunch of laps on some circuit) there came a point in my third hour where I didn’t see anyone for a while. I was just out having a mountain bike ride with free lemonade stands along the way.
I dig that someone had the wherewithall to wheelie the finish.
And yes, some guys killed this thing.
The post-event barbecue was relaxed. Relaxed in a family get-together way. There were plenty of wives/girlfriends/kids/dogs. And they all poached some of that excellent chicken at some point. None were quite so opportunist as the dogs, though.
This was hard enough that I wouldn’t want to ride it every weekend, but as part of the arc to each season, I hope never to miss it in the future. Truly a first-class event. That there were only 200 or so racers just means more people need to hear about it.
Images: Jamie Tuell, Daydreamer Cinema
The forecast for my favorite event of the year and the event I’ll go to the mat arguing is the best day of cycling in all of the Americas was for wet. Fog, mist, possible rain, it wasn’t a day to have a camera on your shoulder. Ugh.
In the previous editions (both of them), Levi spoke to the crowd from the announcer’s dais, which is to say that unless you were within 20 feet of him, you couldn’t see him. This year he stood up on top of a Sprinter van and the excitement the crowd drew from actually seeing him was palpable.
And then we were off. And by “we” I mean an incredible 7500 cyclists. It’s the biggest one-day event I’ve ever taken part in. The start was a bit sketchy, with everyone within 100 meters of me attempting to make sure they stayed in the front 20 riders.
The first climb of the day comes roughly 12 miles into the ride and while the pace has been animated up to this point, it hasn’t been fast enough to burn off anyone with reasonable fitness. However, by the time we begin the second kilometer of that climb, the real sort is underway. So goes the story of the day. Each successive climb continues the sort.
A friend commented to me at the finish, as we were consuming an ambitious post-ride meal, the unexpected pleasure of being on a ride with 7499 other people and yet finding himself utterly alone at times. The opportunity for seclusion and quiet moments alone is arguably one of the ride’s surprise gifts.
This year, for the first time ever, I actually looked down at my Garmin unit on a couple of occasions to check the gradient of some of the pitches on King Ridge. I’d heard that there were sections at 20 percent previously. I filed the data under unnecessary. As it turns out, on two entirely different pitches I saw the numbers 24 and 25. It was less informative than a pick-me-up for my self-esteem. I was moving pretty slow.
The weather on King Ridge started overcast and damp, gradually turned foggy and then near the top mist flirted with drizzle. It made some of the descents a puckery affair. There was a reward, though, for the truly fall weather. On the descent to Jenner we dropped out of the fog with just enough elevation remaining to give a view of the coast that was as sudden in its appearance as it was spectacular in expression. I’d compare it to walking into a friend’s living room only to behold Botticelli’s Venus.
I’ve done rides with a tenth of the ridership that were goat parades. I’ve never done a ride that was better organized. Sure, there was plentiful food and signage. Thank heaven all the intersections were controlled (well, we were stopped at one and at another the CHP officer was sitting in his cruiser while traffic approached), but it may be that what really defines a gran fondo in the U.S. (it’s a different beast in Italy—I accept that) isn’t the mass start or the controlled intersections.
What makes Levi’s Gran Fondo so special is that it’s an expression of place. Santa Rosa is Levi’s adopted home and they have adopted him as much as he has them. So you’ve got an adored and bona fide cycling celebrity, which is a good start. But that’s not enough. The secret really comes down to the way Carlos Perez, Greg Fisher and Yuri Hauswald—the guys behind Bike Monkey have enlisted the support of not just Santa Rosa, but Sebastopol and Jenner and Bodega Bay and more. At a certain level, the fact that the ride happens says something for the love the community has for the way the guys at Bike Monkey have created a cycling culture outsized to the community they serve, which is why the gran fondo can draw people from all over the world.
I can tell you this: If I ever miss this event, check the hospitals.