Cycling Sonoma, June 2012

Sonoma Cycling and Vines
The view from Trinity Rd just north of Sonoma and on the way to Napa

I had the pleasure of being in the San Francisco area for a conference at the end of June. Given how blazingly hot it’d been in Austin, the weather in SF was a welcome change of pace. I could fly back right away that Friday the 29th or I could hang around a little and enjoy it a bit. I chose the latter.

I found a great place to stay right close in the town of Sonoma and they put me in touch with the Sonoma Valley Cyclery bicycle shop that was literally about a block and half away. I called in advance and reserved a bike. You never know what you’ll get when you rent a bike so I was wary but it turned out they had some really nice bikes to rent. I got a 58cm Specialized Roubaix. It wasn’t a perfect fit but it was much better than I thought it would be in terms of fit and ride. I brought my own pedals and seat as well so aside from a reach that was just slightly too long, the fit was excellent.

In advance of heading out there I’d done some googling for a good route to ride from Sonoma. It didn’t take long to turn up the “Cavedale – Mt Veeder” loop ride leaving from Sonoma. There’s a great write-up with links to a map and tons of info on the Santa Rosa Cycling Club website here.

The route as described on that site is 46 miles. The route as I ended up doing it was actually about 51 miles. The main difference in my alternative was to take Verano Ave over to Arnold Rd instead of taking Hwy 12. The bike shop had suggested this would have less traffic and I was more than fine to have fewer cars in exchange for a few more miles.

As it turns out, Arnold is still a fairly busy road, even at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, but nothing compared to hwy 12. So, it’s a good choice.

As you can see from the ride profile picture from my Garmin below, the route quickly hits a wall when you get to Cavedale Rd. It’s a challenging climb that goes up a couple thousand feet at grades averaging maybe 9%. Though it is a difficult climb over a single lane road that is not all that well maintained, there is almost no traffic at all on the road. Unless you live up there or are trying to get off the beaten path, there’s no reason you’d drive up that way.

The views along the way are great and I stopped several times just to look out over the valley. I was particularly fortunate that morning to have clear blue skies.

After reaching the summit, the ride down Trinity Rd on the other side was fantastic. Eventually it turned onto Mt Veeder though and once again you begin to climb. This section has shorter climbs then Cavedale but they’re even steeper. Even I was out of the saddle and I almost never get out of the saddle. I prefer to spin. In fact at one point with such a light carbon bike, I found myself pulling the front wheel off the ground as I cranked up the hill.

The fire station at the end of Cavedale Rd does indeed have a spigot you can replenish water. The area is otherwise devoid of businesses to pull into to top off water. I had a camelback full of water plus 2 water bottles that day though so I had plenty of water. When I finally rolled into Napa I took a detour to the market described by the Santa Rosa club writeup. Wasn’t far and well worth the stop.

The southern section of the loop ride back to Sonoma from Napa isn’t quite as scenic as the northern half. While there are some rolling hills to get over it’s mainly a flat section of open countryside. Scenic in its own right, there is little if anything holding the winds back and the winds were up that day. Going east to west back to Sonoma I was heading into the teeth of the wind. Other than that, it’s not a challenging section and before you know it you’re back into Sonoma.

This was a fanstastic route and I would definitely recommend it. Start early and spend the rest of the day at the wineries. 😉

Sonoma Cavedale loop ride profile

How to Bike Up a Mountain

My Bike Gearing

This blog post might have been more aptly titled ‘How to Bike Up a Mountain When You’re Over 50 and Don’t Want to Kill Yourself’ but that seems just a little too long, so I shortened it. As I contemplate heading out to Cyclefest later in the summer and riding up to the McDonald Observatory, it occured to me to jot a few notes on climbing big, long hills.

First of all, let me establish what I mean by climbing up a mountain. It’s probably obvious and it doesn’t matter that much what ‘category‘ of climb we’re talking about as far as I’m concerned. What I mean is any climb of a few thousand vertical feet over an extended course of many miles at a grade ranging from >5% to upwards of 10-15% or more. The climb up to the McDonald Observatory qualifies if you believe the route profiles I’ve found online.

First of all, let’s assume you have some basic level of fitness and a medical authority of some sort like a doctor has taken a look at you and told you it’s ok to consider getting your heart rate up to 180 over an extended period of time. Maybe you’re lucky and just super fit. Congratuations. This should be easy for you. If not, you can still do this but you’ll at least need to be somewhat fit.

I’m mostly a weekend rider. I don’t have time to ride every day and I’m not a super athlete. But I like to be able to bike any route I want and a mountain shouldn’t stand in my way. In fact, the views are great up there so that’s where I want to go.

The secret is not that big a secret: get the right gearing. The ‘right’ gearing is something you’ll need to figure out, but I think what you want to find is gearing that let’s you keep a cadence that doesn’t blow out your knees and allows you to stay just this side of completely winded. You’re going to be huffing and puffing, but it can’t be so bad it’s unsustainable. If it’s unsustainable, keep tinkering with the gearing until you find something that works. If you find they just don’t make gearing that low, well, maybe this isn’t for you. But I bet you can easily find the right chainring and cassette combination.

Over the years I’ve become a fan of the Ultegra triple chainring gearing. With a chainring of 30 teeth and a cassette cog of 28 teeth in the back I have found I can settle in and ride up the likes of Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez. These days you don’t have to go with a triple chainring setup though if you don’t want to. Compact cranks are made that effectively give you the same gearing.

Below I’ve made use of Sheldon Brown’s good old gear calculator to take a closer look at how the Ultegra Triple compares to, for example, the SRAM Apex line of cranks. The first graph is the gain ratios plotted for the 3 chainrings on my current bike (taking into account wheel, tire, crank length etc) with a cassette that goes from 11-28. The second chart illustrates the gain ratios for a similar configuration with SRAM Apex and with a cassette that goes from 11-32. Note the Apex uses a compact crank of 34 teeth instead of the granny 30 tooth one on the Ultegra Triple. From low to high the range covered by either setup is identical. In both cases, there’s also plenty of overlap between chainrings. This shows me I could quite easily switch to Apex and ride on the same as always. Happy climbing.

Shimano Ultegra Triple

SRAM Apex Compact