Category Archives: Backroads

Another Weekend, Another Coast Ride

Since Katie, Dick and I missed out on the San Gregorio coastal loop ride two weeks ago, we convinced Michelle to do the route again with us. Some rides are worth repeating, but it was far from the same ride. The coastal fog had let up and we were treated to sunshine and warmer temperatures. Today, I’ll let the photos tell the story.

Do you have a favorite route that you find yourself riding again and again?

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Posted by on September 4, 2011 in Backroads


Slower Traffic Keep Right(s)

What’s wrong with this picture? Hint: it’s the sign.


The sign is on the descent of Page Mill Road just uphill from Moody Road. There’s nothing wrong with the top part of the sign, warning cyclists that the hill steepens ahead. At 10%+ grade on a narrow road with tight turns, it’s a problem area for less skilled cyclists. The problem is the “keep right” at the bottom. It’s unsafe advice and not consistent with the California Vehicle Code.

The CVC 21202 states: “Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

(1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
(2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
(3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
(4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.”

Take a look at the width of this lane. It’s clearly not wide enough for a “bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.” So the sign is clearly inconsistent with CVC 21202. Furthermore, on a steep descent with tight corners like Page Mill, many cyclists, like my friends and I do not “operate our bicycles at less than the normal speed of traffic.” In fact, we sometimes ride faster. Then there’s passing another bike, making left or right turns–all legitimate reasons to not keep right regardless of lane width.

But the most dangerous aspect of these signs is that they not only encourage cyclists to hug the edge of the pavement on a technical descent, increasing their chance of running off it, but they also send drivers the wrong message that cyclists don’t have the right to use the full lane, a right granted per CVC 21202.

I suggest that the transportation official replace the “bicycle keep right” signs with signs with more “vehicle neutral” language, or simply post “may use full lane” signs that reflect what cyclists are truly entitled to.

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Are there bicycle-related road signs in your area that are inconsistent with your rights as a cyclist?


Posted by on September 1, 2011 in Backroads, Issues & Infrastructure


The Ups and Downs of Hilly Rides

When I used to lead rides for Velo Girls, I would often meet enthusiastic new riders who could hang with the group overall, but would fall back on the climbs. They would ask, “How do I get better at climbing?” I’d give them the standard advice: don’t grind up the hill, spin in a lower gear, climb hills every week, and climb with people a little faster than you.

Occasionally I’d add my personal experience: don’t be surprised that after climbing improves, you don’t feel faster. The training that makes you a faster climber can make you faster overall. So you’ll ride with faster people and do steeper hills, but still lag behind on the climbs. Don’t get discouraged.

Yesterday, my friends and I rode Jill’s Ride for Hope, a hilly metric century charity ride: 62 miles, 6000+ feet of climbing. To train for it, we have been doing progressively hillier weekend rides for weeks. The day turned out to have perfect weather, the route was scenic and challenging, and we met a few interesting people along the way. But it was a day of ups and downs for me.

On a good day, I can climb alongside my friends for a while, then I drop back and finish alone. On a bad day, like yesterday, I see everyone pull away from me at the bottom of the hill. It was a long and lonely climb.

I met my friends at the top and we rolled south together on Skyline, past the summit at Castle Rock and through that secluded one lane section, so far removed from the cities below. Then we were treated to a stellar descent on Bear Creek Road with tight turns on good pavement, where I learned that Cindy C loves descending just as much as I do.

At the small mountain town of Boulder Creek it was up again–12 miles of climbing to get back up to Skyline. The first five miles were moderate, so we could ride together and chat. Then the road steepened and we strung out again. I wasn’t any faster this time, but there were other riders slogging up the hill with me so it wasn’t so lonely. We regrouped midway to use the bathroom and to stretch, which was nice too.


The sweet descent down Hwy 9 into Saratoga was a special bonus for Michelle and the two Cindys since they’d never ridden it before. The only car we encountered on the tight top section was the SAG wagon, who politely pulled over and let us pass. As we rolled into Saratoga there were “woo hoos” and “that was worth the climb!” It was a good ride. We all finished feeling good, shared a post-ride meal and headed off.

Still, when I got home I couldn’t help feeling blue. I hate that I can’t keep up on the climbs. Cindy S posted her ride stats: average speed 12.6 mph. I check mine: 12.1 mph. I’ve done enough hilly rides over the years to know that 12 mph is a good pace for me for a long ride with 100 ft/mile elevation gain. I know that I’m not a natural climber and have worked hard to be able to conquer these hills, but it’s hard to accept the advice I give to others and just be proud. Maybe tomorrow.

Do you have some advice that you freely offer to others, but is hard for you to accept for yourself?

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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Backroads


Speeding Down Hills?

You know that nervous feeling you get when you’re driving down the road and you see a cop? And you have no idea how fast you’re going or what the speed limit is? It can happen on a bike too.

On Thursday nights, my friends and I unwind by rambling on the quiet backroads of Los Altos Hills. Given the town name, it’s no surprise that it’s a climbing ride, and as they say “what goes up must come down.” No complaints for me, though. The downside of climbing is the upside for me. I LOVE to descend.

A couple of weeks ago, I slapped on my GoPro helmet-cam before we descended Altamont Road. I had carved through the tricky off-camber steep section and was shooting down the final straightaway when a sheriff pulled out ahead of me. He wasn’t close at all, but I felt a twinge of fear. How fast was I going? What’s the speed limit? That night I replayed the video, but couldn’t find speed limit signs. Do you see any?

Tonight, we climbed up to Altamont Road again, taking a slightly different route so we could find a speed limit sign. We found it: 30 mph. Lower than I expected.

This time I caught up to two guys early in the descent, so I took it easy the rest of way down. At the bottom I checked my bike computer. Max speed 39.5. Definitely speeding. I wonder what it was two weeks ago when I was pedaling instead on braking through the turns?

Have you ever been pulled over for speeding on your bike? Would you try to fight it, or would you proudly frame the ticket?


Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Backroads


The Road Not Traveled

The plan for third and final week of hill training for Jill’s Ride for Hope: ride from Woodside to the coast and back via the Old La Honda/84/Tunitas loop. At 45 miles and 4500 feet climbing with a 2 mile stretch at 9-10% grade, it’s hard work. Yet it’s one of my favorite routes: two shady, winding climbs through redwoods, interesting rest stops, a stellar descent down Kings and most of all, the satisfaction of knowing you made it to the Pacific.

But after feeling strangely lethargic all day Friday, I was definitely sick on Saturday morning. So I stayed home while my friends rode without me and tried not to be bummed. Lucky for me, Cindy took lots of photos, which is the next best thing to being there. Thanks, Cindy!

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Posted by on August 21, 2011 in Backroads


Water Stops for Girl Scouts

When I was packing up to drive cross-country from Louisiana to California, a friend told me: “Don’t pass up a gas station in the desert, no matter how expensive it is.” Great advice, especially since we skipped the interstate highways and drove the smaller highways instead. We filled our tank up with gas at twice the normal price with smiles on our faces, and never ran out of gas.

For cyclists riding the backroads, the advice would be: “Don’t pass up a water stop on the backroads, even if you’re on a sweet descent.” Even though our route started in town, today’s ride required the discipline of a Girl Scout to not run out of water on a warm day.

The route was simple: up Old La Honda to the ridge on Skyline, down almost to sea level at La Honda, then back up to Skyline on West Alpine, then shooting back down Page Mill Road to the valley. 33 miles, 4,000 feet elevation gain.

Old La Honda - West Alpine - Page Mill Loop

But a simple map doesn’t tell the water story. After the first few miles, there’s no free water until after almost all of the 4000 feet of climbing is done. And who wants to pull over and pay for bottled water when you have over a full bottle left and you’re going 30 mph?

So you fly past the little store in La Honda and start the big climb. A nice grade in the cool redwoods, then a much steeper grade still in the trees, followed by the steepest sections in the sun. By the time you get to the top at Russian Ridge your head is pounding and your bottle is empty. There’s a bathroom (not that you need it since you’re dehydrated) but still no water.

Then you remember: the secret water fountain on Page Mill. It’s just on the side of the road, not near a trailhead or parking lot, or any other sensible place. But you know where it is. And even though it’s in the middle of an awesome descent, and you don’t have much climbing left to do, you stop. And drink, like a good Girl Scout. This time, at least.


Where were you when *you* ran out of water?

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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Backroads


Hill Training for Hope

After we pressured Katie into racing the 12 Hours of Humboldt with us, she demanded payback. So that means more training rides to prepare for Jill’s Ride for Hope, a small local charity ride for CASSY, a non-profit that provides counseling services for teens. Jill was a young teen who was bullied and took her own life. Tragic, and far too frequent. Katie’s sister-in-law is the executive director of CASSY, so we are more than happy to support her cause.

Which leads us to hill training. The route we chose is not that long–a mere 62 miles–but climbs to the highest point in the Santa Cruz Mountains at Castle Rock, drops down the coastside and then comes back over again. That translates to 5000+ ft elevation gain. The organizers’ description: “The brutal 100K course designed by professional endurance athlete Lou Kobin. For experienced athletes only!” Ouch!

Today’s plan: up Kings Mountain Road, down Skyline, down Hwy 84, and back up to Skyline via Old La Honda. We got an early start, so Kings was still shady and cool. But we were still grateful to reach the top.


Of course, there was still more climbing up to Skeggs, with all the sport drivers whooshing by. But the reward was fast descents down to Four Corners and then down Hwy 84.

The climb up West Old La Honda offers outstanding views of the Pacific at a gentle grade, plus some interesting carvings in the hill side. When I realized that Sheri, Cindy and Michelle had never seen them, we had to stop. And since we stopped I had to take a picture. I tried to imitate the expression on the carving, but ended up being goofy instead. And would someone please tell me when my helmet isn’t on straight.



After that, we headed down Hwy 84 into Woodside. We rolled out from the top with a couple. I ended up chasing the guy down the hill (we were flying), while my friends got caught behind the woman, who was riding her brakes the whole way. Awesome for me, not so awesome for my friends.

We celebrated with post-ride lobster rolls and beer at the Old Port Lobster Shack in Ladera.


Ride stats: 36 miles, 3200 ft climbing, 2:50 ride time. 1600 calories burned, 1200 consumed. (ok, I guessimating on that)

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in training for an event? (other than not training, of course)

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Posted by on August 6, 2011 in Backroads

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