Planning to Ride

I received an e mail from Gordon MacKay, Director of Public Works for the City of Stockton. He said he follows my blog in the Record “with interest”. I was surprised and pleased. Sometimes I think only my friends and riding partners (who are often, but not always, the same people) read it.

He sent me a link about some public meetings regarding an update of the Stockton Bicycle Master Plan and asked if I would help spread the work. I am happy to do so. The meetings are coming up December 2,3 and 9 at various locations around the city .Here is the link:

The Record calls my blog “Stockton Cycling”. But I almost never write about that, because I never cycle there. I ride all around San Joaquin, Amador and Calaveras Counties, and occasionally head for the Sierras or East Bay hills. I do tours in the Western U.S. and will be making my 5th cycling vacation/pilgrimage to Europe this summer. But I never ride into Stockton. Too close to home, too flat, and too much traffic.

Recently I had to report for jury duty at the Courthouse downtown. This is only about 11 miles from my house, without a single hill on the way. But I never even considered riding my bike, even though this would be a very short and easy ride for me. I could probably have found a route without too much traffic, but where would I park the bike? And even locked up, I have doubts about leaving a $4,000 investment so vulnerable. If the parking meters aren’t safe, what chance does a titanium or carbon fiber superbike have?

I went to school at UC Davis, and for four years my bike was my major form of transportation. I rode it everywhere;  to class, the gym, downtown for coffee or even an occasional beer. I have seen how good cycling access can make a city a better place to live. So I wish Stockton’s cycling advocates well in their efforts to make the city more cycling friendly. I don’t see it becoming another Davis, but getting a few more riders out commuting or doing light shopping or going to the movies would be a good thing for the city. I am planning to attend the December 3 meeting just to see what they have in mind.

Who knows? A few bike lanes or signed bike routes and I might ride to the Waterfront for the view and a coffee. Or to my next summons to jury duty. Cycling would certainly improve that experience. It could happen!

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Diablo Double

Walt and Rob at the Summit

Last Thursday three friends and I decided to forgo our regular club ride and brave Bay Area weekday traffic to take on the ‘Devil Mountain’. The traffic on the drive to Danville resembled Hades, and it is hard to imagine that commuters take on those conditions every work day

I intended to get up early to join Bennie, my carpool driver, but waking up at 1 am with a raging sore throat was not part of the plan. I also had that crawly feeling inside my nose that indicated that a head cold was well on its way. That was the end of my pre ride sleep. I got up and made some hot coffee, hoping it would make my throat feel better. What I should have done is blown my nose and blown off Diablo and stayed home resting as much as possible. But the ride had been my idea, and I didn’t have a fever or headache or any other flu symptoms, so I was pretty sure I could ride even if I wasn’t at my best.

The traffic was truly awful, as my smart phone kept us updated on accidents and displayed long stretches of red highway. But conditions for cycling up and down the mountain were perfect. I’ve broiled and frozen on Diablo, but last Thursday was cool without being cold, and there was no wind, which made going down much more comfortable for me. On a weekday in November the road to the summit was nearly deserted and we had more bikes than cars for company. And not many of those; mostly we had the road to ourselves.

My goal was to complete a double summit. Start riding in Danville, climb the south side to the top, then descend the north side to Walnut Creek. Lunch at Quiznos or the taqueria next door. Back up the north side, take the summit road again, then back to Danville. 58 miles, 7,800 feet of climbing in something over 5 hours on the bike.

Our group consisted of Rob, Walt, Bennie and me. Rob had never been up Diablo on the bike or in a car, even though he grew up in Walnut Creek. He could see his old neighborhood from the summit. Walt, on the other hand, used to ride up it once a month on a heavy bike in tennis shoes, and it took him around an hour, which is very fast. Bennie does long rides all the time. I am not really a ‘long rider’ I usually consider 3-4 hours on the bike plenty. But I have set a tentative goal for a ride well outside of my comfort zone next May, and this Diablo Double was kind of a preliminary test for that.

A welcome sight, especially the second time!

My throat stayed sore all day, and I was constantly blowing my nose, but my legs were pretty good on the first ascent and I made it to the top without difficulty. Diablo is a significant climb, and there are stretches of 9% that last about 1/2 mile. And every cyclist knows the last 200 yards are very steep, hitting 20%. But overall the climb is not as demanding as some longer and steeper roads, so a fit rider can do the ascent riding well below his maximum effort. Since my goal was a double summit I kept my heart rate under my ‘red zone’, except for those last 200 yards.

On the return to Danville Rob and Walt flew up the north side, but since they were only going as far as the Ranger station, which is 1,800 feet below the top, I didn’t try to stay with them. I doubt I could have anyway; Walt is strong! Bennie was riding a bike with gearing too high for a ride with this much climbing (a 25 tooth cog low gear), and he decided that a 6,000 foot day was enough, so I rode to the summit on my own. I actually felt better as I went up, like a plough horse sighting the barn at the end of a long day.

The traffic on the drive home wasn’t quite as awful. Despite a still sore throat and an increasingly runny nose, I was really glad I had decided to come. After a shower and a vodka (which really helped my throat for the 45 minutes I sipped it) I felt satisfied. I was pretty tired and if I do that big ride next May it will take twice as long and involve twice as much climbing. So I’ve got some work to do before I decide whether to take it on.

For now the goal for next May is going to be a mystery, although a few friends know what I’m considering. Hint: it isn’t in California….



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Careless Crunch

Good Wheels, but not Idiot Proof

When I transport my bicycle to and from a ride start location, I have to remove the front wheel. I lean it against the bumper of my Honda Element while I put the bike into the vehicle and lock the front fork into the custom mounts in the rear cargo area. Then the normal procedure is to put the front wheel in a wheel bag (to protect it from bumps and bruises) and stow it beside the bike.

But Labor Day Monday was not normal. I did a delightful 40 mile ride through the Delta with some Stockton Bike Club members and a few guys from Ride2 Recovery. It was a wonderful day out there, a little warm but without the blustery winds typical of the Delta, and we rode relatively easily and stayed together. We even got to cross the river on the J Mack Ferry, which is always a highlight of cycling the Delta roads.

After the ride I was putting my bike away, and just as I finished stowing the frame a rider came up and we started to chat. Then he left, and I decided to take a ‘natural break’ and headed off. By the time I got back, nearly everyone was gone, so I hopped in the Element, started the engine and the AC, turned on the radio and backed out of my parking space.

Instantly I heard something crunch and felt a bump. Instantly I also remembered that I had left my front wheel leaning against the side of the Element. Instantly I put two and two together and got an answer which I did not like.

I got out and found the wheel under my vehicle. I picked it up and at first inspection things did not look good; the skewer was bent at a 90 degree angle. Two of my SBC buddies were still in the parking lot, but they were not close to me and they didn’t see what happened. So I quickly put the wheel in back and drove home; maybe the damage would be minimal and I would be spared having to broadcast my carelessness to all my friends.

The Group at the Ride Start: Before my Self Inflicted Disaster

No such luck; when I got home I looked at the wheel and there were gouges in the rim and the axel was broken and the bearings wouldn’t turn. A total loss. It was a very nice wheel too, an American Classic Road Tubeless. A set (front and back) retails for $1400, and now I have half of a set.

I could have kept the whole thing secret, but instead I’m announcing to the world (or at least my blog readers) that I did something really embarrassingly stupid. I really don’t have any excuses but I will say that Stoker was out of town (way out, she was in Russia) and I was having to clean and cook and water plants and monitor the hot tub chemistry and take care of a lot of stuff that I don’t normally do. So I could have been distracted, although that is a pretty thin excuse.

I think I’m going to change my post ride routine a bit and put the front wheel in the car first. And resolve to finish putting everything away before any ‘natural breaks’.

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Cycling the Cascades…

Summit Selfie: Mackenzie Pass

G Man (Paul Glickman) and I have just returned from an exciting week of cycling in Oregon. Seven days of riding totaling 405 miles and 27,500 feet of climbing. Not the most miles or climbing I have ever done in a week, but still a very significant amount of saddle time and much more than I typically do.

We did the tour with Cycling Escapes (, my favorite touring company when doing tours in the western United States. I did my first Cycling Escapes tour back in 2006. On that tour there were only 5 guests, and I was by far the strongest rider among them. Their business has prospered; on this tour there were  26 riders, and I wasn’t even close to being the strongest. And many of them were repeat customers, affirming that Cycling Escapes puts on great tours for people who really like to ride lots of miles in beautiful country. Off the bike activities are limited and the tour routine is ride, eat, rest, repeat. Cycling nirvana.

Trip highlights included transiting from the Willamette Valley through the Cascades to central Oregon on some of the most amazing little roads I’ve ever come across in the U.S. These are paved roads that were built for logging trucks, but now they are almost completely deserted and they make for great cycling. We rode up the Mackenzie Highway (very few cars) and over the barren lava fields of Mackenzie Pass. We climbed Mount Bachelor outside of Bend, and circumnavigated the rim of Crater Lake. And then back through the Cascades via another nearly deserted 40 miles of road that featured a 20-mile climb. That sounds intimidating, but the first 15 miles were a 1-2% false flat. Things got steeper over the last 5 miles, and I was really glad to reach the last summit of the week.

The ride around Crater Lake is really a special one. It isn’t flat; 35 miles and 4,200 feet of ascent. G Man and I mostly rode together going easy and admiring the unequaled views. And freezing; the day was cool bordering on cold, and windy, with intermittent clouds but fortunately no rain. Someone told me afterwards that it was 38 degrees when we started at 8:30 am. Quite a contrast to the day before when we did the last 30 miles into a headwind with temperatures in the mid 90′s. I was dousing my skull with water to try to cool off, and the next day wondering if the fluid in my water bottle was going to freeze.

G Man on the Rim Road

The trip was not without a mechanical misadventure. The cage of my front derailleur broke after 15 miles on the second day of riding. After 15 years of throwing the chain back and forth I suppose it simply got tired and decided to call it a career. The bike could still be ridden, but I could not shift between the two front chain rings, which meant I had a limited choice of gearing. I opted for climbing gears, which left me literally spinning my wheels on a couple of descents. Coming down Mackenzie Pass the road is a gentle downhill with few turns, perfect for churning a big gear at 25-30 mph, but I was spun out at around 19 mph and had to settle for coasting and getting passed. Fortunately Bend has plenty of bike shops and after a couple of phone calls I found the part I needed and a shop willing and able to do the repair right away. I didn’t miss a single mile.

So another trip with Cycling Escapes is in the books. It is my 12th trip with them, so you might get the idea I’m a satisfied customer. And it won’t be my last trip with them either. There is a climbing camp in the Santa Monica Mountains next January that I’m planning to do. And then a new tour in Idaho next August looks exciting. So many great roads to ride, so little time….



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It’s as Easy as Riding a Bike…

Bike Path or Mountain Pass: there is a bike for everyone


That was the headline in the Wall Street Journal. It was followed with the sub headline “To boost participation, bike-makers peddle basic models; tooling around town, not through the Alps”.

Since I have ‘tooled’ through the Alps, as well as the Dolomites, the Sierras, the Rockies (US and Canadian), the Cevennes (France) and some other assorted mountains, I assume the story was not aimed at my cycling demographic. But I read it anyway.

The gist of the article was that there are many people looking to ride short distances on comfortable, stable and relatively inexpensive bicycles, and that if the sport of cycling is to grow there needs to be more of a focus on this type of rider by the cycling industry.

It is true that most people think riding a bike is, and should be, easy. Hop on a cruiser type bike with wide tires and an upright riding position and pedal 2 miles on flat roads to a Starbucks, or local equivalent. It is easier and quicker than walking, reduces traffic and CO2 emissions compared to driving, and gives a bit of exercise (or perceived exercise) to boot. The ride probably will burn about 5% of the calories in that coffee-flavored milkshake they call a frappe-cappo-latte mocha.

There is nothing wrong with this. I was precisely this type of bike rider in college at UC Davis, where my bicycle was my primary method of transportation.  I rode to class, rode to the library, rode to the gym or the student union. The campus was closed to most private cars, parking was limited and expensive, and Davis is completely flat and has good weather most of the year. As a result thousands of students, professors and other residents use their bikes to get around.

When we moved back to California in 1983, Diane and I purchased casual road bikes and did easy flat rides on the quiet country roads between Stockton and Lodi and Linden. We would go 20 miles at around 12 mph, or slower, and stop half way through to get something to drink, or maybe some ice cream. And I bought a mountain bike to ride around our farm, as a handy and inexpensive alternative to an ATV.

But when I started to ride with the Stockton Bicycle Club in 1999, riding a bike ceased to be ‘easy’. And I began my conversion from ‘bike rider’ to ‘cyclist’.

Once you start to measure how far you ride, how fast you go, how many feet you climb, who you can keep up with, who drops you, and who you can drop, cycling will cease to be easy.  And if you keep riding and push yourself and do a little training, or a lot of training, you will get better. But a wise cycling mentor once told me “It never gets any easier, you just go faster”. He was correct. I am a much stronger rider now than I was in 1999, but if anything cycling is harder now, because I know my body and its capabilities much better and I am often challenging myself to meet those capabilities.

The first time I climbed Sierra Road (3.7 miles uphill averaging 9.7%) it took me something like 50 minutes and I thought it was insanely hard. If I took 50 minutes to do it now I would feel like I was going very easily, but instead I do it in something close to 34 minutes and it hurts just as much as it did the first time.

Cycling can be done through a continuum of exertion levels, and no matter where your riding falls on that spectrum, there are great benefits to participating. Fresh air, healthy activity, mood improvement and stress reduction to name a few.  So if it has been a while since you hopped on a bike, think about doing it again. The bicycle industry has the right product for you and wants you back! It said so in the Wall Street Journal.



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Been There, Climbed That

The Peloton Doesn't Stop for Photo Ops!

When I watch the Tour de France on television, I am especially excited if the race does some of the same mountain climbs that I have done. This happens almost every year. When I went to France in 2007 my friends and I climbed many of the famous mountains in the Alps, and in 2014 I crossed Mont Ventoux off of my ‘really want to do that’ list of famous climbs used in pro races.

Cycling is almost unique in this regard. It is unlikely that a baseball fan will ever take batting practice in Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. Football fans are probably not going to play a game of flag football on Lambeau Field in Green Bay or Cowboy Stadium in Dallas. But for cyclists, the same roads that the pros ride are available to us. All the we need are the legs and the travel budget.

This year’s Tour featured two climbs that I became intimately acquainted with back in 2007, the Col du Glandon and L’Alpe d’Huez. If you follow the Tour at all you have heard of that one: 8.6 miles, 8.1% average gradient, 21 hairpins and something like 500,000 screaming fans greet the riders at the end of a very long day in the mountains. The Glandon is longer but not as steep, and the upper portion is stunningly beautiful. These are the high Alps for certain.

In 2007 we climbed the Glandon from the same direction the Tour covered this year. Then we descended a couple of kilometers, made a left turn and rode up to the summit of the Croix de Fer which was only about 3 uphill kilometers away. After a salami sandwich and a very long descent we took on L’Alpe d’Huez. And I made it to the top, slowly but without having to stop to rest.

I wasn't smiling on the way up, but when I got there....


I looked in my cycling log and discovered that I rode 60 miles that day and climbed 9,300 feet in under 6 hours of riding. Considering that the ride start was a 2 hour drive from our hotel in Annecy, and a 2 hour drive back after the ride finished, and that I was nervous and stressed driving on French roads without any navigation system except for my fellow passenger with a map, it was a very long day. I think we reached our hotel around midnight.

This year, as I watched the peloton climb the Glandon on Friday and L’Alpe d’Huez on Saturday, I could say to Stoker that I really had been there and climbed that. Next October when the ASO announces the route for the 2016 race, I will look to see if I’ve ridden any part of it, and I bet the answer will be yes.


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Maybe it was the Salmon…

Loren and Lyle descend Mont Lozere: I'm in the van.

Our tour of the Cevennes Mountains in France started on a Saturday afternoon. After a morning transfer from Montpellier to our first night’s hotel, we set up our rental bikes and went for a short spin along the Gorge du Tarn. The ride was about 20 miles and featured one 2 km climb that averaged in the 8-9% range.

I felt great. I had some jet lag, of course, but my legs were good and my appetite was good and I felt rested and ready to do the next 6 days of riding. The tour was going to be 350 miles over those 6 days, with around 29,000 feet of climbing. Not the hardest week I’ve ever done, but a significant amount of saddle time nonetheless. I had done the tour the previous year, and loved it so much I came back to do it again. So I knew what I was getting into.

We had a delightful dinner, and the ‘plat’ (main course) was salmon. I remember heading off to my room feeling excited and ready to ride.

When I woke up Sunday morning I did have a little discomfort in my stomach, but I put it off to nerves and jet lag. I ate breakfast and felt ok. We started off on our first ride around 9 am. This was going to be a spin along the Gorge, slightly uphill but no serious ascents. It was the easiest ride of the week, only 40 miles and a mere 2,100 feet of climbing.

I felt ok until around the last 7 miles. I started sweating a lot, even though the day was not especially hot. There was more humidity than I was used to. I felt like the water I was drinking was just sitting on the top of my stomach, and I had some digestive discomfort. I finished the ride and then experienced some REAL digestive distress. Decorum mandates I skip the details.

We all made it up Mont Aigoual. Mont Lozere was a different story.

I also skipped the delightful picnic lunch our hotel provided in their shaded courtyard behind the stone walls. I felt well enough to sit with my fellow cyclists but not well enough to enjoy the food.

Thus began my 3 day struggle to deal with being far from home and attempting to do long and challenging bike rides with a dubious digestion.

Monday’s ride was a long one, 73 miles and over 6,000 feet of climbing. We approached Mont Aigoual from the steep and deserted ‘back door’ road. After a fantastic descent we stopped for a picnic lunch. A good indicator of how I was feeling was that I ate only half of the delicious tuna rice salad which was the main course. But I made it all the way to the finish, up the Causse Mejean climb, across the windy plateau, and then down to Florac before the final climb back to our hotel. A little climb that felt like Mont Ventoux at the end of a long day. I took a shower and ate the rest of my tuna salad and drank a Perrier and then took a nap. At dinner that evening everything stayed where it was supposed to, so I had hopes that the trouble was past me.

No such luck. On Tuesday morning my stomach felt even worse. I picked at breakfast but I had no appetite at all. That day’s ride started with a 16 mile gentle climb (1-3% max) along another gorge. Lyle and Lauren and our guide John started off and from the very beginning I struggled to match their pace, which was gentle enough. But I found it impossible to stay with them. I was sweating even though the day was quite cool. My stomach felt bloated and drinking the water I needed to replace the perspiration losses made the bloating sensation worse. When we regrouped at the top of the gorge I told our other guide Gerry that I had to quit and ride in the van. I guess I looked awful enough that the guides were relieved I was stopping; no one tried to talk me into continuing the ride.

One reason I had to climb off is that the next 34 miles of the route was possibly the hardest part of the entire week. There is the 20 km climb of Mont Lozere to contend with. And then after a long descent there is another climb, easier and much shorter, up to the hotel, which is actually a castle dating back to the 13th century. Doing those miles when healthy is a challenge, and the way I felt it would have been impossible.

I feel much better! Stoker and I celebrate after our last ride in France.

I watched Lauren and Lyle and John do the climb from the side of the road and from inside the van as Gerry moved it along to offer water and gels as needed. I was completely discouraged. I felt like I had failed. I felt like I had wasted a lot of effort and money to make a long journey and then have to abandon a ride I am certainly able to do because I feel awful. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to ride the rest of the tour or do any tandem riding with Diane. It was looking like it was going to be a miserable two weeks.

That evening’s dinner was the worst. I still felt awful, perhaps even worse than when I got off of the bike. I picked at my duck confit, and ate almost none of the excellent roasted potatoes that accompanied it. I left the table before dessert, asking John to explain to the hotel owner (who served dinner) why I didn’t eat his excellent food, and then went to my room. Diane was in Paris doing a tour before coming to join me for a week of tandem riding when my Cevennes Tour ended. I hadn’t told her anything about my problem but that night I needed someone to tell me everything was ok even though I wasn’t. I couldn’t call her because there was no cell service in the isolated castle we were staying at. But there was WIFI, so we exchanged texts and that made me feel a little better. It was a bit selfish of me to worry her when she couldn’t do anything to help, but her support was about the only thing good about that day.

The story has a happy ending, as you know if you have seen the posts about our tandem week together. On Wednesday I got on my bike for the ‘recovery’ day (47 miles and 4,100 feet, some recovery) and I did fine, feeling better as the ride went on. I even matched Lauren on the climb back to the hotel, and I know she was trying to drop me even though she might not admit it. That night I actually enjoyed dinner for the first time since the salmon. I did all the rest of the rides on the Cevennes Tour and followed that up with 5 days of fantastic tandem riding with Diane. And during that entire time I ate everything in sight and drank red wine (in moderation) and felt wonderful.

So it was a stomach bug, or mild food poisoning, or some bad fish, or who knows what? I’m certainly not the first person to suffer digestive trouble while travelling. And if I hadn’t been doing something as difficult as trying to ride a bike up some major mountains I probably wouldn’t have been so severely affected. But next time (and Diane and I are already thinking about ‘next time’) I think I might avoid the salmon.




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Our Modestine

The finish of our first ride in Nimes


Last year before I travelled to France to do a cycling tour in the Cevennes, I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Travels in the Cevennes with a Donkey. Before he was famous Stevenson spent 12 days hiking the region with his donkey named Modestine, and developed a great affection for this stubborn, clever and ultimately noble beast of burden.

Stoker and I found our own Modestine, thanks to the touring company 44|5. When I rode with them last year, I remarked how many of the roads around Nimes and Provence were possible for us to do on a tandem, unlike the more severe climbs in the Cevennes Mountains. Since 44|5 puts together custom tours as well as their week long ‘High Roads’ trips, I told them that if they could find us an acceptable tandem to rent I would really like to bring Diane here for what I was sure would be some fantastic tandem riding. 44|5 did it, and that is how we met the bike that we immediately dubbed ‘Modestine’.

Rolling through Provence

Our Modestine is a Cannondale tandem, and she is completely different from our CoMotion. Her frame is aluminum (not steel), she has Shimano 105 shifters (not Ultegra) and the heaviest wheels with the widest road bike tires I have ever seen. We use 25 mm width tires on our CoMotion, and Modestine had to be sporting tires size 32 mm or more. They looked like small motorcycle tires.

Modestine was built to handle ‘loaded touring’, where cyclists carry all their gear for multi day trips with them. So she was delivered to us with racks both front and rear, which I took off to save weight, since we didn’t need to carry much stuff. Even so, when I picked her up I estimated the weight at least 40 lbs. which is about 8 lbs. more than our CoMotion. And her wheels, besides being heavy. had too many spokes to count. More spokes means more air resistance, making our heavy, slow rental bike even slower.

Trying to set up Modestine to match our riding positions proved to be a challenge. The frame was too small for me to put my saddle at my preferred distance from the handlebar. Our guide left me with tools, but unfortunately the tape measure was in the other tool bag. Stoker had, of all things, brought along a sewing kit that had a measuring tape (metric no less!), but it was too short to measure my saddle height. So I used a piece of dental floss and the tape to measure a piece 74 cm long, and used that to set my saddle height.

When we finally got Modestine out on the road, we mostly got along fine. The bike was incredibly hard to get going because of the weight and the wheels, but once up to speed she rolled along nicely. The ride was shockingly comfortable; those wide tires really dampen road vibration and bumps. There was a big problem which I discovered the first time I tried to do a U turn. Modestine had severe toe overlap, which means that if I turned the front wheel a little too far to either side the tire would hit my foot. So if I had to pedal to keep the bike moving while making a sharp turn I kept hitting the tire, which limited how sharply I could turn. This also threatened to cause us to fall over if I misjudged a turn. I sort of got used to this but it was a real irritant.

One climb that is decidely 'not tandem friendly'. We passed.

Donkeys are known to be stubborn, and Modestine was no exception. Her shifting was just fine on the back, but shifting the front derailleur was an adventure. She simply did not want to go from the granny back to the middle ring. She would occasionally stay in the granny, or overshift from the granny into the big ring, which left us in a gear too big  for the conditions. And once she dropped the chain on the inside when I tried to shift into the granny gear. This is a tandem team’s worst shifting nightmare. We are riding slowly up a hill and need that low gear, and suddenly our chain is off and we are rapidly approaching zero mph. Fortunately I was able to unclip fast and get a foot down and hold up the bike without dropping us to the pavement, but it was a close call.

But overall Stoker and I would give Modestine pretty high marks. We used her to do 5 rides through the most beautiful cycling country we have ever seen or are likely to see. And she got the job done. Tandems are pretty unusual in France and we got interested looks and comments multiple times. At Pont du Gard one tourist asked us to pose for a picture using sign language, since we couldn’t understand him. As we posed we immediately had 10 others snapping away at the unique sight of a road tandem with two Americans on board. Our guide Gerry chimed out “5 Euro!” which apparently is the going rate for staged photo ops, but we did it for nothing.

After our last ride I removed our pedals and saddles from Modestine and reinstalled her racks. We left her in the locked courtyard of our hotel, waiting for her bike shop owners to come pick her up and deliver her to her next pair of riders. We actually said goodbye, out loud. Whoever rides her in the future might well be stronger than Stoker and me, but no one will have more fun with her than we did. And we may see her again next year. Toe overlap, uncertain shifting, slow wheels and all.


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The Serviette Serves Its Purpose

Before the storm on the way to Sault


At the finish of the ride, in the courtyard of our lovely hotel ‘Le Siecle’ in Mazan, our guide John and Diane (Stoker) and I were a little giddy with relief at having survived relatively unscathed. I broke out the video camera on my phone and asked Stoker to tell us how she managed to get down the mountain without freezing. She demonstrated, saying “ I took my serviette (napkin in French) and put it in here”, while unzipping her jersey and showing us exactly where ‘in here’ meant. As John and I shook with laughter she reminded us that “It had hamburger grease on it!”.


Two hours earlier none of us was laughing. We were at our lunch stop in Sault, halfway through the ride. The journey from Mazan to Sault via the Gorges de la Nesque that morning had been the most beautiful ride we had ever done on the tandem. Unbelievable scenery with the Gorge on our right getting deeper and deeper as we worked our way up to the summit. And the weather was fine too, sunny and cool with almost no wind. In fact, it had been so warm at the 8 am ride start, and the chance of anything but hot conditions seemed so remote, that we left all our rain gear home. Stoker had arm warmers along, but John and I wore short sleeves and didn’t bring anything else. Neither Stoker nor I even bothered with a base layer.

The road from Mazan to Sault has considerable climbing for a tandem. First a false flat to the start of the Gorge, then a 4 km climb at about 5%, followed by another 10 km varying between 1% and 6%, mostly toward the low end of the range. In short, a perfect tandem climb, and since we were doing the ride as an out and back, we were going to get to do this as a downhill ride on the return. We were looking forward to that. But we didn’t get a chance to enjoy it.

Clouds and Mountains mean Trouble

After the Gorge there is a downhill stretch followed by a pretty steep 2 km climb up into Sault. This was a bit of a challenge but Stoker and I were motivated by the prospect of lunch, so we powered up and chowed down. We sat outside on a covered terrace and enjoyed fantastic hamburgers and fries and a small salad. The burgers and fries were as good as any I’ve ever had at home.

At this point things started to get dicey. Clouds had been advancing towards us throughout the meal, and as we were deciding about coffee there was a flash of lightening and a boom of thunder, followed by a downpour. We decided to delay our departure and have coffee, but things did not look good. The clouds appeared to be coming towards us from the north and moving toward the south, which was the direction we had to ride to get back to our starting point. And of course we had nothing to put on for protection. Stoker could cover her arms, and she put her serviette ‘in there’ but if we had to do 40 km of cold and wet and mostly downhill road in a driving rain we were going to have problems.

We got going as soon as there was a break in the deluge, but as we started the steep descent from Sault the skies opened up and we got drenched. There was a sign flashing the temperature as 12 C, which is 54 F. That is not warm enough to be doing a long descent in a soaking wet short sleeved jersey.

We rode hard on the climb back to the summit where the descent started, so hard that we didn’t even use our granny gear. And we got out in front of the rain and started to feel a little warmer and a little more optimistic that we were going to make it. But then there was some more thunder and a few more drenching downpours, and about half way down John asked if we wanted to stop and take cover. That seemed like a bad idea, since we could see blue sky in front of us, and really dark clouds behind us, and moving toward us. So Stoker and I said let’s ride, and we did. We got out ahead of the storm and pretty soon it was warmer and the descent was over and I knew we were going to get back without becoming hypothermic.

So when it was done, we could laugh about it. Stoker hates to ride in bad weather and rarely is forced to do so, but this was one of those times. The conditions qualified as ‘Rule 9’ weather. Rule 9 states that “If you are out riding in bad weather, then you are a bad a…, period”. Stoker met the Rule 9 criteria for certain, and with nary a complaint nor a whimper. Bad A.. Stoker indeed!



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ToC HC for G Man

Cat 4 KOM: Hawk and G Man

ToC is short for the Tour of California, an 8 day bicycle race brought to you by the major biopharmaceutical company Amgen. Among their many fine products which help save lives is Epogen, aka EPO, the cheating  cyclist’s best friend. The irony is dripping enough to ease California’s drought.

I like to keep this blog upbeat, so I’m not going to write a lot about performance enhancing drugs and pro cycling. I’ve read many books and articles and investigative reports, and I have come to the conclusion that to follow professional bicycle racing one needs to have a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. That is, enjoy the show and don’t ask too many difficult questions.

And the show is currently close at hand. On Monday the ToC finished in Lodi, practically in my back yard. And yesterday two buddies and I decided to see part of the mountainous course and the race up close and personal.

HC is short for Hors catégorie , a French term used in cycle races to designate a climb that is “beyond categorization”. In bicycle racing, climbs are designated from Category from 1 to 4, with 4 being the easiest. The designation HC is reserved for the toughest of the tough, long and steep and a real challenge for racers and amateurs alike.

G Man's First Time at the Top

There are a couple of HC climbs in this year’s ToC, the closest to home being the east side of Mount Hamilton just outside of San Jose. G Man and Hawk and I decided to drive to Raines Park and ride our bikes 27 miles to the Mount Hamilton summit. To get there we had to start with ‘The Wall’ a very steep part of Del Puerto Canyon Road.  ‘The Wall’ is 2 miles long and averages 8.3 %, with brief pitches up to 17%. And there was a raging headwind to add to the fun. Call it a Cat 1.

After the Junction at San Antonio Valley Road we were on the actual race route, and we rode over two short but steep Cat 4 climbs on our way to Isabella Creek, where the HC Mount Hamilton climb starts. 4.3 miles, averaging 8.6%. Steeper (but not as long) than Alpe d’ Huez, the famous climb often seen in the Tour de France. I’ve been on harder climbs, among them the Mortirolo and the Stelvio Pass in Italy, Mont Ventoux in France and Mount Baldy in Southern California, which will be in the ToC later this week. But Mount Hamilton is right up there, literally up, 4,200 feet at the top.

A Selfie at the Mount Hamilton KoM: Elevation 4,200

After filling our water bottles and admiring the view, we headed back down the mountain to a prime viewing spot on a hairpin turn.  We could see the racers from 3 miles away work their way up the ascent. Which they did, riding roughly twice as fast as our climbing speed. One pro’s Strava showed he did the climb in 22 minutes and change, and I know I was at least 45 minutes and probably more.  Hawk and I stopped once because we wanted to regroup with G Man, who is a little slower uphill and had never done this climb. But he made it without walking, and in fine style too.

The race took at least 20 minutes to get past our viewing spot. First came a lone breakaway rider, who eventually won the stage. He was pursued by 3 riders 1 1/2 minutes behind. Later came a small peloton, then the stragglers (called the ‘gruppeto’) of sprinters and lead out riders whose only goal was to make it to the finish before the time cut off and avoid being eliminated from the race. Even they were climbing quite fast by mortal standards.

Finally we were passed by the ‘broom wagon’ (a van for riders abandoning the race), an ambulance, an official ‘end of course’ car and a CHP van at the very back, designating  that the road was now open to traffic. We got on our bikes and rode back to the car. By the end of the day we had done 2 Cat 4′s, a Cat 1, and an HC: 54 miles total with 6,300 feet of climbing. The pros had to do something similar the next day, and for several days after that. They are world class athletes and I’m just enthusiastic, but riding the same climb and then watching them go by really emphasizes just how wide that gap is.

When G Man left my house to drive home, Stoker commented that she had seldom seen anyone look so happy. He had good cause; he had never been up Mount Hamilton and before the ride he was a little dubious about being able to make it. But he did, even though it was hard for him (and me too). We may not be pros but we win little victories every time we meet a new challenge, and on this day G Man bagged a big one.


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    Rich Freggiaro

    Richard Freggiaro is a Stockton area native who grew up on his family’s farm. After an nine year detour to Davis for College, Washington DC for work, and Iowa for graduate school, he returned to San Joaquin County and spent the next quarter century farming with his father. He has been married to Diane for 31 years. He is (mostly) retired which leaves him plenty of time to ride each of his 4 bikes, and he is an enthusiastic and passionate cyclist. Read Full
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