Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 On The Bike

 Thanks to COVID19 pandemic, which hit San Diego in March, 2020 has been a rather bust year for venturing out for exotic adventure rides in the country. I did sneak a few good ones in before going into shut down (just riding solo locally) mode, and even made some new cycling friends... though we probably wouldn't recognize each other without the mask and the helmet on!

I'm grateful that my riding groups (Swami Cycling and Girlz Gone Riding - San Diego) are made of responsible people who value the good of the community over short-term gratification and haven't organized any group ride since the first stay-at-home order in March. It's a matter of perspectives. This pandemic, like many other national/global crises before it, will pass. It won't kill anyone to just ride solo for a while and to not take the risk of needing medical care just when our medical infrastructure is on the brink of breaking. 

The vaccines are rolling out, and there's summer on the other side of winter. Hang in there, and we'll all be out adventuring and cheering each other up and down the hills again soon! 

Monday, October 19, 2020

San Diego North County Rites of Passage Paved Climbs

It's been a long while, but yours truly haven't retired from the wearing habit of steep hills hunting. I have moved to the northern bit of the county, though, and it takes a while getting to know all the monsters in one's new environs. 

Without further ado, here is a list of 10 famous road cycling climbs in San Diego's North County (that is, north of Hwy 56, and west of Valley Center Rd/Bear Valley Pkwy or Hwy 67) that local riders tend to allude to when comparing how painful their last series of undulated suffering was. To be sure, there are gorier ascents than those on this list. I'm just listing the ones with the best combination of well known/ridden and toughness in different areas of North County. The list of the true hardest climbs will come later.  

10. Three Witches  (San Dieguito Rd from El Apajo to just before Camino del Sur): To escape from the old money neighborhood of Rancho Santa Fe via San Dieguito Rd to the neuvo riches along Camino del Sur (Santa Luz, 4S Ranch, etc), you must dispatch Three wicked Witches guarding the way: As far as tough climbs go, this triple-steps two-miler is rather tame both in gradient and in length. It is; however, a featured climbs on many trans-coastal rides including the San Diego Century. One must climb little hills before graduating to the truly nasty ones. Three Witches is a great hill to train on for more nastiness to come. 

Scripps Poway Pkwy climb toward Hwy 67.

9. Purple Monster (Scripps Poway Parkway from Pomerado to Hwy 67): Yet another featured climb from the famed San Diego Century ride! The 1.8 mile stretch of Scripps Poway Parkway to Hwy 67 on the Purple Course of the SDC is quite jacaranda purple in the cool of springtime, which is also the best time of year to tackle this ascent (or, really, any ascent east of I-15). The Strava segment has the climb starts a bit later than it should, really, as Purple Monster really stops being friendly to eastbound riders as far west as the intersection with Community Rd.

As a side note, although we call Scripps Poway Pkwy a monster, it is actually the nicest way to bike commute between Poway proper and Hwy 67. It is the mellowest climb - gradientwise - and the least traffically stressful compared with the likes of Highland Valley Rd and Poway Rd. There is ample shoulder on both ascent and descent to stay well away from the all too fast cars in the traffic lane. 

8. El Fuerte/Alicante (Carlsbad): This is probably my least favorite local hill repeat loop. It hurts multiple times in both directions, and a lot of it is the sort of hill that doesn't look like it should be that painful (or long) a hill, but it keeps kicking where it shouldn't. Then you get to a downhill, and it's all over with so soon... only to be followed by more climbing. Basically a lot of pain and not quite enough immediate rewards (but, keep coming back to it, and you'll likely get quite a lot stronger as a climber in the long run). 

The whole El Fuerte/Alicant is 7.6 miles long, with multiple nasty uphill stretches no matter which direction you ride it. The worst bit of the CW direction is probably the mile long climb from Poisettia to Alga. (Alga Rd climb from Alicante to El Fuerte is its own popular reference hill in North County, by the way) From the CCW direction, the stretch from Altiva to Corinthia is just awful. I personally prefer the CCW direction mostly due to traffic on Alicante north of Alga Rd. 

7. Lake Wohlford Rd (Valley Center): A featured climb on the annual Giro di San Diego Gran Fondo, this curvy 2 miler from Valley Center Rd to the lake is best tackled during the week when traffic is less bustling with boat-towing SUVs and trailers. The first mile is the steepest, then it modulates quite a bit on the way to the bridge which marks the top of the climb. Being a mostly east-west climb before veering due north at the lake, timing the climb so that the sun is not in the eyes of the drivers coming up behind you is quite important. 

The gnarly 1st uphill mile on HVR.

6. Highland Valley Rd from Sycamore Creek Rd to Ramona (Escondido): Highland Valley Rd is not one I would recommend to anyone new to cycling... mostly due to traffic. To be sure, HVR doesn't carry as much traffic as does the 78 to the north or even Poway Rd to the south, but the first mile of climbing is not only very steep, but also has no shoulder to speak of, and is so curvy and narrow that one can't count on motorized traffic to stay on the right side of the road. It is east of the 15, so tend to be very hot in the summer - fall months... but if you head out there early, you run the risk of having the sun rising right into the eyes of the drivers driving up the curvy road behind you. 

For seasoned cyclists, the HVR descent is one of the best in town, but one must always be careful to not count on the road being clear of rock fall debris on the other side of the blind curve (and that the oncoming cars will stay on their side of the yellow line). There are a couple of right turns on the descent that keeps turning longer than they should. It is a fun but quite unforgiving descent.

5. San Elijo Rd/Double Peak Dr (San Marcos): Known simply as 'Double Peak' climb. The 3 miles climb starts off quite gently at the intersection of San Elijo Rd at S Melrose Dr and continue straight thru San Elijo Hills community. It gets steeper (6-8%) after passing Elfin Forest Rd. San Elijo Rd keeps climbing for another 1/3 mile or so past Double Peak Rd traffic light, but we'll turn left on Double Peak Rd for a very punishing last mile up to Double Peak Park parking lot (those inclined could indulge in another short but steep dirt ramp to the proper top of the hill for extra credit). This is the fearsome last (and featured) climb on the local annual sufferfest Belgian Waffle/Wafer Ride.

Double Peak and its sister Mt Whitney require a post of their own, when it comes to horrible chain-stretching climbs. Stay tuned!

Descending Couser Canyon in the late morning shade.

4. Couser Canyon Rd (Lilac): 
Couser Canyon Rd runs north-south along the east side of Lancaster Mountain, and is exposed to the east, so it's best cycling it in the morning hours for optimum visibility (the afternoon sun can cast very dark shadow on the road and hide you from motorized traffic... and also hide road cracks and debris from you). This is an awesome cycling road connecting Escondido to Rainbow and on to Temecula via Rice Canyon and Rainbow Valley Blvd. It is a relatively mellow, quite scenic, curvy and constant 3.8 mile climb. Fairly low traffic, tho best avoid on weekends and holidays as it is a favorite of local sport motorcyclists. 

Coronado Hills Dr from La Moree.

3. Coronado Hills Dr (San Marcos): This is the lone legit route up to the top of little Mt Whitney, the tallest peak on the Cerro de las Posas mountain range that dominates the skyline of San Marcos. It starts out mellow enough heading south from La Moree, but when it starts kicking as you approach the only house on the east side of the road, it kicks with a vicious glee... and doesn't really let up until you earn the saddle at the intersection with Washingtonia. To get to Mt Whitney you would turn right there and climb more rolling bumps of various degrees of savagery until you get to the radio tower. Or, if you are looking for a morning of horrid hill workout, you could continue down the other side of the saddle to the SE end of the road and ride back up... and just keep going back and forth from one end of Coronado Hills to another until your legs fall off. It's a distinct possibility. 

The flat bottom just before Cole Grade Rd kicks up the hill for 3 miles of pain.

2. Cole Grade Rd from Hwy 76 to McNally (Pauma Valley): The 2.5 mile bicycling escape route from Rincon to Valley Center is one hot climb. Even when it's cold out, it's always hot climbing up Cole Grade Rd. Newcomers may roll their eyes at the number of times old spinners claim that they hurt so much more climbing up Cole Grade after Palomar Mtn than they did on Palomar itself... but it is oh-so-true! 

I think much of it is due to the physical and psychological drain Palomar usually has on you before you get to Cole Grade, and also because of the latter's more severe gradient... and the general lack of wind carving up that side of the hill. 

Nevertheless, Cole Grade remains the safest way to ride back up to Escondido from the SW side of Palomar Mtn (I, for one, would happily go downhill on Valley Center Rd from N Lake Wohlford to Harrah's casino, but not the reverse, which I had to do when I rode the first Giro di San Diego Gran Fondo in 2012. Happy to have survived it, and would rather not do it again... ever). 

Besides, whenever the Tour of California cycling race comes to town, the pros are usually made to ride up Cole Grade Rd after going over Palomar Mtn, and its steep S curve section is usually where the decisive break of the day gets away from the main peloton.

1. Palomar Mtn by Hwy 76 and South Grade Rd (S6): San Diego's very own Highway to the Stars, South Grade Rd was built in 19 to transport the Hale Telescope to Palomar Observatory. 

To the local cyclists, this 12 miler with 21 hairpin turns is our version of the Tour de France's famed L'Alpe d'Huez, with similar distance, gradient, and curvature. It is probably the most consistent long climb in the county. Aside from the lone 1/5 mile long false flat just before the left turn onto South Grade Rd, the climbing gradient is a near constant 7% (the last mile is the hardest one). With no chain-stretching gradient anywhere on the route, cycling up Palomar Mt from the south is more a test of will than anything else... especially during the hot summer months when the long middle stretch of the climb is infested by horse flies and gnats.

Avoid this ride on weekends and holidays when wiggly South Grade Rd is the hot spot for local sport motorcyclists, and the narrow lanes of Hwy 76 is busy with boat-towing trailers and semi trucks. Also, bring plenty of water with you if you attempt this in the hot season. The only watering spot on the climb is the little convenient store on Oak Knolls campground on the first mile of South Grade Rd, then there is nothing until Palomar Mountain General Store and Mother's Kitchen at the top.

As awesome a climb as Palomar South Grade Rd is, it is an even better descent... albeit one best taken with plenty of caution. If you are just doing out-and-back up Palomar, look at the opposite lane on the way up and make a mental note of any potentially hazardous debris field or pot holes/road cracks that might catch you on the way down. Also, beware of the 3 cow grates on the road (you never know if there could be anything stuck in them), and the blind curves. I've been lucky and only seen deer on the road twice in the many years I've ridden there. Some others have seen more. Don't go bombing down that road faster than you could safely control your bike.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

What is in your bike's saddlebag?

 All seasoned cyclists have an equipment pouch with them when they ride. Most often it's hanging below the saddle (saddlebag), sometimes it's attached to the stem and the top tube (bento bag), or in a triangular pouch between the top tube and the down tube, or in the second water bottle (usually the one on the seat tube), or in the Camelbak backpack. However we are carrying the equipment/tools, we are carrying them. They are the safety net that allows us to ride far away from home knowing that we will probably be able to cope with any roadside mechanical and ride back home (or at least to the working bus stop or within Uber/Lyft/Taxi range). 

The most common mechanical problem you will get on the road/trail, of course, is the flat tire. Being able to change flats properly on your own is a necessary skills for any cyclist. Check with your local bike shops or cycling clubs to see if there is any flat clinic available (they are usually free). If not, there are several good 'how to' videos on Youtube. I recommend the Park Tool videos. They are really excellent and thorough. 

So, what is in the bag?

At the minimum, your saddlebag should contain:

A spare inner tube that fits your tires and wheels, a patch kit, CO2 nozzle and a couple of canisters unless you are carrying a frame pump, tire levers/irons, a multi-tool with a chain-tool and spoke key(s) that fits your spoke nipples. 

If you ride your bike enough, you WILL have a mechanical issue on the road sometimes. Even if you don't know how to repair whatever it is, it's best to have the tools with you. Chances are a good Samaritan will stop to check on you (cyclists are pretty good that way), but he/she won't be able to fix it for you if there is no tool available. 

My saddlebag's contents.

I ride solo in lonely places far away from help a lot, so my saddlebag isn't quite 'minimalistic'. There are:

  • Powdered spare inner tube. My tubes come unpowdered in a paperbox. I take them out of the box, powder them, and wrap them each in a plastic bag with a 16 or 20 g canister of CO2, and write the tube's spec on the bag (since I switch between 28mm and 30mm tires quite a bit, depending on what sort of terrain I was heading into).
  • CO2 nozzle and at least 2 CO2 canisters of 16 or 20g. I use the super easy to use basic green Genuine Innovations G20315 nozzle. They're very hardy and small. 
  • Two tire levers (plus one more attached to the multi-tool). 
  • A preglued patch kit (with 5 patches in it). 
  • A Park Tool IB-3 multi-tool with chain tool, spoke keys, and the extra tire lever. It's a heavier multi-tool, but it is super sturdy and has nearly all the tools you'd need. 
  • A missing link. Well, usually 2 of those, one standard one, and one Wipperman Connex. The Wipperman is missing in the photo, since I used it the day before to connect a riding buddy's broken chain on the road. Unlike the standard missing link, the Wipperman Connex link can be used multiple times, and does not require any tool to install or remove. It is quite a bit more expensive than the standard missing link, but it's worth every penny.
  • A mini lube pouch.
  • Alcohol pads (for cleaning disc brake rotors or the braking surface on wheel rim).
  • A Schrader/Presta valve adapter, so I can make use of gas station air pump. Gas station air pumps generally max out at 80 psi, which is not ideal for many. But I'm light enough and running bigger tires, so 80 psi will easily enable me to ride home.
  • A nitrile glove and wet wipe. I look scary enough on my own without the involuntary post-repair black face paint.
  • A tablet of Diphenhydramine antihistamine (aka Benadryl)... you never know when you're gonna run into an angry bee or rattler. 
  • A sock (you know how they get unpaired in the laudry and all of the sudden you have a closet full of unmatched socks?) and a spare rubber band. I also wrap a length of electrical tape around my handlebar stem, just in case. Just about everything but the tire levers go into the sock, and then into the saddlebag. It helps to not loose the little bitty stuff on the ground. Besides, it's a handy chain-wipe when needed. 
  • An extra strap. Or a zip tie
  • A piece of candy... Of course, I also carry gels and stuff in my jersey pocket. It's a just-in-case candy. Sometimes you get sort of frustrated wrestling with Murphy's Law's Revenge Days, and just need a pleasant sweet things to cheer you up a bit. I'm not called Smorg for nothing!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Go for a ride!

Don't get too hung up over your equipment, new riders. All you really need to explore and ride to places are a reliable bicycle - hopefully one with hills-friendly gear - as there isn't much flat riding to be had in San Diego County, a pair of comfortable cycling short or bib (because chafing down there really sucks), a little repair supplies/kit (and the know how to use it), water bottle and some food, the law doesn't require it for adults, but it's generally a good idea to wear a helmet, definitely some good research of the area you'll be exploring/riding in (escape/alternate plan B included), and a 'can do and will do' attitude.
The original Smorgmobile was an all aluminum Giant Defy 5 with triple crank and 11-26 cassette.
Style is nice, but substance is what counts. Go out and ride!

You don't need the lightest of bikes or fancy stuff, unless you are planning on racing with the elites. People go out and tour on their bike in all sorts of gear. Some of my local cycling heroes go out everyday riding their 30+ yrs old steel bike with downtube shifters, some ride in sandals, etc. Don't sit around thinking you can't ride this or that way because you don't have the $$ to shell out for proper road cycling shoes (that really won't allow you to do anything in them except for cycling on good pavement) or lightest clipless pedals or aero helmet or aero wheels or whatever. Plot out the places you want to go, check out the conditions (weather okay? any road construction along the way? any wild fire in the area? where would you be able to stop to resupply? if this road or that road turns out impassable, how would you detour?), grab the necessary supplies... and go!


 I'm serious... I rode an all aluminum (fork included) bike with platform pedals carrying a backpack and wearing loafer shoes for years before I 'upgraded'. And in those lo-tech years, I rode up and down all the vertical streets of Dictionary Hills, out to Borrego Springs and back, and to the top and back down the likes of Cuyamaca Peak, Mt Woodson, Mt Laguna, Monument Peak, Los Pinos, the three main roads to Palomar Mountain, San Miguel Mountain, Starvation Mountain, Double Peak, Mt Israel, (little) Mt Whitney, and all the possible ways up and down Mt Soledad, Mt Helix, and Grossmont. Would it have been a tad easier on a lighter bike, a pair of stiffer shoes, being attached to the pedals, etc? Perhaps... but not having those things is really no obstacle at all.

 When I was still golfing professionally back in 1995 I was doing my putting practice routine on the practice green during a tournament in Tucson, AZ when this old local bloke came up to me to challenge me to a putt out. You could tell he didn't have any money. He was putting with his one short iron (probably a pitching wedge) and a very very used golf ball that wasn't even round anymore. The thing had so many bulges on it it wobbles every which way on the thin grass. And he gave me a very good game for it. Of course I won... with my proper putter and a perfectly round ball (I do miss the 90's awesome balata wounded golf balls). But I ended up buying his dinner simply because he was the one teaching me a very good lesson. 

 If you love it. There is no excuse for not doing it. Just go and do... and live!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Riding the rural roads during wild fire season

California's wild fires season has extended a lot over the last decade or so. It used to be just a few months long from mid-summer to late fall (generally from September to early November). Now, it's almost all year long. 

As much as I love riding my bike on lonely rural roads out in the mountains east of town, I generally avoid it during the worst of the fire season (the old August - November time frame) even when there is no fire burning in the area. The summer heat and the mountain horse flies have both proven themselves more persistent than me. 

Even on rare days when I'm both off work and feeling strangely heat-resistant, though, there are things to consider and check on before I head east away from town this time of year:

Smoke plume from the Lilac Fire as seen from central Vista in 2018. 

1. Santa Ana Wind Event: If there is one going on, I stay in town and away from the mountain roads. Period. I made the mistake of heading out to Warner Springs during an early Santa Ana event once, early in my cycling career and will never forget how murderous having that hideous gale as the crosswind on the narrow shoulder-less Hwy 79 could be. I was blown completely off the pavement 5 times between the intersections of San Felipe Rd and Hwy 76. Rare are the days when I love riding the 76 with all its casino and boat trailers and hay and horse trailers traffic... but it runs east-west rather than north-south, so the crosswind became a tailwind then, and I wasn't about to get killed every time I was passed by a big truck.  

2. Check wild fire status before heading out (and if it is possible to re-check during the ride, do). Generally the fires around here burn west... though sometimes they regress a bit back east with the morning onshore wind. Make sure you have secondary escape route if your main route gets (or is in danger of getting) cut off by a fire or its smoke... And, you definitely don't want to be riding on the roads the locals will be using to evacuate for a live fire. 

3. Really... if the Santa Ana Wind is in town, and there's a fire burning within 15 miles of your route, go a different way or just stay in town or on the coast. 

4. If you are one of those stubborn mules on wheels that will go no matter what (shame on you, and doubly so if you end up having to call for help and thereby endangering your rescuers), make sure your cellphone is all charged up (tho... out in the county you may not have cell reception), carry more than plenty of water with you, and have a print out map of the area you will be in. No cell service usually also means no internet... and the Garmin will only be able tell you the uploaded route, but maybe not the possible escape routes. Definitely also be sure someone knows your exact route and when to expect you back. 

5. But, really... don't be an idiot. When the Santa Ana Wind is in town... whether there is a fire burning nearby or not, stay in town or on the coast. Don't head east of town!